Roy Rosenzweig in the early 2000s looked at emerging web technologies and imagined two alternative futures in a provocative essay called ‘Scarcity or Abundance?’. In one scenario, information put on the web proved to be fragile, prone to link-rot, digital decay, and an ephemeral existence. In the other, Moore’s Law and ever more powerful machines made larger and larger volumes of information feasible to record, preserve, replicate, and play with.
With time, we can now see that it was his ‘abundance’ scenario which has -so far- come to pass. ‘Digital History’ as an area of research therefore has two strands. In the first, digital tools are used to deal with the sheer volume of information out there, of making sense of it all, of preserving it, of making it intelligible to both machine and researcher. In the second strand, digital history presents this material to various publics, thinking through what representation in digital media means, and the ways we share authority with the algorithms which underpin our practice.
In this seminar, we will be looking at Digital History from these two perspectives, shuttling back and forth. We will look at the ways it changes the questions we can ask about history, the way digital methods change what it is even feasible to ask, and how we communicate this research to a wider public. Technology is not neutral, and we will be exploring the ramifications of that realisation.
Students will have different levels of experience with digital technologies, but this should not dissuade you from engaging with the concepts and ideas at stake in exploring digital history. Knowledge of programming is not required for this seminar, nor is this seminar meant to teach you how to code. I do expect a willingness to get your hands dirty. Digital History requires many skills and perspectives. We will be working with our partner the Canada Science and Technology Museum.