Editors’ Choice: Am I a Digital Historian?

Posted on April 16, 2012

By Rob Gee

I’m picking up here on some comments I made the other night at Lauren Wheeler, Can Enviro Rock?—in response to her reflection on ASEH and the digital history panel that concluded this year’s annual meeting in Madison. What made the panel inspiring, and ultimately a little confounding, was the dramatic and impressive breadth of projects being presented under the rubric of Digital History, or Digital Humanities. I would refer you back to Lauren’s post for the examples.

I suppose it’s the dual blessing and curse of every new subfield that while everyone rushes in to have a look and try their hand—incorporating, often prematurely, hastily, and irresponsibly the key tools, approaches and modes of analysis into their work—others try to coolly weigh this burgeoning canon of work to figure out what is and is not actually digital history. Some might call this closed-minded turf protection while others would call it proper scholarly self-awareness. I won’t take a side on that. But while panels like the recent one aforementioned inspire us and argue quite effectively the power and utility of tools like video, ArcGIS, Twitter, digital indices, and web portals to both our research and the dissemination of our findings, they often leave us with a rather slippery, jello-like understanding of what digital history actually is—leading us to the inevitable question, am I a digital historian?

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