What is “digital history”? vol. 2

When entering the digital humanities / digital history discourse, not being an ICT / IT specialist, I felt rather unsure about my position. In fact, I still do. Attending a DH workshop at my home university which the department of art history had arranged, I was fascinated with the topics the speakers were presenting, but had the distinct feeling of understanding only half of what they said. As in all disciplines or research environments, there is an own DH jargon which I was not aware of until then (I’m still not, until date!). People all of a sudden seemed to make deeply philosophical statements when pointing to “ontologies”.

I’ve managed to learn about some of the concepts and technologies behind these terms, a lot of which remain unintelligible to me all the same. But I haven’t started to adopt text-encoding or image-processing. So far, I am not sure what technology I will need to answer my research questions. It could be that data mining comes into question when examining the use of e.g. the social media by cultural and scholarly institutions. So while my fascination with what you can achieve by using digital technologies in the humanities is ever growing, I’ve gone through some trouble if it were legitimate to position myself within the context of digital humanities.

When I visited a meeting of Berlin based digital humanists for the first time (I’ll actually have to attend the meetings more often!), I admitted my uncertainty if what I am dealing with is “digital humanities proper”. The prompt answer from an American colleague came as a relief to me: “There is no digital humanities proper!”

As a matter of fact, who would be setting the boundaries, anyway? Isn’t the whole field of digital humanities and thus also digital history yet to take shape? And even if it continues to do so, should we wish for clear demarcations of what DH should be “allowed” to be? What can we agree upon? What should be the minimum requirement for a project/scholar/institution to be part of DH? I think these questions will keep us thinking for a while…


Jan Hecker-Stampehl

wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter für nordeuropäische Geschichte · Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Nordeuropa-Institut · Begründer und Administrator von NordicHistoryBlog

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2 thoughts on “What is “digital history”? vol. 2

  1. When I first started thinking about a digital edition, it took me 3 months to understand what metadata are. I just could not get the concept. It was not even 3 years ago.
    Try the tools, you’ll get the vocabulary. There are enough people in Berlin who are able to translate between “digital” and “history” to help you get past the weird semantics and get to the really cool research questions. Come to the Stammtisch!
    Cheers,
    Anne

  2. I guess you’re right, and I also guess I have been to hesitant in a certain manner, almost as if I’d not been trusting myself enough. Thanks for the heads up!

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