Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

The Future of History

Digital history is a concept that terrifies and excites.  As an academic field, a subset of the history field, it is new, yet somewhat familiar.  As a method of study, digital history has many interesting and exciting possibilities for the future. 

Every field of study is, in some capacity, becoming a digital discipline.  That’s just the nature of our digital age.  Everything is being done by computers, so academic study is, too.  However, some within the history community continue to resist this technological progress (and that’s simply all it boils down to), while some departments have been quicker to embrace it.  George Mason University already offers a digital dissertation option.  Departments around the country are teaching digital history courses.  So why are some not so quick to embrace it?   There seems to be two main reasons: fear of the unknown, and older faculty being set in their ways.  The field of history has its own history of being done a certain way for a long time, and many are slow to want to change that. 

The process goes like this: a historian lives inside an archive for a period of time, then emerges to write their findings into a manuscript.  That manuscript then becomes either a journal article or a book.  That’s it.  Research towards a written page.  However, the internet age is now approximately thirty years old, and the times are a changing.  Most information has been, or is continuing to be, put online for digital access.  Even academic journals and books are digitized online now.  The process has already begun.  However, digital history doesn’t just mean putting printed materials on the web.  There’s a new way of thinking about history, and presenting history. 

The purpose of digital history is to not only make history discourse available digitally, but to also challenge the way we think about the subject and its presentation.  This semester, instead of writing the same type of twenty-odd-page research paper, as I’ve done several times, I had to create a website and a visualization of my research.  I had to think in terms of presenting my research to somebody who wasn’t an academic expert in my subject.  I had to think of the wider public as a possible audience.  That’s the great power of the internet and digital technology: it has democratized information in a way that the world has never seen.  Farmers, who a millennium ago would be illiterate peasants in the field, can now access the world’s top experts giving free lectures on physics.  Manuscripts which once took significant travel funds for a researcher to get to an access, because only one exists in the world, can now be digitized and available to anybody, anywhere.  Few webpages are secure from prying eyes without a paywall, so any digitized product must be ready for a wider public to stumble upon.  In many ways, I had to think of my research in terms of a museum exhibit, which is purposefully for the general public instead of academic experts.  This is one of the most important aspects of digital history, and one of the biggest changes to the game that digital technology will force.  Though academics will still write for academics, and we have a long time before books go away completely, digital presentations will reach wider audiences which will cause a more democratized engagement with history among society.  History will no longer remain a closely-held secret of the ivory tower.

Another change that the digital realm is going to force on history is its form of presentation.  Books are great, and have immense value in the unique experience of sitting down with one and reading it.  However, many people quickly tire of line-after-line of words.  Webpages, videos, and other digital presentations help such people engage with important material to a greater degree.  Webpage design forces a different format on text.  Instead of dense paragraphs, webpages work better broken into smaller chunks of text that are more easily digestible.  Photos can be added into the text.  Video can be added into a block of text to show a relevant event or message.  Things that were not possible before can now be utilized to grab the attention of more people, keep them engaged for longer, and hopefully drive the author’s message home harder than ever before.  Digital history is here to stay, and it’s a bright future for the study of history.

Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

Field Evolving

For me to answer the question- “how are digital tools reshaping the field of history,” who is in the field must be identified first. Three major groups of people I have noticed as reoccurring over the course of this class are independent historians, educational historians, and public historians- often overlapping in the work they complete. Although they often use the same technological tools, what differentiates them from each other is how they apply these tools and for what reason.

When I use the term “independent historian,” I am referring to a historian who focuses on their own independent research. This may include hobbyists, educators, journalists, and just about anyone who has developed an interest in history and pursues it for themselves. The primary way that digital tools has reshaped their scope of the field is how they do research and how they publish it.

Technology has given way to the digital storage and digital archives, meaning that historians are no longer required to travel to a different physical location to research their interests. Now, they have the ability to sit at home and browse huge collections of digitally published journals, articles, transcriptions, and multimedia. However, some items have yet to be digitized and be viewed digitally. The camera is an easy solution for this- allowing historians to photograph documents and places to review later. This results in large personal archives of items that previously required a physical presence- now of which historians can comb through at their leisure and take their time gathering details. To help them in their review, there are many applications and software to organize and analyze- such as Tropy [1] and Tableau [2].

Digital publication and scholarship are now possibilities for historians. Rather than having to go through an institution and printing company- costing significant time and finances, historians can now export their work online for anyone to see at little to no cost. Websites and online journals are only a few platforms available. For larger audience engagement, historians can run blogs and step into the social media sphere. Platforms such as Twitter and Youtube current host large communities of historians, allowing them to find, engage, and learn from each other without going to a physical location.

In my visualization project, I chose to build a video around the major security breach data I explored and modeled in Tableau. I then uploaded it to Youtube, and although it is set as unlisted, this still serves as a way that the platform is being used to share research. It is also a way that social media and multimedia can be used in the classroom.

Educational historians refer to those who teach history at an education institution. Digital tools have changed the way that they can engage their students for better understanding and comprehension. Teachers and professors can now turn to blogs, social media, and multimedia to enforce learning points and subject matter. Videos, documentaries, and 360-degree photographs now pull their students into an immersive lesion on what it was like to be someone in another time.

These same digital tools can be used to build more holistic and encompassing lessons- such as with Tecumseh Lies Here. This game campaign-style lesson used social media, SMS, multimedia, websites, and many other digital tools to teach students how to do history as historians do in the field. It reported to be incredibly immersive and an experience unlike any other [3].

Compared to these two groups of historians, public historians actively seek to bring the history to public audiences. Digital tools that they work with are applied to enhance museums, historical sites, and other locations that their public audiences visit. As applied to museums, digital tools may be screens or interactive components of an exhibit. They could also be websites that provide more information of exhibits and items. During the COVID-19 quarantine and lock-down, there has been in increase in museums pushing their content online to be viewed and learned from. The Palace Museum in China is only one of these opening their doors virtually, allowing their resources to be viewed by a larger audience online than in person [4].

However, public historians do not have to work with an institution to be able have items for an online audience. They can also be independent historians with already digitized items that they would like to share. Omeka provides a platform where they can publish these items and sort them into exhibits and collections [5]. In one of our projects this semester, we worked with Omeka to compile our research on a subject around multimedia. My Omeka website on cryptography featured pictures of cipher-machines and classical ciphers throughout history, presenting them as exhibits in a museum-esque way. Without Omeka, I would have never been able to organize these items like that- unless hours were spent wrangling code and implementing packages and add-ons.

In conclusion, digital tools have changed the ways in that history is collected, reviewed, and published. Therefore, they have made the field of history more accessible for historians and their audiences alike.

1. “Tropy.” n.d. Accessed May 5, 2020.

2. “Tableau Public.” n.d. Tableau Public. Accessed May 5, 2020.

3. Compeau, Timothy, and Robert MacDougall. 2019. “Tecumseh Returns: A History Game in Alternate Reality, Augmented Reality, and Reality.” In Seeing the Past with Computers: Experiments with Augmented Reality and Computer Vision for History, edited by Kevin Kee and Timothy Compeau, Online, Chapter 10. Digital Humanities: Digital Culture Books. Ann Abor: University of Michigan Press.[Kee-0017]!/4/2[ch10]/2/2[p176]/1:0.

4. Maggie, Hiufu Wong. n.d. “With Travelers Unable to Visit Due to the Coronavirus Outreak, China’s Museums Put Exhibitions Online.” CNN. Accessed May 5, 2020.

5. Trimble, Cailin. 2015. “Omeka for All: Teaching, Research, and Exhibits.” CED Archives-UC Berkeley. May 12, 2015.

Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

A Bright Future in Digital History

Before this semester, my experience with digital history was mostly limited to unreliable social media posts, Wikipedia binges, and vaguely informative YouTube videos. Every now and then, usually when frantically hunting for research paper sources at 2:00 in the morning, I would stumble across someone’s blog filled with useful, but tragically uncited, history. And, for one weird month when I was nineteen, I was oddly obsessed with a map game that recreated historical cartography and asked the player to memorize the locations.  Otherwise, when I thought of history, my mind went to peer-reviewed journal articles, libraries filled with students, and fragile documents. My experiences this semester have definitely expanded my view beyond this.  

The first topic that really made me sit up and pay attention catered to my continuing adoration of maps. Following a very pleasing look at David Rumsey’s Map Collection, I was directed to Georeferencer, an online tool that allows its user to create and manipulate interactive maps. At the time, I had no particular use for the program, but the fact that I could make a map if I wanted to thrilled me. Another link let me see how scholars were using such tools to further our understanding of history and geography. The Spatial History Project is a collaborative project spearheaded by Standford University. Using maps, charts, and pictures, they are creating images that will cross language and education barriers and allow learners to see beyond the text describing the event. This spoke to me. Between my ADHD making it difficult to focus on walls of text and my closest friend’s dyslexia, I know how useful images can be. The fact some are interactive is the icing on the cake.

A Spatial History Project Creation: Aaron Koblin’s Flight Patterns

Now, with my respect earned through the power of pretty maps, I began to consider digital history through new eyes. “How is this field a gamechanger?,” I asked myself. “How can I use the digital medium to teach and grow?” As the semester progressed, I learned that George Mason University is implementing digital dissertations for their history students, so that they can incorporate their findings through “linear and non-linear narratives, as well as in multiple non-narrative formats such as code, data visualization, and image annotation.”1 I discovered that the Domain of One’s Initiative is working with educators to develop cyberinfrastructure for students. This will allow kids to have a safe online domain where their data can’t be stolen and they can have a say in their education.  Finally, as someone who has an internship at my local archives and used to work at a museum, I excited by the initiative to create digital archives. I know first hand how long the process takes, but digital museums and archives are easier for the public to navigate and learn from. 

Stuck at Home? These Twelve Famous Museums Offer Virtual Tours You Can Take on Your Couch

Neat, right? Allowing visitors to tour museums from home will encourage an appreciation for art and history. The museums share their findings online, providing a much more reliable source for students writing 2:00 am research papers. This lets historians have a voice in what people learn and helps keep misinformation from spreading.

Of course, not everything is sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. After all, not everyone has access to the technology or the internet connection necessary to use these resources. These people tend to not have very much money or live far out in the country away from urban developments; which means that some might not live near a local library and might not be able to afford college. Unfortunately, if these people have no internet access, then the digital platforms that historians are creating won’t reach those who most deserve it. There are also people, typically of an older generation, who simply aren’t computer literate, making it very difficult to navigate online resources. Even so, as digital technology slowly becomes ubiquitous throughout the world, there will be fewer situations where people simply cannot use the internet. Digital tools will steadily become more important in the classroom, workplace, and daily life. Historians need to be prepared to adjust to the changing world and make use of the many tools that are available.

At the very least, I know that these tools were incredibly helpful for me as I worked on my project this semester. The above image is of New Orleans directly after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. Throughout these past few months, I created maps and gathered images, charts, and videos about the catastrophe. I compiled them together using the ArcGIS StroyMaps digital storytelling platform. It follows New Orleans’ response to the hurricane from a few days before it hit until the present day. Through my work, I hoped to educate people about Katrina, honor those who suffered through the tragedy, and address the gentrification that’s been sweeping the city in the subsequent years. All of my sources are linked at the bottom of the story, and many of the pictures I used are archived in my Omeka site. By the time I finished, I had learned SO much. Not just about Katrina, but also how to create interactive maps, how to use pictures to tell a story, and how to aesthetically organize an online story. It was a pretty great experience even if the topic was very sad. If historians and teachers use platforms like StoryMaps and Omeka to teach and archive information, I think that digital history will have a bright future.


Klokan Technologies GmbH. “Images to Interactive Maps.” Georeferencer, n.d.

PAMA Archives. “Why Don’t Archivists Digitize Everything?” Peel Art Gallery: Museum and Archives, June 1, 2017.

Romano, Andrea. “Stuck at Home? These 12 Famous Museums Offer Virtual Tours You Can Take on Your Couch.” Travel Leisure, March 12, 2020.

Rumsey, David. “David Rumsey Map Collection.” David Rumsey Historical Map Collection | The Collection, n.d.

“Seterra Geography – The Ultimate Map Quiz Site.” Seterra Geography – Free Map Quiz Games, n.d.

(1) Sharpe, Celeste Tường Vy. “Digital Dissertations and the Changing Nature of Doctoral Work.” Perspectives on History. American Historical Association, April 23, 2019.

“Sunshine, Lollipops And Rainbows.” Sunshine, Lollipops And Rainbows. Lesley Gore, July 31, 2018.

Watters, Audrey. “The Web We Need To Give Students.” Medium. BRIGHT Magazine, June 25, 2019.

White, Richard. “What Is Spatial History?” Spatial History Project. Stanford University, February 1, 2010.

Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

Digital History: The Future or A Denied Present

Digital tools, they have the power to change the way historians practice history and the way historians share their findings with the general public. However, digital tools can only do this if they are accepted as a legitimate form of scholarship.

Blogging can be a way for historians to share their work online and get feedback on their work1. Blogging can tell them if the public is interested in their work, or if they would like the historian to research another branch of their research. Blogging can also help historians work out their ideas, as writing down information takes a different part of their brain than just thinking through the idea. Therefore, blogging can help historians thoroughly think through an idea, and view it from multiple perspectives, as they are forced to think about it differently when typing it up. Blogging could also provide a record that they had an idea in the case of who had the idea first and could inspire other historians to research a topic. The blog could also get non-professional historians and young adults interested in history, leading them to become professional historians one day.

Omeka is an online exhibit software useful for museums and archives. It has useful categories for metadata, allowing those who wish to utilize the artifacts displayed online in papers to easily cite them. The private function also enables museums to keep track of collections without the public seeing them. However, there is other collections management software for that. Museums are considering making their collections available to the public for independent research purposes. They could spark interest in people even if they are not able to come to the museum. This semester I created an Omeka exhibit on Poverty and Homelessness. While I had worked with Omeka before, and even made exhibits in Omeka. I had not, however, worked on an Omeka exhibit on my own previously, it was always a group project.

Historians can create websites to make their research available to the public. These websites can have graphs and interactive maps. These websites allow visitors to the site to connect to history in a way they cannot with standard dissertations or e-books. They enable the audience to visualize the information.

Digital dissertations range from just e-books to an interactive way to showcase research and educate the public2. However, even some of the universities most open to merging technology and history have been resistant to digital dissertations3. Digital dissertations are especially essential when they are about the history of minority groups that are left out of the typical high school history course.

Many colleges and universities now use Learning Management Systems or LMS, such as Moodle or at Appalachian State University AsULearn. Not all professors utilize these systems to their full extent, or even at all4. However, this has had to change due to the current crisis. For those not used to entirely teaching online, there was a learning curve, and each professor has a different style for teaching online. Still, there seem to be positive results so far. Beyond LMS’s, there are Google’s tools that can help with creating assignments, teaching, or group work. The collaborative nature of Google’s products makes them ideal for group projects or working as a team in a workplace setting, especially if that workplace is in multiple locations. Zotero, created by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, stores data on the sources historian, or other academics, collect for their projects. Zotero can also generate citations and has plug-ins for Microsoft Word and Google docs.

Since Wikipedia’s beginning, students were told that it was not a reliable source, or that they could use only the references listed on the Wikipedia page as a starting point. However, Wikipedia editors work hard to make sure their content is accurate and stays accurate. Marth Saxton discusses in her article the lack of women in Wikipedia’s history pages, editors wanted separate sections for the women who were part of the history or different pages altogether5. This makes it harder to have the story of women be a part of mainstream history and not just women’s history.

Businesses check social media accounts of potential employees before deciding to hire them. This is why it is important to carefully curate your online presence. Only post professional content unless you are sure the account is private. On the other hand, many businesses, including museums, hire young adults to run their social media accounts. The Museum of English Rural Life knows, ordinarily, it would not bring in many visitors. However, their unique online presence on Twitter has created a following which could bring more people to the museum.

The above tweet is an example of The Museum of English Rural Life’s use of Meme Culture to create a fanbase for their museum and content.

Copyright, as it is, restricts the field of history instead of giving credit and compensation to those who created images and published works. People may be afraid to build on the work of others because they are fearful of breaking copyright laws6. However, there is an alternative, creative commons licenses, but it must be said these do not earn the user money. Some licenses allow work to be modified as long as people attribute the work to the original author. Different licenses require different things such as to share alike, attribute work to the original author, and restricts the user to non-commercial use.

Augmented Alternative Reality Gaming was used in a University in Canada to train students in the process of researching and producing historical scholarly work7. Something similar could be done in a museum or school setting to keep visitors or students interested, and motivated, while also helping them learn for themselves. Learning through doing, projects, and gaming is proven to be more effective than lecture-style teachings.

Digital posters are a new way for historians, and other academics, to share their work at conferences. Software programs like Adobe Spark make creating these posters easy. The programs allow historians to share not only their sources and other written work but pictures, videos, and other media content as well. Also, by publishing online, historians can share their work with anyone who has access to the internet, not just people who stop by their table at the conference. This semester I also created an Adobe Spark poster on Poverty and Homelessness, the stigmas around them, and potential solutions to poverty, homelessness, and the stigma around them. It was a new way to share information that I had not tried before. There was a bit of a learning curve using it, but once I figured out where I could import photos from, it was relatively simple.

As Joel McHale’s character on “Community” once said, “The future of the past is now.”8 Digital history has been not only possible but the future of history since the creation of the internet. The change is not only possible, but it’s already happening. If there was less resistance from the boards that decide what counts as scholarly work, there could be significant advances in the fields of history, public history, and digital history. Historians would be able to share their work with more people and use it to shape the public’s understanding of the world, which is the point of studying history, right? If not, then historians need to ask themselves, why are we studying history in the first place?


Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

Final Reflection on Digital History

As the world continues to deal with COVID-19, the digital world has become even more populated with new users. As both the classroom and workplace have been forced into a digital format in record time, the path back to “the old ways” of doing things seems to be laid to rest in practice. However, as the global pandemic eventually calms, the crusty Luddites that influence bureaucratic policy will want to return to the ways of old, including history. As historians, we are to look at the past and make rational decisions based on remaining evidence. The cinematic montage of a graduate student sitting in a dimly-lit archive with a mountain of books does not integrate well in a society that has a digital personal assistant with a universal library.
Indeed, as international travel has been halted to a standstill, the normal ways of scholarship have been deeply affected. The ability to see historical artifacts, locations, documents scattered across the world has been in some cases literally shutdown. While the vast majority of public institutions such as museums are closed, too many administrators cannot see the value of online archives and guided tours with live streams. Already prior to COVID-19, simple travel logistics prevented a large majority from visiting learning institutions like the Smithsonian. The economic hardships of flights, hotels, and various travel expenses are simply not available to many families.
With the very minimal initial investment, museums are able to utilize digital publishing platforms such as Omeka to provide a way to provide an exchange of information.1 The ability to create an attractive exhibit is not limited to the physical or digital realm. The ability to create a photo gallery with listed information is well within the means of an amateur. Many commercial businesses have turned to Youtube live streams to generate revenue due to COVID-19, while keeping the public informed of daily routines, along with “backstage” content. Why should the historian not exploit this model? In a world of “clicks are cash” in regards to monetization, museums are able to use views to allow funding while providing the opportunity to see things such as restorations of exhibits, visits to the museum’s archives, and Zoom video conferencing with specialists in the particular field of the exhibit.
The use of open-source software also allows institutions to avoid the pitfalls of paid content. The increasingly corporate-friendly takeover of previously non-profit organizations is one of the most destructive forces in digital history. The constant blast of consumer pop history and sanitization of historical events has led to bland morsels of history stuffed inside a thinly-veiled advertisement. For example, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum has continuously has tried to display the Enola Gay as it is a piece of history. Instead of presenting the historical narrative, curators have folded time and again against perceived pressure on the Enola Gay exhibit. The mere threat of minor public discourse of a historical exhibit was outlandish but nevertheless has prevented a full-time exhibit of historical significance. By integrating digital tools, Smithsonian curators would be able to create a permanent digital installation. High-quality photographs from tail to propeller, video interviews incorporated into the exhibit, and data from the destruction and rebuilding of Hiroshima could be realized without the real threat of deranged protesters who would deny history. The Smithsonian was finally able to put the Enola Gay on permanent display at the Chantilly, VA in 2003 after nearly 70 years of debate2.
While the Smithsonian may represent the behemoth of historical interest, the history classroom represents a large untapped historical well that can benefit from digitization. With typical high school history classes consisting of primary lecture and reading in preparation for standardized testing, why should history teachers settle for the old ways? Timothy Compeau and Robert MacDougall developed Tecumseh Lies Here as a way to investigate historical research in a historical game3. The interaction of source material provides a much deeper appreciation of the history if one is emotionally invested in the subject. In keeping students engaged with the material on the War of 1812, Tecumseh Lies Here offers revolutionary ways to realize historical data into active learning and visualization. The model offered also allows for easy input of historical scenarios as a game can be tailored to incorporate the learning goals demanded by the institution, but only limited by the imagination and rule sets designed by the creators. The Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium’s The Oregon Trail, for example, highlighted the dangers American pioneers faced in a simple, yet effective way. Offering a way for the learner to experience history by seeing their family die of dysentery is more engaging than stating that waterborne disease was an issue for the pioneers.
The options available to historians today to express their historical scholarship are unlimited as more and more of the developing world are connecting digitally to exchange information and ideas. The numbers of the audience available are now not limited to the seating capacity of the lecture hall or bad weather conditions. Information will still be processed into multiple revision textbooks that adds little to no new information and keeps academic publishers in business. However, the ability to break the chains of privileged information can be fully realized by historians who embrace the digital world as closely as they embrace their field of study.


  • Posner, Miriam, and Megan R. Brett. “Creating an Omeka Exhibit.” Programming Historian 5 (2016)
  •  Compeau, Timothy, and Robert MacDougall. “Tecumseh Returns: A History Game in Alternate Reality, Augmented Reality, and Reality.” In Seeing the Past with Computers: Experiments with Augmented Reality and Computer Vision for History, edited by Kevin Kee and Timothy Compeau, Online., Chapter 10. Digital Humanities: Digital Culture Books. Ann Abor: University of Michigan Press, 2019.
Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

Digital Resources: The Evolution of History

I believe that digital tools are reshaping the field of history for the better and working to ensure that the field becomes more practical and inviting. Often times, we think of the field of history as a mundane subject: studies of old people and things but not necessarily of the potential that could come from utilizing the many technological resources that are available in the 21st century. Prior to enrolling into this course, I initially picked it because I thought that this would be something new and innovative, which could help me as continue along my educational journey, however, I did not fully understand the breadth of websites and resources that are available.

While digital history can be somewhat of a broad subject, it encompasses a lot, from tools to helps historians showcase history to the utilization of digital platforms as a means of keeping resources organized during research. As someone who will be entering into another history program in the fall, one of the most interesting conversations within class was centered around the topic of digital dissertations and even the work that one university – George Mason University, was doing surrounding this topic. One of the largest issues with any discipline is the fact that we are so accustomed to doing things in one specific way and unwilling to entertain something new or innovative. This is the exact discussion (or argument) that is happening with many academics in regard to the digital dissertation phenomenon. Though digital dissertations are not a new thing, it is not the norm within the field of history, therefore, it is important that those who have done this culmination of research are able to share with others what this process looks like. One of the most pivotal parts of completing a digital dissertation is the relationship between the advisee and dissertation chair/advisor. Each of these individuals must have the bandwidth to take on this type of project as it lends into the advisor in a different way; even challenging them to learn more about something that may be out of the wheelhouse. But, this is a great thing![1] It mandates that individuals (practitioners, academics, etc.) are no longer seeing history as a one-dimensional subject but one that is ever-changing as developments change. In the field, we have to realize that doing something different does not invalidate the research that is being done nor does it mean that things are easier for the doctoral student. The guidelines set forth by George Mason are a great example of flexibility when it comes to allowing students to be innovative in their approach to creating and contributing to further scholarship.[2]

Another tool that is changing history is blogging, specifically in the ways in which we are educating students at all levels. It is pertinent that we are utilizing available and user-friendly resources that are more than just mere busy-work, but thought-provoking and meaningful. Two of the articles that we were assigned this semester allowed me to reflect on some of the work that was completed in this course and how that affected my learning. Being able to utilize a blog to articulate the main points and arguments that I connected with made me synthesize the information that I was reading in order to understand its importance to me and my educational journey. John Warner mentioned in his article his regret for “not making student write enough” however, I think that everyone has to change their mindset regarding scholarship. He later mentioned utilizing blogs as a way to engage his students and found that (like myself) they were starting to have stronger arguments through these types of assignments.[3] Blogging allows for students to put in their own unique writing style and feels less academic than writing papers; which is a win-win for educators and students.

As a lover of public history, another way in which digital tools are changing the field of history is the ways in which many exhibits are going online. Though this does not replace the same feeling of attending a museum, for example, it allows for there to be accessibility for those who may not have the resources to fly to Washington, D.C. to visit the National Museum for African-American History & Culture, for example. I believe that this was one of my greatest takeaways while completing our Omeka and Digital Visualization projects in this course. Being able to utilize resources like Omeka, Knightlab, and the myriad of websites that are able to virtually map the journeys of people, such as those who traveled west on the Oregon Trail.[4] This allows for almost all students to have the opportunity to learn about events in history through aesthetically pleasing resources. These types of sites, apps, and programs demystify history and help to showcase it for what it is: an interesting topic of an everchanging people in an everchanging world. Digital history, though disputed by some, helps alleviate some barriers of privilege. 

[1] Celeste Tường Vy Sharpe. “Digital Dissertations and the Changing Nature of Doctoral Work.” Perspectives on History, April 2019. 

[2] The Department of History and Art History. “Digital Dissertation Guidelines.” George Mason University Webpage. Accessed January 15, 2020.

[3] John Warner. “Let ’em Write.” Inside Higher Ed: #blogs (blog), August 17, 2018.

[4]University of Richmond Digital Scholarship Lab. “Mapping Inequality”

Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

Getting the Point Across

How are digital tools reshaping the field of history?

To me, the answer to this questions has been apparent to me throughout the entire semester as I have participated in a graduate level digital history class. Digital tools are reshaping history by finally connecting the general public to real, honest history in a meaningful way, allowing them to make it personal and engage with it directly. They become knowledge-holders, and are on the inside instead of the outside of the circle.

In Brenda Trofanenko’s article, “Playing Into the Past,” the author argues that public history museums have always been a place of education for the public, and have been accepted and respected because of this.1 However, Trofanenko goes on to explain that this has led to a specific narrative of American history to be presented to the public.

If this is true, then digital tools are one way to counteract this and make history more realistic, more accessible, and more personal for the average modern museum goer or high school student. Trofanenko claims that using digital technologies to make history “playful” can help engage audiences more deeply than traditional methods of presenting exhibits in museums, and can consequently counteract the privileged and oversimplified interpretations in museums of objects, which cast the museum as a “knowledge holder” and everyone else as needing to beg for access to that knowledge.2

They can make history in museums draw more people in, and spark more curiosity and inspiration in visitors to explore historical ideas and topics, instead of taking a simple one or two sentence interpretation of a dress such as the following, made in 1750 by a Native American craftswoman at face value, because the object contains so much more significance and a longer story than that; “Cherokee ceremonial dress, Western North Carolina, circa 1750.”

By causing a public audience to want to know more and to realize that there is more to an object in an exhibit than what the museum says, therefore not seeing the museum as the end all be all of historical knowledge, voices that have been silenced throughout history can be given a chance to speak, and public audiences are also able to learn the true history of their country more easily, because they will seek it out, counteracting harmful narratives of the past. Consequently, this deeper engagement and curiosity causes them to make more personal connections to history and to how it has impacted their present society.

Another example is the augmented reality game, Tecumseh Lies Here, created by public history professors Timothy Compeau and Robert MacDougall. This game captivated the attention of their students, and led them to completely immerse themselves in learning about the subject and trying to find answers to the various mysteries in the game.

While the authors admit that this costs a lot of time and money, it is important for consideration in both schools and museums, because it makes history personal. The students learned way more about the topic than they could have from a textbook, and in a way that did not relegate history to the title of “boring,” and also did not place history on a pedestal of knowledge and superiority that no common person could touch.

The authors claimed that they wanted to have students see what it was like to do history from the bottom up, starting with “fragmentary remains” of the past and working up to find the answers. The students went through this process, and then came out with a stronger knowledge. However, this game and its success also proves that anyone can do history.3

Implementing this in a museum setting, with the right money and help, could cause the public to feel like they are part of the story of history, see its importance, connect with it, and carry on learning about it because of their experience. If the public became as invested in a research project as these students did, that would be a huge change from the traditional mode of historical research. This tool changes history because it gets the public involved in the process of history, debunking the myth that historians are the only ones who know anything.

My last example is that digitization of historical archives and collections, and digital tools that aid in researching topics online, along with online historical projects specifically catered to an audience,4 create a way for the average person to pursue a historical interest, become involved in historical practice, and learn history, without leaving their home. They do not have to pay to go to the museum or to a park, and they don’t have to drive to a certain place or attend university classes. They can engage on their couch.

For instance, visualization and spatial history projects like the one I had to do for this class, and this one from Stanford University,5 allow those interested in geography and where history has taken place to look over the projects from their computer, learn something new, be inspired, research, and carry on their new knowledge to the next person and to their next interaction with history, all without going anywhere.

Essentially, these tools do much the same thing as a museum, but they require less work on the part of the audience, which is a big change from normal historical practice. It also changes history because it makes it easier for audiences to access topics and research related to their interests quickly from home, meaning they have more time to engage with it and they are personally invested because they choose what to look at and what they want to research further, and what links to follow. People do not have to depend on historians to tell them in a book or at a museum about something. They can seek out answers for themselves.


  1. Brenda Trofanenko, “Playing Into the Past: Reconsidering the Educational Promise of Public History Exhibits,” in Pastplay: Teaching and Learning History with Technology, edited by Kevin Kee (Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan UP, 2014): 257-269.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Timothy Compeau and Robert MacDougall, “Tecumseh Returns: A History Game in Alternate Reality, Augmented Reality, and Reality,” in Seeing the Past with Computers: Experiments with Augmented Reality and Computer Vision for History, edited by Kevin Kee and Timothy Compeau (Ann Arbor, MI, Michigan UP: 2019): 176-180.
  4. Sheila A. Brennan, “Public, First,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016, edited by Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein, first edition, chapter 32 (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2016).
  5. Richard White, “What Is Spatial History?” in the Spatial History Project (Stanford University Spatial History Lab, working paper, February 1, 2010).

Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

Reflections on Digital History

Digital tools are reshaping how history is done, both with ever increasing access to information, the depth and scope of what can be done, and how history can be shown and communicated, beyond a paper or a textbook. With online social media, more people are talking, which means more talk about history. Videos and images are easier to find and use, as well as audio. There are more sources to be found and used, though online databases and websites. It is easier to be more collaborative with history, crowdsourcing information finding or getting ideas for next steps in research. 

There is a new generation of historians coming to the field, eager and learning how to best meld the newer advancements in information technology with the old field, which is something that is still being pioneered. I am a very slow learner when it comes to technology, so even the simple things are amazing, being able to annotate images, create interactive timelines and the like. I am looking forward to seeing how history will evolve with these additions.

When it comes to online sharing of ideas and information, ebooks, online journals, blog posts and other forms of social media are a few of the methods that have come around since the creation of the internet. The traditional field of history is still struggling to adapt to it, and has made some progress, like with the acceptance of digital projects as phd things, as opposed to books and articles. Creating a website to share information can count just as much as writing a book, for all of its different forms. There is just as much work and research involved, but it takes a non-traditional direction in its path and final product.(1) 

Public historians have been quicker to accept this change overall, due in part to connection that they have with the larger public and are beholden to the shark pool that is public opinion. For them, it is not a question of publish or die, but adapt to the ever changing world, keep up with the faster paced changes in the larger world, and take what they can for the betterment of their museums and research. (2) Museums are listening to their visitors, and becoming more interactive with them, in part through social media.

Also – Digitization of museum collections. This allows for the public to get a look at a museum collection from their computer, getting some, if not all, of the information the museum has on an artifact or series of artifacts. It’s not always possible, due to money constraints and the state of the materials in question. There is also just too much to make everything digital quickly. It can take years. It’s better to get a few things now, than wait years.(3)There is also something to be said for seeing something up close and in person. But that’s not always possible, especially in this time of world quarantine. 

Now it is much easier to access larger groups of people, who share the same interests, through the internet, making collaboration easier and quicker. Now, if there is a professor with niche interests, and the only one that has that interest in the institution where they, there will likely be an online community that shares the same interest, and knows of other professionals of the same mind, from all over the world. 

When working on my project, one of the first places I looked for samplers was on online databases, collected and curated by various institutions and historical societies. (4) I also turned to books and online websites and Youtube for the more physical aspects. Books are always my first instinct, but I knew that books could only be so helpful in this case, as samplers are such physical things, and words to describe them fall short, requiting images to fill in the gaps. After all, a picture is worth a thousand works. Telling that the colors are rich and the stitches exquisite paint a beautiful image, but a very unclear one. Showing what is meant will do much more for the reader. (Here’s one of my favorites.) (5)

I made this project out of interest in how, exactly, samplers were made, focusing on the stitches used, and how they can be picked out of their surroundings. I was able to show the process of recreating a stitch used in a sampler, showing where it was, and how it was used in the sampler. Most people don’t know very many stitches, if any, thanks to the industrial revolution in the clothing industry.  

One of the best resources in my project was a blog, showing how to make most of the stitches referenced, and many more variations that were not. The images are necessary to learn how to stitch, to see what is being done in order to copy from it. Where the blog failed me, I turned to youtube. Some videos were more helpful than others, but that is the nature with every source of information.   


1 Cohen, Dan, and Joseph T Scheinfeldt. Hacking the Academy: New Approaches to Scholarship and Teaching from Digital Humanities. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013., doi:10.1353/book.22907.

2 Kee, Kevin. Pastplay: Teaching and Learning History with Technology. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014., doi:10.1353/book.29517.

3 Archives @ Pama, Region of Peel “Why Don’t Archives Digitize Everything?”

4 Ball, Emily. “Stitch Dictionary’”. Flickr.

5 Whitney, Fanny “Fanny Whitney’s Sampler,” accessed May 4, 2020,

Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

Final Reflections: Revolution and Evolution

Back in January, I wrote a blog post detailing what I believed to be the primary aspects of digital history, which I termed digital pedagogy, research, and history. [1] Now, at the end of the semester, coming back to that post, the class has both not covered what I would term digital history as a school of history, and covered things that I would not have thought of fitting, such as establishing a digital identity. Now, while I still believe that the school approach to digital history is an interesting idea, and worth of significant further study, it is also outside of the scope of the class, and instead I will focus on the former two ideas, pedagogy and research, although I will be approaching them in the opposite order this time.

In my personal experience, digital history research both makes things far easier, and simultaneously does not go nearly far enough. In my research for an eventual thesis on the Spanish American War, I have used, and attempted to use, quite a number of digital tools. In some cases, such as digital archives these have been incredibly valuable. For example, DigitalNC has offered up a large slice of the newspapers published at the time in an easy to search and easily readable format. [2] Furthermore, in this age of COVID-19, these digital archives are literal lifesavers, on top of being figurative ones the rest of the time due to presenting large numbers of digitized primary sources for use in papers and research projects. On the other hand, other tools are either too specialized such as Transkribus, or simply hard to get working properly, such as many of the OCR tools that I have tried to use. [3] However this is not intended as an indictment of the state of Transkribus, or of OCR. My use case is a particularly challenging one. Transkribus for example is intended to use a large selection of a single person’s writing to create a recognition frame in order to transcribe it into print text. I wanted a system that would allow me to take a bare handful of letters and make them easier to read, which is a much more challenging problem, because most of my writers only sent maybe half a dozen letters, if that, during their service in the Spanish American War.

To discuss more generally however, digital research offers up new ways to access, interpret, and share information. With access, while digitization is highly expensive both in immediate and ongoing costs, it makes preserving documents easier, and makes them far more accessible. This is not only because I can connect to them anywhere that I have an internet connection, but also because the process of preparing the documents for digitization often makes the materials themselves more readable. [4] With interpretation, the first and last gate has always been the historian. While new tools can offer new insights, they cannot replace good judgement. For example, in the case of Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman’s Time on the Cross, they used large selections of data and computer modeling to attempt to divine the real experience of slavery. While they made some interesting points on the economic viability of slavery, they utterly misrepresented and mangled their interpretation of the slave experience. [5] At the same time, this is not a problem of digital modeling, and digital interpretation, but of the historians doing the work. Tools like Voyant create opportunities to examine language in a more fine toothed manner, and offer new ways to engage with well trodden fields. [6] Finally, sharing information is really the most revolutionary aspect. While some historians are too enthusiastic about its revolutionary potential, the ability to share a work in progress means that the time for peer review does not begin during the publication cycle, but long before it. [6] However, at the same time, traditional books and journals offer fixed points in time to maintain a historiography, rather than simply changing the pieces that don’t fit in the interpretation any more.

The other half of the digital history question is pedagogy. This is again a number of parallel paths, effectively, teaching history directly with digital technology, teaching how to do history with digital technology, and finally distance teaching.
In teaching history directly with digital technology, much like the rest of teaching history, there is no substitute for a dedicated, interested, and engaged teacher. In the Tecumseh Lies Here ARG for example, no amount of packaging and preparation was able to capture the impact that a small team, acting and reacting based on live information was able to create. [7] Games in various forms have long been a part of teaching, and offer significant advantages, primarily by being able to simulate and approach complicated topics by baking those ideas into the game design, and stimulating the competitiveness inherent in play to master those topics. [8] Beyond teaching with technology, teaching how to use technology is likely even more important. At its most basic, history in the modern day is not about knowing facts and figures. That Christopher Colombus set out across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492 is really an irrelevant factoid. Modern history, especially with Google and other search engines, is more a process. Inquiry, research, and verification are the tools that the modern history classroom needs to leave the student with, not the stale and well trodden facts and figures. Most modern students have access to research tools in the classroom, and have the ability to begin to put it together. [9] Similarly, teaching students to build and maintain their own websites is a key life skill that falls relatively neatly into the goals of the humanities. [10] This teaching how to do history can also put student historians into practice, for example the University of Edinburgh’s Wikipedia editathons. [11]
Finally, there is distance learning. Especially in this age of COVID, distance learning is the key challenge for educators, and something that this class has leaned into. While programs like Zoom, Skype or Discord can help, fundamentally, learning at a distance requires a reorganization of how teaching works, and must include trusting students to do projects independently.

Overall, I see digital history as more evolutionary than revolutionary. While digital histories offer new tools for nearly every aspect of the profession, and ones that I fully intend to make use of, the tools do not change the underlying discipline as a whole. In this class, I have used the same skills and approaches as I have in any other, but have added new tools and understandings of how I can use those tools to an already existing toolbox.

[1] Chamberlain Silkenat, “Start of Semester Understandings” Digital History, Jan 28.

[2] “North Carolina Newspapers.” DigitalNC. North Carolina Digital Heritage Center

[3] “Transcribe. Collaborate. Share…” Transkribus.; “Download OCR Software.” SimpleOCR, January 29, 2020.

[4] Emma Skinner, “Letters of Note: Preparing the Prize Papers for Digitisation,” UK National Archives, April 30, 2020.; Archives @ PAMA, Region of Peel. “Why Don’t Archivists Digitize Everything?” Archives @ PAMA, June 1, 2017.

[5]Robert William, Fogel, and Stanley L.. Engerman. Time on the Cross: the Economics of American Negro Slavery (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995).

[6] Stephen, Sinclair, and Geoffrey Rockwell. “Voyant Tools.” Voyant Tools.

[7] Timothy Compeau, and Robert MacDougall. “Tecumseh Returns: A History Game in Alternate Reality, Augmented Reality, and Reality.” In Seeing the Past with Computers: Experiments with Augmented Reality and Computer Vision for History, edited by Kevin Kee and Timothy Compeau, Online., Chapter 10. Digital Humanities: Digital Culture Books. Ann Abor: University of Michigan Press, 2019.[Kee-0017]!/4/2[ch10]/2/2[p176]/1:0

[8] Jorit Wintjes,“‘Not an Ordinary Game, But a School of War’ Notes on the Early History of the Prusso-German Kriegsspiel,” Vulcan: Journal of the Social History of Military Technology 4, no. 1 (January 2016): 52–75.

[9] Joseph D. Galanek, Dana C. Gierdowski, and D. Christopher Brooks. “Experiences with Instructors and Technology,” Educause, 2018.

[10] Sara Grossman, “Web-Hosting Project Hopes to Help Students Reclaim Digital Destinies.” The Chronicle of Higher Education Blogs: Wired Campus (blog), July 25, 2013.

[11] Martha Saxton, “Wikipedia and Women’s History: A Classroom Experience.” In Writing History in the Digital Age, ed. Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, 86–94. (Digital Humanities: Digital Culture Books. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013)

Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

Getting Down From the Ivory Tower

If you asked me a few months ago why digital history is important, I probably would have told you that it isn’t. I always felt more comfortable using tangible resources and writing things down by hand, so I never really considered digital history as essential.

This isn’t to suggest that I was ever totally dismissive of digital history. In fact, one of the pieces of work I’m proudest of ever creating is an article for Gettysburg College’s Killed At Gettysburg online project.[1] I’ve had some familiarity with digital history and how it can be useful, but I never really viewed it as necessary to pushing the field of history forward. And then this semester happened.

It started with Zotero. What was at first a nifty tool soon became an important way to streamline the citation process. As the website GettingThingsTech argues, “Citations are important, they’re just also inefficient. You want to show the world that you’ve done your research and help future readers (or yourself) see where they can learn more on your topic. It just shouldn’t take so long.” [2] As I found in my own research project (which I’ll address later on), it was almost a necessity to use a tool like Zotero. While I could have done my research without the use of a citation manager, it would have taken me so long to get the full citation data that I would have been unable to do as much research as I ultimately did. On top of that, having all of my sources in one organized location made it much simpler for me to return to those sources when I needed to.

So, cool, an app made my life easier. Nice, but not really groundbreaking stuff here, right? The thing is, the tools of digital history aren’t just meant to make things faster and easier – they’re meant to help convey information in new ways than the standard paper or dissertation. Why else would George Mason University allow their doctoral candidates to create a digital dissertation? [3] If digital history was simply a tool for comfort and ease of use, then universities would not allow students to submit works of digital history as academic scholarship. This is proof that digital history is actively pushing the field of history and forcing historians to engage with the public more often than before.

This, of course, presents challenges, and we’ve discussed them at length on our class blog. But digital history also presents tremendous opportunity. Errol Morris used digital tools and techniques to answer the question of the sequence of two photographs from the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” in the Crimean War. [4]

Two photographs of the same road, but which came first? From Errol Morris’s “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg? (Part 1)”.

Authors and historians had argued unequivocally that the second photograph (the lower one on this post, the one with the cannonballs on the road) was taken after the first one. They used these photographs to make an argument about the character of the photographer, Roger Fenton, and how he altered the scene to make his own experience appear more harrowing. However, Morris proved that while the sequence of photographs was correct, Fenton did not alter the scene. In this instance, digital tools helped historians come to a new understanding about the past and proved prior assumptions incorrect.

Digital history tools were necessary for my research project to come together. [5] I created a timeline to tell the broader story of the 1985 bombing in Philadelphia that killed several people and left hundreds homeless. I could have easily written a paper on it; there’s a number of well-done books or journal articles that talk about this event using only or mostly text. But creating a digital site allowed me to use photos, videos, and images that I could not have in a “typical” old-fashioned history paper.

Something I’ve learned through my own personal experience in public history is that showing is always better than telling. So, I’m going to try a little experiment. I’m going to write a short sentence or two about an event from my research, and then I’ll post a video that I included on my timeline. I want you to think about which has a stronger emotional impact for you.


In 1978, the group MOVE got into a shootout with police. In the crossfire, police officer James Ramp was shot in the neck and killed.

And now, the video: (WARNING: Violence/gunfire is shown in this clip.)

Easy, right? That kind of emotional power is not something I can convey through words, but that feeling is just as much an essential part of the story as any date or name. That is how digital tools can advance the field of history as well.

Digital history is a game-changer, both for research and for helping historians to tell narratives. It isn’t without its drawbacks, of course. But its flaws should not make historians cower in fear of it. Instead, it’s time to embrace the possibilities of a digital history approach. Historians need to come down from the ivory tower that is academia and make their work accessible to people. Digital history allows them to do just that.


  1. Martin, Jeffrey. “William Jones, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery”. Killed At Gettysburg: The Final Footsteps of Gettysburg’s Fallen.
  2. GettingThingsTech, “Zotero, the free citation manager for students, teachers, and more”.
  3. George Mason University, “Digital Dissertation Guidelines”.
  4. Morris, Errol. “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?” New York Times, September 25, 2007.
  5. Martin, Jeffrey. “‘It Was War’: The 1985 Philadelphia MOVE Bombing”. Sutori.–4qQtASBHxHPEqN2pJ69Cb5TE