The Two Sides of Digital History

There are two sides to consider when considering the role digital history plays in the interpretation, study, and investigation of historical documents. The internet has afforded us with a massive collection of historical documents, as well as interpretations and analysis of them. On the surface one would argue that the World Wide Web has given historians an advantage over those who once labored in libraries full of historical documents but that assumption needs to be reconsidered.

The World Wide Web has improved a historian’s ability to access vast amounts of documents and historical analysis with a few clicks. Schools offer databases full of scholarly reviewed documents for use. Before the age of the computer one would spend hours in public libraries locating books, encyclopedias, and newspapers related to a specific topic. The task was rather laborious. Now with the digitization of documents and the convenient search options we can locate these documents with a few simple clicks. The World Wide Web has allowed for research to be more efficient.

However, as Weller points to, just because the World Wide Web allows for efficient research does not mean that it is the most effective means of conducting research. Weller points to the disengagement one has from the original works as being a primary concern for connecting with and analyzing a particular document. Take for example a transcript of a newspaper article uploaded to the internet. One would be able to view the article and interpret its meaning and significance but without viewing the original we would not be able put ourselves in the place of someone viewing the newspaper during the event. A transcript would not allow a researcher to answer questions like: where was the article located? Was it front page news? Or a simple article to fill the page? The historian is unable to connect with the documents when they are digitized.

Furthermore, the World Wide Web has allowed for fraudulent accounts and recreations of historical documents. Weller points to a history professor viewing Fascist propaganda with a class. One particular clip was of an English cartoon with German subtitles promoting Fascist beliefs. Not one student queried whether the video was a fake (13). Another example of the World Wide Web allowing for fraudulent accounts is Wikipedia. Although Wikipedia is not seen as an acceptable research tool it still is likely to be the first link of a search.


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