The Future of the Past: Digital History at West Point

Sunday, January 8, 2017: 11:40 AM
Mile High Ballroom 3B (Colorado Convention Center)
Ty Seidule, United States Military Academy
West Point’s faculty has written military history for cadets since 1817 and every twenty years since then. Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton, Jr. took the military history course as cadets. They both wrote that military history was the foundation of a professional officer’s career.
Neither Ike nor Patton, however, would recognize the course taught at West Point today. Every cadet has an iPad. Their text, The West Point History of Warfare, is an interactive, digital experience that educates cadets on military history from ancient warfare to modern conflicts. The digital text features fifty world class historians as well as a thousand new maps (many of them animated), ten thousand interactive widgets, hyperlinked footnotes, “Face of Battle” accounts, 3D weapons, biographies, music, and much more. The new enhanced digital text creates a tactile, immersive experience in history.
The success of the West Point History of Warfare has led us to create digital primary source readers for our freshman American history course. Cadets use The West Point Guide to the Civil Rights Movement and the West Point Guide to Gender and War to write their research paper, challenging their views of race and gender.
Finally, digital history has led us to partner with other disciplines. This year, the Department of History begins its first public history senior capstone project with history, computer science, and systems engineering majors to create a Virtual Reality D-Day app.
This paper will look at how using a range of digital approaches has affected our students, our teaching, and our major. It will use the Normandy invasion of June 6, 1944, as a case study of those approaches, and how such approaches demand we think deeply about the future of the past.
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