Are you a Digital vs. Traditional Scholar?
This short essay has been inspired by my growing dissatisfaction with, if not irritation towards the commonplace dichotomy “traditional vs. digital” history, and my recent reading of Eun Seo Jo’s groundbreaking Ph.D thesis proposing a “New Archival History (NAH).”1
We propose to rethink the dichotomy as a gradual timeline with successive stages, or better said – “configurations” in Foucault’s sense2. Each configuration consists in a specific combination of primary materials (sources) [grey fields on the map below], places (physical or virtual) [green], methods and techniques [blue], and research output (books, articles, etc) [red]. Each component within has its distinct timeline, start/end date and duration – which partially overlap. There is no linear path involved. Our research environment therefore is better described as a particular, evolving combination of these four elements, depending on each individual needs and research context.
Eventually we are neither traditional nor digital. We are just trying to cope with the ever-changing material world.
Take some time to look at the map below:
Where do you stand?
Where do you want / need to be?
- Jo defines NAH as a new corpus-based approach to historical research, which primarily consists in a comprehensive, global and critical overview of the corpus and a critical assessment of its experimental potentialities. Based on data-driven hypothesis testing rather than illuminating a priori defined assumptions through selected cases, NAH goes beyond the conventional distant/close reading or quantitative/qualitative analysis dichotomies. NAH pushes historians towards greater transparency in the research process and collaboration with data scientists and computer-aided social sciences. NAH is not meant to replace but to supplement more “traditional” methods in the humanities. While NAH is primarily aimed at contextualizing the findings drawn from close reading and strictly qualitative research, one would be tempted to go a step further and establish NAH approach as a prerequisite and preliminary step in any historical research – as far as possible. Jo applied NAH to the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, treating this collection as a “single, whole primary source and archive of published works.” (Jo, 2020, p.14), in order to shed new light on the diplomatic history of the United States from the late 19th to the late 20th century. While she did a formidable work, her dissertation, however, remains essentially a linguistic study of a corpus of diplomatic archives, from which human and social actors are regrettably missing. Jo, Eun Seo. “Foreign Relations of the United States Series, 1860-1980: A Study in New Archival History.” Ph.D. Thesis in History, Stanford University, 2020.
- Foucault, Michel. L’archéologie du savoir. Paris: Gallimard, 1969.