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.