Hello! You might recognize me by my busted backpack or my love of cheese.
I graduated from UMBC in May with my B.A. in History and International Affairs and I am the former president of the History Student Council (P.S. if you haven’t joined HSC yet, what are you waiting for?). I returned this semester to take a digital history course because: A) I just couldn’t quit UMBC cold turkey and B) digital skills are incredibly important for the future of the history field and sometimes I feel like I have next to none.
It is my hope that writing these blogs that investigate digital history, the landscapes of slavery, and chronicle the historic sites I visited in Romania will fully prepare me for the digital portion of my Fulbright proposal and help me to find my blogging “voice.”
Up until this point, my experience with digital history has been limited to online archives, history websites, and the sharing of historical information on social media sites. But, of course, the realm of digital history extends far beyond merely digitizing the past. Douglas Seefeldt and William G. Thomas of The American Historical Association write that it is a duty of the digital historian to “create a framework through the technology for people to experience, read, and follow an argument about a historical problem.”
This indicates that digital history scholarship relies on interpretation and it is the focus on interpretation concerning a historical question that separates the digital historian from the librarian. Additionally, consumers of digital history are often actively engaged in interactive materials which allow them to reach their own conclusions, unlike most history books and exhibits. From this assessment, we can conclude that digital history scholarship does in fact exist, although digital history as a whole appears in many forms.
The future for practicing digital history is bright, with many universities, organizations, and historians constantly crafting innovative ways to use technology in academia. At the moment, some of the biggest benefits to the field still lie in the capability and accessibility of the web as discussed by Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig in the introduction of Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web. The ease of finding sources and the extensive number of sources available online makes “doing” history rather convenient.
While the practice of digital history improves the ease of conducting historical research and engaging historic materials, there is debate in the field regarding shared authority and public use. However, as Cohen and Rosenzweig point out, the level of inaccuracy on the web is no more prominent than the level of misinformation in society. The better questions concerning the public may be how to reach the public or the appropriate audience and how to interpret the past clearly to the public using digital media.
I look forward to exploring more of the benefits and challenges of practicing digital history in the coming weeks!