Monthly Archives: November 2013

The book Debates in the Digital Humanities is a compilation of articles about the definition, anxieties, pros and cons of digital humanities, and the overall shifting this methodology, pedagogy and field is producing within academia. 

Edited by Matthew K. Gold, the book itself presents a different way of approaching work in humanities. Not only is the content of the book available online through an open access, interactive website  (, but the book was also evaluated through an open, peer-review process by the contributors of each of the articles using a blog-like platform in which only they had access to. Although the book was subjected to blind peer-review, as well, the two former characteristics are examples of some changes digital humanities are producing in academia. 

The article I find most interesting is Developing Things: Notes toward an Epistemology of Building Humanities by Stephen Ramsay and Geoffrey Rockwell. These two authors challenge the concept of scholarship, they take it to a new level by reevaluating the process of traditional written scholarship and proposing a new form of scholarship that is built upon technology.

The authors argue that one of the central anxieties of scholars working on digital humanities is that they don’t fully recognize scholarship as technological tools in order to build humanities. If one understands scholarship as the whole process of writing a book –  the formulation of a problem, the annotated bibliography, the gathering primary sources, the hermeneutics applied to those sources, the heuristics applied to solve the problem, and the writing of the actual book – why not consider the tools built by a digital humanist as scholarship, as well?

This challenge shifts the regular definition of scholarship. The understanding of digital humanities as a built process is central to the future of this field. Its legitimization will encourage scholars to pursue new endeavors that might require coding and hacking to build humanities, doing so without fear of not being recognized by the academy and sure of they contributions and credentials to pursue tenure positions in universities.  


In his article, How Is New Media Reshaping the Work of Historians?, Robert B. Townsend analyzes the data gathered from a 2010 American Historical Association (AHA) survey conducted on history scholars at universities and colleges regarding their use of new technologies and media in the discipline.   

From this survey, the results I found most interesting is the uneasiness that scholars in tenured track positions still felt in the year 2010 concerning the dissemination of articles and books in online journals. As the survey shows, even scholars using new technologies for their research, mostly still don’t consider the idea of online publishing. However, beyond this apprehension, the survey shows how there is a percentage of scholars willing to peruse online publishing. 

Townsend also highlights the issue that publishing houses and journals are the entities that are least ready to embrace policies working toward the online dissemination of scholarship, preventing a growth in adopting a more prestigious view of online publishing, as compared to print publishing.        

One great example mentioned in the article is the Gutermberg-e initiative. This project is a collaboration between the Columbia University Press and AHA. It consists of an open access site that gives opportunities and space for online publication to emerging scholars, while still upholding a stringent academic review policy. 

This is the kind of endeavor publishing houses should more actively pursue. Greater dissemination is vital to the continued revision of knowledge. Serious and rigorous open access online publishing promises wider dissemination, more active and rapid revisions, and live debate.           


In this blog post, I would like to highlight some aspects of a online discussion held by scholars working on digital history, facilitated and published by The Journal of American History (JAH): “Interchange: The Promise of Digital History.” For the purpose of the conversation, JAH generated several questions about the practice, teaching and challenges of digital history, while each of the selected scholars argued and presented their point of view around these questions. For this blog, I will not focus on the questions; rather I will highlight here some the arguments and issues presented in the answers given by the scholars, which I consider particularly interesting in regards to digital history.

In my opinion, I would first like to present the specific aspects of digital history that makes it so attractive, challenging and contradictory to our traditional notions of doing history.  Its instantaneity and multiplicity, allow for the constant revision of knowledge and breaks with the linearity of conventional history, creating new ways of thinking about historical processes.

William G Thomas III explains that “digital history possesses a crucial set of common components—the capacity for play, manipulation, participation, and investigation by the reader. Dissemination in digital form makes the work of the scholar available for verification and examination; it also offers the reader the opportunity to experiment….  The goal of digital history might be to build environments that pull readers in less by the force of a linear argument than by the experience of total immersion and the curiosity to build connections.”

Second, I would like to highlight one of the factors that makes digital history so different from traditional history. This factor is perhaps one of my personal favorites because it breaks with the convention of the historian working alone. Digital history is a collaborative effort; it is the result of joint forces with different disciplines. Kristen Sword argues that “the best digital projects are collaborative, involving multiple scholars and a technical team, and ideally an institution committed to keeping the project alive after its creators move on to other things.”

Third, I would like to present the issue of teaching digital history. Here, I need to say that the Clio Wired class has opened my eyes to new ways of approaching art history. It has showed me new and different possibilities of using technology – from the analysis and presentation of data to the different ways in which it is possible to disseminate history. In the end, it has revealed to me a great need to pursue the democratization of knowledge through the creation of open tools for researching and participation.

Despite all this, in order to teach digital history, professors are faced with the challenge of teaching a whole new subject. Amy Murrel Taylor explains that “the difficulties students have also stem in part from the fact that we are asking them to make a huge conceptual shift in how they think about history. The traditional chronological or thematic narratives of history are so deeply entrenched in their minds—and, frankly, in most of our minds—that it is very difficult to start thinking of creating history that is not so linear and is “participatory” or “interactive” (or akin to “gaming”—an analogy I like). A student who is friendly to digital technology can be quite uncomfortable with thinking about history in new ways.”

Fourth, I would like to highlight the idea of the virtual museum. Taylor argues that “digital technology can never emulate the experience of being physically present with an object from the past,” which it is true as there is no way to simulate the feeling of being in the museum. However, what it is important about the digital museum is its availability. Steven Mintiz explains, “unlike physical exhibitions—which are generally transitory—virtual exhibitions can remain available. Indeed, it is now possible to reconstruct past exhibitions virtually, as in Lisa M. Snyder’s extraordinary three-dimensional reconstruction of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.[22] What a brave new world we live in, where the virtual can be more alive than the real.”

Fifth, the last issue I would like to present here is the idea of open access and the credibility of digital history as part of the work of scholars who use such methods to pursue obtaining tenured positions at universities.  Daniel Choen, has a very strong position about this, actually using the discussion to ask JAH to work towards greater open access, taking a new path regarding the dissemination of academic knowledge. He states: “I would encourage the Journal to take the most expansive view possible. In addition to enhanced, open-access articles such as those in the Katrina issue, the JAH could republish the best blog posts from the past quarter (perhaps following a process similar to the current article review system and asking for further edits from the authors); ask creators of new digital resources and tools to explain the intellectual (rather than technical) work behind them, to ratify such work as worthy of credit; add “trackbacks” to regular articles so that online references to, or reviews of, JAH materials can be aggregated on the JAH site (thus providing another layer of peer review and community around the Journal); have live and open Interchanges like this one (essentially group blogging) on a variety of topics. Ideally this more expansive view would blur the distinction between print and digital. It would begin to demythologize print.”

Scholars invited to this discussion touched upon other issues and ideas about digital history. I just presented here, some topics that I felt most relevant and interesting with the greater JAH’s interchange on emerging issues and opportunities through employing the digital landscape to practice history.




1 “Interchange: The Promise of Digital History.” The Journal of American History. Vol. 95No. 2 (Sept. 2008).

2 “Interchange: The Promise of Digital History.”

3 “Interchange: The Promise of Digital History.”

4 “Interchange: The Promise of Digital History.”

How do you use photography as a source of history? How do you understand photographs from a historical point of view? 

Errol Morris addresses this topic within his Which Came First? series of articles. The series demonstrates the delicate line between the meaning that is giving to a photograph by a third party versus the meaning a photograph’s inherent content and context.  Morris elaborates on this when he says that “photographs preserve information. They record data. They present evidence. Not because of our intentions but often in spite of them.”[1]

Morris conclusion stems from his analysis of the puzzle surrounding The Valley of the Shadow of the Dead photographs by Roger Fenton. The conundrum lies in the debate over which photo came first: the one with cannonballs on the road or the one with the cannonballs off the road. Errol begins a quest, questioning the different interpretations there could be about this subject, bringing new light to the issue.

Historically, I don’t think it is important to know which photo came first since they were both taken by the same photographer at the same place one after the other. Each has its own meaning and its own intentions. What really matters here, and what Errol unveils, is the charge that it is given to the photographs by third party interpretations. Allowing the photographs to “speak for themselves” and interpret only what is blatantly available is important because what it is deemed obvious by the viewer may in fact not be accurate.

The example of The Valley of the Shadow of the Dead photos were taken in the nineteenth-century, however, how do we best approach contemporary photography? Today, photoshop provides a grand challenge. The Achilles’ heel of journalist, historians and others, this tool – and tools like it – are hated by some and loved by others. On this subject, Morris wrote the article Photography as a Weapon, analyzing that he calls the “fraud of digital photography.” Not only does this technology alter photography but also the meaning it is giving to it.

Traditional and contemporary forms of photography are both information recorders. They are forms of historical evidence and thus need to be seen as a whole in their proper context. In a digital, altered photograph today, the fact that it was altered is part of the data it holds. That becomes part of evidence it possesses. Who alerted it? For what reason? These are the historical questions that we should be asking when looking photography since its significance is in the information it bears and the approach with which it is viewed.





[1] Errol Morries. “Which Came First? (Part Three): Can George, Lionel and Marmaduke Help Us Order the Fenton Photographs?. The New York Times. October: 2007.