Field or Method?

This week’s readings covered the unfathomably slow adoption (still happening) of digital history and the issue of its categorization. Every generation has its innovators; those people who instinctively recognize the possibilities of rising technologies or ventures. Coming from a generation that grew up with the ever rising omnipresence of computers, it is easy to understand the old guard’s aversion to digital tools.

The fact that many of the readings dated around 2004 proves that despite the technological value, the academic community still faces hard questions that reach the history field’s core. How can future history scholars both recognize the digital realm’s place in cutting edge interpretation and have hope for a good job? As Susan Hockey predicted the scholarly community is making massive strides in acceptance as more and more top tier universities devote positions to the study of digital history. And as more aged professors retire, more opportunities will arise.

As I start thinking about what I want to do my project on, Dr. William Thomas’s article “Writing A Digital History Journal Article from Scratch: An Account” presented a perfect conceptual look at the hindsight of building a completely new historical space online. Once you have a general subject matter, it is important to think conceptually in presentation terms from the beginning to properly utilize all the available tools for your argument. Others wrote of coming to terms with having less overall control of the narrative once a site is live. Digital scholars need to reconcile loss of control with navigational choices to ensure the argument is not lost.

I believe the study of digital history is a field because of the need to reconstruct the monographic idea of a narrative from a project’s start, which conflicts with the most basic constructs of historic methods. However, I also agree with the Journal of American History’s article, “The Promise of Digital History,” in its observations that today digital history is seen as new and different, but in the future the tools primarily used in digital history now will be naturally used in everyday studies. New methods take time to master, thus it’s only natural to initially need a wider scope, i.e. its own field, to build a knowledge base.


1 thought on “Field or Method?

  1. I am a bit torn on the debate concerning field vs. method. When I think of a field, I envision some type of temporal or geographic constraints. Using this thinking, digital history is a method, much like quantitative analysis. It is a way of analyzing a topic, but it is not a topic in itself (the closest field would be the history of technology). However, Digital History is tricky in that it has the potential to revolutionize the way history is researched, presented, and argued. Given the well worn groves of historical scholarship, this new medium might fit easier as separate discipline. This sounds out there, but what is the difference between the disciplines in the humanities? It usually boils down to the methods being used and the preferred way to present them. Sociologists, historians, cultural theorists, and literary scholars can all study the 1960s. What makes their analysis different is their methodology. Is the methodology of digital history different from history (at least in theory)? Or is digital history simply interdisciplinary (digital humanities)?

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