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Digital Me, Digital (Yo)u

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 I’ve decided to go backwards a bit: I have been working on chapters 1 & 2, but sorting out those themes made me want to go back and get the introduction straightened out. This is the absolute beginning of the book. Fire away: I eagerly await your comments.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 “Hackers create the possibility of new things entering the world. Not always great things, or even good things, but new things.”
McKenzie Wark, A Hacker Manifesto (2004)

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 This is how fast change happens in the historical profession. In September 1981, having recently completed a B.A. In English at Yale University, I typed my applications to graduate school on a high-quality IBM Selectric that I was supposed to be using to write press releases for our clients at a major New York advertising agency. Five years later, I was composing and printing all of my graduate work on a computer that was the size of an overnight bag. In the fall of 1991, having landed in a tenure track job at Wesleyan University, I sent my first email, communicating with another person on a computer network for the first time. Between 1991 and 2001, the mailboxes in the history department, a longtime gathering place, ceased to be. We received so little mail of any importance, university and department documents arriving in the bodies of emails and then by document attachment, that junk piled up for weeks before it was transferred by its recipients to the recycling bin. Sometime in that decade, one of our full-time secretaries, whose main job was to take dictation from, and handle the correspondence of, the chair, retired and was replaced with part-time person who duplicated articles for course packs and filed the department’s paperwork.
Between 2001 and 2011, when I left Wesleyan to teach at the New School, with the important exception of classroom teaching, the university had shifted the daily enterprise of education onto digital platforms. We had begun to submit grades and teaching evaluations online; deliver course readings on a series of learning management systems (LMS) that everybody hated in different ways, and soon took for granted; and we received and returned student papers electronically. The University Handbook and course catalogue were put online and no longer printed; while conferences, journals and other history organizations had all established portals for processing submissions. Instead of costly and time-consuming duplication, many of us were taking photographs in the archives, in some cases hardly reading them until we came home; while others of us were beginning to take advantage of primary documents and finding aids made available by archives on-line, eBooks delivered to our mobile devices, and cloud servers that allowed us to store and share things that would have been filed in banker’s boxes ten years earlier.

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5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The advent of social media and blogging meant that by 2006, some of us had lively friendships with other historians we only knew electronically, while we might communicate with people down the hall mostly by email. Historians developed a whole shadow university through our networked connections on Facebook and Twitter. I was writing a popular blog called Tenured Radical at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s online site and publishing in a series of newer online publications that had sprung up: Inside Higher Education, History News Network, and the American Historical Association’s (AHA) blog. In 2010, the group of us teaching the department’s methods course decided that all history majors should, at minimum, learn EndNote, an online citation tool. That year, I went on the job market, sending everything in through job portals maintained on university servers, and did all my semi-finalist interviews by Skype, imagining my office as a set and the interview itself as a broadcast. I placed strategic notes about the department, the university and the search committee behind my screen where only I could see them, and an assortment of books that encouraged the committee to see me as up to date behind me. I was hired, and while my first tenure file had been about eight inches tall, the vast number of materials I dropped off at The New School were on a small piece of plastic and metal about the size of my pinky finger.
This is how fast change doesn’t happen in the historical profession: when I completed the degree in 1990, I completed a Ph.D. by delivering the standard 350 to 500 page, single-authored dissertation, approved by five scholars and with one inch margins all around, to the university registrar. Almost three decades later, and a century and a half after it was implemented in the United States as a historian’s first contribution to scholarship, the written, single authored dissertation is still the defining rite of passage for historians. In 1997, the year I came up for tenure, the expectation in every history department in the country was that this dissertation would have evolved into a single-authored book, refereed by two experts in the field. That is also still true. Preferably, every book is printed; it should also be accompanied by a few articles, published in journals that are also single authored, printed on paper and vetted by two anonymous referees.The wise young historian will write these articles well in advance of a tenure case: from submission to publication, the process can take anywhere from six months to three years, ad longer if it is rejected and has to be sent to another journal (while only some journals explicitly prohibit double submission, it is frowned upon.)[1] When and if emerging historians receive any training as teachers,[2] the expectation is not that they will learn to master online environments, which both tenure stream and contingent scholars will need to employ for on site and proliferating distance learning classes. Instead, graduate schools focus on how the historian will function in a brick and mortar classroom: lecturing, inspiring discussion, teaching close reading of primary sources, and perhaps putting together an awesome Power Point.
None of this conservatism, in and of itself, is necessarily bad for historians. It won’t lead to our extinction as the landscape of higher education shifts towards professionalization rather than the liberal arts: if anything history is probably more broadly taught across departments, programs and professional schools than any other discipline. The production of written, deeply researched books that can be marked up and re-read has — and I suspect will always have — a foundational role in knowledge production and transmission.[3] Nor has the failure of the vast majority history departments to acknowledge and embrace the enhanced role of digital technology in our work contributed to the so-called “crisis” in the humanities that first emerged as cultural angst in the 1960s, and has now congealed as a matter of underfunding and underemployment.[4] Yet, they also ignore the tremendous possibilities that digital technology, in its daily uses and in its specific uses, has for historical practice, and the critical work that is being done in digital humanities initiatives, as well as established centers like the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason and the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning at the City University of New York. Most importantly, since the frontier of ordinary digital engagement continues to move, embracing every aspect of our work, history departments who neglect technology are creating a generation of scholars who are forced outside the discipline if they are to learn to function in, and critically approach emergent teaching, administrative and cultural environments that have moved decisively into digital environments.
This book is about the journey I took to become digital me; and why you should take that journey too. In fact, you are already on it.

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[1] See, for example, “Article Submission” for the American Historical Review, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/american-historical-review/article-submission; accessed July 15 2016; “Submission Information for Contributors,” The Journal of Southern History, http://jsh.rice.edu/submissioninformation/, accessed July 15 2016
[2] As James Grossman has pointed out, when teaching is taught that tends not to occur in history departments, which overwhelmingly train graduate students as researchers, but in teaching centers on campus. Yet only 25% of historians will find themselves employed on the tenure track and in “high research activity institutions,” making it critical to integrate the teaching of history into graduate education; “To Be a Historian is To Be a Teacher,” Perspectives on History (November 25, 2015), https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/november-2015/to-be-a-historian-is-to-be-a-teacher. Accessed March 17, 2016.
[3] See Claire Bond Potter, “Is Digital Publishing Killing Books?” Perspectives (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association), April 2015.
[4] The first of these may have been J.H. Plumb, Ed. Crisis in the Humanities (New York: Penguin Books, 1964.) For the unfolding of the “crisis” as a conflict over culture itself, see Andrew Hartman, A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.) The most high-profile booster of technology as a solution for budget gaps that are bleeding resources from the humanities is Mark C. Taylor, Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2010).

Source: http://digitalulab.org/2016/07/15/digital-me-digital-you/