Digital technologies are increasingly becoming a part of our world today. These technologies translate into history in so many ways. In my public history class last semester, we talked about the pros and cons of digital technologies such as virtual reality. I had the opportunity during a week celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. to try out VR. My friend and I went to the back of the library and began. As I put on the equipment, I wondered what it would be like. Would it be hard to work the equipment? How would I move around? It turned out to be simple and natural to move around it pick objects up. The simulation took place from the point of view of an African American man during a sanitation strike. In the end, it showed the assassination of MLK. It was a very moving experience that helped show me new possibilities of how to connect technology and history.
Before this year, I had not really thought much about the ways in which I engage with digital history. Throughout most of my life, my experience of history involved reading historical fiction and taking history classes in school, such as US History and US Government. On one level, digital history was always close: I grew up in the age of the internet where everything is a few clicks away. Most of our work was online in high school, but online work only involved reading online material or processing information. Most of what we learned came from textbooks and lectures, sometimes with a PowerPoint. I never really explored how technology can further learning other than reading online.
Then I thought about how I used digital history in college. Last year we mostly read books and listened to lectures with a few primary sources reading online, but we did not really work with new technologies. This year I feel like I have interacted with it more. Last semester I did lots of research online for my classes in American History and historical methods. I sifted through letters in databases like Founders Online and newspaper databases such as Chronicling America to find information on Alexander Hamilton and train accidents for my research papers. In many ways, the fall semester was when my world opened up to the possibilities of Digital History.
During J-term this concept expanded when I took Public History. I did research and combed the internet for sources like newspapers, census records, and secondary sources looking for rare bits of information on the eighth ward and people who lived there. Then we used another website to design posters for the Humanities Symposium at Messiah College. I helped to work on the Jane Chester poster and another group worked on the QR code which you can see in the corner.
This semester the readings for this digital history course have continued to challenge me to think about this area in greater detail. The material has focused on ideas such as how to use technology, websites, and databases. It has also included readings (e.g., Weller) that have cautioned against using too many technologies at the expense of actual history. I can also see connections in my other classes such as Darkroom Photography. In photography, I have to think about design, a skill that can transfer over to digital history through technologies like websites. One of the chapters I read this week for class mentioned design and photographers like Ansel Adams. This captured my interest since I recently came to appreciate the work of Ansel Adams during a visit to Yosemite last summer. I was even inspired to take lots of pictures of my own.
I am looking forward to continuing to learn more about digital history this semester and using new technologies to show my research. I am especially curious to try and learn ways to display a social map I want to make of the 100 names project in Harrisburg and how the people are related in the community. I think this will be fascinating to explore and I hope technology will help me to better portray relationships whether they be family members or members of the same church congregation. I am excited to explore many topics over the course of this semester.