Historians are concerned with representing the past. It may come as no surprise then that the introduction of technology and digital software to the discipline has been a slow burner. In recent years, however, the field of Digital History has emerged as a vibrant and important area for historians, not only as a means of recording sources and data, but also as a source in its own right.
As the internet grew in popularity, people rushed to document their own histories on the web and create sites for their favourite subjects. The Library of Congress and the British National Archives are just two examples of how sources are now being digitised, developing catalogues and collections for online access. Primary sources from the past are now far more open to scholars in ways that were unimaginable in decades gone by. Tools such as JSTOR and ProQuest have opened up full-text journal articles that have transformed the way historians conduct their research.
Apart from changing research tools, new media has also had an impact on the type of scholarship being conducted. Both Oxford and Cambridge have their own digital media groups dedicated to the study of the humanities through new and emerging media. Only last year, Cambridge hosted a talk on the role of the media and technology in the Middle East, with the events of and following the Arab Spring shining a light on the relationship between the dissemination of new media technologies and mobilisation for political change in the Middle East. The talk given by Anne Alexander of CRASSH explored how generations of political activists have used ICTs to build networks, create ‘spheres of dissidence’ and generate new activist cultures.
While historians have only recently begun to explore what history looks like in the digital medium, university departments are increasingly seeking scholars to translate history into this fast-paced, widely accessible environment. These advances are not only relevant to Historians, but also Politics, Archaeology and Anthropology, PPE and Sociology students who can benefit from this integration of technology and scholarly practice.