Time to sum up the semester. What I have learned surprises me…my learning disability is an advantage when considering how technology can generally change reading habits and how a mind thinks. That digital media allows for new forms of mapping information when utilizing it as a medium. History created under new media allows for a beneficial form of interactive history from connecting readers to key words and footnoted articles which was not before even possible without researching the concrete referenced text. Extensive funding can almost always ensure an effective website, but simple ideas with a clear focus can generate the most successful ones. Although digital history can be manipulated, truth is, depending on the bias of the historian that has always been a factor. So where does this leave me today?
If “life of the mind is a life of play” then this course and digital history is all about play, more specifically about several minds working together to play with ideas collaboratively. Although I resisted the concept of this course even before I registered, I cannot deny that I have been pleasantly surprised by how digital media can benefit the discipline of history. Not so much for the technology, but how the premise is all about the power of teamwork.
The last two required texts are an ideal example of the power of collaborative ideas on a large scale. These texts demonstrate how digital media has sped up the process of recording, debating and fixing issues. First, collaborative teams include far more than historians, they include other professionals in the field, librarians, and technologists, all with varying levels of expertise in their separate fields. Second, it allows the compilation of ideas in a much shorter period of time and for a wider audience with a greater impact. Third and lastly, that although, Hacking the Academy: New Approaches to Scholarship and Teaching from Digital Humanities, is a published text–which is considered by some a static medium–the notion of a digital humanities is anything but that, because of how it integrates both text and digital technology via a website for present and future readers to engage in an ongoing discussion of the digital issues. (Cohen, 4-5)
On a smaller scale, last week I spent two hours at the Roy Rosenweig Center for History and New Media (CHNM) lab working on my website project proposal. I wanted to learn how to incorporate the Omeka database into my digital art historical dissertation proposal. What I learned was more than just utilizing the database. As soon as I arrived, I was greeted by graduate students circling at an oval table happy to assist me. No time was wasted until I was invited to sit in a comfy chair and ushered to the oval table with the students. I learned immediately the oval table was space for ideas and problem solving. It was remarkable to sit and listen to the students. Of course I was taught how the Omeka program runs, what its benefits could be for my proposal and step-by step how to build a database. But it was the teamwork I witnessed that had the greater impact. Having been on many committees throughout the years, not many demonstrated the positive energy I encountered last week. Most committees are comprised with team members who come prepared to present their positions and lead with the attitude of expecting to persuade the others over to their point of view. This was not the case at CHNM. After I was ready to proceed on my own, I chose to stay and moved to a different table to work on my project. While I was working on my proposal, another grad student arrived, presenting another issue. Again, with the same enthusiasm as with my project, several other students offered different types of solutions. Each person discussed the pros and cons, then an overall solution was decided upon. No debate on opinions or bargaining for position. I witnessed a team working towards finding the best solution for the issue presented. The definition for what teamwork is meant to be about was demonstrated at that simple oval table. A group of individuals working together to find the most effective solution through inclusive idea building and with positive energy.
The most important thing I have learned this semester is how digital history is about working towards solutions by focusing on the strengths of collaboration. Teams working together to build a better medium for history and moving past “mere complaints about the state of the academy into more careful diagnoses and potential solutions” (Cohen, 4). Professionals from various fields collaborating together with past mediums developing present ideas to build a better future is where digital history is headed. If the energy I witnessed last week and the texts we read the last two weeks are any indication of where digital history is headed, feel free to include me! Why would historians not want to participate in this type of environment?