Faithfully Learning Digital History

By Faith Swarner

My name is Faith Swarner and I am a senior Public History major at Messiah University. As a senior Public History major I enjoy historical work that creates connections to public applications. My goal for the future is to go into museum work and make history accessible to all and then nurture an interest in understanding our society through history. In fact, It is my lifelong goal to open my own museum to share my passion with everyone. Currently my favorite historical topics are medicine and its advances through war, and the Carlisle Industrial School

Photo of Faith Swarner

As a public history major I see the need for digital history, but going into the course I did not understand the scale and great importance it holds. I thought digital history was something more simplistic than what I now understand it to be. Before, digital history to me was just the timeline in which we embraced the digital age, and how we started archiving digitally as a response. Instead, digital history is this complex study that becomes more and more complex each day with more digital archives, websites, and photos flooding the internet every day.

 After reading seminal essays by Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, I now see that digital history is more important for historians to understand than ever before. As a child who grew up being born before 9/11 yet still too young to remember it, I grew up with the post 9/11 internet. I will never experience the internet before, when it was mostly travel blogs, catalogs, and basic gaming websites. Now all information I could possibly want, good or bad, correct or incorrect, is at my fingertips. We will never be free of this endless news cycle that the internet provides, and neither will digital history. Digital historians like Cohen and Rosenzweig, in fact, invite scholars and students to contribute to making good history available online for a wide range of audiences. As digital history websites have grown and expanded, anyone and everyone across the globe can access archives and historical content that before would have been accessible. History can be done from the comfort of our homes now. Anyone can write their own history due to how easily we can access it.

All this is good, but digital historians call us to look deeper and understand the implications of making history digital. As more archives digitize their information, we have to deal with the influx of new information to yet again sift through. Depending on how information is digitized we also have to consider how long lasting it will be. Will this program be irrelevant in ten years? Will people still be able to view the scans in the future, or will they have to be transferred or new programs? These are all things digital history calls for us to think about and remember for the future of historians and their relationship with technology.

This class offers me a great opportunity to research the Old Eight Ward. My freshman year I also researched the Old Eight Ward in my Public History class, where I learned about important individuals from the Old Eight Ward. I studied a journalist and poet named Gwendolyn Bennet. I find it to be great symmetry that I started my university career with the Old Eight Ward and I will be finish it with it as well. This semester I hope to be researching diseases of the Old Eight Ward. I have always been interested in medical history, and I think this is a great opportunity to look at a micro-history of medicine that took place so close to my home Carlisle. I cannot wait to study such an interesting place and topic further with my class and Professor Pettegrew.

Faith Swarner is a senior Public History major at Messiah University. She also works as a work study for the History, Politics and International Relations Department. Currently she in interning at the Army Heritage Center Foundation and is working on creating a history for Korean War Mash Units. In her free time she is the President of Minds Matter, a mental health advocacy group on campus.

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