Think critical in digital !

Thinking about the use of digital sources

The trend in the humanities is “digital” – digital of everything. Research, discussions, reading, publications…. from open science to zoom conferences, live discussions and surveys in slido to digital sources and online archives.

Especially the voices of a broader audience or as well from some researchers demand loudly the “Digitization of everything” – while archivist and librarians roll with their eyes and try to slow them down. NOT EVERYTHING can be digitized and offered online. The digital way of research can be an “addition” but it is not a replacement for sources.

The article by Mareike König, from the German Historical Institute, deals with the changes in the past decades for historical research is the expansion of the sources through mass digitization. She highlights excellently the question of why and how researchers could benefit from the digital and online resources in their work.

Not only about the Franco-German War 1870/71 exist a lot of (digized) and diverse sources, but also (or even more) about WWII. The cruellest war in the 20th century clearly left countless of documents, pictures and memories, films etc. Archives, memorial sites, museums, universities offered and still offering published editions, digital portals, oral history witness collections, visual material and and and….

What does that mean for us as researchers and our current project “Warlux”? Obviously, not every source we need is digitized. In times of Covid-19, our research is being held up (but we hope to return soon to the libraries and archives abroad), but we don’t rely on the online catalogues and are trying to find more and unknown collections – analogue collections. It slows us down, sure. We have to “dig” into paper catalogues, speak with the librarians and archivists, follow every footnote in older publications and not getting frustrated if the online catalogue does not show the desired title.

Looking for analogue material beams us into times without internet and computer – but it is crucial for research, especially in the historical sciences. Back to Mareike’s excellent article.

Fast noch wichtiger, als zu wissen, wo zu suchen ist, sind Kenntnisse darüber, wie zu suchen ist.

Mareike König

“Almost more important than knowing where to look is knowing how to look.” – Mareike König

So, not 100% is digitized – and even if there is an online catalogue, then we have to know how we “Look for something” or to know how to use the search engines

Despite all developments and success in the digital humanities, we have to think more often “analogue”.



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1 Response

  1. Mareike König says:

    Thank you, Nina, for refering to my article. Actually, the sentence “Almost more important than knowing where to look is knowing how to look.” – refers to claims that nowadays historians can find without knowing where to look (i.e. via Google). I don’t think this is true, or: it is only half of the truth. Sure, you can find a lot of things with a simple search in Google. But there is also a lot that you don’t find if you do not go to specialised websites, catalogues and databases of libraries, archives, museums and other institutions. For me it is important to state that.

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