The Problem of History in the Age of [Digital]Abundance

19 Dec

Few of us realize the skewing effect search engines have on our lives. Because of the algorithms that determine the order in which results appear, we are infinitely more likely to read a result on the first page of, for example, a Google search than if it appeared on the hundredth or thousandth page. The same goes for the tools we use to explore born-digital historical sources. If, when I am writing a history of how everyday Americans responded to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, I run a search in the web archive and read and use only the first thousand results to my query, the history will have almost been co-written by the search engine. It decided what results I would see, and which I would not.

So observes historian Ian Milligan in a fascinating discussion of some othe challenges of doing digital historical research: The Problem of History in the Age of Abundance – The Chronicle of Higher Education

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