This weeks reading shifted the focus of the class to one of the major facets of Digital History. Previously we have explored the hardware that goes into the digital medium, various tools used in Digital History, and how it has been used with different audiences. The readings for this week, on Digital Scholarship, moves our focus and discussion to a new arena. This weeks reading really helped me to understand digital scholarship, whether it be in blogging, online journals, etc. and its position in the field of history.
One of the major themes across the readings was the structure of the field of history around the book. Tim Hitchcock’s article Academic Writing and its Disconnects, he articulates that “in the process of moving beyond the book, we have also abandoned the whole post-enlightenment infrastructure of libraries and card catalogues (or even OPACS), of concordances, and indexes, and tables of contents. They are all built around the book.” It will be and is difficult to try and change the field in what many would consider a dramatic way. The book has been the focal point of the history field for centuries. William Thomas’ essay, Writing a Digital History Journal Article from Scratch: An Account, recounts his experience writing a digitally born article for AHR illustrates just what reactions people have. While he and Edward Ayers, his co-author, adjusted to the feedback, ultimately he writes “Another lesson we learned was that readers will need to adapt. So will historians. We have deeply cherished relationships with reading history…” This topic has really caused me to slow down and think about this shift. It is an important shift in the field and one that each of us, whether Digital Historian or not, to contemplate. My introspection is on a personal level, “How am I going to adjust to this as a historian?” and then even broader “On what part of the spectrum will my scholarship reside? Part of the transition? Part of the push-back? Will it ‘plead’ ignorance to this transition?” While I am a digital historian, as I have mentioned in previous posts, I am still a traditionalist as well. This dichotomy plays within me as I continue to engage my coursework. Ultimately, time is on everyone’s side, I think. As Hitchcock mentions, this is not happening instantly or even over night. The transition is slower than that. Books and manuscripts still exist and will continue to exist into the foreseeable future. Those who support the transition have time to create frameworks and establish precedence and those who fear it have time to come to terms.
My favorite article out of all the readings was Melissa Terras’ The Impact of Social Media on the Dissemination of Research: Results of an Experiment. Ultimately the article was a polished compilation of three blog posts she made on her use of Twitter and the Blogosphere to increase awareness of her open-access research papers. It was amazing to read through the results as she sent out “alerts” into the social networks. As a social media skeptic, her use of and the results from this experiment illustrate the true power of social media. This also articulates the importance of an online presence. Terras mentions that she had already built up a following on social media. Before she sent out her first tweet about her open access articles, she already had over 2,000 twitter followers. Maintaining an online presence leads to an increase in the publicity and ultimately, use of her work. I have a stronger commitment to maintain an online presence continually through such technologies as blogs, Twitter, and even Facebook. On a somewhat related note, this is a great endorsement as well of open access scholarship. Her article becomes a great segue into the final topic I took away from the readings, digital scholarship and academic standings.
The final reading assignment was A Call to Redefine Historical Scholarship in the Digital Turn by Alex Galarza, Jason Heppler, and Douglas Seefeldt. It served as a call to the AHA for action. Specifically, it was “a collaboratively-written call for the American Historical Association to appoint a task force to survey the profession as to the place of digital historical scholarship in promotion and tenure and graduate student training and to recommend standards and guidelines for the profession to follow. ” I whole-heartedly support this call. What I like about it, is that it wasn’t demanding a change in light of digital scholarship but instead an investigation into its place in the field. Online presence and online scholarship are becoming important parts of scholars existence. I would hope that the influence Melissa Terras has through her blogging would be part of the consideration for employment, advancement, etc. It is, in one way, a quantifiable method to identifying her sphere of influence beyond classrooms. Now, in an attempt to not sound like a “bandwagon” fan of digital history, I would like to do more research on the implications of such a consideration and re-adjustment of the profession. I was intrigued by the comment that blogs can be seen the same as lectures in the field. This topic warrants further investigation on my part but I think it will be a key topic of discussion for years to come.