3 – Publications: The future of the historical narrative

How will the historical narrative change in the digital age? Until recently, historians typically published papers and monographs, mostly authored by themselves. Public engagement, apart from the occasional newspaper articles, has rarely been their preferred way of sharing the results of their work. But new ways of making these results available are emerging. Software opens up new ways of displaying text and enhancing it with other media. How do these digital texts that are no longer “set in print” change the way we read and write history?


Required Readings


Recommended Readings


Projects (in class)

We’ll split you in two groups. Take your time to explore these  projects (or other ones that you like) and read a bit about how, by whom, when, with which intention they were made. Work on the following questions:

  1. Who are the targeted audiences? Why would it appeal to them?
  2. Is it a narrative?
  3. Can it interact with existing historical knowledge and offer new insights? Does it  make an argument?
  4. Does it satisfy your quality standards for good history writing production?
  5. Which purpose of history does the project cater for? How?
  6. History is about the coupling of sources (as Raul Hilberg nicely put it) and the contextualization of events. (How) Do these projects do this? Should they? Why yes/no?


Group 1


Group 2

Pick four of these projects (or other ones you like!). Write a 4-5 sentence review which focuses on the project’s strenghts, weaknesses, opportunities for future development and threats to history as we know it.

Project evaluations at a glance (Google Spreadsheet)



  • Setup a Second Life account and install the software. Find out how history is represented and constructed there. (How) Is this different from the other projects?


Other interesting projects


Tools of the week

  • Framapad, Commentpress and Google Docs

  • Zotero

4 thoughts on “3 – Publications: The future of the historical narrative

  1. 1. How might digital forms of publication (short blog entries or online textbooks with comment sections) allow us to re-think the nature of writing within the field of history in relation to Hayden White’s description of historical narrative, that is, a form of discourse that communicates events and actions from the past but that does not necessarily add content to historical representations? What about his comments on the historicity of documentary materials (and we can add non-textual materials too, I think) that do not lend themselves to narrative form?

    2. White suggests that “narrative as a mode of representation within a scientific study is a methodological and a theoretical failure.” In a sense, he is getting at the same concerns that the other authors raise about the need for transparency throughout the writing process. Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki ask, “How can we advance the overall quality of writing in the profession without asking each of us to reinvent the wheel for ourselves?” Unsworth argues that hyper textual work should be documented along the way, so that its evolution can be evaluated. Do you agree with these assertions? If such methods were to be adopted, who would you allow access to your writing process?

    3. These last three readings suggest that what is holding digital scholarship back is the current inability for universities and academic communities to review and assign value to digital publications and projects. Dorn argues that historians are comfortable evaluating “the long-form argument” because they see how it contributes to historiographical discourse. How useful are tools like digress.it. and similar plugins for re-thinking the nature of such a dialogue?

    4. In class, we’ve discussed the distinction between a curated exhibit and a digital argument. Dorn argues that the “presentation of historical scholarship as an argument presumes a finished product.” Given that historical knowledge is constantly being reworked, how can we think about digital history as a way of creating more meaningful (and dynamic) scholarship? Do you believe that an argument is necessary for a scholarly work?

  2. 1. Are our current events shaped by the idea of “meme selfishness”? Unsworth points out that with limited memory space and a distaste for cognitive dissonance, we tend to conform irrationality. Could this be considered an effect of information saturation, thus altering the way we intake information about future events?

    2. In Nawrotzki’s and Dougherty’s introductory article, it appears as though digital formats are lowering the barrier for a variety of fields, not only historical scholarship. Does greater access and involvement translate to being more true, appropriate, or acceptable? What are disadvantages to the open access, open peer review system in relation to scholarship?

    3. Dorn states that “history is more than just a polished argument about the past.” How does the variation in representation of different digital history projects affect the interpretation from the public side?

    4. Does the lack of an exclusive nature of scholarship and lengthy narrative and research affect the idea of authoritative work? Does open access challenge the ideas of narrative reality and truth-value? How does this change the way that researchers react to ideas that they do not like or that are uncomfortable (or not very popular)?

  3. 1. What are the vulnerability of digital publication. How can we build a sustainable way of digital publishing ?
    2. If publication is going to be more and more “publish then filter” style, when do digital history projects come to an end?
    3. How can digital historians think about what Hayden White calls “a narrative mode of representation”?
    4. In digital history writing, it seems to me that making “process” visible is becoming much more important than “outcome.” In this sense, Unsworth and the authors of Writing History in Digital Age emphasize the importance of recording. But what kinds of factors do these authors presume as success and failure of digital history writing?

  4. 1. We read about different ways to think about narrative as a form of historical inquiry, as well as the new potential afforded to it by digital media. One of my questions revolves around the physical forms that history took before the rise of personal computing- the printed word. Printed monographs and journals carry many layers of meaning, some of which are expressed through typography. Digital typography- especially in web browsers- is sorely underdeveloped and, frankly, awful. This is partially a side-effect of the ease of self-publishing, since people trained as historians who also have developed enough computing skills to publish their work can’t reasonably be expected to be trained in proper typographic practice (selecting appropriate fonts, layouts, presentation, etc.). Dorn brings up a similar concern in a discussion about mapmaking: “The construction of historical maps has been an art form for centuries, generally beyond the recognized skill set of academic historians.” Are we losing something by getting away typographic traditions/expertise in digital publishing?

    2. Dorn writes that “academic historians have little problem recognizing the value of outstanding digital work.” The examples cited in his article are largely the same as the ones in others that we have read (“The Valley of the Shadow”; websites of Rosenzweig and Liu). Are there any examples that you have come across that draw from those outside of these common examples? I would have trouble naming any off the top of my head- and in the context of the “Russia problem” laid out in the Daniel Cohen video from week 1, I am hesitant to agree with Dorn’s statement.

    3. Dougherty and Nawrotzki describe a “state of secrecy” within academic historical research. They are quite critical of it, arguing that the weight and amount of work attached to each “product” of history prevents collaborative scholarship or experimentation with the historical form. Why might this secrecy be beneficial or worth protecting?

    4. Hayden White critiques a perceptional gap between “historical” and “unhistorical” human societies. Can his criticisms of that split be extended to notions of “digital” versus “pre-digital” societies?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *