From computers and history todigital history: a retrospectiveDonald SpaethUniversity of GlasgowIHR Seminar on Digital History28 May 2013
Association for History and Computing,Westfield, 1986-87
• ‘while there is much to celebrate about the last decade, thefact remains that the profession is still divided between asmall minority of historians who use computers as tools foranalysing historical data and the vast majority who, whilethey might use a PC for wordprocessing, remainunconvinced of the case that it can become amethodological asset.’ (Speck, 1994)• or the web, online databases, archive catalogues, digitalcameras, etc. (2013)
Goals• ‘students need to analyse databases actively and critically,just as they have always examined traditional … sources’• ‘ensuring that large generalised databases (preferablyreflecting the … entire content of a specific source) areavailable to the largest possible constituency’• ‘the utility of teaching IT and a particular subjectsimultaneously’• ‘academics … become guides accompanying their studentsin an exploration of the past’
Historical Problems• Assess the extent to which the Irish were assimilated intoBritain.• What do CEBs reveal about the gendered nature of work?• Was a consumer society born in eighteenth-centuryEngland?• Did the Norman Conquest cause a tenurial revolution in11th-century England?• How important is the study of elections to anunderstanding of politics in eighteenth century England?
The Future?• MOOCs: massive online open courses– Coursera, Udacity, edX• Replacing lectures with podcasts• Disseminating the best teaching• More targetted teaching
Issues• What problem?• Intellectual property• Assessment– Multiple choice questions are almost as good as essays becausethey spot-check participants’ deeper comprehension of the text.‘Our ambition is actually to make the Harvard experience nowcloser to the MOOC experience’ (Gregory Nagy, Classics, HarvardUniversity)
The future of history and computing• ‘historians want to stay historians, and do not want todelve into the intricacies of information technology’• ‘energy has to go to more fundamental methodological andtechnical research’• ‘denying these challenges and opportunities will …segregate the study of history from the technicalcapabilities currently being developed in the informationsociety and will turn the computer into an awkward toolwith limited use and usability for historians’Boonstra, Breure and Doorn, Past, present and future ofhistorical information science (2004)