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Historical Scholarship in the Digital Age

Featured Articles – June 22, 2008

Robert B. Townsend, “Links, Spaces, and Changing Habits of Historical ResearchAHA Today
“So if researchers are not at the library, where are they? The most obvious answer is that they are making greater use of digital materials, which can make trips to the library much more targeted and focused. Some recent studies help to validate that impression, but also point out a few problems that occur on the path from idea to publication.”

Cathy Davidson, “Should Digital Scholarship ‘Count’ Towards Tenure?HASTAC
“[E]xcellent scholarship should not be excluded from a tenure file simply because the form of its production happens to be electronic. If the scholarship is refereed by scholars in the field and deemed publishable, if it has impact and meets the highest professional standards, it is hard to think of what possible, rational argument could be made against it counting in the way its equivalent paper-version would count. Scientists often publish in journals that exist only on line. We have plenty of models out there that have been accepted in a range of disciplines where no one has problems distinguishing “excellent” from “okay” scholarship simply because its mode of production happens to be electronic.”

Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?Atlantic Monthly
“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

Mills Kelly, “Making Digital Scholarship Count” (Part 1, Part 2) edwired
“Today I am inaugurating an extended series of posts on the question of how digital scholarship should ‘count’ in the ways that things count at colleges and universities. As more and more scholars do work in the digital environment they are expecting this work to count toward tenure, promotion, and other types of formal evaluation (in the hiring process, for instance).”

Jennifer Howard, “Advocacy Group for History Endorses Electronic-Records BillThe Chronicle
“The National Coalition for History, a leading history-advocacy group, has come out in support of the Electronic Message Preservation Act, now pending in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill, HR 5811, was introduced by Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, a Democrat who is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. It would direct the National Archives and Records Administration ‘to establish standards for the capture, management, preservation, and retrieval’ of federal-agency and presidential records in electronic format, the coalition said in announcing its support.”

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Textual Analysis

In order for digital history to embrace and employ the great potential of the technological age, text encoding becomes necessary. Text encoding is one method of taking original textual materials from analog to digital representations, electronically searchable for scholarly research. XML is an encoding standard that assists in the creation, retrieval, and storage of electronic documents. Through text encoding and XML, researchers can gain a higher level of expertise about original texts and documents in electronic form. Such technology allows for systematic manipulation and analysis of complex historical texts, deciphering their intricacies into a more understandable form while preserving that complexity. Furthermore, Perry Willett asserts in his article “Electronic Texts: Audiences and Purposes,” “Electronic texts give humanists access to works previously difficult to find, both in terms of locating entire works, with the Internet as a distributed interconnected library, and in access to the terms and keywords within the works themselves, as a first step in analysis.” The digital tools available to historians for textual analysis have opened new realms of historical analysis. As a tool for researching, analyzing, and teaching, XML and textual analysis offers avenues of research to describe and analyze the literary and linguistic past.
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