“Handmaiden to history”? A conversation on geography in a digital history center

Authors: Angela R Cunningham*, Centre for Contemporary and Digital History, Universite du Luxembourg
Topics: Historical Geography, Quantitative Methods, Qualitative Methods
Keywords: digital history, historical geography, interdisciplinary, mixed methods, pedagogy
Session Type: Virtual Paper
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Well into the twentieth century, geography was perceived as being but a “handmaiden to history.” Subordinated in a worldview born of time-space compression and teleological social theories, space, place and scale were taken as unproblematic givens, the static and impotent stage upon which history advanced. However, geographers contested this view, and new realities like globalization and the spatial turn made geography’s theories and methods central to the work of other disciplines. Scholarship by historical geographers like Massey, Gregory and Knowles have shown that places and historical processes recursively produce each other, that practicing spatial history is critical history. As invigorating as this promise of interdisciplinarity is, however, challenges to productively integrating the ontologies and epistemologies of history and geography remain. Here, we discuss our engagement with these difficulties at the Centre for Contemporary and Digital History. The members of our team – one historian, a geographer, a linguist, and a developer – have the tasks of being a resource to our other colleagues, teaching digital history classes, and producing an open source software intended to allow historians to see inside black-box technologies and embrace reproducible methodologies. But how do we decide which functionalities to include? How do we enact our pedagogical intents? How do we distill the richness of our own disciplines and operationalize it in standardized code? How do we even communicate with each other when our very disciplinary vocabularies conflict? We invite you to join us in our ongoing conversation on how to make interdisciplinary collaboration work.

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