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Maybe I’m Part of the Problem

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February 17, 2015 by jrenner1

After this week’s readings regarding text encoding, I found myself thinking a lot about the role of the historian in creating digital history. I will be the first to admit that a lot of the explanation for how to engage in the practice of encoding text went straight over my head. Some advocates of digital history have criticized historians for using the digital realm and its resources as merely tools to, according to William J. Turkel. Kevin Kee, and Spencer Roberts in History in the Digital Age “make the traditional methods a little bit easier without challenging standards or creating alternative procedures or tactics.” I can certainly find points of agreement with this criticism, I do think historians need to challenge themselves to embrace digital technology not only as tools but as, in Jim Mussell’s words, “legitimate objects of historical inquiry themselves.” But I wonder about how necessary it is that historians understand processes such as text encoding in order to produce digital history. Certainly in my case, even as a millennial and someone who feels fairly competent with technology, I felt very disconnected from the jargon of XML structures and schemas. I find the process very intimidating and worry that I won’t ever really fully understand or be able to utilize the process (although it may be simpler than the reader leads me to believe, fingers crossed!). But how important is it really that I can encode text? Scholars who support history in the digital form also frequently advocate for greater collaboration within the historical field, but what about collaboration outside of it? Would it not be much simpler and likely more effective for me to work with a profession to place my historical interpretation in a digital medium? I feel slightly torn on this topic. Yes, I am interested in the processes behind the digitization of history and yes, I think it is important to have a basic understanding of how those processes function, but I ultimately worry that if we ask historians to engage in those processes, we will be discouraging people like me who do not feel fully confident in their abilities to use technology at these levels. So maybe I’m part of the problem, but I can’t help feeling a little disenchanted this week.


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