Monday, November 24, 2008

What's With All the Digital History Chatter?

The discussion about the role of digital history continues on several blogs, most notably Cenantua's Blog and Bull Runnings. I made some of the comments below on Robert's blog this morning, but wanted to get them up here for those who don't do "comment-delving".

Someone, I think it was harry, made the observation that no "established historians" (I put it in quotes to forestall the discussion on what the term means and who it should encompass, not to belittle said individuals in any fashion) had as yet joined the discussion. In all fairness, they may simply be unaware of it. I think it would be very interesting to hear what someone like the folks at Civil Warriors have to say about the discussion, but I agree with Robert that it’s interesting enough in its own right. These discussions have made me spend many hours thinking about such things when I otherwise might not have.

After looking at Robert’s and Harry’s sides of the discussion and spending a great deal of time thinking about them, I still find myself somewhere in the middle. I (now) see Robert’s points about the potential for web-based history, and different directions that it can go. The possibilities are fascinating, and limitless for those with the proper training. Enough so, in fact, that Craig Swain and I have been discussing a limited scale virtual battlefield experiment. At the same time, I appreciate Harry’s points about the value of narrative history.

Despite the approach utilized, I think sooner or later it's going to come back to narrative history in some form or fashion. Even the virtual battlefield is going to offer some sort of narrative history at some point, I believe. Younger folks may go right after the animation-centric parts of a site, while more mature viewers will key in on the more traditional narrative.

And I don't see anything wrong with this. The point of the whole exercise, after all, is to bring more people to view the history. And if it does that, through narrative, animation, virtual experience or anything else, then I'm all for it. As long as it remains properly researched and sourced history.

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