Digital Presentation & Communication

Oct. 22

  • Cohen and Rosenzweig ch. 5-7 (Building an Audience, Collecting History Online, Owning the Past)
  • Sheila A. Brennan and T. Mills Kelly, “Why Collecting History Online is Web 1.5,” Essays on History and New Media
  • Doug Seefeldt and William G. Thomas, “What is Digital History? A Look at Some Exemplary Projects.” Perspectives on History 47 (5), May 2009. (make sure to download and read the actual paper)
  • grad students should also read: Orville Vernon Burton and Simon Appleford, “Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences,” in ECAR (Educause Center for Applied Research) Bulletin 9: 1 (January 13, 2009): 2-11.

A different audience definitely exists in the digital world because it is an open place for uploading, editing, and learning. People are constantly switching from one website to another, hoping to gain easier or more access to specific information pertaining to their inquiry. Thus, archives are fundamental to history, and understanding primary accounts of certain events that occurred in the past. However, the internet is a collection of an infinite number of different sources, and this makes it difficult for audiences to synthesize, utilize and find all of this information available to them. While you can build a massive audience online, web makers and up-loaders must be extremely specific in key-wording their information to draw in audiences on a more narrow level. However, this collection of online history has left audiences in a middle space, I think, between formal and synthesized versus informal and scattered. Brennan and Kelly conclude that “collecting history online floats in a world between the uneditable, didactic Web 1.0 and the completely open and editable Web 2.0, leaving us with a place we are calling, “Web 1.5.”” This is a strange place, Web 1.5 because the definition of digital history ends up having multiple meanings. Is information digital history because it has been uploaded to the internet and pertains to events of the past? OR is it digital history when it has been consulted and edited by someone (not necessarily an ‘expert’ or ‘professional’) with more experience in the field than your average Joe?

Thus, this causes me to ask, is storytelling equivalent to history? Take the blackout story, as well as the 9/11 and hurricane databases — do these stories make up history? In essence, many historians argue “yes” that these types of online resources are part of a specific history, and I would have to agree as well.

Nonetheless, this type of digitizing history and certain events has really opened up the world to an imaginable amount of information with ultimately infinite access, as Burton discusses. This is a significant step forward in the right direction for historians and for the public because it creates a connection between history and an audience. Digital humanities is crucial to understanding information from the past and applying it, particularly, to today’s events. The wide access to such information causes more questioning and thus, keeps history and historical discussion afloat. The more the data, the more the analysis, and the more, as Burton shows, discovery is made.

The most significant implication that digital history might have on our society, as Seedfelt and Thomas argue, is that we might have to give up our more traditional ways in order to open our eyes to the technological advancements within the historic field. My issue with this is that I think there needs to be a balance between what we ‘give up’ and what we start adhering to as new practices. The reason for this is that history is part of the humanities, and that means — books and writing. How will authors and historians be able to write properly in generations to come when you no longer have to read a book in its entirety to find the key words and the theses etc. Digital history allows for easier and faster access to information, but as historians in the humanities, giving up ‘tradition’ might be pushing it a little too far. Regardless, online libraries do help historians significantly because people are able to access resources that were unimaginably attainable previously. And it is this, as Seedfelt and Thomas state, that propels the digitization of history and the online version of the humanities.


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