Entry #11: Using Digital History to Understand History

When we study certain topics in history there is a feeling of disconnect. There are points at which we have a difficult time understanding the past because we are not connected to certain events that we try to look at. We look for ways to bring that connection back and one way that is able to happen is through the internet. This blog has talked in lengths about the benefits and disadvantages that the internet has in learning about the past but the different formats of presenting the information on the web allows for an insightful experience.

Looking at different Digital History websites and seeing what they offer, it is evident that there will be a wave in interest in the field of history because the internet offers new and insightful ways of looking at the past. For one, there is the Digital Harlem project. The project is a great tool for people interested in New York’s history, specifically Harlem. The site allows for an individual to put their pasts online for everyone to see. People look at those experiences and are able to look at places and see how things have changed or even just recall their youth. This brings interest to the topic and people are able to relate personally to the past.

The Digitizing Mount Vernon website is another great site for the modern digital historian. The site is a part of the historical site in Virginia, and uses this digitalization of the estate to reach the public that cannot visit the historical site physically. The site renders the plantation into a 3D model that simulate the feeling of being inside the house that the first president had lived in. Through this platform the model is displayed in a format that is pleasing to the eye of the younger generation. The kids that are in high school today are learning to type more so than write their own notes. They spend their lives on a computer and looking at information on the web 2.0. Sites like Digitizing Mount Vernon attracts students of all ages to the site because it is fun and interactive, as well as pleasing to the eyes, and while looking at the site it is hard to see that you are learning while fiddling with the site.

A site that holds a different experience but instigates the same interest into historical inquiry is the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project, The purpose of the project is to produce a “digital re-creation of John Donne’s gunpowder day sermon”. This site was first shown to me at the American Historical Association’s conference in a pre-conference workshop on Digital History. The project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, is one of the best digital history sites to be produced. The site is full of some of the best virtual recreations that can be found online. If anyone has a few minutes to check out the site it is evident that the site can consume your time because an hour or two later, you can still be looking at the site fascinated by what it holds. The information is invaluable, and recreates a moment in seventeenth-century British History that I had never studied.

Sites like those listed above allow for an expansion of interest in history. They produce more information that is vital to the academic historian but more importantly the information that they feed to the public is absorbed (most of the time with out realization) and create an interest in a topic because of the new and innovative ways that they portray the history. Digital History is an ever changing field an the sites listed above show how those changes have helped create more interested parties.


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