Making digital history: The impact of digitality on public participation and scholarly practices in historical research

Ridge, Mia (2016). Making digital history: The impact of digitality on public participation and scholarly practices in historical research. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis investigates tow key questions: firstly, how do two broad groups - academic, family and local historians, and the public - evaluate, use, and contribute to digital history resources? And consequently, what impact have digital technologies had on public participation and scholarly practices in historical research?

Analysing the impact of design on participant experiences and the reception of digital historiography by demonstrating the value of methods drawn from human-computer interaction, including heuristic evaluation, trace ethnography and semi-structured interviews. This thesis also investigates the relationship between heritage crowdsourcing projects (which ask the public to help with meaningful, inherently rewarding tasks that contribute to a shared, significant goal or research interest related to cultural heritage collections or knowledge) and the development of historical skills and interests. It situates crowdsourcing and citizen history within the broader field of participatory digital history and then focuses on the impact of digitality on the research practices of faculty and community historians.

Chapter 1 provides an overview of over 400 digital history projects aimed at engaging the public or collecting, creating or enhancing records about historical materials for scholarly and general audiences. Chapter 2 discusses design factors that may influence the success of crowdsourcing projects. Following this, Chapter 3 explores the ways in which some crowdsourcing projects encourage deeper engagement with history or science, and the role of communities of practice in citizen history. Chapter 4 shifts our focus from public participation to scholarly practices in historical research, presenting the results of interviews conducted with 29 faculty and community historians. Finally, the Conclusion draws together the threads that link public participation and scholarly practices, teasing out the ways in which the practices of discovering, gathering, creating and sharing historical materials and knowledge have been affected by digital methods, tools and resources.

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