Popularizing Digital History at THS 2012

Thanks to Mark Cheathem for this nice review of a roundtable I sat on at last weekend’s meeting of the Historical Society in Columbia, SC.  Here is a taste:

At last week’s THS conference, I also attended the roundtable, “The Perils and Promises of Popular History in a Digital Age.” Yoni Appelbaum, Chris Cantwell, John Fea, and Elizabeth Pardoe each addressed a different aspect of digital history.

Appelbaum, a Ph.D. candidate at Brandeis who also writes for The Atlantic, proposed that digital essays* (much better than blessay—sorry, Dan Cohen!) help scholars enlarge their audiences, engage the public, and demonstrate their methodology. The pitfalls of this approach are that scholars can’t assume that the public has the knowledge to understand the nuances of historical argumentation. Digital essays on controversial topics also sometimes elicit harassing e-mails and phone calls and even death threats.

Cantwell, Assistant Director of the Dr. William M. Scholl Center for American History and Culture at the Newberry Library in Chicago, covered the evolution of online exhibitions, specifically the Newberry’s. He identified at least four stages of online exhibits’ development:

  1. Digital exhibitions that simply recreate the physical exhibit at a public history site
  2. The same as above but with public submissions
  3. Digital exhibitions that are larger and more dynamic and that are the primary focus (as opposed to physical exhibits
  4. Digital archives, which attempt to provide comprehensive digitization of a collection

Read the rest here.

Cheathem’s blog, “Jacksonian America: Society, Personality, and Politics” is must reading for all students of 19th century America.