There’s no denying that the influence of technology is everywhere in today’s classrooms. From the fifth grader using an iPad to the professor projecting digital renderings onto the screen, from the student working in a genome lab to the one getting a degree online.
While few people would deny the reality of this transformation, the popular perception is that technology’s reach extends only to certain subjects. It surely influences the sciences, people believe, and it offers interactive solutions to the challenges of elementary education. But the humanities are perceived as old fashioned, set in their ways, and largely immune to technological influences.
This belief is far from accurate. In reality, humanities subjects have quietly become some of technology’s foremost champions, and the study of history is no exception. Not convinced? Here are five ways that technological advancements have changed the way historians conduct research:
Old documents were once only viewed in musty and distant archives, accessible only to a lucky few. Today, however, with widespread digitization, scholars around the world can see centuries-old documents online as they conduct their research.
The digitization trend has also extended to secondary sources, and companies such as Google have amassed vast collections of scholarly books. A search of Google Books, then, can allow researchers to match given phrases with a specific line of text.
Scholars doing research on a long-vanished place and era – Victorian London, for example – were relegated to visualizing how these places looked based upon maps, architectural drawings, and scant written evidence. Now, all these sources can be assembled together to create realistic virtual 3D renderings of a street, neighborhood, or even whole city.
Tracking down information about an individual used to be a difficult and arduous undertaking, often involving countless phone calls and trips to numerous archives. These days, aggregating sites such as ancestry.org provide public records, census data, marriage licenses, death certificates, military enlistment cards all in one convenient place.
A historian or professor doing research will often seek to consult with an expert in the specific field of their inquiry. Forums, databases, online journals, and networking sites make this an easy undertaking these days, as one can do searches based on specialty and quickly make contact with the right person.
These are just five of the most significant ways in which technological advancements over the past decade have directly influenced historical research. Although history regards itself as a more traditional discipline, few members of its ranks would argue that these technological changes have only facilitated their research and ultimately been beneficial.