NiCHE New Scholars March Update – Digital #envhist

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This month on 21 March at 3pm EST , New Scholars will meet ahead of ASEH to discuss conference themes/trends, panels not-to-be-missed, field trips, networking opportunities, and the politics of cross-border travel. Contact Mica ( to join us!

Digital #envhist

Last month, NiCHE New Scholars met to discuss digital environmental history.  Participants use DH as both a tool of analysis and as a publication platform.

Our introductions revealed a strong tendency toward digital mapping, popular in the discipline because of the strong correlation between environmental and spatial data. Participants noted that environmental historians might also be inclined toward mapping projects because they can feasibly be done by a lone researcher, and thus fit relatively easily into established patterns of disciplinary labour.

Yet collaboration was a reoccurring theme in our conversation – as a way of easing and improving digital work. This is especially true when it comes to data collection. Often our analysis is shaped significantly by what data is readily available via government or archival databases, rather than what data we would like to use for our analysis (but needs to be aggregated or created from scratch). In this sense we remain dependent on what archives or governments choose to digitise. (Interdisciplinary) collaboration is also the key to obtaining digital skills in academia. Participants noted the steep learning curve required for tools like ArcGIS and web design, and expressed their gratitude to lab-mates, expert colleagues, digital librarians, and map librarians for their help.

We also talked about the suites of new, user-friendly tools which reduce the amount of expertise required for digital analysis. Tools like Blueshift, OMEKA, Tableu, and ArcGIS Online make digital projects more accessible to those without specialised skills. We wondered if these new user-friendly programs/apps will replace the need for historians to acquire time-consuming skills like coding and ArcGIS in the future, especially since programs like ArcGIS are not always well-oriented toward historical data. Will future digital historians need to engage in the same kind of learning curve we did?

Most of the participants blog or otherwise engage in web-publishing. We noted that 1) public engagement has become increasingly important on the job market, and 2) that a strong web presence is essential for reaching non-academic audiences. These new audiences can be reached via facebook pages, twitter, and blogs as long as authors make their work findable (by using keywords, effective hashtags, and sharing widely). Participants noted that public input via the comment section can positively shape a research project by showing the historian what parts of her/his argument is the most translatable, useful, or compelling. 

Finally, participants discussed underused digital tools, and reflected on future directions for analysis. We thought that digital history is particularly well-suited to transferring power to historical subjects. Self-interviewing, public forums, and facebook pages encourage community participation allow people to tell their own stories in their own ways. Techniques like story-boarding and sound-recording engages different human senses and might help to strengthen the role of oral history in historic research. We also talked about Dr. Sean Kheraj’s recent post about the use of virtual reality, and reflected on its potential as a powerful tool for exploring historical landscapes.

Participants were:

John Baeton  (Mining Landscapes

Caio Coelho (@CaoGris)

Jessica DeWitt (Historical DeWitticisms)

Mica Jorgenson (Ecologies of Gold)

Laura Larsen (@triticum_red)

Michael O’Hagen (POWs in Canada)

Robert Teigs (Robert Teigs – Digital History)

We were joined by Dr. Josh MacFadyen of Arizona State University.


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Mica Jorgenson is an environmental historian of natural resources in Canada. She works in both the academic and public sectors, and teaches periodically at the University of Northern British Columbia.


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