Digital History Interview of Professor Rwany Sibaja

  1. What did you think when Digital Humanities became a “thing”?

My initial reaction was that technology has a way of facilitating work and making it easier if you take the time to learn it.  There is a steep learning curve. So the question is, how willing are you to learn something new in your busy schedule with an uncertainty of how it can actually make your life easier. Of course there is a payoff if it does.  And so my attitude has always been that these digital tools are just that, tools.  They are not the end goal.  They are the means to be more effective at research.

  1. How do you see Digital Media Tools changing the Practice of History?

By nature of what you are using to do research that is going to frame what sources you are using and how you are going to use them.  If you sit there studying a photograph with paper and pen then that is going to determine how much of that file cabinet you can get into.  If I can just snap a shot, type in a quick little summary, I can go through that card catalog a lot quicker.  The tools you use inform the way you do research.

  1. What encouraged you to use Digital Media Tools?

Efficiency and Longevity. The tools I was going to use were the tools I was familiar with.  I knew how to work those tools already and knew how they could save me time.  Longevity is in the sense of because I immediately put everything on a spreadsheet and so I know it is there and backed up.  I can cross reference them much easier then I could if I just wrote them down.

  1. How have Digital Tools helped aid in your research?

{The Professor’s comments to the previous question also answered this question}


  1. How have your methods of Research changed over time alongside the evolution of the Digital Age?

This is a tricky question because in a sense I do not think that my methods have changed. I think that the same things that I am looking for: being critical of the sources, seeing where they are coming from, seeing why they were collected a certain way; they are the same regardless.  What has evolved is how people have cataloged and collected.  Libraries have changed. You go onto the computer to view a video instead of searching through a reel of film.  As archives change and libraries change, I change with it.

  1. Do you see a future in which your research is even more affected by Digital Media Tools?

To be able to do more historical maps. I am just beginning to understand the tools for text mining. And so I go through millions of documents and books fairly quickly to pull out certain words and look at their trends.  But I am also limited by the fact that I am working with a subject matter in Argentina and that so little that has been preserved in Argentina has been digitized and so I cannot very easily do a text mining project the way it is for people who are working with the English language texts where there are universities all over that have the means and resources to digitize everything.

  1. What Digital Media Tools have you used for your research?

The main ones that I use are and some are very basic and maybe should not even be considered digital tools are Word, Excel, those types of tools. Beyond that, I use Omeka, Digital Cameras. A couple of times I have used handheld or large scanners. For research, sometimes it is not even the product.  Twitter is valuable because I have had people post links to articles or documents that I have never come across.  Zotero has not only been good for me to record my own research but I have been also able to pull a couple of sources out of other’s Zotero, with their permission of course.

7a. Have any piqued your interest that you would use in the future?

   There is a plugin for Omeka called “Timeline” and it creates historical timelines that are interactive.  I have it installed but my goal is to work on it next summer, I would like to develop that.  I also want to learn some GIS so that I can for example, chart instances of violence in soccer in Argentina over two or three decades to chart them geographically and see if any trends occur.

  1. Has Digital Media Tools changed how you view the field of history, specifically the research aspect?

I think the same questions and standards have not changed for historians because it is the standards that have defined the field.  Having said that, the digital technologies have raised important questions about those standards.  An example being when someone is dealing with images, one needs to understand how someone could have manipulated the image through photoshop.  Manipulation has been going on before the digital age but now if you are working with images that are more recent, you need to scrutinize the image even more and really understand how photoshop and other photo manipulation processes works.  It is imperative for the historian to understand those; just as it is imperative for the historian to understand copyright laws so they don’t run afoul of copyright issues.  I believe that new technologies have forced historians to have to learn to do more and integrate them more into the work but this does not necessarily affect the standards of the field and the way historians work.

  1. What did you discover about yourself when you began utilizing the Digital World for your research?

I felt like I was pretty savvy with technology before but I realized quickly that I wasn’t and that I really had a lot to learn.  That is intimidating at first and there are some days which you think “there is no way I am going to get all of this done”.  I had the sense sometimes of being overwhelmed but thankfully I had a structure in my doctoral studies that told me “I have to get this project done”.  It became a question of “can I learn enough and produce something that is up to my [garbled word, possibly “standards”].  Having to learn almost a whole new language was daunting and it meant that there were a lot of nights where I was only sleeping four to five hours because of me working on a website.  It required a lot more out of me than I expected.  Part of that though was because I wanted something that was not mediocre, something that was up to my standards.  At the end of it, I can look back and say “wow, I have grown so much just in that window”.  The thing that I learnt from that process is there are periods in which you do have to push yourself and you have to stretch and have to grow because the field of history doesn’t change but there are different trends, scholarships, and debates.  Technology is of course moving at a rapid pace so if you just get kind of stuck doing what you are doing, then at some point it is going to catch up to you and then you are going to put yourself in a huge hole.  I definitely feel behind many digital humanists but that is ok because I feel that I am at least still hovering around. You got to keep moving, sometimes faster than others.


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