At the AHA (Thursday afternoon, part 1)

The afternoon sessions in the pre-conference workshop included more examples of matured projects, as well as examples of work in progress.

During the first session, Tom Ewing showed the Digital History Reader project from Virginia Tech, Steven Mintz showed his Digital History project, and my colleague Kelly Schrum showed off several of our projects from CHNM (World History Matters, Historical Thinking Matters, etc.).

Somehow the conversation morphed into a discussion of what “counts” and what can be accepted as “history.” Should digital products be considered sufficient for the PhD, hiring, or tenure and promotion. Any reader of this blog knows my view on this issue (which is, “of course”), but not all members of the audience were so easily convinced. One questioner objected to the trend of the conversation, arguing that the practice of history has “always been about writing” as though the creation of digital work somehow did not involve writing.

It seems to me that the essence of scholarship is the circulation of knowledge and the discussion of that knowledge among both peers and other interested parties. How is knowledge circulated? Print, the Internet, a museum exhibit, film, radio, are all methods for circulating knowledge and all of them require some sort of writing–even if that writing doesn’t result in yet another monograph or journal article. Just as one example–this blog had more than 75,000 unique visitors in 2007. If I’m lucky, my book will sell 1,000 copies. So how is more knowledge circulated? And blogging certainly requires writing. But it doesn’t count in the ways historians understand “counting.”

Given how fussy and conservative the historians’ tribe is, I’m not that sanguine about the prospects for the next few years…