Has the Web Changed History?

The World Wide Web is a tool, a wonderful means by which historians can research, communicate with other historians, and present their findings. This is one of many tools in the historian’s tool kit. Historians have only begun to understand what this tool is capable of and, therefore, have only begun to see its potential. The World Wide Web has not changed the fundamental relationship between the historian and their research, but it has changed the scale, the speed, and the connectedness of their research.

This tool has made it possible to achieve research goals that would have previously been unfeasible or would have taken a lifetime. For example the ability to overcome geographic obstacles, analyze large quantities of data, and other tasks are easily completed using the World Wide Web. The web has made researching much easier, but it has also changed the means by which research can be presented.

The World Wide Web has opened the peer review process, allowing research to be vetted by the open public. The academic world is characterized by limited access, an insular group of elites, but now, with web 2.0, there is an opportunity for the public to infiltrate the island and set up camp on the beach. The “ivory tower” can now be scaled. This can openness, however, could be problematic. History is a field that mandates nuance and sensitivity, but the public does not typically operate in nuance.

The web is a powerful tool that historians use to present, store, and analyze their findings, but the web is just a tool. The web has expedited research, but has not changed the methodology; has enhanced analytics, but has not changed the strategies; and ultimately, digital history has changed many of the characteristics of historic research, but has not fundamentally changed the discipline.

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