CFP: Writing History in the Digital Age

2011 June 21

Writing History in the Digital Age is a “born-digital, open-review volume” to be published by the University of Michigan Press, exploring the following general questions:

Has the digital revolution transformed how we write about the past — or not? Have new technologies changed our essential work-craft as scholars, and the ways 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?

The editors, Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, are conducting an unusual process for collecting essay proposals and other ideas that contributors want to see addressed: they’ve opened a big discussion page which is open until June 30, 2011. There, you can add your own proposal for an essay or comment on other proposals. Contributions are due on August 15, 2011, and they’ll be reviewed in the open by other contributors as well as invited expert reviewers.

I’m not sure that I’ll have time to write something, but I’ve just suggested some ideas meant to spur contributions from scholars who work on women’s history, African-American history, or other minority histories. If you have thoughts about any of these questions or are considering writing on them, I’ve provided links below where you can comment on the anthology’s website.

Digital Methods, Source Scarcity, and Unheard Voices

For Americanist historians in the last 40 years, some of the most innovative approaches to source-scarcity problems have been pioneered by scholars working on women’s, African-American, and other minority histories. What is the current state of digital research methods in these subfields and why? By “digital methods,” I mean any of the following:

  • the use of fulltext-search source databases (nonprofit and commercial; open-access and subscription-based)
  • researcher-produced archival photography and/or researcher self-publication of primary sources
  • optical character recognition (OCR) of publications or archival materials to build one’s own searchable collections of primary source materials
  • use of geographic information systems (GIS) or other mapping systems (Google Maps, GeoCommons, etc) as exploratory tools
  • other tools (describe them and explain what they’re useful for)

How do digital methods modify source-scarcity problems in these subfields? What opportunities do they offer and what challenges do they pose in terms of institutional and personal resources, professional training, and/or pedagogy? What new kinds of questions can we ask and answer within these subfields using digital tools, and how are those digitally-enabled answers changing larger historical narratives?

(This is partially a proposal for an essay I’d like to write and partially a question to pull in a wider range of contributors. It relates to topics 3, 30, 33, 25, and others. As written, it’s targeted to Americanists (because that’s what I’m planning to write about) but mutatis mutandis, it could also be an appropriate question for scholars who work on minority histories or women within other national contexts, or on pre-19th-century periods.)

Please comment on this topic at the WHitDA site.

Digital methods and classroom diversity

Another avenue of exploration for contributors might be around demographic diversity (of students and faculty) and the use of digital methods in the classroom. Access to one’s own computer at an early age– in the exploratory, experimental style known as ‘hacking’– is a privilege which isn’t often available to working-class, non-white, non-male students.

To what extent does the ‘digital divide’ (race/class, and to a lesser extent gender) affect who has the skills to do digital research in minority histories? How can we use courses in digital methods as ways to expose a broader range of students both to digital tools and to minority histories as an area of inquiry?

Please comment on this topic at the WHitDA site.

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