Week 3: Understanding Digital History

This week we focus on understanding the role history plays in our every increasing digital lives.

The first reading “The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory,” by Hayden White discusses how many historians use the method narratives to communicate history. In the beginning it seemed that White was critical of the narrative method of communicating history, but after further reading it appears that White is more favorable of the use of narrative when discussing history. As a historian it is challenging NOT to resort to using narrative methods to discuss history, especially when pieces of the historical puzzle are missing. In most cases, that would be African-American history or any marginalized community. White is careful to point out that narrative is different than fictional communicating methods of history. White’s reading is timely for historians as we adapt to the new digitalization of history.

Our second reading “Essays on History and New Media” by Orville Vernon Burton was written in 2005. The internet has changed drastically since then, but Burton mentions how the traditional history field began to slowly introduce digital forms of history to the public. If historians want to remain current and resist fading away into obscuring, it is best to adapt to the times, which Burton suggests. Museums have since become hip to how useful digital methods of communication have become, therefore many museums are creating digital collections online using websites, and social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook to attract customers. Ten years ago, the most historians contributed to digital history was creating digital libraries online, made searchable by the public. According to Burton, we can thank “a pioneering group of historians “laid the groundwork for the digital history collections we enjoy today. With the possibilities of the internet being endless, it will be interesting to see what the internet has in store for historians and the general public.

Our final reading “The Ivory Tower and the Open Web: Introduction: Burritos, Browsers and Books,” was a different type of historical reading. It starts off mentioning how famed statistician, Nate Silver went from being completely obscure, to reinventing his digital identity, and ultimately becoming a famous statistician that many journalists rely upon each election cycle. Initially, Nate used his statistician skills to chronical the best burrito joints around town. I’m not sure why he thought this would be a good blog idea, but whatever floats his boat. It wasn’t until began predicting presidential races that Nate Silver became a well-known internet sensation. His internet popularity led to high profile journalism jobs. Nate took the often ignored practice of presidential predictions, stats, etc., and made it mainstream. Perhaps the writer of this article used Nate Silver’s net-savvy story to illustrate how useful the internet is, and how one must be creative in order to stand out from the competition. Historians could take the same approach and reinvent historical projects by learning how to make the internet work for us, not against us.


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