Digital history and the Civil War

As I have been working this semester on a digital history project on the fiftieth anniversary of the Chester Fritz Library at UND, I decided to take a few moments to consider the applications digital history has for the Civil War. As new technology changes life in many ways, history also must adapt to the faster pace of a digital world.

I have posted on several digital collections devoted to the war in the past, but want to share with you the possibilities that digital history provides for the war. Beyond digital collections placed online by various research libraries and institutions, digital tools provide endless possibilities for those interested in the war and here are some examples:

Omeka is an open-source collection management software that allows users to upload various items onto a digital archive, organize them into collections, and make them available to the world. The cool thing about this resource is that if you have a personal collection of documents and objects related to the war, you can create an online museum devoted to them, with metadata that is useful to researchers.

Using online tools to collaborate with others in the field is one of the best ways digital technology improves our understanding of the war. Search engines allow us to access materials from anywhere, and software, like Zotero, which is a free citation management program, let scholars organize information and retrieve it quickly. I have a bibliography devoted to my thesis topic (Civil War soldiers) that I try and update to keep abreast of new materials. Also, using a Twitter feed offers the chance of posting a question to your followers and receiving an answer quickly.

One of the best ways to use digital tools is blogging, as it allows you to showcase your interests and research and gain a following in the digital world. This is one reason I blog, and there are several other scholars on the war that have blogs (Civil Warriors, Crossroads, and Renegade South come to mind). So, if you are interested, get out there and start a blog, or ask to join one as a guest writer.

I will leave you with a couple great posts by two professors at the University of North Dakota who are much more knowledgeable about this subject than I. Dr. Bill Caraher wrote a post on his blog, which is cross-posted to Teaching Thursday, and Dr. Tim Pasch shared his insights into digital tools as well, which while they are more to improve workflow, they have great uses in researching the war, in terms of organizing information and retaining it. It will be amazing to see how much of a role digital history plays during the 150th anniversary, and who knows what will be going on for the bicentennial. Until next time, keep researching.

On using social media

Over at Civil War Memory, Kevin Levin, posted on his use of social media and how it helps him as a teacher and historian. The examples he noted are some of what I have done to increase the audience of this blog as well. In addition, I see blogging and the use of social media as a way for us to stay relevant in a climate where history is losing much of its value and distinctiveness to other disciplines that hold more lucrative salary potential, or to increasing trends towards inter-disciplinary type programs on college campuses. Using social media allows us to share our passion with those we may not otherwise interact with, either because of distance, or environment. One of our professors at UND, Bill Caraher, is the master of the social media and new technologies, as he regularly writes about it on his blog. While I am still not quite up on regularly tweeting or Facebooking, I am trying to interact with such new technologies, as they are the future and historians must embrace them to stay relevant to younger people.

CWH is now on Twitter

I never thought I would ever get into this, but I am giving Twitter a shot to see if it will bring readers here. I would like to ask fellow CW bloggers who “Tweet” to follow me and I will follow you (I hope I used the right terminology), as well as any readers. I will only use the account to create short updates between posts (if necessary) and to post links to new material on Twitter for folks to check out. To all those out there who read this site regularly and are familiar with Twitter, please bear with me, as I am new to this phenomenon. I will be adding a widget to the sidebar shortly as well.