A Book-Based Discipline?

“History has been and remains a book-based discipline.” This was in the AHA statement regarding the publication of dissertations, and it’s a statement that many in the historical field find to be true. Books and articles seem to be the end goal for many historians, and many times, tenure and promotion depend on these works. Many times in my young career, I have encountered statements of, “oh, this project is great, but it’s not like an article. Can you publish one based off of this?” or “that particular project doesn’t count for much to traditional historians.”  I, as someone who enjoys and probably prefers doing projects over articles and papers, feel that maybe this concept should be overhauled. Why DOESN’T it count as much? Why, if we are using the same values and methodology, should one output be devalued due to its presentation? Dr. Jason M. Kelly explains in his article “Open Access and the Historical Profession” that, “at research institutions, the book is the standard of scholarship.  Many justify this perspective by arguing that the work it takes to prepare a book is very different from other research outputs. “

In particular, one quote stood out the most to me–“Prioritizing the book over other forms of scholarship reinforces a division between those who produce work for other scholars and those who produce work for and with the public when, in fact, both academic historians and public historians should be producing work for and with other scholars and the public.”

I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. History shouldn’t be available only to those who pay for a book or an expensive journal subscription (which JSTOR has kindly decided that individuals can purchase a membership for $200 a year.) History isn’t just for scholars–it’s for everyone.


An Idea Regarding a Digital Resource for Historians!

This may be a wee bit early to consider this assignment, but today became an inspiration day for me. I’ll see what you all think about this. 

There is a website called Quora. This website is essentially a tool where people can ask questions and get answers. Here is more information regarding how it works if you do not know.

Essentially, my thought is to create a historian version of this tool. Some historians have become fans of crowdsourcing, and I thought that this might be an interesting way to utilize that concept. If a historian is associated with some sort of institution-museums, university, etc- they could register (in my head, it would be free) for this tool. From there, they could ask fellow historians questions regarding sources, ideas, or even try to break through when they hit walls. (This happens. You and I know this!) It would sort of be like a fusion of H-Net and a traditional message board, but for historians by historians. I think it could not only help with research, but it could help with teaching, traveling, funding, and other concerns that historians have. 

If there is already something out there like this, then I am late to the game. Otherwise, I believe that this might be a potentially interesting tool for historians to utilize, and I would certainly like to have it! Also, if that is the case, I will need to begin rethinking my idea.

Designing History

“Enable and inspire me to think about and grasp the past.”

As historians, our first goal is to examine and present information about the historic past, much like this quote from Digital History states. The Internet has the ability to potentially change how this information is delivered to the public. However, with the ability to present historical information on the Internet, we have to not only write the information that we’re putting on the web, but we must also consider how we’re putting it out there for the public to consume. We discussed in class how we must now recognize that design is crucial for the success of a historic website, which our readings also establish. We must follow many of the same rules as designers, such as presenting text with high contrast and easily readable texts. Although these types of rules are easy to learn, the rules of design can and do get particularly difficult. To what extent do historians continue this education? Can we just follow the rules contrast, proximity, alignment, and repetition spelled out in Digital History, or do we seek out more complex rules for presenting history on the web?

…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.