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Writing History in the Digital Age

Jack Dougherty

Publication Year: 2013

Writing History in the Digital Age began as a “what-if” experiment by posing a question: How have Internet technologies influenced how historians think, teach, author, and publish? To illustrate their answer, the contributors agreed to share the stages of their book-in-progress as it was constructed on the public web. To facilitate this innovative volume, editors Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki designed a born-digital, open-access, and open peer review process to capture commentary from appointed experts and general readers. A customized WordPress plug-in allowed audiences to add page- and paragraph-level comments to the manuscript, transforming it into a socially networked text. The initial six-week proposal phase generated over 250 comments, and the subsequent eight-week public review of full drafts drew 942 additional comments from readers across different parts of the globe. The finished product now presents 20 essays from a wide array of notable scholars, each examining (and then breaking apart and reexamining) if and how digital and emergent technologies have changed the historical profession.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Digital Humanities

Title Page, About the Series, Other Works in the Series, Copyright

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About the Web Version

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A freely accessible version of this book, including the original essay ideas, preliminary drafts, and comments by readers during the open-review period, is available on the web at http://WritingHistory.trincoll.edu.

All web links in this book were functional as of April 2012. Due to the changing nature of the Internet, all external links have been cited in the...

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pp. vii-viii

This volume of essays would not have been possible without the numerous contributors and commenters who participated in the process and helped shape our vision of what it means to be writing history in the digital age. We thank those who played a part in our pilot project for the fall 2010 conference of the History of Education Society, as well as those who submitted...


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pp. ix-xii


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pp. xiii-xiv

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Kristen Nawrotzki, Jack Dougherty

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pp. 1-18

Has the digital revolution transformed how we write about the past? Have new technologies changed our essential work-craft as scholars and the way in which we think, teach, author, and publish? Does the digital age have broader implications for individual writing processes or for the historical profession at large? These are the questions addressed in this collection...

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Part 1. Re-Visioning Historical Writing

In the first part of this volume, Sherman Dorn asks, “Is (digital) history more than an argument about the past?” He draws distinctions between thesis-driven scholarly monographs and digital history projects, with examples and ideas for evaluating the latter. In “Pasts in a Digital Age,” Stefan Tanaka follows up by arguing that today’s digital media revolution...

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Is (Digital) History More than an Argument about the Past?

Sherman Dorn

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pp. 21-34

Digital history is one more historiographical development since World War II that has challenged professional historians’ definition of scholarship. While oral history and quantitative social history questioned the primacy of the written document and an elite focus, they and public history challenged the centrality of the researcher trained in academic history...

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Pasts in a Digital Age

Stefan Tanaka

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pp. 35-46

Digital media are altering our practice of history. The essays in this volume explore the many ways we have used and can use it to facilitate our research, aid and improve our teaching, and enhance scholarly communication. Others are also encountering a horizon of which Clay Shirky warns, “The communications tools we now have, which a mere decade ago seemed...

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Part 2. The Wisdom of Crowds(ourcing)

How does historical writing change when technology enables everyone to publish online? Leslie Madsen-Brooks opens up the conversation with her essay “‘I Nevertheless Am a Historian’: Digital Historical Practice and Malpractice around Black Confederate Soldiers,” which investigates how false claims about U.S. Civil War history arose and have been combated on...

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"I Nevertheless Am a Historian": Digital Historical Practice and Malpractice around Black Confederate Soldiers

Leslie Madsen-Brooks

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pp. 49-63

I have a good deal of interest in how members of the public who are not academically trained historians “do history.” For me, then, “public history” does not mean just projects, programs, and exhibits created by professional historians for the public but, rather, the very broad and complex intersection of “the public” with historical practice. When you provision those occupying...

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The Historian's Craft, Popular Memory, and Wikipedia

Robert S. Wolff

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pp. 64-74

How has the digital revolution transformed the writing of history? If asked, I suspect most historians would point to the tremendous advantages of electronic access to published scholarship and primary sources. In this view, the digital revolution has served primarily to enhance scholarly productivity, much as other once-new technologies, such as online card catalogs and...

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The Wikiblitz: A Wikipedia Editing Assignment in a First-Year Undergraduate Class

Shawn Graham

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pp. 75-85

In this essay, I describe an experiment conducted in the 2010 academic year at Carleton University, in my first-year seminar class on digital history. This experiment was designed to explore how knowledge is created and represented on Wikipedia, by working to improve a single article. The overall objective of the class was to give students an understanding of...

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Wikipedia and Women's History: A Classroom Experience

Martha Saxton

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pp. 86-94

In 2007, I began assigning my women’s history students the task of researching a new Wikipedia article or making a significant editorial intervention in an existing essay on women. My colleague, Scott Payne, director of academic technology, had suggested I survey Wikipedia’s women’s history content, and I was, as he anticipated, very distressed by its absence...

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Part 3. Practice What You Teach (and teach what you practice)

When we initially proposed this book on our website, the first comments we received came from readers who demanded that we pay more attention to the teaching of historical writing. We listened and intentionally revised the scope of the volume to include essays on ways that new technologies affect how historians “think, teach, author, and publish.” Several contributors...

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Toward Teaching the Introductory History Course, Digitally

Thomas Harbison, Luke Waltzer

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pp. 97-109

Introductory history courses regularly aim to meet a specific set of learn-ing goals: introduce students to broad historical themes in an area, expose students to the importance of the historical project, and sharpen students? critical thinking skills around evidence gathering and argumentation. The last of these goals has been difficult for many instructors to achieve. Most ...

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Learning How to Write Analog and Digital History

Adrea Lawrence

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pp. 110-120

Creating a robust historical work has long been an exercise in extensive research, careful interpretation, and the crafting of arguments with tight prose and a solid evidentiary base. Cast as an objective enterprise in the nineteenth century, doing history has since become infused with research approaches and theories of scholarship that span the humanities and social...

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Teaching Wikipedia without Apologies

Amanda Seligman

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pp. 121-130

April 20, 2008: If I can get the technology set up before the students in my undergraduate historical methods class arrive, I will play a clip from The Colbert Report. Stephen Colbert has discovered Wikipedia; he demonstrates to his audience how easy it is for individual actors in the 21st century to create the “truth,” or at least “truthiness.” He alters the Wikipedia entry...

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Part 4. Writing with the Needles from Your Data Haystack

How are electronic databases and text-analysis tools changing how historians research and write about the past? Are we finding more “needles in the haystack” that we otherwise might not have noticed? Ansley Erickson launches this section with “Historical Research and the Problem of Categories: Reflections on 10,000 Digital Note Cards,” which richly...

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Historical Research and the Problem of Categories: Reflections on 10,000 Digital Note Cards

Ansley T. Erickson

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pp. 133-145

Once while taking a break at an archive, I stood at the snack machine alongside a senior historian. She let out a tired sigh and then explained that she was at the beginning of a project, at the point “where you don’t know anything yet.” For historians, research often takes a nonlinear or even meandering form, through many phases of uncertainty and redefinition. As...

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Creating Meaning in a Sea of Information: The Women and Social Movements Web Sites

Kathryn Kish Sklar, Thomas Dublin

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pp. 146-158

In 1997, funded by a small grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), we set out to give U.S. women’s history a more substantial presence on the World Wide Web, then a rather modest and marginal new domain for history publishing. For six years, we focused on work with undergraduates at Binghamton University, State University of New...

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The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing

Fred Gibbs, Trevor Owens

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pp. 159-170

Ongoing digitization of primary sources and the proliferation of born-digital documents are making it easier for historians to engage with vast amounts of research material. As a result, historical scholarship increasingly depends on our interactions with data, from battling the hidden algorithms of Google Book Search to text mining a hand-curated set of...

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Part 5. See What I Mean? Visual, Spatial, and Game-Based History

Digital scholarship allows historians to integrate visually rich source materials and interactivity into our writing, and several of the contributors to this volume took the opportunity to demonstrate their work and reflect on how it is changing our field. In “Visualizations and Historical Arguments,” John Theibault presents a broad overview of how charts and maps have...

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Visualizations and Historical Arguments

John Theibault

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pp. 173-185

The popular aphorism “A picture is worth a thousand words” is a relatively recent coinage, but the idea that images can be an effective complement to or substitute for written description, narrative, or analysis is probably as old as writing itself. In the European tradition, illuminated manuscripts and incunabula incorporated images, some of which conveyed messages...

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Putting Harlem on the Map

Stephen Robertson

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pp. 186-197

Beginning in 1904, black New Yorkers relocated their residences, churches, and businesses to the streets around the new subway station at 135th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem. Waves of African American migrants from the South and immigrants from the Caribbean joined them, creating a community in which blacks resided segregated from whites. By 1920, the...

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Pox and the City: Challenges in Writing a Digital History Game

Laura Zucconi, Ethan Watrall, Hannah Ueno, Lisa Rosner

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pp. 198-206

Real event or plausible scenario? First-person shooter or third-person isometric perspective? These are some of the questions we confronted as we began the collaborative digital history project Pox and the City,1 a role-playing game funded by a start-up grant from the Office of Digital Humanities.2 How do we adapt the content into a playable scenario that...

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Part 6. Public History on the Web: If You Build It, Will They Come?

The potential of public history has been profoundly altered by the democratization of the web. Oscar Rosales Castañeda’s essay “Writing Chicana/o History with the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project” describes how students and faculty created a digital public history project to document local activism, indicating the vivid role it played in shaping their lives...

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Writing Chicana/o History with the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor HIstory Project

Oscar Rosales Castañeda

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pp. 209-215

The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project (hereafter referred to as the Seattle Civil Rights Project) has allowed a city to retell its rich, multicultural civil rights narrative. Since its inception in 2004, it has produced a wealth of information that allows Seattle’s history to be retold through research reports, digitized documents, and dozens of oral history...

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Citizen Scholars: Facebook and the Co-creation of Knowledge

Amanda Grace Sikarskie

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pp. 216-221

Doing historical research and writing on Facebook or Twitter may still seem like a strange notion to some. Social networks once had a reputation as frivolous spaces in which young people entered into and out of romantic relationships faster than one can click the “like” button and where “older” people (read “over 25”) posted incessantly about the rare finds they made...

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The HeritageCrowd Project: A Case Study in Crowdsourcing Public History

Shawn Graham, Guy Massie, Nadine Feuerherm

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pp. 222-232

Digital history is public history: when we put materials online, we enter into a conversation with individuals from all walks of life, with various voices and degrees of professionalism. In this essay, we discuss our experience in relinquishing control of the historical voice in order to crowdsource cultural heritage and history. What is the role of the historian when...

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Part 7. Collaborative Writing: Yours, Mine, and Ours

Networked computers create more opportunities for historians to engage in collaborative work, and this section offers perspectives on such opportunities from different points in the writing process. First, in “The Accountability Partnership: Writing and Surviving in the Digital Age,” coauthors Natalia Mehlman Petrzela and Sarah Manekin share their story...

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The Accountabliilty Partnership: Writing and Surviving in the Digital Age

Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Sarah Manekin

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pp. 235-245

In 2007, we were struggling to write the dissertations that stood between us and our PhDs in history. Studying different centuries and working in distant cities, we were both frustrated with our lack of writing progress and desperate to find strategies that could help. So we decided to experiment with an accountability partnership. For the next two years, we sent...

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Only Typing? Informal Writing, Blogging, and the Academy

Alex Sayf Cummings, Jonathan Jarrett

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pp. 246-258

The late twentieth century saw a staggering growth of media that permitted people to express themselves without going through traditional gatekeepers such as editors, publishers, or record labels. Whether as part of the rise of zines and the alternative press in the 1960s or the development of websites, blogs, and wikis in the 1990s, new technologies and new...

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Conclusions: What We Learned from Writing History in the Digital Age

Jack Dougherty, Kristen Nawrotzki, Charlotte D. Rochez, Timothy Burke

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pp. 259-278

What have we learned from creating this collective work of scholarship on the web? To what extent are new technologies transforming the work of historians and the ways in which we interpret the past and communicate our ideas with others? Does the so-called digital turn mark anything truly different about the trajectory of historical writing? What lessons have we...

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pp. 279-284

Kristen Dombkowski Nawrotzki teaches at the University of Education (Pädagogische Hochschule) in Heidelberg, Germany, and is a senior research fellow at the Early Childhood Research Centre at the University of Roehampton in London. She has published extensively on the history of early childhood education and related social policy in the United States...

E-ISBN-13: 9780472029914
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472052066

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Digital Humanities