History education in the digital age: a critical perspective

Frédéric Clavert
C2DH, University of Luxembourg
/ @inactinique@mastodon.social

7 March 2023

Who am I?

international history

digital humanities / digital history

(digital) memory studies

Setting the scene

history in an era of networks, data and cognitive delegation

History as a discipline and historian evolve within a precise social, political, technological context.

History, computing and datafication:
an old challenge

The rise of computing, networks and data since 1945.


  • More than digitization
  • The transformation of digitized (and born digital) material into data that can be computed and hence analysed
  • The ideology that those data can represent better the society (or the past) than analog (traditional) interpretations

Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor, and Kenneth Cukier. Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

At the root of datafication:
(personal) computer and networks

  • 1980s: rise of personal computing
  • 1990s: internet / web
  • 2000s: social media / platformization of the web (i.e. big data)
  • 2010s: AI (Machine/deep learning)

History and cognitive delegation

  • Some historians seized those evolutions from the very beginning
  • Emergence of Digital Humanities and Digital History since the mid-2000s
  • Many projects that uses AI


The difficult question of the historian’s computing skills (French case)

  • End of the 1970s: French Medievists rise the question of teaching computing in History
  • 1986: Jean-Philippe Genet: Genet, Jean-Philippe. ‘Histoire, Informatique, Mesure’. Histoire & Mesure, 1(1), 1986.
  • 1993: Genet, Jean-Philippe. ‘La Formation Informatique Des Historiens En France: Une Urgence’. Mémoire Vive, no. 9.
  • 2011: Ruiz, Émilien, and Franziska Heimburger. ‘Faire de l’histoire à l’ère Numérique : Retours d’expériences’. Revue d’histoire Moderne et Contemporaine, n° 58-4bis.
  • 2019: dhiparis. ‘Enseigner le numérique aux historien·ne·s – perspectives internationales #dhiha8’. Digital Humanities à l’Institut historique allemand.

for non-French examples:

  • Salmi, Hannu. What Is Digital History? Polity, 2020.

The rise of Digital History?

Historian looking at a see of data.

The datafication of History

Mass digitization of primary (and secondary) sources + cheap computing + network

  • Transition from primary sources to dataset
  • The emergence of the big data of the past

Platformization of the web

  • The emergence of new primary sources (ex: social media)

New challenges: Preservation

New challenges: the Democratization of history?

  • Democratization through accessibility
  • No democratization of methodology

New challenges: reading

Moretti, Franco. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. Verso, 2007.

Towards scalable reading.

Clavert, Frédéric, and Andreas Fickers. ‘On Pyramids, Prisms, and Scalable Reading’. Journal of Digital History, no. jdh001, 2021.

Revisiting old primary sources
through digitization

The case of digitized Newspapers

  • Newspapers as the most digitized kind of primary sources
  • Renewal of media history
  • Numerous projects based on digitised newspapers (= form of datafication)
    • Oceanic Exchanges, Numapress, Impresso, NewsEye…

The Impresso Project

Swiss project (EPFL, Université de Lausanne, University of Zürich) with Luxemburgish partnership (C2DH)

Bunout, Estelle, et al., eds. Digitised Newspapers – A New Eldorado for Historians? Tools, Methodology, Epistemology, and the Changing Practices of Writing History in the Context of Historical Newspapers Mass Digitization. De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2022.

Taking into account the datafication phenomenon