The internet has become an increasingly useful tool for historians to conduct research. Historical databases have now archived countless articles, newspapers, periodicals, surveys, studies, and other smaller pieces of information. Having this available at all times has massively accelerated the rate at which we can find information and analyze it. In the past, if your nearby libraries or museums did not have what you were looking for, you would have to find ways to ship things in, or even travel outside of your region to get to what you were looking for.
Although the ease of access is there with digital sources, some problems still arise, the biggest being availability. Many databases are either very specific, or very general. For example, JSTOR may have millions of different articles to read over, but so much of it is so varied that it becomes hard to find specific information, like local/regional historical records. On the other hand, you might want to find old Waterbury Republican newspaper articles from the 1920’s, but the only Connecticut database you can find is for the Hartford Courant.
Analog sources also give you the advantage of personally looking over exact primary sources. Often times, scans of historical documents do not come out particularly well, so having real documents in your hands can lead to greater results. In addition, many historians have argued against the legitimacy of digital history in terms of using the same citations. Archivists that have spent countless hours digitizing history, some argue, deserve just as much consideration as the piece of history itself. From a historiographical perspective, digital history can get quite messy.
When I was in school learning basic history, books were king. Every single class, no matter what topic, era, or subject, used massive 500+ page textbooks to carry the flow of the class. Back then, the internet was mingling around, and had yet to be fully implemented in the classroom as a serious learning tool. Instead, it was this nebulous thing that people used occasionally to look up cat videos and print out directions on Mapquest.
Today, classrooms are slowly starting to evolve. Online databases make it much easier to filter through primary and secondary sources, while Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit have made finding current news stories instantaneous. This quick and easy access to information can help immensely in the field of history, but it also can just as easily lead to trouble. The desire to get quick and easy answers has created a resurgence in the misinterpretation of historical narrative. The Civil War and the struggle for answers to what caused it are a perfect example. Recently, the battle to solidify slavery as the primary cause of war has started to receive backlash from some who may have read otherwise on sketchy, low-effort sites.
With books, most readers assumed that the majority of the facts residing in them were fact-checked (regardless of whether or not they even were). Now, the latest generation must grapple with the fact that much of what they read online is fabricated in some way, shape, or form. We need to be careful about addressing this as historians.
Hey Everyone! I’m Nick Streifel, and this is my blog! I am currently enrolled in the CCSU graduate program for history, with a bachelors degree in history (secondary education). I’ll be posting updates every now and again that talk about the field of history in the 21st century. I am very technologically minded, and feel that the field of history has a lot of room to grow and adapt in the world of the internet. As a teacher, I found great value in using the tools available to me to better connect students to the past, and this blog will serve as a way to justify that. I hope you enjoy!