Histoire contemporaine européenne Histoire numérique et l’historiographie

Probing the Impact of Technology in Historical Research: The Role of Transnational Networks

This paper is related to my current book project which explores the history and genealogies of digital history, set within the broader context of the ways in which technology has shaped historical research practices and knowledge production since the late 19th century. My paper focuses on a key aspect, the circulation of technological knowledge and expertise among transnational networks of historians, archivists, and librarians, the ways in which these networks were constituted and their transformative influence on historical knowledge production.

This transnational circulation of knowledge dates to the late 19 th century when archival and library photography began to affect historical research practices. It became especially salient in the postWWII period when historians begin to use analog and later digital computing in the United States, Western Europe and the Eastern bloc led by the Soviet Union, against the backdrop of the Cold War and a general surge in the use of computing in various humanities disciplines. By the late 1960s we begin to see the establishment of networks and structures to support what could be called an emerging transnational field of computing historians; the International Congress of Historical Sciences in Moscow (1970) and the international History and the Computer conference in Uppsala (1973) would become key platforms for knowledge exchange. These developments ran parallel to the emergence of computing in libraries and archives around 1970 which gave rise to similar networks. The years leading up to and following 1970 can thus be seen as a key period that saw the formation of transnational communicative spaces and networks of computing historians, librarians and archivists. After the advent of micro- and personal computing since the early 1980s, new user generations of computing historians formed the international Association for History and Computing (1987).

The aim of the paper is to show how the transnational circulation and diffusion of knowledge within the aforementioned spaces and networks is key to understanding technology’s transformative impacts on historical knowledge production in the 20 th century. It is also indispensible to understand the emergence of the field of digital history around the 2000s.

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