Two months ago an important conference took place at the European University Institute in Florence on Public History and the Media. Exploring a variety of forms of public history, the second day was devoted to the topic of ‘digital public history’. While the links between the two fields are fairly obvious they are of course not the same. As one participant put it: “Digital History is not the same as Public History *but* Public History needs Digital History”.
Various projects that were presented or referenced during this day explored ways in which the public can be engaged in, contribute to, and co-author history. Thus the Philadelphia Public History Truck, “a mobile museum project which partners with Philly neighborhood grassroots organizations to explore local history”, enables new voices and audiences to be heard and engage in (local) history. The Europeana 1914-1918 provides an excellent example of enaging the public to create a new user-generated online archive/museum. Digtal history functions in an enabling way here: new voices/audiences and user-generated materials empower ‘the public’ in various ways. But clearly these are also new forms of creating history.
I currently work as a research fellow at the Lichtenberg Kolleg at the Georg August Universität Göttingen on the project The diaries of Anne Frank. Research—Translations—Critical Edition. The project is a collaboration between the Lichtenberg Kolleg at the Georg August Universität Göttingen and the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt. It involves a new historical-critical edition of the diaries in Dutch, English and German as well as an accompanying multi-author research monograph. I am responsible for the annotations of the new edition as well as involved in planning the monograph for which I will contribute a chapter on wartime Yiddish diaries.
A new book entitled L'histoire contemporaine à l'ère numérique/ Contemporary History in the Digital Age was published with Peter Lang recently. It contains articles from the Digital Humanities Luxembourg (DHLU) 2009 and 2012 conferences (see also this call for papers for the upcoming december 2013 conference on the theme of Reading historical sources in the digital age).
On July 9, 2013, a conference took place in the Jewish Museum in Berlin entitled Public History of the Holocaust - Historical Research in the Digital Age. One of the issues brought up in the closing forum discussion was the loss of context in working with online digital archives and/or libraries, a point made by Stefanie Schüler-Springorum who used the example of doing newspapers research to illustrate it. Having used this example often to illustrate the methodological challenges of doing history in the digital age, I was very happy to hear it being addressed in the forum. For loss of context, or loss of awareness of context, when using and working with digital resources is a key issue that is in dire need of more discussion by historians, whether they describe themselves as digital or not.
In reading up on various topics to prepare my lectures for a digital history course I am currently teaching I am struck by the extent to which a dichotomy is created between supposedly new ‚digital’ ways of doing history versus traditional, or if you will analog, historical practices. Whether the focus is on data as a new type of source, digital methods to analyze it, new forms of academic publishing or calls to change our narrative way of writing in order to better integrate and explicate our methodology, the suggestion is invariably that we face a fundamental break with past practices.
This week I started teaching on a new course entitled Digital Historical Research. The course is offered to employees of the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands and NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies from february-july 2013. It is organized by myself and my NIOD colleague Hinke Piersma. I am teaching several of the classes and will upload the slides to my slideshare account. The course website (in Dutch) can be found here.