Questions and Answers

So!  Week two of seminar done and dusted.   Here’s where I’m at.

This week all of our readings were centered around the idea that digital history is new and exciting (or at least was in the early 2000s, now it feels more like it’s here to stay), but that we might not necessarily know what we’re going to to do with it yet, or indeed, what it’s going to do to and for us.  Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig laid out how the “History Web” came into being; the different qualities and dangers of digital media; and where and what history on the web might be right now or where it might go in the future.  Tom Scheinfeldt assured us that the tools of digital history are still so new and fresh that we don’t know just yet what kinds of questions it might lead us to ask or to answer.  William Turkel et. al. encouraged us, dear readers, to think of digital tools not as a way of translating historical experiences or materials, but rather as a way of transducing them (I prefer transmogrify, myself) from the past into the present.  Further to our discussion last week, this week’s theoretical readings underlined that DH is about making: making new tools, making new ways of understanding sources, making new ways of interacting with the past.

So, then, what are we going to be making in HIST5702x you ask?  Well, like this week’s authors, I’m not entirely sure yet.  Of a few crucial details, we are sure.  We are working with the Air Canada collection at the Canada Science and Technology Museum Corporation.  We are going to be creating some sort of augmented reality coffee table “book”.  We are going to be making two of said book.

However, of a few crucial details, we are not so sure.  Are we going to tell a narrative?  How will the two “books” differ? Who is our audience for these “books”? How can we tell “good history” without relying too much on gimmick?

We bounced around a bunch of ideas about what form the “book” might take.  Perhaps it could be an airline safety card? Or a blueprint of an airplane? Considering the number of uniforms in the collection, maybe a dress pattern? Luckily we don’t have to know these particulars just yet.  Next week we’re going to be visiting the collection in situ at CSTM and maybe coming face-to-face with our sources will reveal the answers to these questions and those we didn’t even know we could ask.

I think that’s what I find most exhilarating and terrifying about diving into digital history.  With your standard academic history you have a question, you do some research to find the answer, and then you write an essay to frame what you’ve found.  In this new arena we don’t know if we have a question, we play around while trying to find questions and answers, and then we create something to frame what we’ve found and what we’ve got left to ask.  Though the stages might be similar, the work it’s going to take is brand, brand new.  And we might not necessarily know what we’re going to to do with it yet.

Reprinted from The Recorded North