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Uncovering the Forgotten Roots of Digital History: the Association for History and Computing
Zaagsma, Gerben


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Keywords :
Digital history
Abstract :
[en] In recent years, scholars have started to investigate the diverse genealogies of the digital humanities, as part of efforts to consolidate the field by excavating its historical and intellectual underpinnings. This paper discusses the history of what we now call digital history, by focusing on its direct predecessor: the history and computing movement. It argues that understanding the current era of digital history is impossible without knowledge of the transnational history & computing movement out of which it emerged. The paper will first offer a conceptual framework for the nexus between technology and historical research practices and provide a brief outline of the uptake of computing in historical research in the post-WWII period, which was rooted in a broader context of engagement with reproduction and data processing technology that began in the late 19th century. From the 1940s onwards, historians begin to use analog and later digital computing, efforts that truly gained momentum from the early 1960s onwards in the United States, Western Europe and the Eastern bloc led by the Soviet Union, against the backdrop of the Cold War and a general surge in the use of computing in various humanities disciplines. By the late 1960s we begin to see the establishment of networks and structures to support what could be called an emerging transnational field of computing historians. A transition to a new phase began when first micro- and then personal computing were introduced at universities in the early 1980s and a new user generation of computing historians emerged. As had happened almost two decades earlier, a transnational network would develop, but this time formalised in the Association for History and Computing (AHC) which existed until the early 2000s. The AHC’s history, activities, and many publications highlight the transnational outlook and intellectual breadth of the history and computing period and can served to probe the transition to and (dis)continuities with our current era of digital history. As I will argue, the history and computing movement did not simply give rise to digital history around the turn of the millennium. Despite the continued involvement of some older practitioners, many of the new digital historians were, as before, of a different user generation and the transition to digital history was thus much more than discursive.
Research center :
Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C2DH) > Contemporary European History (EHI)
Disciplines :
Arts & humanities: Multidisciplinary, general & others
Author, co-author :
Zaagsma, Gerben  ;  University of Luxembourg > Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C2DH) > Digital History and Historiography
Language :
Title :
Uncovering the Forgotten Roots of Digital History: the Association for History and Computing
Publication date :
10 October 2023
Event name :
Stockholm Digital History Seminar
Event organizer :
Stockholm University
Event place :
Stockholm, Sweden
Event date :
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