Sherman Dorn’s article “Is (Digital) History More Than an Argument about the Past?” presented several important facets of the debate about digital history’s place in scholarship. I was particularly intrigued by his comments about the work of historians who are creating projects that do not put forth an argument, which seems, in my opinion, to lead into a discussion of what exactly counts as historic scholarship. Dorn contrasts the idea of a historian with a published but barely-known monograph with that of another historian who has not published a book, but has contributed to software that is widely used by museums and archives, asking, if these are not equal contributions to the field of history, which should be more valued. In my mind, it comes down to what the scholarly community decides about the nature of the work produced by its members. Is an argument necessary for a work to be “historical”? Should a historian who creates software be counted as a scholar or an IT professional? Are we ready to accept this historian as both, even if that means shifting way we evaluate historical works? I think that collecting historical resources and making them available is a wildly important portion of the field of history. While I don’t condone rushing headlong into the latest technological advancement, I believe that conscientiously using the available technology to lay the foundation for future historical work is just as important as anything else going on in the field.
Martha Hodes’ article “Experimental History in the Classroom” was very exciting for me to read, because I love creative approaches to history. I grew up with a very project-oriented history program, and spend a lot of time in historic costumes, etc. Today, as an English major I study novels as a sort of historic record, and bemoan the lack of linguistic artistry across the field of history. That’s not to say that scholarship does not meet high standards of writing, but there is a definite power in form following/assisting function, which is frequently missing in historic texts. This is absolutely a place where digital history can help to round out the field, as online projects offer many more creative opportunities than monographs which are, almost by nature, interacted with in one set way. The use of experimental approaches to history encourages students to ask a wider range of questions about the texts they interact with- not just “Was this a well reasoned and strongly supported argument?”, but also “How useful is this argument, however strong, if no one wants to read this unpleasant prose?” The question can be turned around, of course, and an approach that is too far off the beaten path will probably not reach a large audience. Overall however, I think that history is often given a bad name by people who don’t enjoy the standard presentation of the subject, while art, poetry, plays, etc that express the same arguments might provide a wider appeal.