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Digital History Teaching tools and Archiving

After reading three of the Articles from the American Historical Association plus Dr. McLurken’s “Observations on Archives and Teaching Undergraduates in the Digital Age”, I am once again reminded how important and  influential the digital age is to the learning and teaching of history. As a student of history and a future teacher of middle school social studies, I really appreciated all of these articles.

Barbara Weinstein’s “Doing History in the Digital Age” expressed many of the issues and concerns that we talked about a few weeks ago with data mining and online databases. Weinstein reminds us that though online journals both archived and posted, are easily accessible, a reader and scholar may loose the context and nuance that is associated with the physical journal itself. The reader is not privy to other articles of interest in the journal, past what they are searching for at the moment, causing them to loose out on potential interesting scholarship. Personally, I agree with Weinstein on this point, as we were talking about a few weeks ago, when searching through online newspapers you only receive the exact article or subject that you were searching for, but you miss out on the advertisments or further editorials help piece together the feeling of the historical period. Its interesting to read about it but I think that we miss out on the particular flavor of the time when we omit the complete journal or newspaper in our search.

I was drawn to Christopher Miller’s article simple because of the title: ” Strange Facts in the History Classroom: or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wiki(pedia)”.


Being a Kubrick fan and more so a Peter Sellers fan, I had to read on; I have to say, I found his class assignment/sociological experiment quite intriguing. After our discussion of Wikipedia,  I noticed many of Miller’s finding mirrored the responses from our class when posed the same question.  I felt further challenged by the notion of ” how can we know if anything is true”. This is constantly something I struggle with when researching online…or anywhere for that matter.  When analyzing a thesis or really any scholarly article that means to prove a point, how can we know what is actually true. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that historians are falsifying research or blatantly lying, but I feel that a lot of research is open to interpretation. If your point it to prove a hypothesis, than you will find the evidence to prove it.  In this digital age, it is so much easier to find this evidence to prove your point because you have an overwhelming amount of sources to choose from. Being the skeptic and cynic that I am, I tend to meet many of the articles that prove hypotheses with a critical eye, whether that is the correct approach…I don’t know. What can you trust when researching a subject, what constitutes an expert? Is it years of scholarship or immersion in a particular subject? I don’t mean to offend any experts of course, I am just postulating on the aim of Miller’s project, to actively engage his students in a critical analysis of online information, namely encyclopedias and the information that they produce and provide.

The third article that I read was  E. Thomas Ewing and Robert P. Stephens “The Digital History Reader: Teaching Resources for United States and European History”. I don’t know about anyone else but I totally Geeked out on Digital History Reader. Seriously, how did I not know about this tool, I plan on using this reader for my Middle School students. What I love about it is that its a live site that can be updated, revised and tweaked as information, or more likely sources are updated.

Now for Dr. McClurken’s Article, I enjoyed this piece. In thinking about my thesis, I have decided that some of the research will come from interviews with archivists and ethnomusicologist in New York, Washington, DC., West Virginia, and Virginia. I truly believe that the information that I require regarding folk music can not be a learned from an online archive, I need to speak with actual people. As far as moving towards an interactive 2.0 future in archiving, I couldn’t help but think of the live chats that some sites, mainly retail, provide when dealing with a question or any information for that matter. I know that students today are currently using  social networks such as twitter and facebook  but neither are used for academic purposes.  As we know, setting up these online live chats cost major moolah, but as a student I feel that it would be beneficial to have a live conversation via instant message with an archivist when doing my research.  The challenge that poses, other than the cost, is the archivsits themselves using a technology such as this. If research and archiving are your passion, do you really want to sit in front of a computer all day waiting for a question from and student or historian?  I think the hand held devices such as Smart Phones, netbooks, Iphones, etc. play a role in the answer to that challenge. These are devices that can be used in conjunction with the actual archiving and researching. They are small enough for the archivists to carry around without having to sit in front of a PC all day waiting to answer questions. Just a thought…

To the brave souls that have chosen to read this ridiculously long post, I thank you. Aside from the fact that I felt the need to make up for my lack of post last week and less than coherent comments in class, I was sparked by these articles. Maybe it is my chosen profession, or the fact that I want to incorporate working with archivists through both video and digital voice recorded interviews for a potential podcast component. Either way, I think that it is important to continue to incorporate digital media and teaching tools in both the University, Secondary and Primary classrooms. The current digital generation (Generation D) are highly skilled and somewhat conditioned to learn through digital media. Professors and teachers must evolve their teaching plans to reflect this new type of learning path or the next generation of students will choose to either learn on their own or tune out.

1 Comment on “Digital History Teaching tools and Archiving”

  1. #1 clevine
    on Apr 5th, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    Just as a side note to my post, can I just mention that I really need to meet this T. Mills Kelly! His class and more so his class project, AKA hoax sound fantastic…since I work at George Mason I think that I may have to seek him out and shake his hand!!!