As we continue to cruise through the digital age, information continues to get faster and faster. Nobody has the time or patience for books and articles, we need objects. One of the most important of these objects are photographs. There used to be museums full of photographs. These images could tell us so much information about the subject at hand. Now though, digitization is challenging the way historians can use photographs.
Martha Sandweiss sees digitization as a bane to photographic history http://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/november-2013/material-culture-in-the-digital-frame/artifacts-as-pixels-pixels-as-artifacts. Being posted online means that the picture and its information is at the mercy of the archiver/museum/library etc. This means that ” some sites obscure the name of the photographer or the original size of the object, both vital bits of information for someone who wants to think about how the photograph circulated or what sort of impact it had”. Without this vital information, how can a Public Historian or any historian for that matter, use these photos? Another major problem stemming from digitization is brought up by Sheila Brennan http://www.lotfortynine.org/2012/11/getting-to-the-stuff-digital-cultural-heritage-collections-absence-and-memory/. She notes that as more museums and collections get put online, whatever few photos are left in the “physical realm” “carry a huge interpretative weight, and that burden is unnecessarily heavy”.
We can see how digitization is actually a problem for public history and history in general through these two articles cited; but not all is bad. Because of digitization, almost everybody can learn from photos that are stuck in a museum across the globe from them. There is also so many things Public Historians can add to photos that can enhance their teachings. Dr. Meringolo shows us one way in her blog http://denisemeringolo.org/current-research/playing-with-thinglink/. In her blog post, she experiments with a digital tool called “ThingLink”. This tool “allows users to connect information to images”. With this tool, Meringolo reasons that by “using this tool in the classroom might help students think concretely about the interpretive value of images”. Not only does this combat the problem given by Martha Sandweiss re. vital information but it also answers the question of “does digital public history need objects”.
To me, the answer is a resounding yes but the profesif. We live in a digital age where everything is happening lighting fast. We no longer have the time and patience to learn through sitting down and reading and thus objects help us gain knowledge that we might have skipped over in a book or essay. One of, if not the most important aspect to Public History is how history gets applied to real life situations. By combining Dr. Meringolo’s pros with Martha Sandweiss’ and Sheila Brennan’s cons, we can deduce that yes, digital public history does need objects but we still need to limit their “power” because of the chance of vast gaps of information in objects (as specifically noted by Martha Sandweiss above).