I think that the extensive use of technology in today’s world has made studying history as a field much more accessible. Thousands of documents, books, newspapers, etc. that without technology would only be available in select locations can now be accessed almost anywhere. Digital resources has made finding information on basically any topic much easier. These resources also allow for collaborative research projects as well. Many historians, scholars, and even students can collectively work on and contribute to historical research projects due to the use of digital resources such as websites. These websites that contain maps, historical documents, timelines, as well as progress updates on the research, not only provide a central location for the collective work of the researchers but they also are a source of readily available historical information for the general public. Technology and digital resources also make communicating, sharing, and presenting historical research much simpler as well. Presentations can be shared with other members of a field of study world wide. I think that other professional benefit similarly from the use of digital resources. Today’s advanced technology allows for communication and collaboration with people almost anywhere in the world.
I believe that the more recent fields of study such as women’s and gender, social, cultural, environmental, and ethnohistory are all very important contributions to the overall study of history. Each of these different fields provides a new yet diverse perspective that goes beyond the typical historical narrative. They take the normal stories we learn about and unpackage them to display just how complex the past really is. I also find that these fields of study make the past as well as history in general more relatable to a wider audience. Using early American history as an example, the typical narrative of the United States focus mostly on the white Protestant male. Obviously this excludes a large amount of the people living in North America. A Native American woman will not relate to the history of North America when it is soley centered on white men. However with the introduction of social history, women’s history and ethnohistory, this Native American woman may be able to personally realte to the past; the past becomes very real to the reader. However with all of these different fields the problem of being able to unify al of these differing perspectives into one overall general history. Some topics become too focused to fit into the larger narrative of history. I personally find ethnohistory very intriguing. Throughout grade school I was always taught that Natives were backwards, uncivilized, inferior humans. So being able to dig into their complex and intelligent societies is extremely interesting to me.
History has always been an interest of mine and was one of my favorite subjects in school. However, all throughout elementary, middle and high school, the same historical events were taught about all the time, using the same rhetoric and language. In addition, these major events only focused on traditional subjects such as military events, politics, and economics. As the same history is taught over and over again with no diversion into other aspects of history, many people become bored or disinterested in history in general. With “new history” refocusing and rethinking the past so many new doors for study are opened. By delving into not just the military or political aspect of an event but also the social factors such as class, race, religion, and gender, we can obtain a much broader understanding of why and how things have happened in the past. With many of my family members and close friends being in the military, I have always been intrigued with military history. However, from being at UMW and studying other aspects of history I have found I really enjoy studying the social and political factors that helped shape battles, wars, and conflicts.
Both Jennings and Parkman’s writings were shaped by their backgrounds and the eras they lived in. Born in Boston, Parkman was molded by his city, and as a Bostonian perhaps felt that his city was the center of American history and culture. As a harbor city, Boston looked to the Atlantic and mainly Europe for its economic resources and development. However, Parkman was also a child of Manifest Destiny and westward expansion, and was enthralled by the idea of a great wilderness out West for Americans to conquer. He traveled around Europe to major cities as well as western North America along the Oregon Trail. Because he was so fascinated by both Europe and the American West, his writings seem to focus on European interactions in North America with a wilderness/forest backdrop. The growing tension and paranoia of the 1850’s also played a key role in Parkman’s approach to historical thinking. During this time period, the rise of anti-slavery increased throughout the North causing much suspicion and paranoia over slave conspiracy. The world that Parkman grew up and lived in was marked by rapid change and uncertainty. This chaotic era seems to be reflected in Parkman’s historical thinking and writing as he focuses on the drama and theatrics of history he is writing and less on the actual facts of the events he is writing about.
Jennings, born and the end of World War I, takes quite a different approach to historical thinking and writing than Parkman. Born in a poor town in Pennsylvania and a veteran of World War II, Jennings has a much less idealistic view of America’s past. Perhaps his view is so different than that of Parkman’s is because Jennings did not live/write in the years before and after the American Civil War and was not paranoid with the idea of the American republic failing, which might have been a thought rolling around in the mind of Parkman. Jennings instead decided to focus on a more realistic telling of the past, which included the dirtier side of American history, including the imperialism and racism of early America; and that the founding fathers were not quite as perfect as contemporary Americans believed them to be. Jennings also lived through the conflict in Vietnam which was a time of turmoil and general distrust throughout America. Perhaps this particular conflict helped shape Jennings’ view of early American history as being imperialistic rather than centered on “liberty and justice for all.”
Popular history tends to be more generic in its scope. It panders to a wide audience and presents its information in more of a storytelling fashion, providing the history that many people want to read. Popular history tells the broad history of a subject, touching on various topics but never delving too deeply into any specific topic. However, popular history is perhaps the gateway to academic history. Academic history is much more specialized, focused, and scholarly in tone than popular history. Academic historians center their research on a narrow, specific topic that they maybe found interest in through popular history. As popular history is written for its audience, it seems that academic history is more for the one researching the history rather than for the readers. Academic historians choose not to tell a narrative story but instead take a specific event or instance, analyze and build upon it to create a better understanding of the past.