Digital History and Its Collaborative Future

American Historical Association’s (AHA) came up with a set of guidelines that had not been not uniform prior. “Guidelines for the Professional Evaluation of Digital Scholarship by Historians” clarify the policies associated with the evaluation of scholarly work in digital forms.

The AHA defines digital history as “scholarship that is either produced using computational tools and methods or presented using digital technologies.” It also invites employees to consider digital methodologies when evaluating a historian’s candidacy, just like any other skill or tool.  

What do all historians have in common? The shared commitment of all historians to the informed and evidence-based conversation that is history can smooth our discipline’s integration of new possibilities. With agreement on the purpose of our work, new and varying forms of that work can be seen as strengths rather than impediments.

Responsibilities of History Departments

  • They should inform themselves about developments in the digital context of our work. E.g. Library and IT tech training are available in many universities.
  • Departments should review and revise written guidelines that define the expectations of ways that colleagues might use digital resources, tools, and networks in their scholarship.
  • Digital scholarship should be evaluated in its native digital medium, not printed out for inclusion in review materials.
  • Departments should consider how to evaluate as scholarship the development of sophisticated digital tools.
  • Departments without expertise in digital scholarship should consider enlisting colleagues who possess expertise in particular forms of digital scholarship to help them evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the work before them.

Responsibilities of Scholars

  • Before initiating a digital project and throughout the course of the project, you should be prepared to explain and document its development and progress and its contributions to scholarship.
  • Seek support and guidance in preparing your promotion or tenure portfolio.
  • Bring colleagues into your project, taking advantage of opportunities to explain how your work contributes to the scholarly conversation in on-campus forums, professional meetings, and print or online publications.
  • Historians who are experimenting with new forms need to be especially clear about what they are doing, what opportunities it offers, what challenges their work presents to their colleagues, and the impact of their work on the intended audiences.

The American Historical Association’s Role

  • The AHA gather historians experienced in digital scholarship into a working group that will keep itself informed of developments in the field and maintain a directory of historians qualified to assist departments looking for expert outside reviewers for candidates at times of tenure and promotion.
  • The AHA consider this working group as a resource that could also help to foster conversations using AHA Communities, and produce regular pieces for the AHA’s blog AHA Today, and Perspectives on History related to digital scholarship.
  • The AHA sustain a curated gallery of ongoing digital scholarship so that historians can learn directly from one another as they conceive, build, and interpret new forms of scholarship.
  • The editor of the American Historical Review considers implementing more regular reviews of digital scholarship, means for featuring digital projects, and peer review of those projects.

Besides normalizing digital history from top-down, scholars should open up to public. History, digital or not, needs to be accessible to the larger public. Rebecca Conard reviews and praises Historians in Public: The Practice of American History, 1890–1970, by Ian Tyrrell (2006) as extremely important, especially for bridging academic historians and public historians but does not shy away from criticism. According to her, Ian Tyrell demonstrates that from 1890 to 1970 the historical profession “adapted to and influenced its changing publics more than the profession is given credit for, though not evenly and not always apparent. (Tyrrell, 2). Tyrrell focuses on mass culture, the classroom, and the particularistic audiences associated with marketing history as a discipline relevant to state legitimation and public policy. (252) Conrad claims that Tyrrell argues that all history if public history and identifies public intellectual the same as public history.

Do you agree with Tyrell that all history is public history? How effective do you think are the AHA guidelines and how could they encourage people to follow them or on the other hand enforce them?

2 Replies to “Digital History and Its Collaborative Future”

  1. I think what I like most about the guidelines is that, beyond working collaboratively, it encourages individuals to work cross-departmentally. Like yous state, departments without expertise in digital scholarship should consider enlisting colleagues who possess such expertise, and scholars should see projects as opportunities to seek guidance from outside sources. I think not only does this result in a product or experience that is inclusive to all, but it brings more perspectives to the table, bettering the culture of the environment that historians and scholars are working in.

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