Going Digital

“Getting information off the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.”

-Mitchell Kapor

As the speed, size and relevance of the internet grows exponentially, the study of Digital History is eager to define itself. However, prior to this, one must ask for whom this definition and the practice of digital history is for? Is it for the benefit of those who seek to validate their discipline in the world of academia? Tom Scheinfeld, in this pursuit, notes that “calling our work “digital humanities” has made it more difficult for us to make it understandable and creditable in disciplinary context: the unified interdisciplinary message may be useful with funding agencies or the Dean of Arts and Sciences, but it may be less so with one’s departmental colleagues.”[1] Or should the focus be on the audience for whom the digitized history is for and their unique and varied styles of communication?

This week’s readings made evident the biggest dilemma facing digital history. While being intrinsically an academic profession, digital history must contend with the non-academic environment in which it is situated. How do you envelop history into the digital world without alienating those you seek to provide service and engage in discourse while maintaining certain academic standards to maintain relevance and respect among other disciplines? In Digital Scholarship and Digital Studies: The State of the Discipline, Matthew Kirschenbaum and Sarah Werner articulate the need to understand the various digital platforms accessible for including book history in the digital fold however what is missing from the discussion is the need to revise writing and communication to reflect the needs and demands of the internet itself[2].

Simply transferring history onto the internet cannot be the only goal for digital history. If this discipline wants to elongate its presence and relevance it needs to cater to the very medium its devoted to, even at the risk of alienating academia. In short, there is no easy way to mitigate the needs of academia and the internet without alienating one or the other and since digital history owes its credibility and authority to the internet (in all its glory and faults) it should cater to that audience more over the other.

[1]Tom Scheinfeldt, “The Dividends of Difference: Recognizing Digital Humanities’ Diverse Family Tree,” Found History, accessed January 18, 2014, http://foundhistory.org/2014/04/the-dividends-of-difference-recognizing-digital-humanities-diverse-family-trees/.

[2] Matthew Kitschenbaum and Sarah Werner (2014), “Digital Scholarship and Digital Studies: The State of the Discipline,” In Book History 17” 406-458.

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One thought on “Going Digital

  1. Something that troubled me as well about a lot about these readings was lack of discussion about audience. By peer-reviewing each others works online aren’t we just imposing the bureaucratized system of textual peer-review into the digital realm thereby limiting the “democracy” offered by the internet? Are historians who do this excluding the public from their discourse by making them passive by-standers to such work rather than active agents in the creation of history (which, according to public history they should be). I agree that the manner in which historians write and communicate should be revised to suit the needs of the web (and therefore the people).I think this should be done through the implementation of a standardized methodology in which public historians and, to a degree the public, establish how they wish to engage in discourses with each other on and off line. I am not advocating that historical blogs should only be peer-reviewed by non-historians, rather I’m suggesting that historians and non-historians have a lot of insight to offer each other and therefore both groups should engage in dialogue. We public historians need to learn how to share power and create dialogue with our audiences (which is a word I dislike in this context since it connotes passivity) if we wish to become more efficient at what we do in this digital age.


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