Making digital history: The impact of digitality on public participation and scholarly practices in historical research
Submitted June 2015. Examined November 2015.
[tl;dr – my thesis looked at the impact of digital technologies on historians’ research practices and on public participation in heritage crowdsourcing/citizen history.]
Following a broad overview of participatory digital history, this thesis moves from a review of public history projects focused on crowdsourcing, to a smaller sub-set of projects related to citizen history, and then focuses on the research practices of faculty and community historians. The Conclusion draws together the various models for ‘making history’ discussed, and teases out the ways in which they have been affected by digital methods, tools and resources.
Supporting material is provided in three Appendices. Appendix A, Websites reviewed, lists the titles and URLs for the websites I reviewed for my research. Appendix B, Interview participants, contains a summary of interview participants, including relevant demographic information. Appendix C, Interview and survey questions, provides the interview scripts used in the semi-structured interviews with family, local and faculty historians, a script written for interviews with project stakeholders, and survey text.
Chapter 1: An overview of participatory, digital history projects provides an overview of over 400 digital history projects that aim to engage the public and/or collect, create or enhance records about historical materials for scholarly and general audiences. This overview supplies context for the analysis of projects examined in greater detail in later chapters, and gives an indication of emerging norms or patterns of presenting and interacting with historical materials. Projects are grouped by their main tangible outputs, supporting a more nuanced understanding of the impact of different design choices.
Chapter 2: History with the public: crowdsourcing discusses several design factors that may influence the success of crowdsourcing projects, including task design, the potential participant’s initial experience of a site, and the role of project marketing and communications in connecting to potential motivations for participation. It also analyses the role of participant forums and the provision of more complex tasks in keeping participants interested in a project.
Following this, Chapter 3: History with the public: from microtasker to historian? explores how some crowdsourcing projects encourage deeper engagement with history or science. It investigates the project attributes that may help people learn historical skills, or even begin to ‘become historians’, through their participation in historical crowdsourcing projects. It suggests that there are three types of citizen history projects: crowdsourcing projects that accidentally support citizen history; crowdsourcing projects that hope for citizen history but are not built around it; and citizen history projects that can succeed only if participants are able to learn or bring some disciplinary skills to the more complex tasks that contribute to the projects’ goals. Projects that support citizen history do so by providing: opportunities for participants to actively engage with historical materials while undertaking meaningful tasks; access to both the historical materials and project data; access to a community similarly engaged with the meaningful goals of the wider project; and a visible and accessible expert presence.
Chapter 4: Historians’ working practices and digital tools, resources and methods shifts our focus from public participation to scholarly practices in historical research. It presents the results of 29 interviews conducted in 2012 with faculty and community historians. It contributes empirical data on how faculty, family and local historians evaluate, use and contribute to ‘traditional’ and participative digital resources. It finds that community historians are generally more likely than faculty historians to engage in sharing data, but they are also still likely to be selective about the information they share publically. These interviews show the impact that digital tools, resources and methods have had on the processes of discovering, evaluating, gathering, creating, and sharing information for historical research.
Finally, in Conclusion: The impact of digitality on public participation and scholarly practices in history, I consider the impact of the digital projects, platforms and paradigms discussed in previous chapters on public participation and scholarly practices in historical research. Through an examination of the results of the interviews and analyses of participatory history projects, I argue that digitality has already enhanced many historical practices and has increased the number of those engaged in making history.
Keywords: digital history, historiography, crowdsourcing, citizen history, public participation, research practices, human-computer interaction.
While my core concerns have always been the digital humanities (or more specifically, digital history), crowdsourcing, geo-location and design for participatory digital history you can also amuse yourself by watching my understanding of the topic and the scope of my PhD change over time in various blog posts and publications:
- Edited volume, Crowdsourcing Our Cultural Heritage. For a limited time, you can read my introduction on Ashgate’s website: Crowdsourcing Our Cultural Heritage: Introduction.
- A week-long workshop with Ben Brumfield for the HILT Summer School, 2014 (Maryland), 2015 (IUPUI).
- Various workshops and seminars on crowdsourcing in cultural heritage (British Library) and crowdsourcing in digital humanities (DH2013, Nebraska)
- March 2014, a blog post on Early PhD findings: Exploring historians’ resistance to crowdsourced resources
- December 2013, presentation and poster ‘Creating a Digital History Commons through crowdsourcing and participant digitisation’ and ‘Peer production models for academic and amateur historians: challenges and opportunities’ for the Herrenhausen Conference: “(Digital) Humanities Revisited – Challenges and Opportunities in the Digital Age” in Hannover, Germany
- Ridge, Mia. 2013. “From Tagging to Theorizing: Deepening Engagement with Cultural Heritage through Crowdsourcing.” Curator: The Museum Journal
- Mia Ridge, Don Lafreniere, and Scott Nesbit. 2013. “Creating Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives Through Design.” International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing
- August 2013, Guest post ‘Tips for digital participation, engagement and crowdsourcing in museums’ for London Museums Group
- April 2013, invited talk for the Oxford Internet Institute, ‘A thousand readers are wanted, and confidently asked for’: public participation as engagement in the arts and humanities and related blog post, Notes from ‘Crowdsourcing in the Arts and Humanities’
- March 2013, conference paper ‘New Challenges in Digital History: Sharing Women’s History on Wikipedia’ at the Women’s History in the Digital World conference at Bryn Mawr
- Feburary 2013, Keynote, University of Leicester: ‘The gift that gives twice: crowdsourcing as productive engagement with cultural heritage’
- January 2013 – September 2015, various all-day workshops on ‘Crowdsourcing in Libraries, Museums and Cultural Heritage Institutions’ for the British Library’s Digital Scholarship Training Programme
- November 2012, blog post, The ever-morphing PhD
- July 2012, short paper ‘On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a historian: exploring resistance to crowdsourced resources among historians’ (abstract, video) at Digital Humanities 2012
- June 2012, Frequently Asked Questions about crowdsourcing in cultural heritage
- July 2011, Quick PhD update from InterFace 2011
- February 2011, My PhD proposal (Provisional title: Participatory digitisation of spatially indexed historical data)
- For earlier research on crowdsourcing in cultural heritage, see my MSc research on crowdsourcing games for museums