History as Dialogue

Chiel will be presenting a paper on “History as Dialogue” at the Digital Humanities Congress at the University of Sheffield, 6-8 September 2012. The abstract of the paper reads thus:

History as Dialogue

 “The goal [of digital history] is not to displace argument, synthesis, interpretation, and understanding in favor of a celebration of infinite possibility, but to broaden the participation in a dialogic process of engagement, questioning, and reflection on answers.” __Michael Frisch1

It is indisputable that the virtual reconstruction of Rome, the real time simulation of the Apollo 11 flight, and the searchable archive of social life in early modern London, are important and exciting means of presenting history with the use of new media. However, these genres are not digital alternatives to academic history writing.

For a long time, the book has been history’s medium and the monograph its genre. The monographic narrative, however, no longer seems appropriate in a digital environment. I will argue that the dialogue as a genre is the most likely candidate to achieve online what the monograph aimed at before: providing a comprehensive synthesis of the past. This online dialogue might develop out of the already existing discussion networks.

Two arguments will be put forward. 1) What is regarded as typical of digital media – it is variable, interactive, dynamic, collaborative, and consisting of hypertext – is in agreement with the online dialogue. 2) Historical monographs provide panoramic interpretations of part of the past. Such historical understanding can also be achieved by means of an online dialogue.

This second argument allows me to partly criticize the supposed rapprochement between the sciences and the humanities in digital humanities. Admittedly, there might be such rapprochement on the level of methods of analysis, however, on the level of understanding and writing, the sciences and the humanities will remain distinctive realms of thought.

1. Cohen, Frisch, Gallagher, Mintz, Sword, Taylor, Thomas III, and Turkel, “Interchange: The Promise of Digital History”, Journal of American History Vol. 95 no. 2 (2008) 452-491.



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