9 June 2006
OK, so what do I think Digital History is, exactly?
Digital History (DH) is a subset of the field of History the branch of knowledge that records and analyzes past events in which historical information is discovered or created, stored, published, distributed, and/or consumed on interconnected (networked) computers. The products should be universally available and generally accessible.
A Word document on your hard drive isn’t DH: it’s just a work in progress until you publish online. A CDROM archive is just local information unless I can see it on the network. A PowerPoint classroom presentation is just an abomination, not DH.
If I have to pay extra to read your dissertation or query your historical database, by the way, it’s not Digital History, it’s Commerce.
Digital History is a relatively new field, first practical in the early 1980’s with the advent of cheap personal computers. It has been recognized by a measurable number of historians only within the last 10 years, or so.
In earlier years DH relied on portable media (floppy disk, videodisc, CDROM) for publication and distribution. These have since been made obsolete by the ubiquitous nature of the Internet. The proliferation of the network and wide availability of the PC together enable mainstream DH.
DH is not separate from traditional History, nor is it a challenge to the field or its professionals. It offers new tools, techniques, and capabilities to the profession. The fundamental nature of the study of History continues.
DH is used to
- Teach: guide students to resources (analog and digital); distribute classroom materials to geographically diverse students; share resources with other teachers; visit historical sites and sources virtually,
- Research: find and use digitized primary source materials; do peer review; keep current with advances in the field; use software to mine and analyze data sources, and
- Publish, Preserve, and Share: publish findings online for easy access and peer interaction; archive and organize born-digital information; convert and store historical documents and artifacts digitally; capture and serve current events (tomorrow’s history).
I’ll explore further in future posts in the series [see intro].
More on doing Digital History:
- Cohen and Rosenzweig: DH Promises and Perils (from how-to guide)
- George Mason’s incubator: the CHNM
- Virginia’s VCDH – another early adopter
- Turkel: Doing Digital History (for example, from Hacks)
- Smith: DH Destined for the Dustbin?
- digital cameras in the archive , , , and
Source for “the branch of knowledge that records and analyzes past events” is Merriam-Webster, Online Dictionary