Annual Meeting

A Web of History: Digital History at the Annual Meeting

Seth Denbo | Nov 1, 2014

Twenty-four years ago this December, Tim Berners-Lee completed the first tests of his system for using the Internet to allow anyone to post information and link it to other computers through a system of hyperlinks. The near-quarter of a century since the invention of the World Wide Web has seen a transformation akin to that wrought by the movable-type printing press. The web is not only changing how we shop, communicate with our friends and family, and look at pictures of cats—it reverberates through our research, teaching, and publishing. The breadth of this transformation, and the myriad ways in which it is affecting our scholarship is clearly evident in the digitally focused offerings at the annual meeting in New York this year.

Attendees will have access to an unprecedented range of workshops, panels, and events focused on digital approaches to all aspects of historical scholarship. After a successful Getting Started in Digital History workshop last year, we are repeating the event with an added intermediate track and expanding it to allow more participants. The cornucopia of digital panels during the actual meeting kicks off with the very first panel of the conference, which brings together archivists and historians to talk about aligning the needs of the latter with the collection practices of the former in order to serve future generations of both. From there, the meeting features digitally focused panels with historical topics as diverse as the Civil War and slavery, the two world wars, African Americans and the African diaspora, and New York City. On the methodological side, there are sessions on digital humanities and feminist history, digital tools for historical scholarship, blogging, digital publishing, and GIS. Several teaching-focused sessions round out the offerings—including a lightning round on digital pedagogy, one of this year’s record number of sessions with innovative formats.

This highly varied and eclectic list, which eludes reduction to a single theme, reveals something important about digital scholarship in history. While not every historian is “digital,” these methodologies have penetrated all areas of historical practice and are available to any historian. On the one hand, we are doing history as we’ve always done it, while on the other we push the boundaries of disciplinary practice and historical knowledge through our use of digital tools.

So whether you think of yourself as a “digital historian” or someone who just wants to find out more about what digital tools do, there is something for you among the offerings at #AHA2015. Be sure to check out the poster sessions for more digital presentations, and join us on Friday evening at 5:30 for a reception for history bloggers and tweeters.

Seth Denbo is the AHA’s director of scholarly communication and digital initiatives.

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