Digital History

I see digital scholarship as an extension of my scholarly interest in cultural identity. That is, many of the tools of digital scholarship lend themselves to the types of historical questions I am interested in asking. Techniques, such as using data mining, R-language, TEI, and QGIS, bring together geospatial analysis with metadata mined from slave narratives, sermons, and pamphlet literature to explore the evolution of Black political theology in ways that complement my more traditional scholarship. They help me to more precisely pin down critical junctures of Black thought.  I’m looking for overlays – where did these writers travel? What places and people are referenced? Many early black writings draw in biblical imagery like Exodus – are there geographical relationships to the use of biblical imagery in anti-slavery thought?

When I teach digital techniques, I pair theory, technology, and some of the traditional tools of the historical craft. For instance, in my current digital history class, my students are involved in the digitization of a cache of Civil War letters. The students will transcribe the letters, encode them in both TEI and HTML, and then produce terms for both Dublin Core metadata and Library of Congress Subject Headings. This combines digital techniques with more conventional skills like palaeography and analyzing historical documents. The final cataloging is done by the University Library’s Cataloging Department, but the students still had the opportunity to learn what metadata is and how it works.