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A Brave New World

Like many in my generation I have had the internet for most of my life.  In the early years, I enjoyed having the ability to post on message boards, waste time on AIM, and post on blogs.  But the internet was always a recreational tool.  When I started college, I realized the internet had greater potential, but I still limited myself to the internet as a place for fun.  Never did I consider the possibility that the internet could provide me with a new medium for historical scholarship.

Similarly, when I started my graduate career at Loyola, I considered myself a “traditional” academic.  Right or wrong, I had no interest in public history because I realized my interests did not lie in archives or museums.  Little did I know that there was an entire world of public history and historical scholarship that utilized emergent media as a way to reach a wider audience.

In retrospect, my first exposure to the power of new media was brought to my attention through the now defunct Rate Your Students, a blog designed as a space for professors to anonymously vent their day-to-day frustrations in the classroom, with administration, and with changes in higher education.  One day, the following video was posted:

At the time, I eschewed this experiment as something far too complicated to be worth trying in my own classroom one day.  Little did I know this was my first step down the path of exposure to digital history.  Somewhere between my first year in graduate school and today, my fourth year, digital history became a term I heard with great regularity.  One only needs to look at the program for the 126th annual AHA conference to realize the prominent role digital history now plays within the profession.  Now, digital history appears all around me.  From the work on spatial history at Stanford to digital narratives or digital archives, it seems historians are beginning to realize the power of new media as a way to do history.

While I’m becoming increasingly adept at finding examples of digital history, I remain unable to offer a concrete definition of what it is.  But that is why I’m here.  For the next four months, I will be exploring the many facets of digital history in HIST 479: Public History Media.  In the process, I hope to achieve four goals.  First, I hope to gain sufficient knowledge of what digital history is, and the theory behind the practice.  Second, I hope to develop some of the technical skills necessary to create digital scholarship.  Once I have established this foundation, I want to explore ways I can incorporate digital history into my dissertation.  Finally, I want to investigate the ways in which new media can enhance the classroom experience for my students.  As I work through this four goals, I hope to move through the four stages of digital history, moving from a practical-ist who sees the utility of digital history to a realist who embraces digital history, recognizes the challenges it faces, yet works to incorporate it into my own historical framework.

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