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Historical Scholarship in the Digital Age

Designing Digital History

Our digital history seminar is currently in the midst of designing our digital projects and has gotten me thinking about how to design digital scholarship and the tools that are available for helping in the construction of projects.  Beginners to digital history are somewhat daunted by the design process.  The lingo of web design – HTML, CSS, Javascript, XML, metadata, hypertext – seems like an endless alphabet of ambiguous elements in the digital environment. This post means to highlight some tools and resources digital humanists might find useful in constructing their own projects, as well as impart some of my first-hand experience thus far in the design process.

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Filed under: Tools, Web, , , , ,

Print is Not Dead, but Reading and Knowledge Dissemination are Changing

After my recent reading of Jeff Gomez’s new book Print is Dead: Books in our Digital Age, I began thinking about print media.  Print is not dead, but it is fading as the preferred medium for reading. The world today, as Jeff Gomez points out in his book, is increasingly digital with hundreds of millions of people electronically linked.  Electronic media appears to have surpassed print media as the primary means of recording and disseminating information and entertainment.  Many, perhaps most, people read their news, get their information, communicate, share, take notes, and listen to music digitally. With more engagement and interaction with reading in a digital form, it becomes necessary to reconsider the book and its paramount place in historical scholarship.  As the nature of reading changes from linear and page turning books to circular interlinked digital literature, the form or forum for producing and distributing words and literary content must also change so that people will read and share new historical discoveries, understanding, and knowledge.

Books, according to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, “are the last bastion of analog.” In a primarily digital world, why then do print publications remain the ideal for disseminating historical understanding?  Historians research and write to have their work read and discussed, not just amongst their colleagues, but for the interested public as well. The digital realm can reach far beyond that interested public who might pass over a book in a bookstore, if a bookstore will carry a nuanced historical monograph in the first place. When considering that libraries worldwide only purchase roughly 200 copies of a book, it seems clear that access to and reading of that research and writing is inhibited. Logically then, in print form, historical work is not read widely. As Gomez suggests on his blog, “As a writer you can only hope that people read, or think critically, about your work. With a physical book, you know if they bought it but not if they read it (not mention whether or not it’s being discussed).”

Conversely, a study produced digitally and available on the World Wide Web to hundreds of millions of linked people will have a wider readership and probably a higher level of discussion amongst all readers. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Books, Scholarship, Technology, Web, , , , ,

Fun With Wordle

A word cloud of this blog, created with Wordle (click to enlarge):

Here’s another using Bill Turkel’s blog:

Filed under: Web, , ,

How Big is the Web?

Google Blog: “The first Google index in 1998 already had 26 million pages, and by 2000 the Google index reached the one billion mark. Over the last eight years, we’ve seen a lot of big numbers about how much content is really out there. Recently, even our search engineers stopped in awe about just how big the web is these days — when our systems that process links on the web to find new content hit a milestone: 1 trillion (as in 1,000,000,000,000) unique URLs on the web at once!”

Filed under: News, Web

Digital History and Wikipedia Part II

Last month, Jason, colleague Leslie Working, Dr. Douglas Seefeldt, and I created the ‘Digital History’ page for Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia. More recently, as an earlier post indicates, an editor flagged it for failing to meet certain Wikipedia standards, namely editorial conflicts of interest with the subject matter and writing that reads like tributes to professors and founders that no one outside the field knows. Currently, we are working towards wikifying the page so that it remains available for generating public knowledge of digital history and its minutiae. Coupled with these current problems and Wikipedia’s prevalence in the recent press relating to the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama Wiki Wars, it seemed an excellent opportunity to discuss further digital history and Wikipedia.

Wikipedia seeks neutral, reliably sourced information and does not desire contributions that promote one’s own interests (apparently the problem we are facing with the digital history page). Created by an open community of unregulated and anonymous authors, Wikipedia allows anyone anywhere to add, change, or delete information about topics or people or places of their interests, to share that information so that others can come to appreciate and gain knowledge relating to those interests. In the few years since its creation, the free online encyclopedia has become, for many, the be all and end all for finding information. That said it becomes pertinent for teachers, at all levels, and history teachers in particular, to enter into a discussion with their students concerning the potential and pitfalls of the online encyclopedia. Wikipedia lacks analysis, critical thought, or evaluation. Its pages face continuous revision and remain in flux. Therefore, users should not blindly accept the information as accurate or correct. Students and the public alike must understand this crucial component.

Wikipedia does offer, however, a unique research and teaching tool. It provides an excellent place to start in research, providing basic background information and popular resources to consult on nearly any subject or topic. The online encyclopedia provides somewhere to begin for quick, easy, and free access to valuable information that may otherwise take much longer to find tucked away in the library stacks.

As a teaching tool, Wikipedia proves useful for engaging teaching in history because it fosters verifiability and citing sources. Participants in the editing process also can learn a complex lesson about history writing, as renowned historian Roy Rosenzweig states, namely that the “facts” of the past and the way those facts are arranged and reported are often highly contested.[1] Through this digital environment, historians can instruct their students to focus on the process of history rather than concentrating on the product.

Regarding digital history, Wikipedia embodies much of what digital history is all about. Sharing knowledge and providing accessible information to the masses compose a core component of digital history. Rosenzweig suggested that Wikipedia represents the largest work of online historical writing, the most widely read work of digital history, and the most important free historical resource on the World Wide Web.[2] To enhance popular historical literacy, historians must lend their high quality knowledge to inform others and build up the public historical web.

So crucial to digital history, Wikipedia echoes the idea of collaborative scholarship and can provide historians a model to remove themselves from isolation, to work with a diverse body to share historical knowledge in a new media. Wikipedia is a place of convergence for the armchair and the expert, written collaboratively by editors from around the globe. While it is unlike digital history in that it excludes original research and nuanced accounts, Wikipedia provides an immense and increasingly important digital resource for historians and the public alike to engage in historical discussion and foster the growth of historical knowledge.


[1] Roy Rosenzweig, “Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past,” The Journal of American History 93.1 (June 2006): 117-146. Also available from http://chnm.gmu.edu/resources/essays/d/42.

[2] Rosenzweig, “Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past.”

Filed under: Education, Web, , ,

Digital History and Wikipedia

We’ve been informed that the digital history Wikipedia page we created needs some work. Help us contribute to and wikify the digital history Wikipedia page!

Filed under: Technology, Web,

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