A Historian At Work: Why Now? What Now? How Now?

As a historian, I’m here to tell you that when it comes to “doing” history, these are interesting times. Ditto the endeavor of writing and publishing books. Interesting times, indeed!

Someone like me — a working historian who writes books — is experiencing (and sometimes being nearly swept under by) the confluence of two tides of change:

First, technology and our behavior are changing the way we experience, define, create, and consume words and ideas. The fact that you’re reading this “blog” on a computer monitor — reading electronic images that convey words and ideas — is evidence of these changes: Ten years ago, you would not have been reading me at all, and if you were, you would likley have been reading paper, not bytes.

Digitization affects my daily work as a historian. To a certain extent, it’s made my job easier; in other ways, more difficult. It’s one of the things I’ll be blogging about in this series.

Second, this sea change in behavior and technology has collided head-on with, and is being accelerated by, the cataclysmic upheaval in the global economy. (“Cataclysmic” is not too strong a word.) Publishing houses are collapsing (including the one contracted to publish my next book). Brick-and-mortar bookstores, even the giant chains, are closing their doors. The future of the newspaper as we know it (eg, a daily content delivery system based on printing presses and paper) is in doubt.

It’s hard to know what’s cause and what’s effect. Hard to know how much of the economic cataclysm is due to fundamental changes in the way we think about making, buying, selling, using “stuff.” To what extent economic chaos is accelerating the demise of old modes of thinking/doing that were already dying.

All I know for certain is that the collision of economic upheaval and the “digital” revolution (can we call it that?) are having a direct and immediate impact on my professional life.

So that’s my focus here: the real-life consequences of these changes on my life and work as a 21st-century historian and writer.

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