I don’t think I’m in agreement with the thoughts of some (maybe more than some) others about the progress of digital history as a practice. I think it has a lot to do with the current graduate program that I am in. I’ve spent so much time focused, especially within the last three semesters, on hypertext theory, interaction design, social interaction design, user experience, and digital rhetoric (to name a few things) that I think digital history may have (metaphorically) “landed” in the “new world,” and even spread out beyond the “fall line” and into the Blue Ridge, but I think the practice of digital history hasn’t made its way past the “Appalachians” yet… and the break (aka “independence”) from thinking in terms of traditional practice alone is not quite on the horizon. What’s that? Put a date on it? Hmmm, maybe we are somewhere between 1660 and 1710… I’m not sure.
Anyway, yes, Clio has been wired, but the wiring is still in its early stages. Don’t get me wrong, there has been a lot of progress, but I think the practice is limited as long as we approach the technology as historians, and don’t integrate ourselves more with the theory behind the technology and the fact that traditional practices, such as writing style, do not fully tap the potential of the Web and our own potential in that space. There is a requirement to think differently…
Now, let me put on my hypertext theory hat, and lay aside my history hat for a second… I’m now thinking in terms of the power of the Web and hypertext from the view of a hypertext techy… that we have moved beyond the theories considered in the 1990s, have had time to practice in the space, and are now not only taking the lessons from experience gained and are reconsidering the theories of the 1990s, but are also developing new theories that are reflective of that time spent in the environment of the Web, and most especially Web 2.0. So, is digital history keeping pace?
I know that there are some who are doing it, but I wonder how many digital historians are reconfiguring themselves, their writing, and their overall presentations in order to take advantage of this environment that is much more dynamic than print. More importantly, I wonder how many are truly conscious of the shift in practice and are really considering the theory behind it? Someone might ask, “is it even really that important?” To this, I would probably show an expression of shock on my face and say, “duhhhh!!!!” (or any number of 80s expressions that linger with me and seem to come to mind). O.k…. as a professional, no, I couldn’t do that… but I can’t help to think that this is what I would be wanting to do. I would have to restrain myself… as hard as that might be.
O.k. now… back to work on my thesis.