Digital Technologies in making History more Participatory

14 Feb

 

As technology has advanced, so too have the means by which historians collect and share research information.  Utilizing the various tools that the digital age provides, historians are adapting to this new landscape and numerous projects stand testament to the progress made by both the fields of digital technologies and history.  Oral history in particular stands to benefit from these technologies as the means of collecting, storing and sharing these accounts have never been more accessible or effective.

 

Digital methods have made it so much easier for oral historians to do their work and to easily make it accessible to the public.  The Dakota Memories Oral History project makes use of these digital tools and utilizes them to accomplish their goal of collecting and compiling the accounts of Germans from Russia in North Dakota.  Through their website and online brochure, they utilize the capabilities of the internet to access a wide range of potential interviewees, calling out for these stories and offering means of contact digitally.[1]   In addition, they share excerpts of what they have collected as well as images provided to them, publishing on their website as well as making them available through such digital means as Flickr, the photo sharing website.[2]   The family and personal histories they provide are easily searchable and in this way, the accounts are very accessible to all seeking information on this cultural group, whether their interests are local or anthropological.  The Germans from Russian Heritage Collection demonstrates a number of advantages that digital technologies can provide to historical projects.  The means by which they contact potential interview subjects and the ways in which these accounts are made public demonstrate the capacity for digital technologies to enhance how we do and share oral histories.

 

Perhaps the next biggest way that digital technologies are transforming how historians do their job is the vastly expanded potential for collaboration on historical projects.  The My Yorkshire project uses the digital tools at its disposal to reach out the community with an offer to work together in writing and publishing these histories.  The website’s claim of “everyone has a story to tell” invites the members of individual communities to make their own story a part of their community’s story. [3] The project provides means of contacting museums that are partnered with the project.  These museums are able to allow those individuals that are interested to become a part of their projects and contribute to the growing history of the community.[4]  Like the Dakota Memories Oral History project, My Yorkshire also uses digital technologies to their advantage by making these accounts and stories accessible.  By sharing these stories on their website, the project is providing the people of the community with a means by which they can share their account that would otherwise not have been available to them.  Through their successful utilization of digital technologies, the project has not only discovered and preserved more historical accounts and perspectives.  Whether the accounts are stories of their community’s past, personal accounts of their life, or just family recipes, this project ensures that these accounts are organized, of good quality, and that they are available and usable for all who want them.  They are approaching the history of the community with the community itself.

 

These projects are examples of some of the best influence that digital technologies have on the practice of history.  Not only in the sense of easing the process of collecting first-hand accounts or increasing the sheer amount of stories available but by providing them to the community in ways that give practical application to these histories.  By utilizing such tools, both projects do this work about these communities, with these communities, and for these communities.  It would appear that digital technologies are the means through which history is done by the people at large.  Giving all people’s a voice to give their own stories and the means by which to hear others.  It has been said by David Glassberg that the task of a public historian is not to as much to provide interpretation, but rather to create a space in which dialogue about the history can occur.[5]  Such participatory history as seen through these projects certainly seems to exemplify the progress historians are making to accomplish this goal.

[1] North Dakota Memories Oral History Project, North Dakota State University Libraries, accessed 14 Feb. 2017, https://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/dakotamemories/files/brochure.pdf.

[2] Family and Personal Histories, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, accessed 14 Feb. 2017, https://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/history_culture/family/index.html.

[3] My Yorkshire, MyYorkshire.org, accessed 14 Feb. 2017, http://www.myyorkshire.org

[4] Digital Storytelling, MyYorkshire.org, accessed 14 Feb. 2017, http://www.myyorkshire.org/page.asp?id=8

[5] David Glassberg, “Public History and the Study of Memory,” The Public Historian, 18.2, (1996) p. 14.

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