‘So what to do about it? Burke and other speakers pointed to the digital monograph as a remedy to higher education’s stubborn grip on an increasingly obsolete form.
“Digital has the capacity to call us back to why we said were going to do this in the first place,” Burke said.
For Stefan Tanaka, professor of communication and director of the Center for the Humanities at the University of California at San Diego, that means working collaboratively and sharing history in new, dynamic ways. He’s currently working on a digital monograph about 1884 Japan that seeks to present a nonlinear version of events, and a story that’s “problem-based,” rather than focused on a single place.
The desired outcome is something closer to life, and that better reflects the “pleasure” a historian feels about his or her work – before trying to fit it into a conventional monograph, Tanaka said. On a wide scale, that has profound implications for how information is transmitted going forward.
“In digital work, expert-based work becomes less important, and problems become more important,” Tanaka said. “That changes the authority structure on which our careers and expertise are based.”
Somewhat counterintuitively, however, he added, the historian in this context becomes more important, not less. With the wealth of data now available to the general public, historians don’t just transmit information; they must think critically about how it is best shared with which audiences, and how it intersects with research and teaching.’