2. Models of Digital History (2017)

Digital Humanities: Past, Present, Future

Jason M. Kelly, “Digital Humanities: Past, Present, Future,” version 1.0 (August 2012).


This meeting focuses on the Digital Humanities and their context in relation to the profession/professionalization of history, including social history and public history.

Students will begin by reading a series of essays by authors who grapple with the question, “What is Digital History?” Comparing these essays will prepare you for next week’s Wikipedia assignment, which asks you to critique the Wikipedia article on Digital Humanities.

In the remainder of the meeting, will discuss the historical profession and how the Digital Humanities relates to professional practices and standards as well as the practice of Public History.

Assignments (due before class)

  • Verify that you have signed up for Zotero, Twitter, and WordPress.
  • Subscribe to this WordPress Blog (this is so that I can add you as a user).
  • Complete the Week 1 Wikipedia Assignments.
  • Complete the tutorial on “Blogging.”
  • On Twitter, follow all of your classmates as well as at least 20 people who are active in Digital History and Public History.
  • Post at least three tweets with the hashtag #iupuidh that will be relevant and useful to your classmates.  Feel free to reply and retweet posts.

Meeting Outline

I. Re-connect/Re-orient (15 min)
II. Activity: What is Digital History? (15 min)
III. Mini-lecture: A Short History of the Historical Profession (20 min)
IV. Break (10 min)
V. Discussion of DH, the profession, and professionalization (45 min)
VI. Break (10 min)
VII.Lab: Digital Audio Recording and Mixing (45 min)

Required Reading

You will note that I have included quite a few readings this week. Most weeks will not be so reading intensive. However, since we have only 15 weeks in this course, it is imperative that we catch ourselves up in the literature as quickly as possible. I have put an asterisk next to the pieces that I would like you to read especially closely and carefully.

Keep in mind that some of these pieces are not open access, so you will have to logon to them from campus or through your IU VPN.

As you read the pieces below, ask yourself the following questions. How are the writers defining digital humanities/digital history? In what ways are they similar? In what ways are they different? Why is there such a substantial debate about what constitutes digital humanities? What are the stakes? In what ways is the history of the university and the history of the academic professions shaping the discussion? In what ways are the discussions below applicable to public history, and in what ways do they fall short?

What is Digital History?

The History of the Profession 

As graduate students preparing for a career in the historical professions, it is important for you to understand both how to do history as well as the systems and institutions that define the profession. The readings below give you a brief introduction to the history of the profession as well as discuss the standards and expectations for those who practice digital humanities.

Digital Humanities and the Practice of Public History

  • *Lauren Jae Gutterman, “OutHistory.org: An Experiment in LGBTQ Community History-Making,” The Public Historian 32, no. 4 (2010): 96–109.
  • *Shurlee Swain, “Stakeholders as Subjects: The Role of Historians in the Development of Australia’s Find & Connect Web Resource,” The Public Historian 36, no. 4 (November 1, 2014): 38–50.
  • *Andrew Hurley, “Chasing the Frontiers of Digital Technology,” The Public Historian 38, no. 1 (2016): 69–88.
  • Lara Kelland, “Digital Community Engagement across the Divides,” National Council on Public History, April 20, 2016.

Assessing Digital Scholarship

Digital History is a relatively new field. Those working in this area often find that the institutions for which they work don’t have processes in place to assess and evaluate their work. In order to be a successful, they find that they need to articulate how their work (research, curation, projects, etc.) relates to the broader expectations of the profession. Being able to track your work and show its impact is one way to do this, but some forms of work are easier to document than others. For example, it is relatively simple to show how many times a published article was cited in academic literature or how many visitors attended an exhibition. However, it is often less clear how to demonstrate the significance and/or impact of other outputs, such as a blog or an online database (see my interactive infographic on scholars’ perceptions of their institutions’ abilities to recognize non-traditional, digital scholarship). Nevertheless, several professional organizations have begun to draw up general guidelines. Please read over the following suggested documents. What do they have in common? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

Optional Reading

On the History of the Profession

  • Ian Tyrrell, Historians in Public: The Practice of American History, 1890-1970 (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2005)
  • Robert B. Townsend, History’s Babel: Scholarship, Professionalization, and the Historical Enterprise in the United States, 1880 – 1940 (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2013)
  • Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988)
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