ABSTRACT: A small percentage of historians has used the Information Revolution to improve pedagogy in significant ways. The majority of historians has avoided computerization altogether, or, perhaps even worse, has used the new technology in awkward, unimaginative ways. The future of the discipline would be much brighter if historians would fully exploit the power of hypertexts and sophisticated computer modeling of virtual historical worlds. If they embrace technology, historians may again attract a popular audience, students, and faculty lines without jeopardizing scholarly or pedagogical excellence.
I hope that most readers will agree that academic history, that is to say written works and courses produced by professional historians for a scholarly or collegiate audience, is not as popular or powerful as it once was.(1) Specialists from other disciplines, especially economics, political science, and sociology, have increasingly rejected the work of trained historians in favor of their own interpretations of the past; inter- and multidisciplinary studies, area studies, government policy and other programs have lured undergraduates away from history courses and degrees. Meanwhile, popular history -- written works, websites, television series, and other media forms produced by nonacademic historians for a nonscholarly audience -- is stronger than ever.(2) Most Americans, undergraduates included, like history but dislike academic history. There are certainly many individual exceptions, but the general trend seems quite clear. Indeed, part of the current "job crisis" is a decreased demand for academic historians. That decreased demand manifests itself in faculty lines, finally vacated, that cannot, if current trends persist, be refilled.
Can we blame young adults for eschewing history classrooms, deans for not maintaining bloated faculty sizes, and 99 percent of Americans for balking at the prices of detailed, densely-written monographs? Of course not. The problem is with us, not with them. We write 300-plus boring pages about the minutia of some minor person, event, or trend, and then either completely ignore its contemporary relevance or blow that relevance out of all rational proportion. We try to cram a half dozen or so of those things, or, worse yet, 600 double-column pages of sanitized textbook generalizations, down undergraduates' throats and then wonder why students do not flock to become majors.
Computer technology can help historians to regain popularity, importance, students, and faculty positions, but only when the majority of the practitioners of the discipline use the technology to its utmost. A few historians, and scholars in other disciplines, have already established significant precedents. Entire books describing the delivery of online courses already exist.(3) Studies are emerging that suggest that hypermedia increases student interest and outcomes, including recursive reading.(4) Moreover, HCR and similar journals, like History & Computing, have provided a rich forum for discussion for well over a decade. Thus far, however, most historians have made precious little real movement towards embracing technology.(5) Some publicly question the efficacy of computerization. Others seem bent on dickering about format standards. Few, very few indeed, have spent significant amounts of time thinking about, let alone empirically studying, the pedagogical implications of computerized interactivity....
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