…In which I blog again after mulling over some more on Digital History

All of these things—collaborative encylcopedism, tool building, librarianship—fit uneasily into the standards of scholarship forged in the second half of the 20th century. Most committees for promotion and tenure, for example, must value single authorship and the big idea more highly than collaborative work and methodological or disciplinary contribution.

– Tom Scheinfeldt “Theory, Method, and Digital Humanities,” in Hacking Scholarship


This quote is one thing that I, as well as many of you, may have to consider as we move along the track of digital history or even traditional academia. Although some historians have become more accepting of collaborative endeavors, many still consider the single author- book or peer-reviewed journal article as the end all be all for moving up in the world of academia. I have been confronted with this already in my young career, including a small incident involving a research forum where the 2nd author did not receive a plaque. (Spoiler Alert!- He was quite displeased.) This will be something that we will have to tackle as well in our careers, and it has obviously been an ongoing issue in the field of digital history, as evidenced by the readings for this week.  


Saving Historical Evidence

While reading Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig’s Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, I was struck by two questions that they asked:

“In other words, why delete anything from the current historical record if it costs so little save it?”

“How might our history writing be different if all historical evidence were available?”

These two questions, I feel, are still very important and relevant questions to ask. In an era where things are easily deleted, considered irrelevant, or even produced only through email, we’re facing, as historians, a dilemma of maintaining sources for the future. During my time at the University of Central Florida, one of the things we discussed the most for the Veteran’s History Project was the importance of collecting oral histories, as much of the correspondence of recent veterans is through email, rather than writing letters. These emails are easily lost or even just deleted, which would remove a huge source of information for future and present historians that are trying to explore this information. How do we, as historians, tackle the issue of the the deletion of potential sources? How could we potentially make this information available? Certainly, the internet has made many sources available people that were not previously available, such as through digital archives and web projects, but is there a way to inform people about the importance of their digital footprint and sources?  It is also important to consider the vast amount of content that people are creating now, through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other web sources, and how these items could potentially relate to the future historic record. 

Clearly it would be impossible to save every single item that is created, and even still, we might not want to. However, it is worth considering what types of sources will be saved from our very digital and easily deleted era.