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Data/Visualizing the Past

Photo Manipulation as Zeitgeist

This week’s readings deal with the issues surrounding imagery, including source manipulation and the resulting interpretations.  However, these issues are not exclusive to history: this is a digital issue, period.  Image manipulation is a problem that will come with access to Photoshop.  However, with that also comes better cultural awareness of the practice.  We can notice that, regardless of the bias of the presenter, there is plenty of awareness of fake news and narrative in today’s social discourse.  Only which ‘side’ is fake is the subject of debate anymore.  So history, and humanities in general, is only being affected by a larger societal problem.  What we should be grateful for is that academics SHOULD be in position to better recognize when it’s happening. 

However, it does also bring up the question of how far we should go to institutionalize targeted education at recognizing source manipulation.  Should we have entire classes based around recognizing Photoshop in history departments?  Tools continually get better, and photo manipulations in particular are getting almost indistinguishable to ‘real’ photos.  And that’s the value of Morris’ article: it shows that photos in themselves are not always enough to count as irrefutable evidence: we still need the written sources.  It shows that on some level, history will remain a discipline of textual analysis.  No matter what other changes come to the field, there’s still a core set of skills and methods which will make history a professional discipline.

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