I went to meet a history professor yesterday. I wanted to know what he had to say about one of our improved services. The improvement was still being tested and promptly quit working the moment I showed it to him. Even though I had checked to see if it worked at my own desk. These kind of things are never fun: “Hello, I have something amazing to show you.”
“Oh, it doesn’t work, sorry”
That could have been the end, but this gave us the chance to chat about digitization in the Humanities. At the moment it’s fairly easy to get your point across as a scientist, especially in fields like medicine. All because of the many options for publishing online. But for historians and other humanities studies getting your point across is different from other fields.
Historians seldom have formulaic theories. historians can’t perform experiments. They have to carefully describe intricate thoughts, which not only need to be based on research, but have to be well written in order for them to be grasped just as the author wanted them to be. Historic research therefore often needs to be longer than a 30 page article.
The act of writing a book, my professor friend told me, is the best way to shape ideas on subjects in history. Sitting down and hashing out complex thoughts into a well formed story requires book form. When you start writing a book, he said, you know that in the end there will be a book, but you don’t exactly know what it’s going to be like. It’s not as if the contents of the book are in your head and all you need to do is write it down. And his opinion was that many university administrators miss that experience and therefore are not in a positions to make a judgement about publishing online.
I was glad we had the time to sit and chat, because it meant I could go away and have a think about what the people I do my work for actually go through. I have may ideas about this of course but only by frequent contact and conversation can I keep them current.