Changes in Digital History

This week, our class read a number of web essays that discuss the evolution of Digital History in terms of how it has affected historians. Common themes I found within these readings include a new emphasis on methodology rather than ideology, the field-defining push toward accessibility, and moderately diminishing societal fears of illegitimacy that come with the shift toward digital media.

Though in the past historians have focused their energy on forming arguments surrounding historical events and details, there has been a recent gravitation toward more technical aspects of the field. Rather than analyzing, focus shifts to digitally archiving; this is because it is easier to pitch methodology than an argument. A move towards ensuring deliverable products has allowed digital history to remain within the public’s attention and continue to innovate in the internet age, though it does have its own set of weaknesses. These are best exemplified in Cameron Blevins’ 2016 debates in Digital Humanities, where they discuss both the upsides and downsides of this shift, as well as what it may mean for the future of digital history. They call for a return to argumentation as a supplement to digitization, as they believe that this new approach creates a rift between technologically-enhanced historical projects and academic scholarship, and in turn, waters down the purpose of recalling history to begin with.

Sheila Brennan’s 2016 debates in Digital Humanities brings to light our second theme: a recent emphasis on increasing accessibility as a means to define digital history as a field. In her essay, Brennan separates the ideas of “public history” and “digital history” by emphasizing the importance of utilizing tools in ways specific to one’s audience within digital products, as she believes that digitization must have purpose. Ensuring user-friendliness and accessibility are key within the field, as these aspects are more important than advertisement, viewership, or amount of attention garnered. Jeffrey McClurken’s “Waiting for Web 2.0” tracks the changes present in archival systems from the perspective of a historian and professor, once again noting an increase in speed and accessibility over time, provided through databases and primary source collections.

Along with recent shifts toward methodology and accessibility in digital history come a decrease in worries about the illegitimacy of digital projects and sources. Subscription-based journals and peer-reviewed publishing sites are legitimate sources, but have not always been seen as such; nowadays, however, universities have moved toward subscribing to and teaching students how to use online databases and research, as Sherman Dorn argues for in his 2012 review of “Is (Digital) History More Than an Argument About the Past?”. In addition, sites like the AHA Guidelines and the Journal of American History‚Äôs Guidelines for reviewing digital humanities projects contribute to the legitimacy discussion, as they provide criteria for evaluating the quality of online resources.

As digital history continues to grow as a field, its constantly-evolving nature poses new challenges for historians who either choose to work within the medium or oppose it. While these shifts may encourage more audience interaction and participation, they can sometimes be overwhelming for those not used to digital media. Despite this, historical projects increasingly continue to become seen as legitimate and accessible; perhaps this means that this new era of scholarship could one day become new tradition.

Progress Report (3/23/20)

For our progress report, my group has decided to divide our individual blog posts into five topics: Piper is focusing on online communication, Glynnis has captioning, Erin is handling scheduling, Emily is writing about research, and I’m doing mine on our use of tiff files.

On our site, we will feature galleries of pngs of our scans for basic usage and viewing. Below them, we will include multiple zip files that contain our tiffs. We plan on including those for research purposes, as tiffs are used for preservation-grade file-keeping. We currently have them saved onto two flash drives that I have in my possession, since fortunately, Glynnis, Piper, and I were able to work with Angie to organize them and finalize our work in the DAL before we left the school for the semester. We also have copies of those tiffs saved in a zip file on my laptop, though the zip file size is too big to include on our wordpress site; as a result, we will have to break the zip down into smaller files. We could do that either by focus, by original box number, or by artifact, but that is up to the group to decide. Another option could be to store the zip file on dropbox and simply provide a link on our WordPress site.

Scrapbook Digitization Update (3/17/20)

College has gone online for the rest of the semester, but my group is still holding up. Thankfully, we’ve finished our scans, converted them to .pngs, and we have the files in our possession. We plan to meet weekly over Zoom to work on our site and make sure our work is divided properly and is going smoothly; for now, we will probably focus on making our site more accessible. All we have left to do is digital, so we should be able to continue operations fairly normally. In our meeting tomorrow, we plan on working on revising our contract and captioning our images. At this point, I also need to focus on building our twitter bot.

Scrapbook Digitization Update (3/12/20)

Our group has finished all of our scans, converted our .tiffs to .pngs, and began working on our website. At this point, not all of our files are in the same place, so we need to make sure that they are together moving forward. We have finished a lot of the design aspect of our site as well, so we have the visuals figured out; as of now, it’s just a matter of moving our files to the site, crafting a narrative, and ensuring accessibility. Thankfully, these are things that we can do mostly online, as our school has been completely moved online due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak. Hopefully this won’t make completing our project more difficult. We will continue to communicate and craft our site, scheduling regular meeting times.