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?


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