Alright folks, it’s the start of a new semester. We’ve had a week now to look at our first set of assigned readings, and for those of us with little to no background in digital history, this might prove particularly challenging. Now that I mention it, it may seem even more challenging to individuals reading this online who are not enrolled in our class. Thankfully for anyone reading this, we start off our posts with an investigation into what digital history/humanities means as a discipline. The links to the texts assigned for class & addressed in this piece can all be found within this article. I’ll look at some of the pieces in this post, but make sure you read Josh’s companion piece- the two posts will hopefully provide enough. With that, let’s jump right into some of this week’s assigned readings.
“The History Manifesto” by Jo Guldi & David Armitage, Introduction & Chapter 4, http://historymanifesto.cambridge.org/
In the first of the readings that I am covering, Guldi & Armitage present an argument that in a time filled with short-terminist thought, long-termism is the necessary method of analyzing connections between the past and the future. They offer that the biggest challenge in the present to short-termism comes from the boom of information technology that makes massive amounts of data accessible and workable. Using this “big data,” especially quantifiable data, through tools such as the Paper Machines toolset, entire archives can be disseminated as easy-to-read resources. It is the role of the historian to contextualize this data to address questions of scale, causation, and correlation of seemingly unrelated issues. With much of this research requiring additional studies in areas outside of history, the authors suggest that the university of the future will be very different from what it is today, with historians becoming both the “arbiter of data for the public and investigator of forgotten stories” (Guldi 113).
“Returning Women to the History of Digital History” by Sharon Leon, https://www.6floors.org/bracket/2016/03/07/returning-women-to-the-history-of-digital-history/
The first of two pieces involving Sharon Leon, this article serves as a survey of women’s contributions to digital history, contributions which are more often than not overlooked. This has traditionally been an issue within the field of history, but she does point out several factors that have led to this issue within digital history that still make it a significant issue today. The structural patriarchy has limited women’s advancement in academia, which has created less opportunities for roles as project leaders. Additionally, a focus in citations on the project directors greatly ignores the work of the female contributors on these projects. A traditional focus on academia as the driving force behind historical research has discounted the work of women in other fields and areas of expertise on history thought and practice. By focusing on these three areas, as well as providing a wealth of knowledge on women’s contributions to the advancement of digital history, Leon advocates that we must both consider the contributions of women in the field while also providing further opportunities to continue to make new contributions.
“Getting Started in the Digital Humanities” by Lisa Spiro, http://digitalscholarship.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/getting-started-in-the-digital-humanities/
My personal favorite from this group of texts, Spiro finds a problem within the field and directly addresses it in an easy to read blog post that every new digital historian should have bookmarked. While giving a presentation on, as she puts it, “Why the digital humanities?,” it became clear to her that there was interest in the field but that problems existed regarding a starting point for those with little to no experience. She makes the decision to not get bogged down in technical terminology or the traditional history writing style, instead opting for more of a “popular” style blog post with a bulleted list that anyone can read. In doing so, she has presented a great many techniques for beginner involvement (familiarizing yourself with the field, networking/ getting involved, and staying informed are just a few of the important steps she identifies). While this does seem like it might not be the most traditionally professional of the sources identified in this post, it’s almost as though that is Spiro’s point- she’s almost serving to recruit people who have an interest in the field.
“The Digital in the Humanities: An Interview with Sharon M. Leon” by Melissa Dinsman, https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-digital-in-the-humanities-an-interview-with-sharon-m-leon
The second reading involving Sharon Leon from this week, this interview serves to clarify several misconceptions held about digital humanities while advocating for more changes to be made to the field. While she again discusses her concern regarding credit to women, she also discusses the lack of diversity in the field and suggesting that more can be done. She delineates the difference between digital history and digital public history, in that public history has an intended audience, where otherwise many individuals do digital history in public and then make it available to any audience. The realities of working in the digital humanities are addressed, as Leon broaches working in collectives within departments with little funding outside of grants, as well as addressing if a digital historian should have coding skills or not. Leon delivers an optimistic and informational summary of her time in the field to provide examples of the field, thus encouraging potential future digital historians to take the next step and drive the field forward.
Each of these readings serves as a starting block for a digital historian that answers a particular question: where do we begin? For Guldi & Armitage, the digital historian should focus on long-term answers that address past, present, and future connections. Leon points out several holes in the field that ought to be corrected, especially for women and minorities, as well as addressing areas for the field itself to change from within. Spiro delivers several sites for novice digital historians to dip their toes in the water before diving in headfirst. By combining these readings, a beginner in the field should be able to see a place to begin to look for a hole in the scholarship that they can fill with their own research. And even if you haven’t found that hole just yet, don’t worry, there’s still plenty of data out there for you to get your hands on & make your mark.
These readings do bring up some questions that need addressing, in terms of both style and content. For example, when addressing questions like “what is digital history?” or “how do you do digital history?,” is it better to base an answer in the form of a blog that everyone can read and relate to, or should we as historians try to base these answers in traditional, scholarly formats like books and journal articles? For those who have studied public history and not just from a general history student like myself, is Sharon Leon’s distinction between digital history and digital public history sufficient? Or should all digital history be considered public history? Due to the relative youth of digital history, what is the long-term future of the field based on the past? I’d love to hear what everyone thinks!