Models of Argument-Driven Digital History

The Models of Argument-Driven Digital History website launched today: find it here. It contains a set of published journal articles annotated by their authors to highlight the use of digital methods to make historical arguments. The site is part of a larger project on which I have been collaborating with Lincoln Mullen since 2017, with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to encourage argument-driven digital history as a form of digital scholarship.

The first element of the project was a workshop of digital historians that developed the white paper “Digital History and Argument” (2017), which aimed

to help bridge the argumentative practices of digital history and the broader historical profession. On the one hand, it aims to demonstrate to the wider historical discipline how digital history is already making arguments in differentforms than analog scholarship. On the other hand, it aims to help digital historians weave the scholarship they produce into historiographical conversations in the discipline

One conclusion of the white paper was that scholars lack conceptual models of how to apply digital methods to historical questions. The articles on Models of Argument-Driven Digital Historyare annotated by their authors to serve as models of how to conceive and construct interpretations and arguments using digital history methods and materials for digital historians to emulate and build on. The texts of the annotated articles, are by necessity, the version the author submitted to the journal, as the journal holds the rights to any revised versions and the final published version. Annotations offer an opportunity to provide an explanation of the methods and decisions behind an article’s form and argument that the current format for journal publication does not allow. It’s past time for journals to begin to reimagine their format to incorporate features such as annotation, and think in terms of what is possible online rather than in print, as its the online version with which most readers engage.

The site was conceived as an element of a special section of the Journal of Social History devoted to argument-driven digital history articles developed in a series of workshops to support eight authors in the process of writing, peer review and publication. Two articles developed in the workshops completed the process of peer review and appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of the journal and on the site. The authors of those articles, Leonardo Barleta and Rachel Midura, and the editors of the Journal of Social History who provided invaluable contributions to the workshops, Matt Karush and Sam Lebovic, were scheduled to appear in a panel on publishing digital history at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in January 2020. After the cancellation of that meeting due to COVID, Lincoln had the idea that we get the permission of the Mellon Foundation to repurpose those funds to recruit authors of influential published digital history articles to annotate their scholarship with discussions of how they developed arguments using digital methods and responded to the comments of editors and reviewers. We were thrilled that Ruth Ahnert and Sebastian Ahnert, Melodee Beals, Sharon Block, Tim Hitchcock and William Turkel, Jo Guldi, Maeve Kane and Caroline Winterer accepted our invitations to participate, allowing us to enrich the site with articles published in a wide variety of journals: ELHJournal of Early American History; Journal of Women’s History; Law and History Review; Modern Intellectual History; and Victorian Periodicals Review. Lincoln and his co-author Kellen Funk also annotated their article “The Spine of American Law: Digital Text Analysis and U.S. Legal Practice,” published in the American Historical Review.

The collection of articles represents the three major digital methods that have been used by historians: spatial visualization; network analysis; and text analysis and topic modeling. Lincoln and I coauthored an introduction for the special section of the Journal of Social History, which also appears on the site, elaborating the patterns we see in the historical arguments made using these different methods: “Arguing with Digital History: Patterns of Historical Interpretation.”

Other methods and combinations of methods are becoming more prominent; it’s worth noting that both the articles published in the special section, and Winterer’s article, are using network graphs for spatial analysis. Predictably, articles using 3D for spatial analysis have appeared since we developed this project that would have been valuable additions. If people find this resource useful, perhaps we can expand it in the future.

This post was originally published here.