Defining Digital History – Odds

Hello! I’m going to spend the next few paragraphs unpacking the odd readings due for next week. I’d love to hear your feedback, and cannot wait to discuss in class next Wednesday!

Natalia Cecire takes on a large question in “Theory and the Virtues of Digital Humanities.” Cecuire poses that the question of theory, “is a question about the place of digital humanities in a set of disciplines that have continually wrestled with the status of the word in the production of knowledge” (np). In this introduction, she goes on to look at several aspects of this: the epistemologies of doing, epistemological claims as ethical claims, ethical claims as normative claims, and so on, building each section.

The History Manifesto by Jo Guldi and David Armitage reads as a call to action for historians and readers alike on the crises of the humanities. The authors contend with short-term versus long-term thinking and the changes the field has experienced. In Chapter 4, the increasing availability of digitized knowledge is discussed. With the breadth of digitized knowledge, historians are now able to sift through and synthesize accessible information than before. This raises a few questions posed by the authors: how then should we think about the past and the future? How will this continue to change universities?

This article by Rebecca Onion titled “Snapshots of History” was an interesting read. She criticizes Twitter accounts that post historical images which either lack context or are fake. With depriving viewers of the context and plastering similar images over and over, Onion writes that she believes it viewers do not get the joy of the historical rabbit hole or learn from the posts. How do we as pubic historians think that these accounts effect the public consumption of historical knowledge?

In the blog post, “Getting Started in the Digital Humanities”, we change gears slightly from the previous readings. Rather than defining digital history, Spiro aims to help readers DO digital history. They offer tips on how to get involved with digital humanities and the DH community, how to find collaborators and even learn best practice. However, these readings have left me with a question I’d like the class to discuss: what IS the definition of digital history? Is there one specific definition or does it move more fluidly?

6 Replies to “Defining Digital History – Odds”

  1. I think digital history has a fluid definition, which is why there are so many different ideas and concepts to embrace within it. The digital world is constantly changing, which means digital history is also changing. So, the definition really needs to be fluid so it can adapt to the changes.

  2. A topic that really stood out to me in these readings was the debate surrounding the ‘relevance’ of history in today’s world. I’m sure as graduate students this debate has come up in other classes, be it differences between academia or public history, ideology (1619 project vs. 1776 commission), or in another form. It was really interesting to me that these readings seemed to add on the digital history aspect to that debate.
    This was especially evident to me in The History Manifesto reading. It helped me contemplate the ways in which historians can interact with things such as Big Data, or other resources in a society driving so many towards STEM. This reading really left me pondering the question of when does history become to distanced? When collecting and interpreting historically relevant Big Data is it possible to still achieve the “story telling”, personal aspect of history that I’ve found so many of us love about doing historical work? I’d love to hear if anyone else had thoughts on these questions or if anyone also found themselves thinking of the debate about the relevance of history while doing this week’s readings.

    1. This question of when does bistory become too distanced is really interesting. I do think, however, that this data, which allows for big history like this, gives really important background information which previously hasn’t been possible. We can “see” more about time periods than ever before. Added to a history intended to be more personal, though, I think it can add some interesting layers to an analysis. On its own, I agree with you that it would lose some of that *sparkle* many of us love about history – the people.

  3. As to your question about the “Snapshots of History” article, I found this an interesting read partly because, I will admit, I used to follow (and I still might) the History In Pictures twitter account. Several years ago, I thought that it would be a good account to follow because I loved history and they posted some interesting historical facts and photos. Even so, I entirely agree with Onion that this kind of account can negatively affect the public’s consumption of historical knowledge because of the lack of sources and the flashy presentation without much substance. For a place like Twitter, it is unsurprising to me that this account is so popular, but I do wish that it gave more context to what it was sharing rather than just giving such brief and even fake information.

  4. I thought the “Snapshots of History” article made some really provocative and important points, but I will just mention two. First, History in Pictures Twitter accounts simplify history. Onion writes: “‘History,’ as these accounts define it, is a landscape peopled by JFK, the Beatles, Steve Jobs, various movie stars, pretty girls wearing miniskirts, quirky mustachioed bicyclists, and concentration-camp survivors.” I think this is often the case for many people who are not as entrenched in the discipline–and it is also something many historians and public historians are trying to combat. Onion also makes a great point when she discusses how the lack of context, external links, or citations/metadata again misrepresents what doing history is as the curiosity and detective work that is involved in making historical discoveries and the complexities of the past are lost.

    To try to answer your question, I think it is difficult to define digital history. But I did gather from the readings that there are differences between Digital Humanities, Digital History, and Digital Public History. In the Leon interview piece, Leon mentions that Digital Humanities is too broad a phrase to be helpful. I think I agree with that. I think DH encompasses a vast variety of approaches, tools, and methods of engagement. From the Spiro article, there are an overwhelming amount of ways to “do” digital humanities. Sorry, this does not really answer your question–I guess I don’t have one yet!

  5. Hi Ellie! Thank you for sharing your analysis on the readings. I also had similar questions as you with the Guldi and Armitage readings as you. I thought they had a really interesting argument for the ways that data provided through digital history could benefit scholarship in other fields of research. It seems like they are encouraging university history departments to break new methodological ground and be the arbiters of this shift towards handling big data sets. But, like Rosie and Emily mentioned, this type of shift could also draw people away from the narrative aspect of history.

    This reminded me of some of the points brought up in Leon’s work about the distinction between the focus and function of “digital history” (making history accessible to the public) and “digital public history” (preparing materials for a specific audience). Maybe this would be a different subset to the term “digital history”?

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