Passages from Quantitative History to Digital Humanities

AHA Session 125
Friday, January 4, 2019: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Salon 7 (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
W. Caleb McDaniel, Rice University
Jason Heppler, University of Nebraska at Omaha
Emily Klancher Merchant, University of California, Davis
John Theibault, independent scholar
Benjamin MacDonald Schmidt, Northeastern University
Anelise Hanson Shrout, Bates College

Session Abstract

The idea for this panel began with an offhand comment on Twitter by Caleb McDaniel: “Though digital history is sometimes tied to cliometrics, you don’t usually see Time on the Cross in genealogies of DH, but reading Herbert Gutman’s critique turned up a reminder of the book’s dependence on computers.” The responses from historians interested in digital humanities tended to reject McDaniel’s specific claim that Time on the Cross is not part of a digital humanities canon, but did concur with the more general point that there is a great deal of ambiguity about how the first wave of computer-aided history has or has not influenced current practice of digital history and reached beyond history to influence the broader digital humanities. The purpose of this panel is to address that ambiguity. It explores the homologies between the quantification trend of the 1960s and 1970s in historiography and the digitization trend of the 21st century. It is equally concerned with “whatever happened to cliometrics?” and “what are the roots of current work in digital history/humanities?” It is not primarily designed to showcase individual projects in digital humanities but to consider recent historiography and digital humanities methods as they are currently reflected in historical work. Presentations will intentionally be kept short -- to no more than 10 minutes.

Our goal is to start a broader conversation that we believe has been latent in controversies about “defining” digital humanities and in genealogies of digital practices in the last two decades. Panelists and the audience will consider a cluster of interrelated questions, including:

What do we mean when we say that cliometrics and digital history are both "computer-aided?" How important was the computer to the development of cliometrics?

To what extent did the “cultural turn” mark a turning away from computer aided methods in the 1970s? To what extent does the fact that literature led the way in adapting computer aided methods in the internet age facilitate readoption of those methods in history since the 1990s?

What role did the development of critical online editions play in shaping historians’ and literature scholars’ attitudes towards computer-aided methods? How important is it that some early cutting-edge centers for digital work had a critical mass of both historians and literature scholars while others seem to have been dominated by one or the other?

Has the so-called “spatial turn” led to rapprochement or increasing separation between how historians and other humanities scholars approach digital methods?

What are historians’ obligations for sharing their data as well as their analyses of data?

To what extent is Stephen Robertson right that “digital history” is and ought to be something distinct from “digital humanities”?

Although we are proposing this panel for the AHA meeting and are not simultaneously submitting it for the MLA meeting, we believe this is a panel that will attract participants for the MLA and encourage cross-disciplinary conversations about the relationship between digital history and digital humanities.

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