Digital Humanities: Research for the Whole Brain

…or, “History Doesn’t Have to Be Like That.”

knex-t2About a month ago, we were asked to think about what makes the “digital revolution” so revolutionary – if indeed it’s a revolution at all. I’ve read a lot of blogs and articles, participated in a lot of discussions, watched a lot of videos, and written a lot of code (for me) since then, and it’s a question that I found I had been thinking about even before it was asked. Today I feel like I’ve finally discovered the element that makes digital technology such a game-changer for me.

The bottom line: digital technology has reintroduced creativity to my scholarship. When I was in elementary school, I loved playing with Lego and K’Nex,  playing games, inventing board games, drawing, writing stories, role playing, solving puzzles, staging battle reenactments with My Little Ponies – in other words, everything that required imagination. I was sad to see my creative hobbies disappear one by one as school became more intense. I love studying history, but as I pursued my undergraduate degree I felt that I could only be a good scholar if I sacrificed the rest of my life on the altar of essays and research. By the time I gave up piano lessons in my fourth year – a hobby I absolutely loved – I was pretty sick and tired of sacrificing!

Now I’m realizing that in the digital age, it’s actually creativity that will define the success of my Public History career. All the new skills and bits of code I’m learning are pieces with which I can design something amazing. It was so exciting to read Miriam Posner’s post “How did they make that?” because it showed me concrete examples of the diversity of projects digital humanists are coming up with. No longer am I restricted to the same old questions, the same old research methods and the same old formats of delivery. Anything I can imagine doing, there is probably the technology to do – or if not, then the technology exists to create the technology I need. Want to 3D map the entire planet? We can do that. Want to reconstruct Rome as it appeared in 320 A.D.? We can do that. (Want to design a video game where you freely explore Renaissance Italy? We’ve done that already.) Want to reassemble collections of artifacts using perfect 3D replicas? We can do that. Want to instantly create visualizations of reams of primary source materials? Hey, we can do that too! This is why now is such a great time to be a historian. I hope that with the help of technology, some know-how, perhaps a little funding, and a lot of imagination, I can inspire the public to be excited about history too.

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