Much like Digital Humanities, it can be difficult to find one, all-inclusive definition for Digital History. I argue that Digital History falls under the umbrella of Digital Humanities, but I think there is more specificity to Digital History, as with other disciplines that also share the umbrella of Digital Humanities (see “The Differences between Digital Humanities and Digital History” by Stephen Robertson). But in regards to Digital History, Douglas Seefeldt and William G. Thomas do an excellent job of defining Digital History as a field, which can “be understood broadly as an approach to examining and representing the past that works” with new technologies (Seefeldt & Thomas, “What is Digital History?”). It is also about not only creating a digital creation, but also having an argument, question(s) and/or specific methodology behind the digital history being presented. For example, The Valley of the Shadow digital project, led by Edward L. Ayers, not only made primary documents accessible, but also sought to demonstrate the links between Augusta County in Virginia and Franklin County in Pennsylvania, links that the project's audience could then analyze.
I would argue that 21st century Digital History theories and practices stem from the earlier applications of computer technology, such as through areas like quantitative history from the 1970s. I think what makes it different to 21st century Digital History is that the field has greatly evolved and grown as new technologies have emerged, as well as more and more historians (and those of other disciplines) have embraced such technologies for their work. With quantitative history, “these historians used mathematical techniques and built large datasets” (Williams III). And while that is still a valid means of Digital History, one goal now, as Thomas Williams III states, is to create and present “interpretive and imaginative digital creations” that allow for the user to interact with the digital creation, “developing the sequences of evidence and interpretation and balancing the demands and opportunities of the technology will take imagination and perseverance” (Williams III). Again, The Valley of the Shadow digital project is a great example of this, providing source materials that the audience can interact with and analyze.
Digital History is definitely a growing field with a great deal of promise, but also faces a number of challenges. As discussed in my previous course blog post, one of the most challenging facets of digital projects, especially web-based projects, is sustainability. As Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig state in their work, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, and Shelia A. Brennan’s article, “Digital History,” there needs to be an awareness and concern surrounding the survival of projects. With that said, as time has gone on, there are ways to maintain projects even after they have ended through archiving (again, The Valley of the Shadow digital project, is a good example).
I think another promise, yet challenge of the field, is how it is growing, as well as the inclusiveness of the field. Living in a “digital age,” the relevance of technology, and where digital components are becoming more common place, this shows great promise in the continued growth. But, as seen in Sharon Leon’s article, “Returning Women to the History of Digital History,” there is some work that needs to be addressed in academia to be more inclusive and have fair representation, especially with Digital History being such a collaborative field. I think one of the best ways of doing that is through education and learning. Starting in the classrooms teaching not only the technology, but teaching about the field itself, can prove beneficial.