Ed Ayers on what COVID-19 has revealed about the state of digital history

According to the University of Richmond historian Ed Ayers, “the sudden transition to online schooling has shone a light on the state of digital history.” He adds: “What we’ve seen hasn’t been very encouraging. Can we do better?”

Here is a taste of his piece at Medium:

We are awash in sources, networks, processing power, devices, and tools that enable projects that were beyond imagining in the days of modems, AOL, and CD-ROMs. The commercialization of digital resources for genealogy has produced millions of census records and newspapers, many behind paywalls, that we have barely begun to explore. But that very convenience, ironically, has removed some of the tension between tradition and innovation that generates creativity. Students today can simply cut and paste ubiquitous images and texts into free presentation software; they can copy video and audio into their own slick productions. These methods use digital means to replicate traditional forms of history, bound by the same periods and people, framed by the same labels and questions.

The digital has been thoroughly domesticated and commercialized, its disruptive potential removed. It’s enough to drive some young people to older analog forms they find more intriguing and satisfying. As they seek out vinyl, write in journals, and explore chemical photography, they seem to understand, as scholar Stuart Dunn has explained, that “the digital is a prism through which we see and experience the human record past and present, not a window.”

Read the entire piece here.