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.
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.