Week 14: Final Thoughts on Digital History

Well, it has been quite a semester! I don’t think I’ll do research the same way again. It has been incredibly helpful to learn about all the different types of search engines and how data is stored and shared with historians.

Primarily there are three facets that I think will change how we look at history and conduct our research. First is Zotero, it is fantastic. I know I have always said if Google Books was a real person I’d marry it, but I would happily have a torrid affair with Zotero. It organizes all of my research in such a simple and easy to export way. This last aspect cannot be overlooked. So often with Easybib or Evernote (what happened with this by the way?) that you can input your data, but never get it back. Sadly I have problems with the fact that Zotero does not grab the location of publication from Amazon or Google Books sources. I guess in this weird analogy Zotero less like a sexy person, but more for a bad adorable puppy. It keeps making a mess that takes time for me to clean up, but darn it’s cute.

The second aspect of digital history that will greatly help us with illustrating and learning about history is digital mapping. It is something I tinkered with during an undergraduate research paper on the Nantucket Life-Saving Service. I fired up Google Earth and plotted where all the shipwrecks from 1870-1900 occurred that the USLSS responded to and how they responded. The surfmen had two options: one – use a breeches buoy zip-line system that had a range of 700 yards or two – everyone piles into a surfboat (big rowboat) and out you go to the shipwreck. I was trying to see how far the ships were from the shore and how that effected which option they chose. Google Earth was amazing for this and I am so happy to see that other historians are applying this to their research too. It not only lets historians see things in a new light, but also allows them to show other people more easily. My new favorite example of this is the Mystic Seaport for Educator’s First Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan. Yes, it is a shameless plug and my friends worked on it. That doesn’t make it any less amazing.

 

Lastly is crowd sourcing. I have met so many great “unofficial” historians who have passionate interests in a topic, love their genealogy, or carry extensive personal experience. I am so happy to see that through digital history these resources are being pulled into the professional historian field. Yes, there needs to be some caution when accepting anyone’s research or conclusions (professional or not!), but by adding more resources and keeping better documentation the field can become so much richer. Also, even if you are not a buff in a particular area, there are people who love working on digitizing documents. I was so thrilled to see the Library of Congress crowd sourcing their materials to the public for transcription. It is a fantastic way to get a lot of work done and engage the public in history.

 

Thank you for a fantastic semester!

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