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”

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