Digital history… What challenges in our time?
A seminar on the sidelines of “Sharjah Book” within the “Italy” program
Tuesday – 14 Rabi’ al-Thani 1444 AH – 08 November 2022 AD Issue No. [
Sharjah: Nada Hoteit
Historians and specialists in archeology believe that the processes of writing down, documenting and writing history in the age of digitization and technology can benefit enormously from the capabilities offered by artificial intelligence and communication systems, but it always comes with challenges as well, and requires double attention to accuracy, reliability and honesty, especially The perennial dialectical question of “Who writes history?” This will always remain a subject of contention and refutation, due to the various agendas, interests, ideologies and individual integrity in recording events as they happened.
It took place in a specialized symposium entitled “Writing History in the Digital Age”, presented by the Sharjah International Book Fair 2022, as part of the “Italy” program, the guest of honor of the fair. The session was hosted by Christian Greco, a renowned Italian Egyptologist, and Sheikha Al Jabri, an Emirati researcher and writer.
Panelists described the challenge facing digital historians as “deceptively simple”; It is a “historical work that combines the ability of advanced computers to research, summarize and present, and the researcher’s ability to interpret, reason and place things in their contexts.” This necessarily implies the need to develop an adequate understanding of how to use digital resources appropriately; Most importantly, however, the formula remains to use these digital resources and methods to provide opportunities for better recovery of the historical event in a way that improves our understanding of the past. Therefore, the opportunities offered by technology are always matched by the challenge of how to utilize them to reach the end of history.
The speakers at the symposium pointed out that computers – although they have become essential tools in areas such as economic history, historical demography and through the use of geographic information systems in historical geography – these areas have remained limited in the overall context of history, at least compared to the size of the qualitative development that has taken place in other humanities, such as economics, sociology and geography. This can be attributed to the centrality of texts in the historical work. But during the last few years – as they mentioned – there have been detailed transformations in technologies, as computers have moved from mere machines that make numbers to smart information technology that can provide a large amount of information from various sources: prints, manuscripts, archaeological finds , inscriptions, or even drawings and paintings, and transform them into digital textual content that is easy to recall and interview with other sources, and from anywhere in the world, so that today it can be claimed that the majority of contemporary historians are on somehow digital historians.
But Christian Greco called on historians to always remember the nature of their craft, based on dealing with complex, incomplete and often full of biases and errors, and then interpret them critically, and that what applies to traditional sources, mainly applies to digital sources. He called on governments and public authorities not to be content with supporting museums and libraries as effective and important instruments for the preservation of history; And even the need for public investments to be strengthened in the consolidation of digital history, away from commercial companies that always have their own considerations.
Greco described – from his experience as an Egyptologist – the enormous possibilities in documentation, preservation and analysis provided by modern technologies, so that the historian concerned with this episode of the history of human civilization had an unprecedented amount of texts, including intelligent translations of hundreds of thousands of ancient hieroglyphic texts scattered in museums around the world. , to what is found in Egypt itself and its surroundings.
Sheikha Al-Jabri, for her part, spoke about the great importance of digital history tools in local Arab experiences for documenting historical experiences, and the opportunities they offer to preserve the memory of generations and pass it on to young people who are distinguished through their ability to effectively take advantage of these instruments. But she, in turn, emphasized the need for historians to approach the critical evaluation of digital sources with the same approach adopted in the evaluation of other sources, and to place them in their context as a means to an end and not not an end in itself. .
It is noteworthy that the symposium “Writing History in the Digital Age” came within a large number of events and dialogue seminars on the knowledge industry, publishing and culture, on the sidelines of the 41st session of the Sharjah International Book Fair, which will last until November 13, and dozens of writers will participate in it Arab and foreign thinkers, creators, historians and artists.