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Short Introductio to Digital History: issues and problems

The course will be held Wednesday November 4, 2015,  2-4 p.m.,

Sala Belvedere, Villa Schifanoia, EUI

Is “Digital History”

  • a new sub-discipline within the wider area of the Digital Humanities ?
  • about new methods for historians in the digital age ?
  • only about digital literacy: knowing about digital tools and practices that couldn’t be ignored today ?
  • about new ways to write, publish, evaluate and access history scholarship ?
  • about discovering old and new primary sources ?
  • a way for historians to build their own tools for research ?
  • a challenge to the history discipline and the traditional craft of historians ?
  • a challenge to “academic” authority and a way to open the history profession to “everybody” ?
  • a way to promote memories against history ?
  • essentially a new way to perform Public History activities ?


Mapping Digital History field

Critical issues with Digital history

Series of definition for "Digital History", a PPT in SlideShare

-Digital History has helped to open up "high culture" but with the advent of the web 2.0 technologies, history and memory are now the prerogative of everybody. The danger today is that specialists do not control these digital mutations.

-Without a knowledge of the new instruments and reflecting on the new historian’s craft, the digital turn will eliminate historian's professional capacity to engage with the past. 

-This is why historians have to understand what are today the most significant mutations of digital history 2.0 for our profession and how far epistemological issues are at stake in the digital realm. Some of these critical issues may be:

  • Are online "resources" for historians changing the craft of historians, the epistemology and the ontology of the discipline ? Are we talking about digital history or history using digital means?
  • What's on the web now, what's no yet there and what was there ?
  • How to search the history web, capture and manage web contents ? (EUI Zotero presentation)  
  • How could we re-use what we discovered on the web (Digital history) ?
  • Are they new ways for writing history and new digital history narratives? (writing history today: end of authoriality = end of history ? (Chartier)

Web Services

Emails and Discussion's lists

WebLogs or Blogs

RSS Feeds (Really Simple Syndication in wikipedia)

  • What are they ?
  • What are they offering ? 
  • How to read them in aggregators ? Example: RSS FeedsReaders
  • Collecting Feeds through your email account

Library catalogues (OPACs) and meta-catalogues

Open Access Institutional Repositories like CADMUS at EUI

Bibliographical databases (see Managing EUI library Digital Resources, freely accessible or commercial

Social Networks: TwitterTumblrFacebookLinkedinAcademia.edu for all EUI departments, FlickrYouTubePinterest, etc..(see another Atelier Multimédia course)

Sharing tools: Google DriveDropboxZotero GroupsWeTransfer 10GbGitHub, etc..

E-Teaching/Learning PlatformsMoodle at EUI MWP (restricted link)

Websites StatisticsGoogle Analytics and Alexa

Open Sources Software's for Historians - directory Bamboo.DIRT - GitHub for building software's together

Crowdsourcing activities: started early in 2001 with Wikipedia, it is about creating together web contents (Ex. Transcribe Bentham at UCL web site or PhotosNormandie redocumenting pictures or "The Grande Collecte" for Europeana 1914-18.

Primary sources

Modern and Contemporary History:

 Medieval, Early modern and Modern history

New forms of digital scholarship?

Traditional Scholarly journals and e-books

  • An "expressive history" with hypertexts and hypermedia. From Robert Darnton to the Gutenberg-e Prize (Patrick Manning: Gutenberg-e: Electronic Entry to the Historical Professoriate (American Historical Review, Vol.109, n.5, dec.2004.)

Examples of Innovative narratives in digital public history for WW1 Commemoration

1914-1918 online: International Encyclopedia of the First World War (October 2014) v. The Guardian  "A Global Guide to the First World War"

Guantanamo Public Memory Project


Critical and methodological issues for the digital historian

Citing internet resources: the Library of Congress guide for citing internet documents. (and dealing with copyrights problems: the Library of Congress Copyright and Fair use page.)

Analyzing Web Sites, 3 important issues:

  • How to identify a Web Site ? Using Alexa
  • How to understand the structures and the communicative languages of a web site ? How to evaluate contents ? (See also, Evaluating Web pages at the Cornell University Library (USA), [http://www.library.cornell.edu/okuref/webcrit.html]), used below: Accuracy. - Authority - Objectivity - Currency - Coverage.
  • Context of sources is important (Ex. Circulation of violent pictures and Images in the Web)


Evaluation of Web documentsHow to interpret the basics

1. Accuracy of Web Documents

  • Who wrote the page and can you contact him or her?
  • What is the purpose of the document and why was it produced?
  • Is this person qualified to write this document?


  • Make sure author provides e-mail or a contact address/phone number.
  • Know the distinction between author and Webmaster.

2. Authority of Web Documents

  • Who published the document and is it separate from the "Webmaster?"
  • Check the domain of the document, what institution publishes this document?
  • Does the publisher list his or her qualifications?


  • What credentials are listed for the authors)?
  • Where is the document published? Check URL domain.

3. Objectivity of Web Documents

  • What goals/objectives does this page meet?
  • How detailed is the information?
  • What opinions (if any) are expressed by the author?


  • Determine if page is a mask for advertising; if so information might be biased.
  • View any Web page as you would an infommercial on television. Ask yourself why was this written and for whom?

4. Currency of Web Documents

  • When was it produced?
  • When was it updated'
  • How up-to-date are the links (if any)?


  • How many dead links are on the page?
  • Are the links current or updated regularly?
  • Is the information on the page outdated?

5. Coverage of the Web Documents

  • Are the links (if any) evaluated and do they complement the documents' theme?
  • Is it all images or a balance of text and images?
  • Is the information presented cited correctly?


  • If page requires special software to view the information, how much are you missing if you don't have the software?
  • Is it free or is there a fee, to obtain the information?
  • Is there an option for text only, or frames, or a suggested browser for better viewing?

Putting it all together

  • Accuracy. If your page lists the author and institution that published the page and provides a way of contacting him/her and . . .
  • Authority. If your page lists the author credentials and its domain is preferred (.edu, .gov, .org, or .net), and, . .
  • Objectivity. If your page provides accurate information with limited advertising and it is objective in presenting the information, and . . .
  • Currency. If your page is current and updated regularly (as stated on the page) and the links (if any) are also up-to-date, and . . .
  • Coverage. If you can view the information properly--not limited to fees, browser technology, or software requirement, then . . .


Selected Bibliography on Digital (Public) History

A list of Books on Digital History in different languages is available to download in SlideShare.

Roy Rosenzweig: Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era, American Historical Review, vol.108, n.3, June 2003.

Jack Censer and Lynn Hunt: Imaging the French Revolution: Depictions of the French Revolutionary Crowd (and about this experiment in the American Historical review.

Daniel J. Cohen, Michael Frisch, Patrick Gallagher, Steven Mintz, Kirsten Sword, Amy Murrell Taylor, William G. Thomas III, and William J. Turkel: Interchange: The Promise of Digital History, in The Journal of American History, 2, 2008, pp.452-491.

Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig: Digital history : a guide to gathering, preserving, and presenting the past on the Web., Philadelphia, Pa. : University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.  (EUI Library copies)

Edward Ayers e Anne S. Rubin: The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War., New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 2000, url: [http://www.iath.virginia.edu/vshadow2/choosepart.html

See also the more recent update to the project: W.G.Thomas e E.A.Ayers: "An Overview: The Differences Slavery Made: A Close Analysis of Two American Communities." in American Historical Review, a.108, n.5, dicembre 2003, pp.1299-1308, <http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ahr/108.5/thomas.html>

Robert Darnton: "An Early Information Society: News and the Media in Eighteenth-Century Paris", in American Historical Review, n.1, Febbraio 2000, url: [http://www.indiana.edu/~ahr/darnton/index.html].

"A Historian of Books, Lost and Found in Cyberspace" in the American Historical Association Web site, [http://www.theaha.org/prizes/gutenberg/rdarnton.cfm],

"The New Age of the Book", in New York Review of Books, March 18, 1999, url: [http://www.nybooks.com/articles/546]. (Traduzione Italiana nella La Rivista dei Libri, n.6, giugno 1999.)

"Can an 18th-century book peddler bring academic publishing to the Web?", in LinguaFranca, the Review of Academic life Online, 10/5 - July/August 2000, url: [http://www.linguafranca.com/0007/inside-webcast.html]

An Early Information Society.A Cabaret-Concert by Hélène Delavault. Twelve Songs from Paris, circa 1750.; url: [http://www.indiana.edu/~ahr/darnton/songs/].

Fien Danniau: "Public History in a digital context: back to the future or back to basics?" in Low Countries Historical Review, Vol 128, No 4 (2013) URN:NBN:NL:UI:10-1-110025

Andrea Fickers: "Towards A New Digital Historicism? Doing History In The Age Of Abundance", in Andreas Fickers & Sonja de Leeuw (eds.): Making Sense of Digital Sources, special issue of Journal of European Television History and Culture, 1/1 (2012), pp. 19-26.

Peppino Ortoleva: "La rete e la catena. Mestiere di storico al tempo di internet", in S.Noiret, a cura di, Linguaggi e siti: la storia on-line, in Memoria e ricerca, n.s., 3, gennaio-giugno 1999, pp.31-39.

Enrica Salvatori: Hardcore history: ovvero la storia in podcast, in Memoria e Ricerca, n.s. 30 (2009), 171-

Philippe Rygiel: "L’inchiesta storica in epoca digitale" in Memoria e Ricerca, n.s. 35 (2010), 163 [ Abstract ].

AA.VV. Interchange: The Promise of Digital History, in Journal of American History, Vol. 95, No. 2 (Sept. 2008).

A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004

Writing History in the Digital Age, a born-digital, open-review volume edited by Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki

Gerben Zaagsma: On Digital History, in Low Countries Historical Review, Vol 128, No 4 (2013) - URN:NBN:NL:UI:10-1-110020 


Serge Noiret:

Y a t-il une Histoire Numérique 2.0 ? in Les historiens et l'informatique. Un métier à réinventer, "Etudes réunies" by Jean-Philippe Genet and Andrea Zorzi, Rome: Ecole Française de Rome, 2011, (Collection de l'Ecole Française de Rome, 444), pp.235-288.

Stefania Gallini and Serge Noiret (eds.) "La Historia digital en la era del Web 2.0. Introducción al dossier Historia Digital", Historia Crítica, "Revista del Departamento de Historia de la Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia)" issue n.43, January-April 2011, pp.16-37.

 La digital history : histoire et mémoire à la portée de tous » in Pierre Mounier (dir.), » in Pierre Mounier (dir.), Read/Write Book 2. Une introduction aux humanités numériques, Marseille, OpenEdition Press (« Collection « Read/Write Book » »), 2012, p. 151-177, URL : [http://press.openedition.org/258].

Storia Digitale: sulle risorse di rete per gli storici,  in La Macchina del Tempo. Studi di informatica umanistica in onore di Tito Orlandi, edited by Lorenzo Perilli and Domenico Fiormonte, Firenze, Le Lettere, 2011, pp.201-225.

"Public History” e “Storia Pubblica” nella Rete", in Francesco Mineccia & Luigi Tomassini (a cura di) Media e storia in Ricerche storiche, XXXIX/2-3, maggio-dicembre 2009.

Digital History 2.0, in Clavert, Frédéric & Noiret, Serge (dir./eds.): L'histoire contemporaine à l'ère numérique - Contemporary History in the Digital Age, Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien: Peter Lang, 2013, pp. 155-190.

Digital & Public History (personal blog)

Storia Pubblica Digitale, in  Zapruder. Storie in Movimento, n.36, January-April 2015, pp.8-22.

Storia Digitale o Storia con il Digitale?, in Storiografia, 18, Vol.66, 2014/2, pp. (published in April 2015).

Digital public history: bringing the public back in, (Digital Public History: Einbezug der Öffentlichkeit & Digital Public History: L’importance de la dimension «publique») in Public History Weekly, 3 (2015) n.13.

História Pública Digital – Digital Public History in Liinc em Revista, Rio de Janeiro, n.1, vol.11, May 2015, in Memória na era digital: novos desafios às humanidades e aos estudos da informação, edited by Ricardo M. Pimenta (IBICT) and Maria José V. Jorente (UNESP-Marília)

Storia contemporanea digitale in Rolando Minuti (ed.), Il web e gli studi storici. Guida critica all’uso della rete., Roma, Carocci, 2015, pp.267-300, (ISBN: 9788843077304).

“Historia digital e Historia pública”, in Juan Andrés Bresciano and Tiago Gil (eds.):La historiografía ante el giro digital. Reflexiones teóricas y prácticas metodológicas., Montevideo (Uruguay): Ediciones Cruz del Sur, 2015, pp.57-112 (ISBN: 978-9974-694-88-0). 

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