Digital humanities scholars also face a more practical test: What knowledge can they produce that their predecessors could not? “I call it the ‘Where’s the beef?’ question said Tom Scheinfeldt, managing director of the Center for New History and Media at George Mason University.What amazes me is that this question is being asked at all. If I told you that the volume of a potential source base will increase to proportions only dreamed about in past generations, would that make you question the validity and applicability of the increase in sources simply because there was an increase? Scholars who are quick to dismiss these new archives and digital sources are akin to those who upon discovering a back room in an archive refuse to enter the room or view its contents simply because previous knowledge of the room didn't exist. Another quote to show how this attitude is prevalent in my own profession:
Most humanities professors remain unaware, uninterested or unconvinced that digital humanities has much to offer. Even historians, who have used databases before, have been slow to embrace the trend. Just one of the nearly 300 main panels scheduled for next year’s annual meeting of the American Historical Association covers digital matters.This is ridiculous! We finally have the capability to view larger networks of human interaction and thought, and only one panel will even discuss digital sources. Yet the article goes on to discuss Humanities projects that are using digitization to great effect. Martin K. Foys, medievalist, undertook a project to bring the Bayeux Tapestry to the digital realm, and his efforts have made this traditionally difficult source to view easily viewable by anyone with interest. Or take this example:
When the collected published works of Abraham Lincoln were posted online a few years ago, the director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, Daniel W. Stowell, said he expected historians to be the most frequent visitors to his project’s site. But he was surprised to discover that the heaviest users were connected to Oxford University Press; editors of the Oxford English Dictionary had been searching the papers to track down the first appearance of particular words.Bingo- in my post on the Geocities Archive I mentioned that with the increasing nature of available, digitized sources, the 'expertise' of the traditional historian is quickly being surmounted by the efforts of several 'citizen' historians. I believe we will discover that in-depth knowledge cultivated by professional historians will be degraded to a large extent by the ability of the 'crowd-sourced' model to, over time, produce equally quality interpretation of available sources. Historians need to step up and take charge in this newly emerging digital humanities, if only to ensure that our work and ideas are fed by the most up-to-date sources.
But guess what? This behavior is not new and easily could have been studied by looking at Russian peasant activities in the 19th century during a rent hike or other, similar, social crisis. My own studies into the Inventory Law Reform of 1848 in the right-bank Ukrainian provinces demonstrated networking behavior in the organization of collective defense, when villagers from several neighboring locales gathered in one village to pressure reform, or spread of rumor, such as the often presented complaint that peasants in other Ukrainian villages paid less in rent or were free from labor obligations. I would love to have a project that goes through known printed reports on peasant disturbances and maps out the location of disputes, the area of 'collective defense' evidenced by gathering of neighbors, the travel distance and speed of rumors vs. the post, etc... Digital Humanities could greatly impact Russian scholars interpretation of a group of people often considered backwards and immobile; an interpretation I believe to be largely false and one that could be decisively argued with the introduction of mapping models and digital databases.
Digital Humanities, for me, is more than a passing fad or trend. It is the force that will reshape the profession of History and the practice of its craft at a fundamental level.