Podcasts, Monuments and Digital Humanities (Oh My!)

I can see a high degree of articulation between what happens in public history and what is being done in Digital Humanities. If anything has shifted for me these past two weeks, it is that the connection between the two has solidified. Digital formats like podcasts have become excellent sources of Digital Humanities scholarship. Podcasts are making studies that formerly remained trapped behind the walls of academia more widely available to a greater public audience. Additionally, public monuments may not have been created with the explicit intention of being a form of scholarship. But they are nevertheless subject to the critical analysis of scholarship. A statue of an “historic actor” might superficially be interpreted as memorializing that person. But there can be little doubt in today’s world that a memorial also commemorates the ideals, beliefs and actions behind and associated with that person. For example, a monument of Nathan Bedford Forrest might explicitly try to focus on his military valor and cunning. But you cannot separate Forrest from his background as a slave trader, a slave owner, a man who facilitated the massacre of African American soldiers, a founding member and highest ranking participant in the Ku Klux Klan. If historians (and society) chose to ignore all these facts and limit the perspective to his military prowess, we are engaging in dishonesty. It is incumbent on people to accept the bad with the good in humanities past actions. This is why projects like Mapping Violence are important. It is distressing and uncomfortable that so many lynchings and extra-legal police killings occurred in Texas in the early 20th Century. But this history happened, and we much reckon with it in today’s world. If anything, Digital Humanities is helping to bridge this divide and make darker aspects of human history more comprehensible.