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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.   

NOTES

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?” https://peelarchivesblog.com/2017/05/31/why-dont-archivists-digitize-everything/

4 Ball, Emily. “Stitch Dictionary’”. Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/187319344@N08/albums

5 Whitney, Fanny “Fanny Whitney’s Sampler,” accessed May 4, 2020, https://www.flickr.com/photos/187319344@N08/49835119927/in/album-72157714039902313/

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