Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Changing Resesarch Practices Among Historians

AHA Today is reporting on a new study on how digital resources are influencing the research practices of historians.  I took a few minutes this morning to read the report and here is what I learned:
  •  Research methodology has not changed.  The use of primary sources remains at the heart of historical research. But the "day to day practices" of historians have changed in response to digital technology.  Most historians now visit archives to take photos of primary sources rather than analyze them.  They "no longer engage intellectually with the sources while in the archive."  Digital cameras are used widely.  Many historians send research assistants to archives to take pictures.
  • Most historians continue to take trips to archives, but it is becoming increasingly more difficult for them to schedule such visits.  Research trips have become much shorter, although many historians take multiple trips to the same archive.
  • Archivists need to develop improved finding aids and digitize more records.
  • Archivists are very important to historians. They are seen as "an expert and a partner in the discovery process."  Many historians develop long-distance relationships with archivists as their project proceeds.
  • Libraries need to address format changes when assessing collection policy.  They should also work harder at assisting historians in discovering primary source materials.
  • Historians hold the library staff at their institutions in high regard, but the extent of collaboration between librarians and historians is limited.
  • Most historians organize their research notes according to chapters.
  • Historians take notes in a variety of formats, including by hand.  Most have some combination of hand-written and digital notes.  Nearly all the historians interviewed struggled with the best format for note-taking and agreed that this was not something that was covered in their graduate school coursework.
  • Scholars who engage in digital scholarship are mostly self-taught.
  • GIS and text mining "have emerged as the two most prevalent technological methodologies" for historians.  Most historians who use GIS have partnered with someone on campus.
  • Historians working on digital scholarship often see "collaboration" in terms of sharing skills, not sharing content.
  • Digital providers should consider foreign-language sources and non-textual materials.  They should also consider seriously the important role Google has played in research. Most historians believe that Google is "the most comprehensive discovery tool available for certain types of searches."
  • Blogging has become a "significant form" of scholarly communication among historians, but most do not see blogging as a replacement for other kinds of publication.
  • Digital history and public history are now intricately linked.
  • Most pre-tenure faculty at research universities are still required to produce a monograph for tenure.  Digital scholarship is always seen as a "supplement" to more traditional scholarship.
  • History departments need to rethink Ph.D programs in terms of "non-textual sources" and "new forms of scholarly expression."
  • "Methodological training" in graduate programs is often "thin."
  • Scholarly societies need to do a better job of working with archivists and librarians.

3 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Most historians now visit archives to take photos of primary sources rather than analyze them.

I must admit that switching to a digital database in my own work has cut down occasions for serendipity.

There is a certain sterility in finding only what one is looking for.

John Fea said...

Great point, Tom. Serendipity is important to historians!

Lincoln Mullen said...

I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who struggles with the best way to take notes. It seems like this question has consumed much more time than it's worth.