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An experiment in writing in public, one page at a time, by S. Graham, I. Milligan, & S. Weingart

The DH Moment

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Previous section: Chapter One Conclusion

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 In this chapter, we examine how we are all digital now, and we introduce several key digital history and humanities terms and ideas. With inspiration from Stephen King, we build the historian’s digital toolkit, exploring basic scraping and data operations, and explain why you might wish to become a ‘programming historian’. We begin by laying out some of the foundational issues that we must grapple with before we can begin scraping and manipulating the data we find: issues of copyright, ethics, and how digital resources affect our work as historians.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 What is the Digital Humanities, or DH, moment? In short, it is the necessity for historians and other humanities scholars to begin to grapple and engage with the implications of the widespread accessibility of digital information. As Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis have provocatively argued, our world has been Blown to Bits.[1] They argue that we need to rethink nearly countless social aspects: what bits mean and represent (from perfect copies through to the philosophical issues around transmitting binary code into various representations of image, voice, and text), privacy, the differences between analog and digital documents, search engines, encryption, speech, and even whether old metaphors can still hold true. While it all seems sudden, scholars have been grappling with these issues for decades. The sheer acceleration of the retention of digital information and the growing capability to deal with it thanks to more powerful computers, cheaper storage, and open-source software, all combine to help make this the DH moment. The Third Computational Wave, discussed in the last chapter, just got supercharged.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The DH moment is upon us, but how can you seize it? We deliberately do not unpack DH into either ‘digital history’ or ‘digital humanities’ in the chapter’s title as we believe it is applicable, in varying degrees, to both fields. In the previous chapter, we laid out and established the “big picture” of big digital history, and we now turn to a general discussion of what this moment can specifically offer you as a researcher or student in this field. To do so, we use the metaphor of a “toolkit”: the various pieces of software and knowledge of algorithms that you can carry from one “job” to the next.[2] There is no one-size-fits-all approach to any research question, of course, and the humanist needs to know what tool might fit best, what kind of results they are curious to uncover, and what specific cautionary notes they need to have front-and-foremost in their minds.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 In this chapter, we will give you the foundational knowledge of key terms, concepts, and issues for subsequent development in the four increasingly applied chapters that follow. Beginning with the basic terms that we feel define this wave of computational history (open source, copyright, and textual analysis), we then continue to discuss why we think that we are already all digital scholars. As Google searches, primary source databases, and digitized primary sources become increasingly common, we believe that scholars need to be more self-reflective in their use of these everyday tools. Finally, we conclude with some reflections around the unplumbed depths that await humanities scholars.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Next Section: Intro to Several Key Digital History Terms


7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 [1] Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis, Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness after the Digital Explosion (Boston: Pearson, 2008), http://www.bitsbook.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/B2B_3.pdf.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 [2] We are not the first to use such a metaphor, of course. Elaine G. Toms and Heather L. Obrien, “Understanding the Information and Communication Technology Needs of the E-Humanist,” Journal of Documentation, 64.1 (2008): 102-130 uses the similar metaphor of the “e-humanist’s workbench.”

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