Digital History has integrated computer and data science into my understanding of history. Although the class introduced the use of statistics and data visualizations to direct historical research and presentation of data, the basic research skills that I learned within the methodology course guided the thesis that I developed for my final project. My website utilized traditional Marxism to analyze the ideology and thoughts of Mao Zedong. I then fit this methodology into my analysis of the Cultural Revolution, using the data visualizations to map the geographical component of the revolution and trace key historical actors within the city of Beijing. Using these tools allowed me to make sense of the chaos of a revolution, a difficult task for all historians. The outcomes of this project are many. I learned that the fracturing of the Cultural Revolution followed a distinct pattern of violence that occurred within the ideology of Mao’s perception of the reactionary. Reactionary eventually was distorted by Mao Zedong and the Central Cultural Revolution Group to include anyone who defied the power of the state. The majority faction of the Red Guard was labeled reactionary while the minority faction was praised for following the direction of the Cultural Revolution. This marks direct violation of the ideology that Mao put in place for the Cultural Revolution and state sanctioned communism as a socialist movement. Mao’s thoughts expressed a yearning for a more democratic understanding of socialism. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the Cultural Revolution, Maoist communism replicated that of Stalin; authoritarian and oppressive.
This understanding of the distortion and dilution of Mao’s original rhetoric would not have been possible with digitally mapping the course of the Cultural Revolution in Beijing. Widespread factionalism within Beijing at all the universities resulted in discontent among most of the urban proletariat. All of these conclusions occurred as a result of carefully choosing sources that had facts that could be presented in visual format. I found that sources whose argument resided too much on ideology and would spot reference primary sources and events were the least valuable to building my project. This has important implications; do the sources that do not meet the data requirements of the data visualization tools not meet the expectations of professional historical inquiry? Has technology invalidated some of the traditional historical methodologies that utilize broad themes to categorize and explain certain events? What role does data play in the future of historical inquiry that uses ever expanding outlets of media to convey historical facts to the less educated and lay audience? I can say with relative certainty that these tools are becoming more common in education and the next generation of students will be even more likely to demonstrate apprehension when citing academic research published prior to the incorporation of digital methodology and data science.
While I was creating this website, I gleaned a variety of useful skills that will be valuable inside and outside the world of academia. I built on a very rudimentary understanding of source text and code, coding, and the structure of the internet. I learned how the historical profession and humanities have expanded into areas outside academia such as passive and interactive media. In this class, I became aware of the role of history in video games and how that can be adapted to make the discipline more interesting. Through the task of collecting historical artifacts for collections and exhibits, I gleaned the cultural significance of history by digitizing materials that would otherwise be lost to time. I even started to become aware of the importance of data management as a means of preserving important data and deposing of that which is irrelevant. I feel that this practice will fight the mentality that history is the study and retention of useless facts. Intertwining the current, cultural, and historical significance of historical data could revive interest in history. Linking technology to the study of history is something that is necessary for forming a broader understanding of how to structure historical information within our own head. History is content-based. Therefore, expanding the content of our discipline with information technology is inherently positive and rewarding.
Digital history is encouraging because it ensures that posterity will have access to the same and greater volumes of information to build upon the legacy of man. Without getting into too much theory, we can observe history as a singular effort to record the accomplishments of man. Democratization of historical knowledge through digital applications will allow future generations to be less reliant on the ideologies that have been presented in the past. In will ensure greater prosperity to peoples who have been historically disillusioned by oppression and propaganda. Hopefully historians will begin to regain the optimism that they had during the modern period. Maybe they will realize that the modern era never ended and that some of the recent economic developments are just blips in the radar of an emerging world of better informed human beings. I see it as a civic deed, as a citizen, a historian, and a member of society, to expand our search for the facts and the truth. Digital humanities and history will be the platform for this undertaking.
I will admit that, at first, some of the topics presented in the course appeared to be irrelevant to my development as a college history student. The objectives and outcomes of the course appeared to be driven toward acquiring technical skills that did not seem relevant to the knowledge-based nature of history. Nonetheless, as I have learned at CSULB, history is not the useless and unnecessary task of memorizing random dates and giving labels to arbitrary periods of time. History is a sort or lens or spectacle that allows us to understand our world, at present or in the past, with a critical, discerning filter. The value of this is in the methodology of our filter. The digital skills, specifically those that were data driven, that we were taught in this class expanded my historical toolkit.
I found the topics of automation and the robotic revolution to be alarming. Learning to use digital tools is important especially for understanding how robots and computers mine personal data to violate our rights of privacy. Being that historians have arguably the best understanding of fundamental and civil rights, I hope that some of the digital history students will be able to use this understanding to protect innocent and unknowing civilians. Much of history is civic education, education that is responsible for creating a well-informed, educated citizenry. Those who legislate should approach this intellectual challenge with a critical eye for balance the needs of the individual with those of our society and business interests.