In the introduction to Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web by Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig (2005), the authors outline “seven qualities of digital media and networks that potentially allow us to do things better.” These seven qualities include “capacity, accessibility, flexibility, diversity, manipulability, interactivity, and hypertextuality (or nonlinearity).” Five dangers of digital media and networks are also discussed and they include quality, durability, readability, passivity, and inaccessibility. The authors aren’t saying that digital media and networks change history but that digital media and networks change the way we do history.
Digital media and networks bring more information, more primary sources, and more unique voices to historians quicker than ever before. It is too much information and it is too disorganized for historians to realize its full potential. New digital tools might provide a way to explore the depths of this information overload and help historians find relevant data and present it to readers in an organized way.
Organizing information is not traditionally considered the realm of the historian, rather it is of the librarian or in today’s parlance the information professional. But as Cohen and Rosenzweig point out in their Mapping the History Web chapter, “the brute force of computer algorithms have proved far more useful than any human cataloging.” Tom Scheinfeldt seems to agree, in his essay Theory, Method, and Digital Humanities from Hacking the Academy (print 2013), that the field of librarianship has experienced a massive energy boost from working with digital tools and integrating new technologies into a traditional profession. Scheinfeldt encourages historians to do the same. He states, “…we are entering a new phase of scholarship that will be dominated not by ideas, but once again by organizing activities, both in terms of organizing knowledge, and organizing ourselves and our work.”
The article by Robert Townsend, How Is New Media Reshaping the Work of Historians? (2010) looks in detail at how historians are using technology and what that indicates about the profession. His article includes many charts, one of the most interesting to me is the breakdown of what tools historians are using according to type of user (power, active, passive, avoider). Even the avoiders are using almost all of the tools at some level. Townsends main interest though is how is the adoption of new technology changing publication choices. I have trouble caring too much about this issue, since I am not in a position where I need to publish. But I do understand how it changes the profession and the scholarship that gets produced. Authors need money, as do publishers, so if everything is getting published for free than who is paying?
At the end of his article, Townsend calls for more time to see how the future of digital humanities and online publishing unfolds. In much the same vein, Scheinfeldt also suggests that we must continue to embrace and develop the digital humanities because in the future it might be more useful than we could imagine at this point in time.