(Digital) Historians and the “New Normal”

Over the past year we’ve all heard the call (often on social media) to avoid complacency in the current political environment. Whether one agrees that the foundations of our democracy and the freedoms it protects are threatened or not, it seems prudent in the face of some of the stated and unstated goals of the incoming administration and its supporters, to think carefully about how we will react to threats to civil liberties.

According to FiveThirtyEight, one of the best indicators for how people voted in the presidential election was education. So while there is undoubtedly value in educating our students about how to be better citizens, reaching beyond the academy seems more important than ever. Digital tools and methods allow us means to do just that. But what role should historians, digital and otherwise, play in promoting the pursuit of truth, liberty, and justice? What actions should we be taking, individually or collectively, to prevent or respond to moves to curtail legitimate and vital knowledge production and information propagation?

I’m proposing that we discuss how historians, digital humanists, librarians, and others within the academy—who I would argue have a claim to understanding of how societies have dealt with this in the past—should act and react to actions and words that promote division and antipathy. In particular how can we reach beyond the academy and our classrooms in these efforts?

And finally, I am aware that there are partisan elements to this view of the direction in which our country seems to be going. I don’t want to presume that everyone necessarily agrees with me, so I would be more than happy for this session to encourage respectful debate and discussion about this complex problem.

Categories: Session Proposals, Session: Talk |
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About Seth Denbo

I am a cultural historian of eighteenth-century England and have been working on digital humanities projects for several years now. I have a PhD from the University of Warwick and have taught and worked at the University of Sheffield, King's College London, and Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities. Having lived, studied and worked in the United Kingdom for most of the past 20 years, I am now living in the Washington DC area and working as the Director of Scholarly Communications and Digital Initiatives at the American Historical Association.