This week’s work has been both a bit intimidating and extremely exciting. As my first week in a PhD program, I came in with a bit of fear for the workload, but having experienced it a bit I have realized that while its as heavy as I anticipated, I will be able to handle it.
The most intimidating thing regarding this week was the creation of the website and the sheer influx of new programs and platforms I have been introduced to. I began my undergraduate career as an education major, and I remember being introduced to WordPress briefly during that time, but I remember nothing about how to design a website. I have been toying around with all the different settings and learning to manipulate the pages, but it is a huge learning curve because of how many options are available. At the same time, we were introduced to Slack and Basecamp. I have not explored Basecamp much yet, but Slack reminds me a lot of Discord, so I am not as intimidated by that one. While it has been a lot of information to absorb, I know that I will figure it out in the next few weeks.
On the other hand, the content itself has been almost inspirational to me. I applied to GMU because of the digital history component of the program, and I am thrilled to have the chance to participate and potentially help define the “emerging” field. Having reviewed the past recipients of the Roy Rosenzweig Prize, I am inspired to begin my own digital project to work on. Looking over the various projects broadened my perspective of what digital history could entail. From the broad blog of Black Perspectives to the virtual tours in Virtual Angkor to the Digital Archive: International History Declassified, it is clear that digital history is not just a direct inquiry into a question; it is about sharing information and providing new perspectives and resources for those who would consume the project. In particular I was interested in American Panorama: An Atlas of United States History. Learning GIS is a goal of mine, because I believe that mapping would be an incredible way to visualize the reality of social history. Having studied mostly the Midwest, it is common to find many historical accounts overlooking the importance of the people in this region, but mapping could help draw attention visually to the significance of typically overshadowed events on the center of the country.
While I was anxious coming into this week, nothing set my mind at ease more than reading through Milligan’s History in the Age of Abundance?. Although I was worried about the workload of reading after having taken a year off from being in the habit, I found his text to be so fascinating and easy to digest that it renewed my vigor for academia. I was familiar with a number of issues that he brought up, which I have encountered before while taking classes regarding archives where I learned about the digitization of history and the ethics of record keeping. Milligan insists that historians are entering a new phase of our field where we will be responsible for interacting with records in ways that that typically fallen on archivists (24), and I agree. The sheer abundance of material being created in the modern era is too much for only archivists to organize for us; we need to be able to sort the information we encounter for our own. While it adds more difficulty to the process of research, I believe that it will be immeasurably beneficial. Who knows what kinds of questions historians will concoct when we are the ones organizing the materials we are accessing, free of the implicit bias of the archivists we rely on? Milligan reminds us that no archive is complete, and all archives are the result of biases and gaps (16-19, 21). And while archivists are highly under-appreciated, they are also the gatekeepers of knowledge that we access. Historians now have the opportunity to create their own methods of organization that could lead to new perspectives and inquiries that were not considered before.
One of Milligan’s compelling points in my opinion comes towards the end of his conclusion, where he critiques the field of history. He points out that geography is still the dominant way to classify the field of history, especially in job postings, and that digital history usually falls into a “bonus” role (238). He also points out that history is unlike other social sciences or humanities fields, in that historians are hardly taught how to work with quantitative data and rely heavily on publishing solo monographs rather than co-authored projects(237-238). These points intrinsically disadvantage the potential of digital history, which could redefine the way that history is produced. Milligan closes out his argument by saying that the field of history is defined by those within it, not by some external force, and it is therefore our responsibility to change the way that the field operates (242-243). I find that a very inspirational call to action and a defining characteristic of my new career goals.