I come to the THATCamp as a novice in the field of digital history, so even just learning the basic lingo and hearing about the range of others’ projects will be new and useful information for me.  I do however have two areas of particular interest that led me to sign up for the workshop:

 1.  Using digital software & applications as tools for the public interpretation of specific histories.

 What kinds  of digital software, applications, or other products are being used/can be used to interpret particular histories for the public?

  • What are their basic features and how do they work?
  • What are their relative strengths/weaknesses and possibilities/limitations for use in interpretive projects? 

 Application in my own work: 

I am particularly interested in applying digital tools to the interpretation of contested histories; indigenous, colonial, and postcolonial narratives; multidisciplinary explorations & interpretations of place; and intersections between local and global histories. 

Currently I’m interested in how the past is being interpreted & represented in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and how historical understanding might work either to perpetuate or mitigate social divisions since the end of the Troubles.  I’m especially interested in how Irish, Ulster, Northern Irish, and local histories are represented in Belfast’s public places and mapped onto the landscape of the city.  

More proactively, I want to explore how historians, community leaders, and artists in Belfast might work to reinterpret their collective past and reimagine their historical identity in ways that complicate & contextualize the simplistic & divisive narratives that have dominated public historical understanding … and how they might insert & embed such re-imagined histories & identities into the public spaces and public life of their city.  

I’d like to know what kinds of digital tools and applications might facilitate such a project.  Tools involving various kinds of mapping, layering of data, and mobile access seem especially relevant, but there might be others I’m not aware of.

  2.  Using digital tools to represent the process of historical interpretation itself, and to educate students and the public about the practice of history. 

It seems to me that digital software & applications might also provide powerful tools for representing the nature of the historical process itself, to students in our classrooms as well as to public audiences.  Trying to describe foundational concepts of historical analysis and key aspects of historical practice through words alone (whether written or spoken) has its limitations.  So I wonder, how might digital history help us, as history educators, to represent and explain: 

  • the nature of historical context … and the practice of contextualization
  • the multiple experiences of, and perspectives on, any single historical event
  • the selectivity, partiality, & incompleteness of historical evidence … the practice of analyzing & interpreting primary sources … and the process of constructing historical narratives
  • the complex relationships of historical cause & consequence
  • the interrelationship of political, economic, social & cultural forces within processes of historical change 

When I try to explain such concepts & practices to those who are not professional historians, I find myself resorting to drawings and metaphors of things like overlapping circles, layers, and lenses.  I’d like to find some digital tools that might help represent and explain the historical process in more compelling & enlightening ways for those who don’t understand it. 

I’m looking forward to meeting and working with everyone next week!

— Julie Davis, Asst. Professor of History, College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University