Digital history is an approach to researching and interpreting the past that relies on computer and communication technologies to help gather, quantify, interpret, and share historical materials and narratives.
Sheila Brennan, digital historian, emphasizes four activities integral to digital history as a narrative: gathering, quantifying, interpreting, and sharing. Throughout the semester in HIST 390 we have explored a number of methods and tools in order to explore digital history as Brennan describes it. Below are three of my favorite projects produced as a result.
Historical Research in the Digital Age
From the assignment description: “What are some of the benefits and limitations of doing research in the digital age? … [L]ocate sources uses digital databases.”
This project focused on the “gathering” and “quantifying” aspects of digital history identified by Brennan above. Discussions in class regarding the difficulties of converting historic literature into a searchable database formed the basis of research into a historical question using such a database. Chronicling America, a project by the Library of Congress, has converted a remarkable number of newspapers to searchable digital form. This post, which can be reached by clicking the photo above, chronicles the process of attempting to answer a research question using resources like Chronicling America.
From the assignment description: “This project asks you to map an American Guide tour, and compare it with other mapped information to make an observation about the past.”
As could be expected for an end-of-the-semester project, this incorporated all four aspects of digital history as described by Brennan. We gathered information from an American Guide, available online from Rowan University. We quantified the information by separating it into stops on a trip, using StoryMapsJS. The story map I created is embedded above. We then interpreted the information by providing relevant excerpts from the American Guide for each stop, along with some associated media. Finally, we organized all of this information (along with information gathered from Navigating the Green Book) into a presentable blog post for sharing. The blog post can be found here.
Digital History and the Bracero Archive
From the assignment description: “How have digital methods changed historical scholarship and the kinds of stories that can be told? What affordances do digital history projects allow for that traditional books and articles do not?”
In this project, we explored what Brennan would call the “sharing” aspect of digital history. I analyzed the Bracero History Archive, which documents photos and oral histories, largely solicited from the public, of the workers brought into the United States from Mexico under the Bracero Program. To access the post, which discusses and critiques the archive and its presentation, click on the photo above.