Dr Dick Hamming
If you don’t work on important problems, it’s not likely that you’ll do important work
–R. W. Hamming

William Turkel has taken Dr Dick Hamming’s challenge*, elegantly condensed by Paul Graham as

What’s the best thing you could be working on, and why aren’t you?

and begun to apply it to his view of the field of history. Dr Turkel asserts that “questions raised by digital history are some of the most important that we [historians] face”.

I don’t know enough to say that these are the most important questions in the field of History, but they’re of keen interest to me. I thought I’d use the ‘thinking out loud’ mode of this blog and walk through some of these questions from my own perspective.

But I need to look at this methodically–I’m not the intuitive type. I propose to work through the following steps:

  1. Scope: define Digital History (DH), what it is and what it isn’t;
  2. Goals: specify the purpose for DH – what do we expect to be able to do in or with it;
  3. Requirements: identify the environmental, technical and other prerequisites for DH to achieve the goals;
  4. Obstacles: identify the apparent roadblocks to the goals;
  5. Best Practices: survey existing or planned DH strategies and approaches, evaluate their potential and effectiveness, and look for gaps and lessons-learned;
  6. Targets: select specific problems (meeting requirements, overcoming obstacles) for personal attack based on my skills and interest;
  7. Strategy: build a plan to focus efforts on the targets and produce results
  8. Feedback: execute the strategy, periodically review steps 1-6 against results, and revise the Plan accordingly.

I’ll explore each of these stages in further posts here. Just now, though, I should be finishing another map, hacking through the backyard jungle, working out, washing the dog …

Next: Problems in Digital History 1 (scope)

*See a 1986 Hamming presentation containing the “challenging” question paraphrased here. Hamming photo above from the MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive, University of St Andrews.

2 Responses to “Problems in Digital History (Intro)”

  1. Kevin says:

    Hi Brian, — Just wanted to let you know that Civil War Memory is now at the following URL: http://civilwarmemory.typepad.com/civil_war_memory/

  2. behind AotW » Blog Archive » Problems in Digital History 1 (scope) says:

    […] I’ll explore further in future posts in the series [see intro]. ______________________ […]

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