Digitizing History

The medium of the World Wide Web changes the practice of doing history in significant ways. The accessibility of the Internet by the vast majority of people allows greater exposure of subject matter. People can now find information easily by doing a quick search. An abundance of sources is available online, including digitized versions of primary sources, some that may be extremely far away or too fragile to handle. The Internet also allows for an interactive experience, meaning that the visitor to a website or online exhibit is not always just a passive viewer. They can click on links, take virtual tours, and watch videos. Sites where visitors can participate in discussions can create a more complete picture of history through the incorporation of the experiences of the marginalized, which are usually omitted in mainstream history.

While the democratization of history has many benefits, Digital History is fundamentally different than History. Since there is no restriction as to who is allowed to publish online, anyone can set up a history website, regardless of their level of expertise. This means that it is extremely important that researchers be discerning in the sources they choose to use. Additionally, the experience of researching is vastly different when it is done on a computer rather than when reviewing a physical document. For example, when searching a newspaper database, we may perform a keyword search and find an article that we need, but the context is lost because we cannot review the neighboring articles. Another issue is that there are no rules for the preservation of content created online. Much has been lost as websites are constantly updated and older versions are deleted. For example, a study of the Internet landscape of the 1990s would be extremely difficult as that history has largely been lost. Although digitizing history has meant greater dissemination to and participation of the public, it has created a host of issues that historians must learn to navigate.


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