Diversity in Digital History

In the digital age, no book, no project, is ever really finished.  Excited about the book finally coming to press, we re-read our materials in preparing this website and realized there is still more work to do. While it is impossible for any single book to exhaustively cover digital history, a few vital subjects did not make it into the final draft. We regretfully neglected explicit discussions of diversity and equality, subjects we feel should play a role in every digital historian’s training. Controversy at and adjacent to the 2015 Digital Humanities conference drove home the fact that such a discussion is absolutely necessary in forging an inclusive digital history (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).

Thankfully, in this digital age, our book is a living document. Rather than putting our hands up in frustration over errors and omissions, we can continuously publish updates, corrections, and new content as necessary. In this spirit, we plan on publishing supplementary material, freely available online and to be printed in future editions of the book, which cover these essential topics.

Don’t get us wrong! We’re excited and proud about our book, which is already more inclusive than it would have been had we written it alone. We wrote it in the open, inviting the world to contribute their edits, ideas, and advice for our final draft. We engaged with our readers, and were heartened and encouraged when the Macroscope began appearing on syllabi; when students started leaving comments, we were overjoyed. By inverting our relationship with our readers and their concerns, we tried to critically approach and deconstruct academic authority, a theme we also explored throughout the book’s pages. Our peer reviewers provided excellent and generous criticism that greatly improved the final book. It was a very different and rewarding experience for us.

In everything we did, we tried to de-centre ourselves and write a book that not only taught digital history methods, but embodied the kinds of perspectives that we consider integral to good digital history. Nevertheless, upon inspecting our content in the months before its release, we discovered lacunae we regret. Recent research on digital humanities practices opened our eyes to how gendered the topical landscape of DH still is, and to the significant barriers to diversity still present among digital humanists. While an incredibly diverse array of scholars inspired us and helped us bring the Macroscope to press, we feel more attention must be paid to diversity itself as a creative force for digital techniques. By not explicitly pointing out tools and approaches that embrace feminist values and diverse outlooks, we risk perpetuating incongruities, barriers, and biases in DH research. We hope our supplementary materials, taught alongside our textbook (and published in our textbook in any future editions), can be used to build a more just and equal digital history.

And so, given how our book is to be read as a hybrid online/physical experience, we take this opportunity to signpost and encourage you to explore a number of resources highlighting diversity in digital humanities while we develop our own supplementary material:

The Digital Humanities—and by inclusion, Digital History—cannot be a playground for the privileged. Letting it become so will undo decades of important work done in the humanities to listen for and amplify the voices of those who are too often ignored. The instrument of the digital historian, a macroscope, is just as able to obscure the context of violence as it is to highlight that violence. Like any historiographic method, digital history clarifies what other methods conceal, and conceals what other methods clarify. We must approach it with care, and not let it become the only lens through which we see the past.

If you’re using this book, please consider the above links an essential companion piece. If we are fortunate enough to be able to publish a revised version, we would weave them into our discussion ourselves (or, probably more accurately, even more of the great scholarship that is produced every day). After all, as we stress in the book, a lot of digital humanities is embracing and learning from failure. We wish you many constructive and graceful failures on your path to becoming digital historians, and hope this page ensures addressing diversity head-on won’t be one of your failures, as it was one of ours. Please watch our website for future material that will foreground how a more inclusive digital history can transform our research and teaching.

Shawn Graham, Ian Milligan, & Scott Weingart