Publics and Senses

During the last couple of days of the #doingdh16 workshop we’ve been consciously discussing technologies and methods that perhaps challenge traditional historical methods more than those we covered previously. Yesterday we talked about public history vs. being historians in public, aka public intellectuals. Today we discussed and previewed methods for a more fully phenomenological approach to sharing stories. In shorthand, that approach means considering all of the human senses when studying a landscape or culture. Today we talked about using sound to amplify understanding.

Archaeologists have been working on this for around 20 years, with most of the credit for bringing phenomenology to scholars’ attention going to Christopher Tilley, though folks have been using experiential methods to recreate historical construction, crafting, and cooking methods for much longer–quite a while before “serious” scholars deigned to study the process. Is this a good time to mention my MA is in Archaeology? 😉

As with all of the tech we’ve discussed so far, there are two essential choices before us as what Denise Meringolo (though she cribbed this term from someone else, who’s name escapes me at the moment) calls “digitally inflected” scholars. Will we use digital tools to replicate historical methods or will we use them to do things that traditional academic scholarship cannot? There’s no right answer to that question, and many projects will be a combination of the two.

This afternoon, institute leaders asked us each to consider how we might use the audio tools we reviewed today in our current work. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure quite how I’d use them in what I’m working on right now. However, I can see more applications for sound than for textual analysis because I tend to work with living communities. Instead, I can’t stop wondering how I can use sound or video to work on projects that are both born digital (is that the right phrase for something without a traditional publishing equivalent?) and truly collaborative. At a minimum, these new-to-me tools have expanded my frame of reference for sharing layered histories. That keeps my mind open as folks want to share and create their stories in new ways.

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