Of the millions of websites available to us, there are tens of thousands that deal with history, a fact Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig point out in the introduction to Digital History. What exactly does that mean for aspiring historians, writers, and consumers of historical information? For that matter, what is a website’s purpose anyway and how do academic web authors balance the needs and expectations of so many disparate groups?
Navigating the Technology
Matthew Kirschenbaum argues that digital history, or more broadly, digital humanities involves a “methodological outlook” in which information is presented, interpreted, and processed in some electronic format. With the Internet and further developments like Twitter and blogs, people have found shared “affinities” that have broadened intellectual communities. Cathy Davidson points out that these technologies have led to collaborative learning, research, and production of digital history/information.
An important point Cohen emphasizes in Digital History and in another article, ”Interchange: The Promise of Digital History,” is that though technology is (clearly) central to developing digital content, it should not be the focus. We need to know a bit about the technology, of course, but Cohen tells us to be “architects” rather than “plumbers” – to focus on the structure and presentation of our content rather than the technical implementation.
What do we do with it all?
Technological advancements and ease of access to web-editing software and other platforms like blogs and social media have caused massive growth in both the methodology and field of digital history. The expectations of the very large Internet audience are diverse, but one constant is the notion that information can, should, and will be available. With these changes and new expectations come many of the issues that Cohen and Rosenzweig, among others, discuss – issues of authority, legitimacy, and even an overabundance of information.
So, what do we do? Tools like the Internet Archive are making an effort of at least preserving the endless amount of content making its way to the web. Other databases provide smaller aggregate resources for research. RSS feeds, Twitter, and blogs provide another venue of information, and one that can be selectively followed. We must be careful both as consumers of this information and as potential producers.
I’m interested in what people might have to say about those duel responsibilities. What expectations do you have when you search out digital information? How do you sort out what’s useful and what’s not and what tools have you found most useful in either finding content or creating it?