The Web has taken over us since the early 1990s. Today, historians are using digital tools to communicate their findings. The shift from analog to digital has affected many realms within the history world, one of them being historical research. The Web offers advantages as well as disadvantages when it comes to historical research. These advantages are described by Cohen and Rosenzweig as, “capacity, accessibility, flexibility, diversity, manipulability, interactivity and hypertextuality.” These multifaceted advantages explain that through the use of conducting research digitally historians are able to reach to broader audiences worldwide, implement new ways of showcasing narratives, preserving and creatively exposing the data, as well as sharing the digital platform with other historians in hopes of continuing to extend the “digital future by creating digital history in the present” (Cohen & Rosenzweig). Some of the disadvantages of digital writing involve the “quality and authenticity and the inaccessibility to certain disadvantaged and populations” (Cohen & Rosenzweig).
As a historian, selecting sources is vital to the process of “synthesizing, arranging, contextualizing and communicating” narratives. Unfortunately, digital sources are prone to lack authenticity versus analog sources (for the most part) therefore historians have questions to consider in order to analyze and properly select trustworthy sources. The problem with digital sources is the fact that anyone who doesn’t necessarily have a history background can post information on the Web with no basis of factual validity. The most popular example is Wikipedia. During my undergrad years at UCONN, I was limited from using Wikipedia as a source for my research papers. Although I must admit it has been useful to browse through information for a quick overview and at points I’ve had professors admit that it does come in handy when you want to quickly find background information on almost any topic. Moreover, historians must be very selective and analytical when choosing digital sources to present their data (“scholarly primitives”).
In a sense, I do believe that there are qualitative differences between the use of digital archives and traditional analog sources because using digital tools allow historians to present their “interpretative narratives” in new forms and connect with a larger network to ultimately contribute to the expansion of “historiographical conversations.” In Rosenzweig’s scholarly article, “Digital History & Argument”, he makes the case that digital historians make arguments just as historians do by “structuring and describing materials in ways that highlight specific features and relationships and in addition, digital historians can incorporate sources themselves as central elements and this allows further analysis and engagement.” That’s why I said “in a sense” because though there is a difference in the platform, process and presentation of the narratives, the goal is the same. The advantage analog sources have on digital sources is the preservation portion. In conclusion, digital historians are currently engaging within a medium that transforms public history in “meaningful ways using digital forms.” Digital historians must balance out the advantages and disadvantages in order to maximize the latter. Nevertheless, both digital and analog sources have its assets and losses, both assist historians in creating and exposing narratives.
Arguing with Digital History working group, “Digital History and Argument,” white paper, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (November 13, 2017): https://rrchnm.org/argument-white-paper/.