What is Digital history? Spatial History?

This week we were tasked with completing a third annotated bibliography in a blog setting. Here’s mine!

What is Digital History?

Thomas, William G. “What is Digital Scholarship? A Typology.” William G. Thomas III (blog). February 28, 2015, www.railroads.unl.edu/blog/?p=1159.

William G. Thomas focuses on the categorization of digital scholarship in this relatively recent blog post. Aiming at the promotion of engagement in and the discussion of digital scholarship reviews, Thomas proposes three categories that digital scholarship may fall in to: interactive scholarly works, digital projects/thematic research collections, and digital narratives. The interactive scholarly work, or ISW, is a hybrid according to Thomas. These works employ archival materials, primary sources, and digital tools in an effort to promote a historical argument based on a “historiographical concern,” or a particular interpretation to my understanding. The thematic research collection, or TRC, is the most scholarly in my opinion. The TRC combines tools and archival material in an effort to visualize or frame these items around a particular historiographical problem. They also utilize primary sources that fit their themes or problem, much like that of Digital Harlem. The final project, digital narratives, are born digital projects or scholarship that support a specific argument through the layers of source material. The digital narrative differs from the digital monograph due to the non-linear focus and hyper-textuality. These projects fit into the framework of Slave Revolt in Jamaica.

Thomas, William G. and Douglass Seefeldt. “What is Digital History.” Perspectives on History. May 2009.

Here we see William Thomas with his contemporary, Douglass Seefeldt, as they propose three areas of digital history. First, keeping their title in mind, they ask “What is digital history?” Prior to the digital age, historians relied on the monograph as the primary means of scholarship. The authors suggest that digital history parts from this traditional monograph in the medium it presents its findings. Digital history examines and represents the past in ways that work with the new communication technologies of the computer, internet, and various software systems that are available today. Their following discussions center on their two other stages and then what they see as the future of digital history. The major propositions made in the following discussions center around the potential challenge that digital tools will present to the traditional scholarship, as well as the call to embrace digital scholarship.

Cohen, Daniel J., et al. “Interchange: The Promise of Digital History.” The Journal of American History, Vol. 5, No. 2., 2008: 452-491.

In this article, a variety of authors including Cohen, Frisch, Gallagher, and Thomas keep with the theme of this week’s bibliography by addressing the promises that digital history brings modern scholars. This article, an interview transcription, addresses a variety of methodologies, tools, merging traditional and digital history, institutional resources such as research centers that allow the development of the field, copyrights and open access, research, and other subjects. The beginning of the article discusses the JAH definition of digital history: “anything (research method, journal article, monograph, blog, classroom exercise) that uses digital technologies in creating, enhancing, or distributing historical research and scholarship” (453). The authors trace the origins of digital history back to both Thomas and Ed Ayers. They believe the term originated in the essays accompanying and focusing on The Valley of the Shadow project, one of the hallmark projects invoked by digital historians. Thomas goes on to define digital history in multiple respects. He defines digital history as “an open arena of scholarly production” and as “a methodological approach” that utilizes new technologies to reassess or form new questions about past topics (454). Turkel addresses the promises of digital history through the fluidity of the sources used in it by showing how the sources can be easily create, edited, transmitted, and categorized. Cohen joins the conversation when he discusses the age of abundance we live in, that is the abundance of source material and statistics. Digital history is the only way to fully utilize this source base, and the collaboration present in digital history is also backed by Mintz’ statements on the active learning world we live in.

Cohen, Daniel J. and Roy Rosenzweig. “Promises and Perils of Digital Technology.” A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

This chapter of A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web addresses both the potential promises and perils of digital technology. Anne Kelly Knowles discussed this in her GIS publication, but the authors here focus on slightly different aspects. Their first focus is that of increased storage capacity and what that offer digital technology. Second, due to the internet age we live in, digital scholarship is an excellent way of transmitting scholarship to the public and bringing interesting sources to light. Third on their list is the variety of mediums digital scholarship can take its form in, these being picture, text, video, sound, and maps. Fourth, they say that digital scholarship promotes diversity as it allows those who would not have access previously to have that access. Fifth, they address the ability for users to refine and customize their own searches. Sixth, interactivity is fostered between student, parent, teacher, and community through digital technology. They also go on to list possible perils, the first of which is the inconsistent quality of internet sources. Second, the ever updating field of technology quickly  makes digital projects out of date unless they are kept up with. The third peril they address is the ambiguous or vague theses in digital projects, and that sometimes they can be hard to discern. Fourth they address passive interactivity. The interactivity needs to allows the user to apply critical thinking skills and actually engage with the scholarship, rather than a guided tour through it. Their final problem with the digital world is that the majority of the globe does not have consistent, if any, access to the internet.

Ayers, Edward L. “The Past and Futures of Digital History.” University of Virginia, 1999.

Ayers, the principal mind behind The Valley of the Shadow, discusses the past, present, and future of digital history in this essay. Ayers explains that despite society fully embracing the age of technology and the internet, historians are still skeptical in their own embracing of it. Without this full embrace, historians will not unlock the endless possibilities of this new technology. Ayers goes on to state that history may be the best suited field to utilize this new technology versus other humanities fields. One of his primary points comes from the growing network of professional communication, online publication, digital archiving, and many others, and how history has already placed this vast framework. He concludes by claiming that “Only historians can decide whether history will participate in the intoxicating possibilities of a true hypertextual history, of a reconstituted social science history, of an entirely new kind of immersive history. Only we can decide if we want to make use of any of the tools that are being created for purposes far from our own current practice” Ayers provides a visionary approach to the field of digital history, like many of our authors.

What is Spatial History?

White, Richard. “What is Spatial History?” Spatial History Lab. February 1, 2010.


Richard White discusses the Stanford Spatial History Lab in this article. He begins by outlining how the Spatial history Lab operates outside of traditional historical practices in its collaborative nature. They also utilize visualizations, they are heavily dependent on computers, they offer open ended projects, and they focus on the conceptualization of space through their projects. Bringing a deeper theoretical approach to digital history and the spatial lab, White introduced Lefebvre’s concept of human producing space or time. White goes on to discuss this idea with Lefebvre’s triad of spatial practice, representations of space, and representational spaces. Spatial practice is “the segregation of certain kinds of constructed spaces and their linkages through human movement” (2). Representations of space include the “documents of city planners, politician,” etc. (2). Finally, representational spaces are “space as lived and experienced through a set of symbolic associations” (3). Despite these, White’s most important aspect of spatial history is the concept of movement. According to White, “Spatial relations are established through the movement of people, plants, animals, goods, and information” (3). While the map represents a static space, spatial history must also address the dynamic element of movement. This is why, according to White, systems such as ArcGIS have become paramount in digital and spatial history as the program allows for both the study of movement, physical space, and relational space all in one map. Finally, White suggests that spatial history represents more than a visualization, but it is rather a new methodology and new means of researching and producing questions.

Thomas, William G. “Is the Future of Digital History Spatial History?” Newberry Library Historical GIS Conference, March 2004.

William Thomas analyzes the future of digital history and its possible space in spatial history through the mind of Janet Murray. Murray, a leading critic of new media and narratives claims that the four keys to a successful narrative in an online setting revolve around the work being participatory, procedural, encyclopedic, and spatial. Thomas then takes over the panel by focusing his discussion around Paul Carter’s The Road to Botany Bay: An Exploration of Landscape and History. This work, according to Thomas, “advances exploratively, even metaphorically, recognizing that the future is invented.” Spatial history, according to Thomas, purposes to recover contingency in the past, deconstruct the hegemony of the linear narrative, present multiple perspectives, and reject the positivism of empirical methods. Thomas concludes with the idea that spatial history is not “historicizing space,” but “spatializing history.”

Annotated Bibliography Cluster II: Writing & Reviewing History in the Digital Age

Dougherty, Jack and Nawrotzki, Kristen. Writing History in the Digital Age Ann Arbor: University of Michigan press, 2013.

Writing History in the Digital Age is a collection of essays that cover a wide variety of topics including the stat of digital history, crowdsourcing, pedagogy, analysis of big data, visualizations, public history, and collaboration. The most interesting part of the digital book was “Part 5: See What I Mean? Visual, Spatial, and Game-Based History.” In this section, three authors outline the use of visualizations and spatial data in digital history. Visualizations allow for alternate influences on historical thinking by creating a space where multiple variables may be represented and analyzed conjunctionally. John Theibault uses the famous Carte Figurative des pertes successives en hommes de l’Armée Française dans la campagne de Russie 1812–1813 to show the reader how Minard produces an easily understandable narrative on a single page through the use of his visualization. This essay shows how visualizations have advanced from a supplementary object to a primary one allowing for arguments to be made within them. The intended audience

Graham, Shawn, Ian Milligan, Scott Weingart. The Historian’s Macroscope – working title. Under contract with Imperial College Press. Open Draft Version, Autumn 2013, http://themacroscope.org

The Historian’s Macroscope is a particularly interesting reading created through the collaboration of Shawn Graham, Ian Milligan, and Scott Weingart, as well as the collaboration of a public audience who edited the text as it was written publicly. The text is aimed at students in an effort to get a larger number of people participating in digitals scholarship, legitimizing it. The intention of the work is to bring the use of digital tools to the public, as many do not know their potential. The authors also provide as variety of exercises in an effort to make tools more approachable. Their text brings digital history to those who knew nothing about it, or thought there was too large a divide to cross in learning to utilize it.

Gold, Matthew K. Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Debates in the Digital Humanities is yet another interesting publication in the field of Digital humanities, while pertaining to digital history as well. This book is comprised of a variety of blog posts and tweets from lead scholars in the field discussing the state of their field, new approaches, pedagogical methods, and other debates. The purpose of this text is to assign a location of the Digital Humanities in both the public and academic sphere. The intended audience of this work are students and professionals interested in the Digital humanities.

Blevins, Cameron. “Mining and Mapping the Production of Space.” Online accompaniment to “Space, Nation, and the Triumph of Region: A View of the World from Houston.” Journal of American History. Vol. 101, No. 1. June 2014, http://web.stanford.edu/group/spatialhistory/cgi-bin/site/pub.php?id=93

Blevins provides us with an intense and detailed methodology section in an effort to help the reader better understand the research and visualizations used to support his argument in the original article published in the JAH. Blevins addresses the problems of an abundance of sources, digitized collections, optical character recognition, and deterioration in his research. Most importantly, this article gives young historians and graduate students insight into the intricate workings of such an impressive visualization such as the one produced. Hopefully metagraphs such as this become commonplace in the profession, even in traditional history, as it allows the reader to pull back the curtain on interesting and applicable articles.

Gibbs, Fred and Owens, Trevor. “The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing,” Writing History in the Digital Age Ann Arbor: University of Michigan press, 2013.

In this essay, Fed Gibbs and Trevor Owens call for a revolutionizing of the way historians write, particularly they call for methodological transparency in historical writing. Their argument is exactly this, as they request for the creation of discussions involving data inquiries, workflows, the productions and interpretation of visualizations, productive failure, and a variety of other explanations. The authors claim that the abundancy of data in the digital age presents the historian, particularly the digital historian, with a new problem as they must now explain that methodology used to simplify or sort through this vast number of entries. The authors also call for new interpretations of data, in the sense of letting the data speak for itself and create an argument, instead of using data to corroborate the argument you have produced. The intended audience of this work is both the professional and the student, as both benefit from the strict recording of methods.

Blevins, Cameron. “The New Wave of Reviews” Posts (blog), March 7, 2016, http://www.cameronblevins.org/posts/the-new-wave-of-review/

In his blog post, Cameron Blevins pits the two styles of digital review against one another, the “digital high-five” and the traditional journal review. With a recent influx of traditional reviews, the climate of digital history is beginning to change to a strangely traditional format, that of a print journal. Blevins addresses the drawbacks of print reviews, particularly the traditional historian reviewing the nontraditional project, the unifying ties of methodology and how they shape non-print reviews, and the time it takes a review to be published. The last often greets the reader with a project that has had over a year of changes, sometimes providing an entirely new experience.

Georgini, Sara. “Reviewing Digital History” The Junto, January 20, 2016, https://earlyamericanists.com/2015/01/20/reviewing-digital-history/

This blog takes the word review very differently. At The Junto, Georgini rpovdes us with a interview style transcript of her conversation with Dr. Jeffrey McClurken. In this post, they discuss everything from motivation and inspiration to the effect of the public reviewing on the historian, something that is common in digital history. This blog’s intended audience is graduate students and professionals as it offers insight into the peer review processes of digital history.

Digital History Reviews, Organization of American Historians/ Journal of American History, http://jah.oah.org/submit/digital-history-reviews/

In this website, the OAH creates official guidelines for the reviewing of a digital history project. Generally, the projects must be addressed in four areas: content, form, audience/use, and new media. All of these together supposedly cover topics such as interpretations, point of views, scholarship, ease of use, clear arguments, its audience and their needs, and finally, does it do something that text could not? The guidelines provided here are an excellent base for reviewing digital history, but may not contain everything one needs for the process. The audience of the website are reviews, both professionals and students alike.

Lichtenstein, Alex, Joshua Sternfeld, Stephen Robertson, Natalie Zacek, and Vincent Brown. “AHR Exchange: Reviewing Digital History” The American Historical Review. Vol. 121, No. 1, February 2016: 141-186

The AHR recently released a series of exchanges regarding the nature of the review process they have applied to digital projects. This exchange will prove vital in the establishment of standards for these reviews, as the author must be given a chance to respond in many cases of digital history. The born digital projects they review are Digital Harlem: Everyday Life 1915-1930 and Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761: A Cartographic Narrative. Both of these projects are available online to the public, are reviewed in a similar fashion, but served entirely different purposes. Digital Harlem was critiqued for not having any historiographical contribution, but the project was not intended to make an argument and was instead meant to be used as a research aid for the authors. Slave Revolt in Jamaica on the other hand has a clear argument, and while the reviewer may not agree with Brown’s conclusions, she does claim that the project presents a clear historiographical contribution. The use of this exchange is that it allows the reader, and the journal, to establish a normal review process that will allow digital scholarship to break through into print journals.

Guldi, jo, David Armitage, Deborah Cohen, and Peter Mandler. “AHR Exchange: On the History Manifesto” The American Historical Review Vol. 120, No. 2, April 2015: 527-554.

Instead of critiquing The History Manifesto on its argument, the reviewers focus on the misinterpretation of sources in the text. Cohen and Mandler take issue with the misrepresentation of data and evidenc used to support the argument of the return to the long duree as presented by Guldi and Armitage. Their out of context interpretations and incorrect graphs often lead to the opposite conclusion intended by the sourced author. Guldi and Armitage respond to the reviewers by attacking their tone of review, rather than their points. Instead of addressing the problems presented by the reviewers, they simply try to reaffirm their argument. This exchange shows some of the difficulties in the public review of a monograph, something that is often done in digital history.

History and GIS Annotations

Lunen, Alexander and Travis, Charles. History and GIS : Epistemologies, Considerations and Reflections. New York: Springer, 2013.

Chapter 2: Immobile History: An Interview with Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie

This chapter of the History and GIS is the transcript of Le Roy Ladurie and Lunen’s interview regarding GIS and history. In this interview, Le Roy Ladurie outlines his career in a changing field of history as he continually seems to be at the forefront of historical methods and study. Ladurie oversaw computational history and was involved on a great deal of quantitative projects. Ladurie also served as a director of the National Library of France where he worked in the digitization of the library’s catalog. The most important things to take away from this interview, in my opinion, are the discussions regarding collaboration. Lunen consistently asks about collaborative projects and the process used to create them. One great example regarding this is the process of the cartographic theme maps mentioned at the beginning of the interview. Ladurie conducted archival research and collected data, graduate students then created useful tables and other figures using this data, and then the data was passed onto the map maker who took his own approach to the creation of the thematic maps based off these census records and other primary sources. Ladurie also discusses his book Montaillou, a best selling microhistory on a town of the same name in France. Despite it being a microhistory, Ladurie used advanced quantitative methods to analyze the meticulous record left by the townspeople during the medieval ages.

Ch. 6 “Thou Shalt Make No Graven Maps!”:An Interview with Gunnar Olsson

In this chapter of History and GIS, Lunen interviews Gunnar Olsson, a human geographer from Sweden.In this chapter, Olsson and Lunen discuss the problems and potential of mapping, and particularly Olsson’s invisible maps idea. The potential for mapping shows itself when they discuss the historian’s ability to create maps for their study, rather than using someone else’s. Olsson and Lunen also discuss the theory behind translating narrative into figures and representations, and how abstract ideas can be represented in mapping. From what i understood of this, I was relating it to the problems of mapping a vague or ambiguous place, people or event and how historians must handle this.

Kelly Knowles, Anne. Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship. Redlands: ESRI Press, 2008.

Ch 1: GIS and History by Anne Kelly Knowles

In this chapter, Knowles introduces the topic of GIS. She begins by defining GIS, how it had grown as a field, and the core concepts of that field. The concepts that drive the field of historical GIS include: geographic questions driving a significant part of the inquiry, geographic information comprises the bulk of the evidence, this evidence is held in a single or multiple databases for further inquiry, and the arguments of the study are presented in map, table, chart or other visualizations. Knowles also discusses the potential complications and innovations GIS presents to historians. Among these complications are the need for quantitative sources, or the transferal of qualitative sources to quantitative. The sources used must contain some field  in which the source can be cataloged in reference to other sources. Knowles also discusses the vagueness of time and space. To create a study, both of these constantly changing aspects must be addressed in a concrete way. THings such as communities, ideological influences, or the effects of events on populations are something that is difficult to map and portray on an image. Knowles also discusses the need for technical expertise in historical GIS. Not only should the author be able to efficiently use the tool, but in many cases the author must make the tool they need. This includes making the database, maps, or visualizations. This chapter is also a jumping off point for the rest of the book, as the innovations discussed will be case studies present in later chapters.

Ch 4: Scaling the Dust Bowl by Geoff Cunfer

This chapter is presented in Placing History as a sort of proof of concept that shows how GIS can contribute to a historiographical argument, and not only contribute, but upset the historiography. Cunfer engages, adds, and eventually upsets the traditional historiographical argument of Donald Worster’s causes of the Dust Bowl. Worster states that capitalistic over development and intense plowing led to the weakening of topsoil and the eventual environmental events of the Dust Bowl. While Cunfer agrees with this interpretation, he aims to take it a step further and uncover the historical presence of dust storms in the Midwest and that a period of drought also heavily influenced the Dust Bowl situation. He uses new sources to analyze the Dust Bowl, these included qualitative sources such a newspapers, diaries, and correspondences. These qualitative sources are used in a quantitative way by Cunfer’s mapping of mentioning and reporting of dust storms to show that these are a natural occurrence and cycle of the Great Plains, and that Worster’s causes were important, but really only intensified the situation.

Ch 8: New Windows on the Puetinger Map of the Roman World

In this chapter another project is discussed as a case study to represent the usefulness and new approaches GIS can present to history. This project deconstructs the Puetinger Map, and Ancient Roman depiction of their world, and attempts to assign real places and features to the map. In this project, the team deconstructs the map into two base layers, the human landmarks and the natural landmarks. Human landmarks consist of towns, roads, bridges and the like while natural landmarks are mountains, rivers, and other natural formations that are useful in navigating. Their study has immense application in the archaeological world due to its focus. With the authors finding out how accurate the map was, previously unknown Roman locations can be discovered in the vicinity of accurate landmarks, natural ones in most cases. Their study acts as a proof of concept for the further geo-rectifying of ancient Roman and Greek maps and the discovery of archaeological sites.