Self Reflective Essay


Hist 305-Digital Methods

Prof. Smith

Self Reflective Essay

Much of the time in “Digital Methods in History”, I found myself struggling with the concepts and material, and realized that I was the single biggest obstacle to my own learning. The simple reason for this was that I have not connected with technology or engaged with the digital world in the way that many people have. I have had, and continue to have, a deep skepticism about the use and pervasiveness of technology in the current age. That being said, of course I realized that a working knowledge of the tools of the study of Digital Humanities is invaluable and necessary in the current cultural climate. That was the initial reason I decided to take this class, because I realized that digital methods were becoming more and more important in historical scholarship, and that, to be a viable job candidate, I had better lay aside my skepticism and figure out how to work in these materials.

I found myself thrown into the very digital world I had tried to avoid, and was, much of the time, “out of my comfort zone”. During the process of this course, I read materials I had never had any exposure to, and began to see the merits of historical scholarship using these “digital methods”. The section of the course I was most attracted to was the section on Data Visualization. To me, this is where the most benefit comes from working digitally. The fact that large chunks of data can be analyzed almost instantaneously, and then represented visually, so as to offer a sense of context, depth, and nuance, which can take years with traditional scholarship, was for me the point I had the biggest shift in perspective. It was with these “new eyes” that my final project began to take shape.

I naturally gravitate towards the medieval period in World History, and the topic for my digital project seemed to lay itself out for me. I was also taking a class on the Silk Roads, and had recently finished a book on the Viking Age, and wondered if there were any way to bring these disparate cultures, which were still contemporaries, together digitally. Thus, I attempted to visually connect the three economic networks I had been reading about: the Silk Roads, Viking trade routes, and the economic hub of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople. I attempted to place these networks into one archive using Omeka, and then, to then connect the material goods and primary source writings visually using a Neatline map. I believed, and I still do, that the merits of my project can be far reaching.   One of the challenges in working so far in the past is that it can be difficult to truly engage with the material, because it is often written from a perspective that can be difficult for the modern historian to imagine. I believed that this material was exactly the kind of material that could most benefit from a visual representation. Initially, I tried to use Palladio, but it proved too difficult, and ultimately I settled on an archive of items and passages housed in an Omeka site, and placed onto a modern map, connected by origin and end point.

The main obstacle to my success in this project, as it was in most of this class, was my own limitations. I realized nearly half way through the project that the volume of work I was attempting was massive, especially for just one person. The task of bringing together items from three different cultures in a coherent and fluid way was mammoth. Thus, the finished project is a fraction of the size of the project I envisioned when I began.

Additionally, my own severe lack of technical knowledge and expertise also hampered my success in this project. I often had trouble figuring out how to work the software, how to get items loaded, and generally how to make this project look the way it was in my head. However, I saw, and still see, this field, this class, and this project as challenges and am convinced that, with more time, these are challenges I will overcome. I now see the merits of scholarship in the digital age. I also see how important it will be for future historians to add Omeka, Neatline, and Palladio, to the established methods of research. I will say that I have changed my point of view on technology as a whole as well. While I still have deep reservations about the ubiquitous nature of technology in much of society, those reservations are now tempered with the belief that technology is a tool that can be used productively and for the benefit of all when it is used responsibly and with care.

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