American History, in many ways, represents the nation’s résumé. It is a catalog of achievements and events – some good, some regrettable – that are used to encourage citizens and outsiders to buy into the nation.
Historians won’t be giving up their visits to archives or their days picking notebooks and letters out of boxes any time soon. But the path to those boxes has changed dramatically as institutions and history enthusiasts have been digitalizing and posting their treasures online.
Internet technology is starting to have a profound influence on the ways we do history. Historians have found new places to write history, new ways to make sources available, and some historians have mastered the digital technology to create new kinds of data and new kinds of sources for asking new kinds of questions about the past.
I have been refighting the Second World War my entire life. My campaign began with the board game Axis and Allies and continued on the computer with Panzer General and Close Combat. I spent hours as a teenager designing scenarios for the war in Civilization II, with a computer mouse in one hand and my history textbook in the other.
A city of perpetual nostalgia, Austin is a vivid place where rapid change pulls against profound attachments to the way things are (or how they are imagined to be). Perhaps this dynamic is what gives such poignancy to the idea of endings in Austin. Austinites are always afraid of losing what we love about the city: the vibe of a particular neighborhood, the murmur of the so-called creative class, the beauty and health of Barton Springs. The end of Austin, or at least some beloved facet of it, always seems around the corner, haunting our sense of place.
The video game is a relatively new medium, but it has a long record of using history to tell stories like the one found in Assassin’s Creed. Given the mass popularity of video games and gaming culture, it seems appropriate that we begin to analyze the history portrayed in this medium in the same way we consider a historical novel or period film. Why and how is history used in video games?
In his novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Laurence Sterne describes the character Uncle Toby and his hobby-horse, the military. A hobby-horse, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “a favourite pursuit or pastime,” is something you’ve trotted out and ridden nearly to death. At the risk of losing the remainder of my friends, I am here to once again sing the praises of my hobby-horse, Twitter, and explain why you should be on it if you care about history.
If Digital History is “using new technologies to enhance research and teaching,” as the excellent website from the University of Houston puts it, then African American history is being well-served digitally. In honor of African American History month, I survey here one enormous and useful website that gives us all access to a very wide variety of materials.
This week we begin a new series of podcasts, which we are calling Making History.
Making History is a series of interviews with our graduate students about their work lives. Professional historians, like history books, do not spring fully-formed from library
carrels or shelves of archival boxes. They are “made,” in processes both painful and illuminating, and sometimes funny.