Digital tools have made it easier for educators to teach history and help their audiences engage with the past. The use of digital media has various pros and cons that have forever changed how we educate the public and how both students and scholars engage with the past. Since the creation and improvement of the internet, students can access thousands of terabytes of information on virtually any subject that they want. From Hathi Trust and Internet Archive to Google Books and various digital archives, students can read and analyze sources from across the globe from their home, apartment, dorm room, or University without having to travel to an archive or library.

The problem with the vast amount of digital sources that we can find online is that it does not allow students to practice sorting through sources and analyze them to discern what sources are the most valuable to their project, apart from using an online search engine or online database. The mountain of information students are confronted with does not allow them to identify properly what sources are useful and which to skip and focus on others. Digital tools allow for access to vast amounts of information but usually do not require the discipline gained with traveling to physical archives or libraries and physically sifting through boxes of primary sources before they find what they are looking for to make their argument. Digital tools, websites, and digital encyclopedias among other vast collections of digital sources have given students a lot of credible information; but having that information at their fingertips does not force them to ask critical historical questions such as when was a particular source created and who created it? The absence of that valuable skill and experience prevents students from doing real historical work.

The uses of digital tools have made it easier to find information but it could lead to false conclusions about past historical events. Historian scholars have a moral duty to carefully analyze their sources and identify what sources are credible, their level of credibility, and preconceived biases of the source’s author. Digital tools allow for students to access vast amounts of credible information but also create fraudulent information or falsely identify false information as truth. Wikipedia is an example of digital tools as a tertiary source to locate primary and secondary sources. Nevertheless, Wikipedia is not a credible source to cite. Digital tools can be used to doctor artifacts such as photographs, letters, or audio files among other sources. If students do not possess the discipline of sifting through sources the old-fashioned way, they may believe that doctored sources represent true historical events.

Historian Sam Wineburg wrote, “Why Historical Thinking is not about history” and argued that historical thinking skills can be applied to analyzing websites using the internet. Scholars need to teach students how to ask historical questions when they critically analyze sources. The main problem with the vast amount of digital tools is that students do not have to do much heavy lifting to obtain the sources so they are not asking key historical and analytical questions to discern what sources are credible and relevant to answer specific historical questions. If students do not ask these questions, then they encounter the danger of believing that anything is fact and taking anything they read like truth.

Digital tools allow students and scholars with new methods to engage with the past but it requires a new level of discipline and analysis to discern fact from fiction and think critically about the past.



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