Defining Digital History

Defining Digital History

In this post, I will discuss how the first four readings analyze and contextualize “digital history” within the evolving field of history. Natalie Cecire’s article “Introduction: Theory and the Virtues of Digital Humanities” explores the debates concerning the role of digital humanities within different disciplines. The remaining articles and monograph chapters focus on the growth of “digital history.” Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig along with Jo Gludi and David Armitage discuss its ability to permeate information for professional historians and inquisitive citizens. Leon, however, critiques the scholarly work published on the emergence of “digital history” for erasing the efforts made by female historians to advance the field.

 Natalie Cecire adopts a broader approach in her article by analyzing how scholars understand the theory of “digital humanities.” She argues that its emergence produces new questions about the demarcation of “saying” and “doing”. This article introduces an edition of The Journal of Digital Humanities that includes a diverse range of scholars engaging in interdisciplinary debates over the question of “digital humanities and theory” and the epistemology of how to approach the field. Cecire implores scholars to continue developing the field so students who lacked the necessary tools in the past can easily use digital tools and databases.

Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig published their monograph, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, as a response to the emergence of “digital history” as a scholarly phenomenon. In this monograph, they question what modern technological resources such as computers, the internet, and different forms of digital media will help advance the scholarly work conducted by academic historians, and public historians. Cohen and Rosenzweig also argue that while advanced technology allows for greater access to information it provides amateur historians a platform to promulgate mythologized interpretations of history and doctored photographs. They acknowledge that people manipulated photographs before the internet existed and that the ubiquity of false information found online is no more of an issue than its presence in other aspects of society. However, taking into account the potency of social media, specifically its use as a vehicle to inculcate citizens with false information I think this argument has lost some standing within the field.

Jo Gludi and David Armitage argue that the emergence of longue durée within the field of history relies on the digitization of archives that can allow both academic and amateur historians to analyze changes over time. They argue that the proliferation of online databases and tools, such as Paper Machines, combats the traditional forms of research that reinforced the “gatekeeping” aspect of academic history and produces revisionist histories that include marginalized voices. Through these digital tools, overwhelming data sets produced by government agencies will be more palatable for historians and students.

In her article, “Returning Women to the History of Digital History,” digital historian Sharon Leon criticizes the published scholarly work on the “theories and methods” of “digital history” for erasing the impact of women in the field. Leon argues that despite this absence female digital historians are creating projects significant to the field, such as the work done by Monica Mercado with Bryn Mawr College’s Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education. As “digital historians” continue to unearth and promote the narratives of marginalized voices the work conducted by women to create these projects must be recognized as well.    

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