Many years ago, we would have never put the two words “Digital” and “History” together because they seem to have two completely different meanings. “Digital” refers to computing technology, while “History” refers to the study of the past. Now, in the digital age, as a result of all of the technological advances, historians are almost pushed to study history through digital means. So what exactly is digital history and why is it important? Digital History is the study of how technology is changing the way we study and look history. As defined by William G. Thomas’ article in History in the Digital Age, digital history is as “an approach to examining and representing the past that works with the new communication technologies of the computer, Internet network, and software systems” (Pg. 3).
Technology and the Digital Age are important for a range of reasons when studying history in the current times, especially the archiving and presentation of historical information online through websites, blogs, and various social media sites. According to Roy Rosenzweig, in his book Clio Wired: The Future of the Past in the Digital Age, technology can also be important because it allows historical data and information to be more accessible and can make the data and information more widely known: “Historians, in fact, may be facing a fundamental paradigm shift from a culture of scarcity to a culture of abundance. Not so long ago, we worried about the numbers of people we could reach…At least potentially digital technology has removed many of these limits” (Pg. 7).
A Digital History class was recently introduced to Messiah College in the Spring of 2014. In this class, the students are researching the history of Harrisburg, its past residents, and one of its biggest projects of improvements, the “City Beautiful“. Technology is incredibly important in our study of Harrisburg because with it we are able to do digitize US census data and link it to GIS maps, take new and clear pictures of historical photos, research information about Harrisburg, and record our findings on our blog and other websites. These digital recordings allow others outside the class to read and get involved with our research and study of Harrisburg.
Technology is continually changing and advancing, which means the way we study and understand history is continually changing. Our Digital History class will continue to research Harrisburg’s history and continue to study Digital History and its important uses in the present and through the future.