January 20, 2015 by cdavis132
This week’s topic was historical research in the digital age. As historians we have all faced the daunting task of choosing a topic and then the even more daunting task of navigating all the information available on that specific topic. This week’s readings highlight the many concerns and issues we face by being historians in the digital age.
I was particularly taken by the readings from in “Writing History In the Digital Age.” These essays focus their attention on wikipedia, blogs and other sorts of online sources that could potentially be an outlet for research. Author Robert Wolf writes “digital spaces offer platforms for entirely new kinds of research.” This plays into the generational gap between those teaching history and those who are currently studying history. This issue is talked about within the context of wikipedia, younger historians, or rather students in general (studying any subject matter) have a the benefit of the web to help with their research needs. We have the luxury of google and sites like wikipedia. However, as many of the authors questioned what have we lost by the use of web sources.
For one the idea of scholarship, and what constitutes a reliable source, is now often being questioned. Wikipedia, poses an interesting case that is two fold. First you have the content of the site, who creates it, why is it created, what arguments are present. You then have the interpretation and use of the content. For many professionals, wikipedia has been brushed off as unreliable and unscholarly do to the fact that “wikipedia serves as a people’s museum of knowledge, a living repository of all that matter where the exhibits are written by ordinary folk with nary an academic historian in site.” This forces us to re-evaluate what it means to be scholarly, what is a reliable source, and who has the authority to decided on such matters.
Secondly with the increase use of web-research and sources, younger generations are losing the ability to find and use, what I call “hard sources.” (Going to the library, checking out an actual book or sifting through an archive in search of information.) Many students in the undergraduate and even some in the graduate, level have developed the idea that if it hasn’t been digitized it does not exist. The advent of the internet and digitization has led to many relying too heavily on web-based sources.
With these concerns in mind, however, the digitization of historical sources does have many benefits. We as historians and able to connect with a broader audience and gather many more perspectives than was once possible as more “ordinary folk” are writing history. The use of the internet and digital sources allows for someone who lives on the other side of the world access to archives and sources that were once unavailable to them.
This week’s reading, in sum, highlighted the many questions we have to ask of these web-base sources, how and why are people using them, what benefits are gained by their use, as well as, what has been lost in the shift into the new digital age.