Brave New World: Digital Early America

As settlers and explorers, early Americans navigated intricate webs of trade, created dynamic intellectual networks, and (often, thankfully) left us a paper trail of discoveries great and small. Presented with that past in the archive or on the screen, historians increasingly turn to digital resources for a new arc of insight. Thanks to digitized books and manuscripts, online reference tools like Google Books, amplified search methods, new digital libraries, and GIS mapping, there are plenty of opportunities for new research. We can follow foreign consuls, read a Southern man of letters, watch a Brooklyn family put down roots, or hear a podcast about Native American family life in Virginia. That’s just a small sample of the many digital projects transforming what we know of American history. The wave of new media has benefitted professional training, too. For digital scholars of all stages, there’s a welcoming set of training opportunities like THATCamps, summer institutes, and winter training sessions.

Integrating digital resources into professional scholarship is a major part of how we train to be historians, and we’d like to hear more about the state of the field, in a digital context. The way we interact with primary sources is changing; the effects are beginning to show in the literature we produce and the way we teach. Here at The Junto, we’ll feature different digital projects and ask historians how the experience influenced their work, in universities, libraries, museums, and historical societies. We want to know: How do you create a digital history of early America?

Sound off in the comments below, or email/tweet us to add your digital project to our Resources.

4 responses

  1. With respect to digital history projects, one important aspect is to make the decisions involved in their creation as transparent as possible for future users; “transparency” is a term which has lately been gaining traction within archival literature, at least. There are a lot of choices involved in digitization and application projects. Disciplinary or profession-related presumptions, theories, languages, and ideas often shape these decisions. I would encourage individuals doing digital history to make these explicit and provide information on the “why” behind metadata, taxonomies, and inclusion/exclusion sources.

  2. To Alea’s point, transparency is key to understanding how the particular technology we use shapes our view of the history recorded. To what degree are we re-interpreting original texts to fit them into our soundbite-friendly world?

    That said, there are so many possibilities for engaging digital history right now (and right around the corner — virtual reality environments via Oculus Rift, anyone?). Would be curious to hear what you all would do with an unlimited technology budget…


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