Why Are Historians Slow Adopters?

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 1 I think we all know that, aside from a very small number of departments, the long-needed reform of graduate education in the humanities is not happening. Part of what drove my interest in writing this book was, as I will discuss in the final chapter “A Hacker in Every Department,” is that I am adamantly opposed to the idea that shrinking the production of Ph.D.’s is good for history as a professional endeavor. Even the American Historical Association’s Tuning Project, which is incredibly thoughtful, only addresses digital competencies in passing. What I believe is that historians should be able to do many things, and that those things will inevitably require technological literacies.  In my introduction, I want to make an argument for historians putting digital literacy and the capacity to master technology at the center of graduate education. To do that, I wanted to tackle the question: why are historians slow adopters? I especially want to hear from you if you think that’s not true!

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Why have historians – and academics in general – been such slow adopters of technology? One reason is the association of technology solutions with some of the changes that threaten to regulate, or change, the intellectual workplace, changes that to many make our work – as we were trained to do it — unrecognizable. There are the “software solutions” and webinars that emanate from Human Resources, pricey answers to sexual harassment and budget management that seem to not fully address either of these problems. There is the loss of administrative staff and tangible archives of our work like course catalogues which sometimes make it seem that the older we get the less able we are to answer a simple question about institutions we know well. Reassured that these innovations are making our work easier, our daily lives unaccountably seem more complex. Although I no longer have to be on site to sign student time sheets, because my students submit them online for my approval, I receive what seem like hectoring emails from someone named Irwin Kroot if I have not logged into our workplace solutions portfolio by a certain hour on Monday. Worse, I realized at one point that I did not even really believe that Irwin Kroot was a person: he was just an email account from which I received messages.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 2 Yet I would like to posit the following idea: the notion that historians, or academics, are especially recalcitrant when it comes to the adoption of new media is probably wrong, and simply another way of positioning historians as unique workers. Of the seven rules that historian Marshall Poe has devised to theorize the creation, introduction and adoption of media, rule 6 seems especially pertinent: “When it comes to technological adoption, organized interests are reactive and not proactive.” Such interests are “conservative: they generally don’t fix things that aren’t manifestly broken.” They do not look ahead to a future in which new tools will be necessary, but rather adopt them in a piecemeal way that addresses specific needs, or inefficiencies that have become intolerable. Furthermore, because the forces of technology are always producing more tools than there are uses for, at a moment in which a need arises, there is usually a tool, an app, a paradigm shift – for example, email – to fill the breach.[1]

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 One important question is how to separate out “historians” as an organized interest from the larger organized interests in which they are embedded. In this book, those other interests are primarily understood as universities and professional organizations, but also archives, the publishing industry, and for profit education. All of these entities have, differently, embraced digital technology with far more enthusiasm than have the graduate history faculties that produce historians.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 [1] Marshall T. Poe, A History of Communications: Media and Society from the Evolution of Speech to the Internet (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 8-9.

Source: https://digitalulab.org/2016/06/29/99/