Why did the pioneers cross the country in covered wagons? Because they didn’t want to wait 40 years for a train: Defining Digital History

What does the title have to do with defining digital history? Not much. But much like how the invention of the train changed how people travelled, the world wide web has changed the practice of doing history.

The 1990s saw the emergence of webpages, which meant that all sorts of information started becoming more accessible to people. With the rapid advancement that we’ve seen in the past couple of decades, many disciplines were changed, including history. The digitization of materials allows for more exploration, access, and preservation- ranging from newer sources to older, more fragile ones. However, like Toni Weller brings up in her book History in the Digital Age, it also raises a whole new set of challenges and questions surrounding preservation. The web is fast-paced and always changing, so in order for a historian to get the full effect of a webpage, there has to be a way to save the original page before it changes or is deleted. But there is such a large number of sites available, so how does a historian know what to save? And while a person can scan a set of letters to be accessed online, that can take away the other sensory experiences. Weller gives an example of a medical historian in Portugal doing research on a cholera outbreak. He was in the archives and rather than reading the letters, he was smelling them because the letters were disinfected with vinegar to prevent further spread of the disease and he could use the smell to chart the outbreak. While digitizing these letters allows for the content to be shared, the tangible experience is lost.

Digital history seems qualitatively different from history, but in reality, I do not believe it is. The internet allows for the mass sharing and receiving of information, so it seems like there is a lot more information. There are historical artifacts all over and in archives across the world, that one may never have access to. As historians, we take in and sift through a lot of information determining what is and is not useful. The internet can make it easier to fake documents and photographs, for example, but just as historians learned to recognize it in older sources, they have to do that with the advancing technology. Digital history makes information easier to obtain, but one still has to be critical of the information they are receiving.

What is a snakes favorite subject in school? Hissssstory … And so is mine!

I think that I have always been interested in history, but it wasn’t until high school that I started to recognize it. At some point I consciously realized that most of my electives were in history and I started seriously thinking about pursuing history as a career. I discovered public history when I was at freshman orientation- they explained to me what it was and suddenly I now had not only a word, but a subject of study that defined what I was interested in. While I ended up not completing the emphasis for various reasons during my undergrad, that did not stop me. I completed my undergrad at the University of Wisconsin- La Crosse with a BA in History and a minor in photography and then decided to pack up and move half-way across the country to pursue and MA in Public History at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU).

I have as much passion for photography as I do for history, and in my photography, I like to mix mediums. I like to include painting, drawing, and/or 3D aspects in my art. I mention this because I think that having that mindset can and should be carried over into public history because it is an interdisciplinary field. My hope is that digital history will introduce me to another way to study and present history, as well as allow me to channel my creativity. I am always looking for ways to connect my interests and put them to good use.

I have a lot of experience with social media. I am active on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter and, although not really considered social media, I am well versed in Snapchat and WhatsApp messaging services. I also am somewhat active in the Reddit community and because of my background in photography, I have a working knowledge of both Lightroom and Photoshop. In the past, I have thought about and tried blogging, but eventually gave up after just a few posts. While I am on these sites for personal use, I am hoping that this class will help me develop the skills to utilize them professionally as well.

[Blog header photo was taken by Amirah Neely: Bugøynes, Norway, November 28, 2015]