Online Musings of a Public Historian

History in the Digital Age edited by Toni Weller.  New York: Routledge, 2013; 212 pp.

Nearly thirty years after the dawn of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s, 21st century society is firmly rooted in the Digital Age.  With a steady stream of technological advances occurring in recent decades, digital history continues to rise in significance as a “recognized sub-discipline” within the field (Weller, 3). For many historians, however, digital materials and tools of research remain relatively foreign entities. Author Toni Weller directs her book, History in the Digital Age, primarily toward this latter group of historians living  and struggling in the Digital Age. Arguing that knowledge of digital resources – along with the ability to use them – does not require a specialization in digital history,  Weller aims to introduce readers to the many ways in which use of these resources prove advantageous when conducting any type of scholarly research, regardless of discipline or subject matter.

Front Cover, History in the Digital Age by Toni Weller.

Front Cover, History in the Digital Age by Toni Weller.

Presented as a compilation of essays authored by various scholars, History in the Digital Age includes four main sections: “Re-conceptualizing history in the digital age,” “Studying history in the digital age,” “Teaching history in the digital age,” and “the Future of history in the digital age.”  Each section houses a collection of essays addressing specific aspects of adapting traditional academic methodologies and perspectives to fit with an increasingly digitized world.

One particularly poignant piece, Jim Mussell’s “Doing and Making: History as Digital Practice” (located in the “Studying” section, pp. 79-94), addresses the incorporation of digital source material, tools, and techniques into the research process. Specializing in nineteenth century media history — a field of study not overtly associated with the contemporary Digital Age — Mussell relates to the apprehension towards new media technologies felt by historians whose fields focus on the pre-digital world. Acknowledging this, Mussell demonstrates to readers the advantages of using digital media when conducting scholarly research, specifically highlighting the increased accessibility of primary source documents through digitization:

“The study of digital data does to take history away from primary sources, but rather provides a new context in which these sources might be encountered.” (Weller, 88.)

Like Mussell, the book’s other contributing authors gear their writings towards an audience with scholarly backgrounds, yet lacking experience in new media methodologies.  For new media beginners, such as myself, History in the Digital Age serves as an excellent guidebook to the digital realm.  The essays featured within offer sound advice and solid insight into the seemingly complicated world of new media technology, making solid arguments as to the benefits such resources present throughout the research process.  Published in 2013, History in the Digital Age remains a relatively recent text, however with the rapid speed at which technological changes are advancing, this does raise a slight question of its prolonged relevancy — an issue easily fixed by the release of updated editions in the future.

On the whole, History in the Digital Age is a smooth, informative, and satisfying work offering readers an introductory break-down of the inner workings of the digital realm, along with the effects of digital resources on the traditional research process.

Comments on: "Review: History in the Digital Age" (4)

  1. You do a nice job providing insight into what the book is about as well as offering a clear evaluation. Do you think there were any chapters that would work well in this class in particular?

  2. Gavin Frome said:

    I hope they do continue to update it, as it looks like just the type of book I’ll be looking for when I begin the practice of improving my pedagogical skills down the line. I may be an historian, but what I really want to do is be an effective teacher. Understanding the latest tools of the educational craft will surely be advantageous in that pursuit.

  3. Great review Alex! I actually have this book sitting on my bookshelf, however, I don’t think I ever actually read the whole thing. I think your point about the rapid speed at which technology changes is one of the unique characteristics about the field. New editions to the text certainly will highlight these changes, but are there any better avenues to articulate these changes to scholars not necessarily involved in the digital realm of the humanities?

  4. joannadressel said:

    Sounds like a really useful book, thanks for the review! I’m still amazed that traditional *books* can still be such viable resources in this digital world, especially when they’re referring to the digital revolution. I wonder at what point this matter of communication will become arcane, and blog posts will be the new standard.

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