Cohen and Rosenzweig on the Digital Humanities: Part I

Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, both affiliated with George Mason University's Center for History and New Media, co-authored a fascinating introduction to history as practiced in the digital era. Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web offers an inside tour of some of the most exciting developments in the profession over the past three decades. From pre-Mosaic days to recent times, the authors demonstrate that historians and amateurs alike have been taking advantage of digital technology throughout the history of the Internet.

What most caught my attention about the first two chapters (that is to say, the Introduction and Chapter 1) was just how quickly digital history took off. Evidently, Internet users have been passionate about the practice of history from the Internet's inception in the early 1990's.

The authors strive to present a balanced view of the impact of digital methods on historical praxis, identifying a number of advantages and disadvantages of these techniques in their introduction. They are quick to point out that although the Internet offers users unprecedented access to primary and secondary sources, there are serious issues with quality control and reliability which historians have yet to circumvent.

More concerning, though, is the tendency of digital media to be siloed in paywalled repositories beyond the means of the common man to access. One of the principal culprits in this respect include Elsevier, the corporate boogeyman of scholars across the world.

However, the authors conclude that, on the whole, the digital age offers historians significant opportunities that outweigh the potential drawbacks, and their substantial CVs attest to their drive to integrate such technologies into their work.

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