New resources for making digital history

Bill Turkel (who I get to meet in July!), has published The Programming Historian as an open access e-book. (Gavin Robinson, who actually is a programming historian, recommends it.)

And another resource you’ll want to have close at hand if you’re planning any kind of digital history project (large or small) is Jeremy Boggs’ new series on Digital Humanities design and development process:
Part 1: figure out what you’re building
Part 2: information architecture and organization

The important thing I want to highlight about both of these resources is that they’re about making digital history, not just using the resources and tools that someone else already made. A lot of discussion of digital resources focuses on the finished products and what they can do for your research as an end-user (eg, this recent post). But if you can get involved in the creation of digital resources, you have the opportunity to influence what actually gets digitised, to get the resources you want.

Similarly, I’ve been coming to the view that it’s just not enough to champion blogging or writing on wikis, even though these activities are useful and stimulating in their own right (and people who dismiss them as worthless are big fat idiots who need a good slap). What you really need to be doing is learning how blogs/wikis work: how to install and maintain blog or wiki software and then tailor it to fit your own needs – and what it’s possible to do with these tools once you have them. The skills you learn in the process, to use the educationalists’ occasionally useful jargon, are highly transferable.

And there are going to be real job opportunities for those who take the initiative now and acquire the practical skills and understanding of what creating digital history needs. The generation of historians (and humanities academics more generally) in charge of hiring mostly doesn’t care about (or for) blogging. Wikipedia brings it out in a collective rash. But it’s well aware that there is quite a lot of grant money becoming available for digital history/humanities. And that’s something it does care about.

The technical skills needed aren’t taught in more than a handful of history departments (I don’t know of any in the UK): students and junior academics who want to exploit these new opportunities are largely going to have to teach themselves, with the help of resources like The Programming Historian. Get in ahead of the crowd now. Your career might depend on it.

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5 Responses to New resources for making digital history

  1. Paula says:

    Can’t resist getting in a plug for digital history at GMU. We teach doing digital history at GMU–and lots of it. I do think that there are three emphases in digital history pedagogy: design, database, and digital pedagogy. The design emphasis stresses–well–design and information architecture (XHTML, CSS, standards-based design, color theory, layout, typography, and so on). And database pedagogy concentrates on designing and implementing databases. Digital pedagogy specializes in teaching on/with digital tools and resources. (Mills Kelly would be the one to comment on this digital track. I’m out the design school, so my courses reflect that inclination most of the time, although I’m dusting off the databases during sabbatical. See and . I think that there is some student work still extant.

  2. Sharon says:

    Thanks, Paula, plugs are welcome: I meant to mention GMU (and the Center for History and New Media) as an honourable exception; and I should point to Bill Turkel’s teaching as well. If there are others of which I should be aware (and especially anything in the UK…), plug away!

  3. Sharon, thanks for the kind words. I would say if anyone deserves a hat tip for making it possible to do research online, it is people like you. Looking forward to meeting you in July, and to basing future lessons in The Programming Historian on stuff in the Old Bailey archives. Bill

  4. Chris Williams says:

    There’s a good history and computing course at Glasgow U. I wish I’d done it, but I’m not so sure that all of us learning to programme is the way forward. We all need the ‘commissioning’ skills to deal with digital history, but I wonder about the programming ones. Put it like this, I wouldn’t stake my mortgage on it. Nor have I.

    I am looking forward to a beer-fuelled argument about this in a couple of months time…

  5. Pingback: Redemption Blues » Britblog Roundup 169

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