Making Digital History Relevant

The rise and popularity of podcasts distinguishes itself as more of an organic conversation rather than a scripted event. This helps build interest in the subject of history because many topics are often seen as static issues, and opens the conversation to different perspectives. There is also an interactive aspect to the podcasts, which allows the audience to feel incorporated and have a part in the conversation, which again allows it to grow and change. We may see a time where some podcasts will be as relevant and important as many printed articles.

The ease of creating a podcast is another advantage that they present. Anyone who has a computer, microphone, and curiosity about a subject can create a podcast. The inclusion aspect of podcasts makes it more accessible for different people and different interests, something that academics are sometimes limited in exploring (or presenting). Since books and articles are printed, the conversation is mostly reactionary to the material, while podcasts are constantly changing and evolving to both the creators and audiences’ interests, which keeps them very relevant and interesting.

The incorporation and discussion of current events is another important aspect that podcasts contribute. Changes in the news can be discussed and reviewed on an almost daily basis, along with contributions from different perspectives.

Public History and Social Media

With the emergence of social media, our concept of what is considered to be historical record must change with the times as well. Why would a blog post or digital article not provide as much relevance and history as a printed copy? What about an influential figure’s tweet? Or how about yourself? With the storage ability that we possess today (moving beyond terabytes to petabytes) it is easier to incorporate different mediums into historical records, including digitizing what has been written and new information being created. Twitter has been noted as a great example of historical presence, since the information that they provide is “short, well-structured, and mind-bogglingly numerous” (McGill, 2016). This can help in future research in developing relevancy and direction from professionals, and even uses that we don’t even foresee.

When it comes to social media, I have become more aware of keeping personal and professional accounts separate, and why not since most social media accounts are free to create and easy to manage. Facebook has a more personal feel while Twitter, WordPress, LinkedIn have a more professional presence and attitude. Connecting to different accounts allow products and ideas to grow and spread quickly, especially attaching hashtags to add a global presence to social media (if there becomes a method to categorize and understand different hashtags in context). Since the Library of Congress preserves a great number of tweets, any digitized product that may be tweeted will be preserved automatically, helping the digitization process. Social media helps spread ideas quickly, organically, and freely throughout the world, and allows contributions from different perspectives and ideas.

Space, Time, Place

History should transcend beyond what is written in a book. It is an organic being that requires context to be fully understood and relevant to the present. Digitization can condense multiple resources and pieces of information that may have been scattered throughout various libraries, historical societies, and college campuses into a convenient, easily accessible resource. Why study the Battle of Antietam if one cannot visualize the layout of the battlefield the way the generals saw it in 1862? The practice also incorporates different people into the history field who may have not seen their role ever interacting with the humanities, such as computer scientists and website developers. Providing different perspectives in the digitization of history could help create a clean, aesthetically pleasing database that is informative and easy to navigate. Implementing technology that we take for granted today (Google Maps, Earth) can give us side-by-side comparisons with past designs and layouts of towns and cities, allowing historians to observe growth and change throughout time, pinpointing specific time periods and events.

Looking at the Digital Harlem Project, the creators aimed to discover what everyday life was like in Harlem throughout its growth. While much emphasis is placed on the famous authors, musicians, and artists that emerged during the Harlem Renaissance, the project focused on the average resident and how their lives were. Real estate records helped identify the size of buildings at the time, and police records assisted in finding addresses of those who were not listed in real estate information, which was not “addressed” in historical records of Harlem. The project also focuses on how nightclubs and speakeasies helped develop certain parts of the borough.

A project like “Putting Harlem on the Map” gives historians perspective and location when conducting research. It provides context for movement of people, ideas, and culture. It also draws connections between materials that have been ignored in the past (police records, traffic accident records) and uses them to tie into cultural presence and movement.

Week 8: Digitization and Presentation

In efforts to digitize historical records, there is much discussion on the costs and benefits of making digital replications of historical documents. A major point is “what is worth digitizing?” There really is not a clear guide on the importance of what needs to be digitized so those involved need to use their judgement. Clearly first-hand accounts of major events would rank much higher than the opinion section of a local newspaper, but not all information can be clearly delineated as that. While we would love for absolutely everything to be digitized and easily accessible, there are obviously major time and resource limitations preventing that work. Historians and those working to preserve documents digitally are limited by their agency’s funding and purpose.

Much like the discussion that pertains to music, quality loss is another challenge that digitizing history faces. While computer programs allow compression of files, there is guaranteed to be losses in resolution and detail, but perhaps this is a sacrifice that must be made due to the limitations of server space. Fortunately, we are living in a time where larger storage space is being made much more accessible (having moved from megabytes to terabytes and eventually to petabytes) so maybe we will be able to digitize huge stores of information in lossless formats, but what cannot be replicated is the tangible aspect that comes with many documents. It is one thing to see a photo of a Roman urn but by implementing the senses like touch and smell can help create a better understanding of that time period.

Much like with the collection of data, the presentation can also be a struggle. Priorities must be set, audience must established, and information be carefully laid out. Is this merely a launching point for readers or is this a more detailed resource? Is the focus on text or video resources? Like a billboard, people move quickly through a webpage, which makes text-heavy pages less popular and more difficult to navigate. To avoid text-heavy pages, a reference page allows the ability to find the text-heavy resources without the clutter. The addition of multiple types of media: videos, gifs, and audio links can also attract attention, but can also overwhelm (in the style of mid 2000’s Myspace pages). The homepage should be clean and easy to navigate, with a background that does not distract but draws attentions to the images and functionality of the page, and makes priority of what the user is visiting the website for.

Examples:  Airbnb, JSTOR, New Yorker, Spotify, Discord

Week 7: The Collaborative Web

Coming from the perspective of a teacher, Wikipedia is a very interesting topic. I remember being raised on “NEVER USE WIKIPEDIA AS A SOURCE, ANYONE CAN CHANGE THE INFORMATION” and I still see that attitude with my students today. I am personally a huge proponent of Wikipedia so I am constantly challenging my students ideas and attitudes towards Wikipedia, drawing attention to the references section and also asking them to attempt to edit a page. I feel like this attitude is too often drilled into students’ heads about Wikipedia that serves a deterrent when they should be using it as a launching point into any topic. I also ask them to count how many times they use Wikipedia on a normal day (something that I have begun to do and may have moved me to start donating during their fund drives).

Browsing the “talk” section for the JFK assassination page curiously resulted in very little discussion. I would have thought that such a controversial and highly contested topic would warrant a lively discussion, but Wikipedia makes it clear on the talk section that “This is not a conspiracy forum. It is an encyclopedia”, which must place those editing pages like this one in an odd position, using their own judgement to determine if edits are clarifying already presented information or if they are opening the discussion to different theories.

Looking at a topic like the Holocaust, it again seems to be very tightly regulated on edits made (again, many discussion being removed since they opened up controversies and conspiracies which Wikipedia wants to avoid) so many of the discussion focus on what terms are used, the largest discussion on what terms to use for disabled people targeted by the Nazis.

My students recently watched the movie “Malcolm X” and were interested in the relationship between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammed, and looking at Elijah Muhammed’s talk page generated a great deal of discussion. There is discussion on the positive contributions made by the Nation of Islam since they are labeled as a hate group on their Wikipedia page. There is also discussion on the fact that there is no reference to his position towards Jewish people, a highly contested issue for the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan today.


Should Historical Scholarship Be Free?

It seems like an often accepted concept that if people have more resources available, they will automatically produce positive results with the resources (looking at you, public school districts), but why are people so surprised when this idea often does not work? With historical sources, it may not be as costly as funding across multiple school districts, but it still holds similar merits. What one does with the resources available is as important as having them to begin with. There must be focus in research;  questions that must be answered before entering any databases. Some of them being…

Am I looking to form a balanced picture from a certain period or investigating through a specific lens?

Am I knowledgeable of the biases and issues of the era that I am investigating that I must address whether through more purposeful digital resource or analog research?

Am I looking to confirm past ideas or challenge existing ideas?

Making access to databases free (in a perfect world) will encourage more extensive research, broaden perspectives and ideas, add different perspectives to many historical periods and concepts. It can also encourage better research practices in primary and secondary schools, which can improve research practices for students before entering a university.

However, simply making information available to the public does not guarantee positive growth. The internet can often be seen as an echo chamber and the wide array of resources available may allow biases and prejudices to be justified if some resources are found and presented with no context or purpose besides reinforcing a position. Conflict with university funding may also become an issue if many subscription services become available, some others may charge higher premiums for access. Ownership and copyright issues could also emerge from availability of more free resources.

Copyright issues and ownership of work has been a rapidly changing subject in the digital age. There may be times that we are violating these laws without even knowing , though it is not for malicious purpose for monetary gain. Rosenzweig points this out, “…most historians worry more about someone stealing their work for credit rather than for money”. Intellectual property is regarded on the level of physical property, which emphasizes paid subscriptions to databases, which as discussed before, could rapidly deteriorate with a push for free access. It may be an issue of readdressing Fair Use laws, or even copyright laws and how information is being monetized. With the quickly evolving state of technology and the internet, it presents new issues and questions. Can a person develop their own virtual reality tour of a museum? Does use of a 3-D printed artifact violate copyright laws? Is popular culture media in the past 20 years inaccessible due to the litigious nature of some people?




Researching and Writing in the Digital Age

Within the digital age, the question for finding resources is not if the source exists or is attainable, it is finding what is valuable among millions of available resources. According to a study from the University of California at Berkeley, 5 exabytes (10^18 bytes of data is created online a year, and considering one megabyte is the size of a traditional book, it seems like there is an almost infinite supply of information available at our fingertips. But just like a mechanic, the tools do not make a person skilled, it is how they utilize them. Unfortunately, there is still some disconnect between available resources and practices to using them (Weller, 64).

Considering the source of the information will always be a focal point for both digital and analog sources. There has always been author bias, whether it is intended or not, so researchers must balance perspectives from similar time periods through multiple sources. Utilizing sources beyond written ones also gives perspective to patterns, movement, trends, and location. Rosenzweig discusses that implementation of 3-D mapping in the digital age adds an even deeper perspective and interactivity to research (Rosenzweig, 24).

Interactivity is a large contribution that the digital age provides when researching history. Rosenzweig states that “Some kinds of visualizations such as time series are inherently historical because they show change over time”(21). Researchers can easily compare information from multiple time periods and eras to investigate change in the digital age. Also, digitization allows for easy categorization, organization, key word searches/omitted terms, and easily transferable information.

There are still merits to analog sources as well. With students gravitating more and more to digital research, they may neglect to even venture into a library (Weller, 65). While massive amounts of information is being digitized, we cannot assume that everything we need is easily found online. Many digital sources, especially secondary sources, still rely on using analog primary sources which still places value in visiting libraries, museums, and historical societies.

History Changing in the Digital Age (Week 2)

It is commonplace for many institutions to embrace shifting trends into technology and the digital age, the study and pursuit of history is no different. But the distinguishing factor is that there needs to be purpose behind the move to utilizing technology; it must provide solutions rather than just using the technology for technology’s sake. As Turkel states about conducting online research without a clear purpose, “The longer you work on something, the more behind you will get”. When we seek out sources, we must act less like a sponge just absorbing everything that we are able to find, but rather like a sieve, sorting through what could seem like an endless amount of material.

Just like a mechanic or carpenter, historians in the digital age cannot begin their work without possessing the proper tools and skills (which is difficult when your “toolbox” often gives you 1.5 million results) and a clear purpose to work towards. As suggested by Cohen and Rosenzweig “Popular history preference clearly takes precedence over professional concerns” so it is up to historians and researchers to hone their skills and targets to sort through the vast amount of information that is provided with a quick Google search. The digitization of most historical sources is also not provided by one universal organization, which drives those conducting the research to draw the connections between the information they discover, which helps them sort through pertinent data and conflicting issues. Researchers must also compete against many search engines’ focus on monetization, which favors simple summary results over valuable primary resources.

When practiced correctly, the research of history in the digital age opens up multiple avenues that were previously very difficult to pursue. Local history can be connected to its national or global impact, or how different groups responded or impacted different periods of history. It provides different perspectives and lenses of the same events which open discussion and ideas. It also makes researching history more feasible and accessible for those who are not professional historians.


Welcome to my HIST 511 page! My name is Andrew, I am a social studies teacher at Hartford Juvenile Detention Center and am currently halfway through my pursuit of a M.S. in Education Leadership at Central. A little bit about myself: I am a diehard Patriots fan, a huge Simpsons nerd, and I love to play guitar and build computers from scratch. I am hoping that this class will help me move away from traditional textbooks and readings in the classroom and bring my lessons into a digital realm where technology is at the forefront, something that would be hugely beneficial for the students that I teach and others in a non-traditional setting.

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