What is Digital History
While some scholars interpret digital history as the history of digitization, most share the more common methodological understanding of using digital research and presentation methods. History projects typically use qualitative methods to answer their research questions but including quantitative data adds valuable insights to the study. Quantitative history projects may provide information on correlations between historic circumstances, or the pervasiveness or singularity of certain conditions, actions, or opinions, for instance. Digital history also includes the visualization of data with interactive maps or timelines, for example, visual or audio presentations for online publication, or the creation of digital archives. In a sense, writing digital history is digitizing the past but it also means utilizing digital technologies to create frameworks for mediating the results of scientific research.
The website digital-historian.com aims to provide basic information and tips to support upcoming digital history projects. It is also a wakening call both for history students and university staff to adapt study programs to a new reality and offer new methodologies to prepare future historians not only for modern historiography but also for the job market. As of 2018, the University of Passau is the only university in Germany offering a digital history program for master students.
Despite the digitization of many aspects in life, most historic study programs focus on traditional, “analogous” methods and skills. Searching for information via Google or for literature and sources via library and archival databases, respectively, is oftentimes the only contact a history student makes with digital technologies. At the same time, data analysis skills would perfectly complement the analytical competencies historians gain through their study programs.
Historical Science is a decidedly interdisciplinary field that involves cultural, sociological, political, economic, geographical, and psychological factors, for instance, to reconstruct complex circumstances in a holistic view. Carving out reasons for continuity or change requires the capability to determine relevant factors in a vast range of more or less influential conditions. A historian is trained to critically evaluate sources of information and draw conclusions based on profound scientific research. With their analytical skills, historians are qualified to explain why things are as they are, and develop future-oriented strategies based on this understanding.