Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

The Masses Rise Up

The story of Digital History has to cover the relutance with which some other academics in the history discipline have, or have not, accepted the field. Some historians fail to see how the field progresses the work of historians, or simply if the field is needed at all. So it is important to not only answer the question “how are digital tools reshaping the field of history?” but also to ask “why is it important to change it?” Fortunaley, the answer for both is the same. We need to change the field of history to bring the public in to challenge previous conceptions; and digital tools are the way to do this. 

In the 1960s, a wave of historians began to study previously overlooked narratives like that of the enslaved and minorities of society. This was proclaimed to be the “new social history.” This supposedly revealed past misconceptions within historical narratives. However, I think we are still correcting our older, prejudiced views within history. Each and every day, with the help of historical tools, historians are finding previously hidden details or presenting history in a different manner in which the public can see the full picture. For example, digital tools were the basis of filmaker Errol Morris’s discovery of which photo of “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” came first by photographer Roger Fenton in 1855. One photo of the Crimena battlefield captures a scene of hundreds of cannonballs covering the landscape. However, another photo of the exact same landscape shows far less cannonballs, with many of them in a ditch. Many historains have concluded that Fenton initially moved cannonballs onto the road to create a more dramatic image. However, Morris is less quick to accept this psychological analysis and resorts to digital tools and experts in order to find which photo came first. 

Even though the photo with the cannonballs on the road was in fact the second picture, Morris discovered that this was due to the law of physics that had forced the cannonballs to roll on the road.1 Therefore, utilizing digital tools and digital history strategies of sharing data and visualizations of the past with professional colleagues provide more of a buffer to falling victim of the human tendency to go with the obvious explanation based on preconceived notions. What seems obvious to us now would not seem obvious to actors of the past – and vice versa. We as historians must provide the tools and insight in order to overcome our own biases through lived experience. Even presenting historical research in just a different format, like Anne Sarah Rubin’s Sherman’s March and America: Mapping Memory interactive map will challenge everyone’s preconceived notions of a famous moment in history.2 

The second half of how digital tools are reshaping the field of history incorporates the common man, meaning everyday people. Traditional academic history still remains unreachable for many members of our society. With academic journals and books only available through costly platforms like JSTOR that are only accessible to students or professors of a university, the so called “break throughs” of historians remains within our inner circle. Institutions like the University of Michigan are making steps towards making history more accessible for everyday people by making their publications public on the Internet. However, this academic focused historical rhetoric still proves to be inaccessible for people who did not receive a higher education degree in history.  Simply publishing an ebook does not equate to the work of a digital historian. Products can be outside the realm of traditional books and articles. Reconfiguring how we present history is the key to making history personal for everyone, and then truly succeeding in the mission of new social history to bring light to forgotten narratives of the past. Timothy Compeau and Robert MacDougall’s historical game “Tecumseh Lies Here” is an excellent example of utilizing digital tools to engage people of all backgrounds. The game incorporates inquiry-based learning skills with primary sources that allow students to truly be their own historian.3

Historical games are far more accessible than academic journals that are predominantly read just within inner academic circles and exclude other members of society. Augmented reality apps like Niagara 1812 and Queenston 1812 appeal to a generation that cannot escape the digital age. Almost every person is connected to society through a digital manner and has been socialized to engage with others and our past through a digital platform.4 Instead of remaining stubbornly in the past by just publishing articles and books, historians should embrace this tide of digitalization. The same scholarly work applies – the same research, the same reading, the same corporation. However, digital tools can make our valuable work far more impactful on society through apps, engaging websites, and games rather than a book. Instead of only discovering a new historical conclusion through a book review released through JSTOR, digital history could result with these exciting new developments going viral on Twitter.

“Digital History should be taken seriously meme.” From “Reflecting on Digital History (Pandemic Edition) through Memes” by JMCCLURKEN, April 28, 2020.


  1. Morris, Errol. “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg? (Parts One to Three).” Opinionator: The New York Times (blog), September 25, 2007. 
  2. Rubin, Anne Sarah. “About.” Sherman’s March and America: Mapping Memory. 
  3. 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.[Kee-0017]!/4/2[ch10]/2/2[p176]/1:0 
  4. Kee, Kevin, Eric Poitras, and Timothy Compeau. “History All Around Us: Toward Best Practices for Augmented Reality for History.” In Seeing the Past with Computers: Experiments with Augmented Reality and Computer Vision for History, edited by Kevin Kee and Timothy Compeau, Online., Chapter 11. Digital Humanities: Digital Culture Books. Ann Abor: University of Michigan Press, 2019. 
Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

Final Reflections on Digital History

Throughout this class I have learned just how much the digital age has affected the field of history. As technology advances so does the way historians use those advancements. online media has become a major tool for historians in this technological age. Before the internet, a historian would have to physically go to a library to look at a specific book or travel to a state or national archive to have access to primary documents. Now, they can just go online and access those books or documents without leaving the comfort of their home or office. Historians are also able to share their work quicker and to a larger audience. Originally they would have to send their articles to a journal and wait for the physical copies to be printed and distributed. Those copies would go to an audience limited to those who subscribe to that journal. Today they can upload their articles to a journal that anyone can access. This digital age also allows for historians to share documents they come across as well as store them where they can access them at any time. This is possible through programs like Omeka and Zotero. During this class I have been able to do these things through several projects and assignments like blogging. Digital history is also very important for public historians because it allows them to teach the public about history to a much wider audience.

The first main advantage that the digital world has had on the history field is the ability for historians to share their work to s larger audience. Due to online journals historical works are not limited to those who subscribe to certain periodicals. Online journals however can still fall under the subscription category, but many are free to the public like The Journal of the American Revolution and The Public Historian. Online journals are an evolving technology with new standers being created by historians like allowing new types of media in their journals.[1] This allows anyone to access historical works if they have access to the internet. These online journals host a multitude of different historical works. Using the Journal of the American Revolution as an example, visitors to the site can find a wide variety of sources to look through. These sources range from reviews of the latest books on the American Revolution, lists ranking things like the top generals from the war to the bloodiest battles, to articles on specific events or people. Blogging has also become a major outlet for historians to show what they have been working on. Through blogs a historian can get quick feedback from other historians or the general public if it is a public blog. Sites like Twitter or Word Press are often used by historians to blog about their research or to get feedback on their work.  Historians can also use these new digital tools to store research. Zotero was created to help store documents for quick access.[2] This makes research a lot quicker and easier since historians do not have to sit in an archive or library and do all the work on one document at one time.

The second main advantage of the digital age relates to Public Historians. New digital media has allowed them to create new interactive ways for the public to access history online. These outlets range from online exhibits, interactive games, and virtual or video tours of sites. Online exhibits are a major form of digital public history. The major online exhibit creator would be Omeka which we used in this class for one of our major projects. Omeka is an easy to use program that can be used to store items and also create exhibits. It is also free to use. The free version is limited on space but still allows the user to create pretty intricate exhibits. With my Omeka I was able to create two exhibits, one on the history of Horn in the West and one on the history of Hickory Ridge Living History Museum with multiple sections and over 100 images each. Since I am studying to be a Public Historian creating an online exhibit was very beneficial. These types of exhibits are easier for the public to access them where they have internet access. This is beneficial for museums or historic sites that are not able to open to the public for any reason. this keeps the public engaged and may convince them to visit the site when possible. Another digital media public historians are using are virtual games and tours. These outlets make history even more engaging by making it more interactive. For those who are more visual learners this is super beneficial. Mount Vernon has been using both these media outlets with their virtual tour of George Washington’s home and the interactive Be Washington Game. Other sites have used video’s and live streams to interact with the public during the Covid-19 pandemic showing just how important digital technology can be for public historians.

[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.,

[2]“The Basics”, Zotero, Accessed May 3, 2020,