Like many academics this year, my travel budget has been cut, so I did not attend the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in San Diego, CA. Instead, I followed conference attendees on Twitter, using #AHA2010 to find tweets by those whom I don’t regularly follow. Many of the posts involved comments and retweets of comments on Dan Cohen’s well-received talk, “Is Google Good for Historians?” [short answer: "yes"] It was also nice to hear who won the Cliopatra awards and where all the #twitterstorians were meeting for drinks. In the end, though, #AHA2010 was a disappointment. Coverage of the conference was far more thorough at History News Network. So much for micro-blogging taking over blogs.
Cohen summed up with this tweet: ” So my sense is that the number of historians on Twitter at #aha2010 was roughly 0.1%. Something to think about.” He chalked this up partly to lack of wi-fi access in conference hotels (guess the 3G network for iPhones isn’t great in San Diego), but also the lack of a critical mass of historians on Twitter. @parezcoydigo put it another way:
“% of colleagues/others at History Cof that made fun of me for Twitter the past 3 days: approx. 90%”
So, in other words, most historians don’t use Twitter, haven’t heard of it, or if they have, make fun of those who use it. [even Dan Cohen's colleague Mills Kelly has said "no thank you" to Twitter for now].
Why is this? I can only guess but based on my experience with my colleagues, many historians have yet to be convinced that new media is useful to their work as historians. I’m by no means a genius when it comes to digital history but the mere fact that I know something about it and teach a graduate course on the subject puts me way ahead of my colleagues. [Example: me: "hey folks, instead of emailing back and forth, let's start a wiki for project X." reply: "what the heck is a wiki? I don't have time to learn that. I'd rather stick with what I know."]
Time is the critical issue here — we don’t have enough of it, and what little we have is spent trying to keep on top of our regular work. There also doesn’t seem to be that many opportunities for those new to digital history to get help from those with more experience and expertise. I was fortunate enough to get a grant to attend one of the digital history workshops at the Center for History and New Media a few summers ago. However, the Center is no longer running this program, instead opting for a smaller and more exclusive THATcamp. I’ve searched in vain for other conferences that are somewhere in between the original workshop for beginners and those that seem designed for those who already know what they’re doing. If I’m missing something, someone out there please let me know.
added later: Yes, I know about the #PDP2010 conference at Yale. I’m looking for something hands-on so I can upgrade my skills.