The Impact of Digital History on History

Among the biggest impacts of digital history on history is a renegotiation of the dynamic between them and the degree to which both adhere to more traditional ideas of what each field should look like. In terms of access and approach, should history be taking more inspiration from the rules of digital history? (I’m thinking of the crowdsourced peer-reviewing article we read earlier this semester.) Alternatively, as Cameron Blevins argues, should digital history be aiming to be in some ways closer to traditional history?

In terms of digital history – which is public, collaborative, and often makes an underlying, implied argument rather than a direct argument the way a traditional history paper would – one of the most evident enumerations of the way it is changing history as a whole is the American Historical Association’s guidelines for digital history projects. In the “Responsibilities of Departments” section, several new, distinctive characteristics of digital history are highlighted in the form of guidelines for new standards: for instance, “Departments need to consider how they will deal with work in a digital medium that exists in a process of continual revision, and therefore never exists as a “finished” product” or the emphasis on developing evaluations for collaborative work.

At the very least, then, digital history requires new standards for how historical texts are evaluated. It also creates new kinds of historical research with new conventions and new practices. That in itself is a change in the field of history, but digital history creates further questions as well. There’s the question of an academic historical text that is by default accessible to the public and what this does for evaluations of credibility, or the question of whether collaboration and consistent renewal of content should become more standard outside the realm of what is directly thought of as digital history.

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