Digital History Week 1: Introduction

On a more specific level than its fulfillment of course requirements, I think I took this class because it fulfills an aspiration I have to engage in the application of knowledge over the course my college education, rather than limiting myself to its acquisition. When I started the Digital Studies minor at UMW, I was immediately struck by the amount of tangible products classes within the discipline allow you to create. In my major, English, of course I create work that I’m proud of; but both in the dad-at-dinner-table “things to show employers” way, and in the more abstract sense of the desire to have participated in creating something, there’s something that distinguishes the creation of digital products from literary analysis essays. I think Adventures in Digital History exemplifies the desire to create something that matters via digital tools because the projects all concern genuine interactions with local history and produce tangibly new ways to engage with this history on a digital level.

Digital history is a branch of the digital humanities, an area that at once concerns the analysis and presentation of humanities fields through digital means, and the examination of digital tools in the context of the complexity and ambiguity humanities brings with it. Digital humanities contains a variety of fields, of which digital history, which concerns digital approaches to history specifically, is one. This can include the digitization of historical materials and interpretive works surrounding them, and the use of digital tools to display them in new, innovative ways. In “The Difference Between Digital History and the Digital Humanities,” Stephen Robertson argues that two particular factors distinguish digital history from the digital humanities as a whole. First, the creators of digital history resources have an established history of collaborating with figures outside of academia, and of considering non-academic figures as audiences. Secondly, the distribution of the tools digital history uses has up to this point been distinct from the rest of the digital humanities. The general trend is that digital humanities has taken full advantage of the options offered by digital mapping, whereas text analysis has been less immediately feasible for historical documents than it has been for literary ones.

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