This blog post address the particularities of Digital History, and how it stands out and differs from other Digital Humanities, such as digital literary studies. It was written almost a year ago by Dr. Stephen Robertson in preparing for the Center’s 20th anniversary conference and reflecting on the history of the discipline and organization.
While looking back over the Center’s projects and initiatives, Robertson saw a new debate about digital humanities happening. He noticed the lack of digital history in the conversation, and how the default for digital humanities appeared to be digital literary studies. Because of this, he decided it was more important to parse out what makes digital history unique and different than to fight for its place under the big umbrella term.
Robertson sees value for the field in separating the terms, mostly in making it seem approachable and useful for all historians (as opposed, I think, to only those who want the “digital” part to be their main focus). This part of his post really struck me: Most historians at least understand the growing place technology has in the field. “But that recognition does not mean that most historians have explored what can be done with digital tools, are equipped to do so, or are even convinced that those tools have anything to offer their own research and teaching. Efforts to extend the conversation about digital history beyond the digitally fluent, those able to teach themselves, are not helped by calling our work “digital humanities.”
One of the main conclusions I’ve come to in this course, is that there is a lot of hesitation, and uneasiness about accepting it as “real” history work. I think that in itself may be a component of digital history, where digital humanities as a whole might be more open and understand the change more intuitively.
Perhaps then, “digital humanities” is a scary term evoking the unfamiliar, and it’d be more useful to be clear that digital history is still history, just with added tools, collaboration, and availability.
He also explains that digital humanities has historically been more focused on humanities computing, while digital history has its origins with presenting material online, and being more of an archive. These roles are obviously blending at this point, but it is interesting to look at how different disciplines joined the digital age, and have evolved in it to best suit their needs.