Making the Leap from Raw Data to Digital Representation: Pedagogical Principles of Digital Historiography

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 9:00 AM
Chicago Ballroom VI (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Joshua Sternfeld, Independent Scholar

Access to digital historical content has sparked innovative curriculum development.  Students participate in group projects to document local history, construct multimedia narratives, or contribute data to relational databases.  These developments have also raised considerable skepticism from within the field.  In compelling students to publish and interact with digital historical content, critics argue that educators have often obscured the critical distance and historiographical knowledge that students should be expected to demonstrate.

This paper will propose a set of three principles for digital history pedagogy that bridges contemporary and established modes of historical practice:  1) Digital history works -- like their textual counterparts -- are representations laden with interpretation.  2) Digital historical representations traverse many traditional and new media genres.  The unifying trait that binds all representations, regardless of their advanced formal properties, is their use of historical evidence.  3) Production, use, and evaluation of digital historical representations require a combination of relevant knowledge sets that includes historiography, information theory, and technical proficiency.

These principles contribute to a framework for a new theory and methodology called digital historiography, which is defined as the interdisciplinary study of the interaction of digital technology with historical practice.  Digital historiography proposes to adapt, rather than altogether abandon, core values -- including close reading, complex narrative construction, and contextualization -- that have defined the historical field and consequently have shaped pedagogy at all levels.  Digital historiography can help educators to assess students’ digital work, apply digital resources alongside textual resources, develop digital literacy, and mediate peer review. 

To illustrate the application of the above principles in a pedagogical setting, this paper will discuss a graduate level seminar titled History, Media, and Technology.  Students from diverse academic programs researched and evaluated examples of digital historical representations while becoming familiar with terminology, theories, and practices pertaining to history, information studies, and media studies.


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