Encountering Digital History

By Keli Ganey

Stepping into the Digital Age is no easy task even for those of us born into it like myself. Prior to this course, I liked to think I had a good idea of what all encompassed the world of doing digital history, but after the first few weeks my mind has exploded at the endless possibilities digital history can hold.

I started my very own history blog 21st Century Historian back in December of 2020 as a place to begin dabbling in blogging, website design, and to sharpen my writing skills. My blog then took off and I was able to expand it to other digital media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, my own personal website, YouTube Channel, and Television network History segment. Over time I have established a digital platform for myself that I use to educate others in unconventional ways. Digital platforms have provided me an excellent playground of experiences for trial and error to learn all the ins and outs one might face as a digital historian in the twenty-first century.

Digital History Class with Dr. Pettegrew has introduced me to numerous new ideas and terminology in the world of digital history. I have learned to become a Wikipedia editor. Along with how to link Wikipedia pages together or outside sources to the page itself. I have learned the beauty of Zotero’s cataloging abilities when it comes to tracking down metadata from digital sources. I have been able to see first hand the change over time, effects, and upgrades of website building technologies available to us now. One of the exercises I enjoy the most is doing website reviews. We are given two websites to review and they tend to range in publication dates from the early 2000s to late 2018s. Each website I have noticed similar concepts but the way they are executed is always different. For example, almost every website I have reviewed so far has had some kind of interactive map feature. Some sites’ software has stopped working and no longer allows viewers to access the interactive feature. I wonder if those building these early digital history websites ever thought about the possibility for the technology functions they included to eventually stop working.

The question of sustainability has also been a “hot” topic in class, which I did not originally see coming. I, like several others I’m sure, was unaware at the fact that the technology we actively use today theoretically could be out of date or out of practice in the upcoming 5 years. However, one can simply look back in time to realize that this has always been the case with new technologies. As society moves forward in advancements, so does our technology. In some cases, our technology requires updates repeatedly over short spans of time. As historians in a digital age that is ever so rapidly changing, we must be proactively thinking about how to make our digital efforts last over time. We have thousands upon thousands of pieces of paper and other artifacts saved from being lost to time by protecting them in acid free boxes in archives. I guess the real question is what is our new acid free box, and how can we store this massively increasing collection that’s platform is forever evolving?

Adam Crymble author of, “Technology and the Historian: Transformations in the Digital Age” makes an effective claim throughout his book that historians need to focus on three important things in their scholarship in order to keep up with this digital period. I was highly interested to begin reading to see if there are key factors I have missed in the rapid change. One key point is to always have historians reclaim the memory of technology’s role within their discipline, meaning that contributing to history in this way (digitally) is groundbreaking historically in itself and should be noted. Anytime I begin a new project, I make a point to include the context of not only the history I am trying to preserve through my research or project, but also the context of creating the content itself. Then by incorporating it into the into the history of the project I note the contribution to overall history. This specific digital notation practice is a new frontier in the practice of historiography, public history, and teaching history in the classroom. Another factor that is vital for historians is adopting digital vernacular to help create a more definitive description of the digital work they are contributing to. In our Digital History class, we have collectively discovered that there is no instruction manual or distinct outline to follow doing digital history. It is a grey area that we as historians are exploring together and building off one another. I see constantly projects coming out that are collaborations between historians or digital creators. Lastly, we as historians must keep a larger perspective in mind while creating digital history content. Every post or project that we publish should be created with a goal to reach a vast array of audiences and teach people through digital history globally.

There is a lot to think about and unpack here. I have enjoyed learning all that I have so far and look forward to learning much more and putting it into practice via our digital projects. My favorite digital medium to work in is audio-visual content. There is something next level engaging about it that I find both exciting and fascinating. I personally hope that research takes me to investigating more about the personal lives and stories of those accounted for through the Digital Harrisburg innovative. It’s one thing to catalog and make a bunch of names accessible, but it’s another (and an honor I might add) to be able to tell their individual stories and bring them back to life.

3 thoughts on “Encountering Digital History

  1. Wow! I’m so impressed and delighted with Keli’s enthusiasm for history! I’m especially interested in the Revolutionary War stories about women in her personal blog from August 2022. The Harrisburg Chapter of DAR would love to have her come speak at one of our meetings if she is available.

    I’m attaching a screen grab from the DAR database of patriots showing a William Nelson from PA, that may or may not be helpful in the quest for records on William Nelson who owned Joe and his family. Please pass along to her!

    Thanks, Anne Wain


    1. Thank you so much Anne! I would be honored to bring my findings and work alongside you and the DAR database to unpack more of what I found. You can reach me to talk further at kg1443@messiah.edu
      Keli Ganey

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