Hist 697: What does digital scholarship look like?

“The Lost Museum” digital exhibit and Josh Brown’s discussion of it and other digital projects that CHNM and other organizations have put together brought me back to “The Differences Slavery Made: A Close Analysis of Two American Communities” by William Thomas, which we read in Clio1 in the fall. In this piece, Thomas discusses the process of creating a “digital article,” a piece of scholarship that started with the structure of the web, rather than the structure of the journal article. In the fall, we discussed the original web “article” and its goals, successes, and failures. While the idea of creating an article that rethinks the process of scholarship from the ground up is good and necessary, “The Differences Slavery Made” is a persuasive piece of evidence that we have not yet figured out what exactly that means or how to make such a work that is effective and accessible.

“The Lost Museum,” while interesting (though I had trouble with flash and couldn’t continue the mystery past the second room) is another early example of experiments in digital exhibits and collections. It has its quirks but it is an engaging attempt.

However, these early examples are not exciting to me because of what they are. They are exciting because they show very clearly how much innovation has already taken place and how much room there is for more creative thinking and experimentation. The flaws in these pieces are not important, other than as reminders of what didn’t not work. What is important is communicating information and making arguments, and it seems to me that these pieces are good reminders that there is a lot of room for finding new and engaging ways of doing that digitally. These exhibits and articles are inspirations points, because they represent a willingness to innovate and a challenge to be worked on.

Failure is just a chance to learn and try again. And these opportunities to try and fail and learn are why digital history is so exciting!