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Historical Scholarship in the Digital Age

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 »

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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, , ,

Things Noted

Siva Viadhyanathan, Generational Myth Chronicle
“Consider all the pundits, professors, and pop critics who have wrung their hands over the inadequacies of the so-called digital generation of young people filling our colleges and jobs. Then consider those commentators who celebrate the creative brilliance of digitally adept youth. To them all, I want to ask: Whom are you talking about? There is no such thing as a ‘digital generation.'”

Rachel Leow, Indulgence and Sin A Historian’s Craft
“I am reading my slow, marvellous way through the Yule-Cordier edition of The Travels of Marco Polo, armed with Google Maps, Google Images, Wikipedia and the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.”

Lisa Spiro, Is Wikipedia Becoming a Respectable Academic Resource? Digital Scholarship in the Humanities
“How many humanities and social sciences researchers are discussing, using, and citing Wikipedia?”

Filed under: News

The Promise of Digital History

Be sure to check out the September 2008 issue of the Journal of American History that includes an exchange between the leading digital historians of the field — Bill Turkel, Will Thomas, Dan Cohen, Amy Murrell, Patrick Callagher, Michael Frisch, Kristen Sword, and Steve Mintz.  It’s a great introduction to the field and explores the possibilities of the digital age for research, communication, and teaching.  The article is online at the History Cooperative (unfortunately its gated — hopefully the JAH will make the article freely available).

Also, let me apologize for the very light posting and slow start the blog has gotten thus far.  Hopefully Brent and I can pick things up this semester.  We’re both embarking upon our own digital history projects, so I’m sure thoughts about the process, challenges, and rewards of a digital history site will be shared in this space.

Furthermore, several of us will be attending the Western Historical Association Conference in October in Salt Lake City, which is featuring a panel on digital history with our colleagues (and gracious comments by Richard White).  Either Brent or I will be liveblogging that panel, so be sure to tune in and check it out.

Filed under: Scholarship