Diacronie. Studi di Storia Contemporanea (Jun 2012)

Has the Historian’s craft gone digital? Some observations from France

  • Franziska Heimburger is a PhD student at the EHESS Paris working under the joint supervision of Christophe Prochasson (EHESS Paris) and John Horne (Trinity College Dublin). Her thesis, Language questions in the Allied coalition on the Western Front during the First World War, focuses on military interpreters and, more generally, on languages in Allied coalition warfare during the First World War. She held a French government “allocation de recherche” from 2008 to 2011 and she is currently Attaché Temporaire d’Enseignement et Recherche at the EHESS. The multidisciplinary approach leading her research allowed her to intervene in various international conferences on history and humanities, such as the International Society for First World War Studies 6th Biennial Conference (Innsbruck, 2011). Among her forthcoming publications: Fighting Together: Language Issues in the Military Coordination of First World War Allied Coalition Warfare, in Languages at War. Policies and Practices of Language Contacts in Conflict, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmilliman.,
  • Émilien Ruiz is a PhD student in Contemporary History at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS). His thesis Trop de fonctionnaires? La question des effectifs de l’État dans la France du XXe siècle focuses on different aspects of the evolution of government officials in France from 1880 to 1980. He taught methodology of historical research, contemporary history and informatics for history at the EHESS at the Paris Diderot University. From 2012 he works as assistant of Professor Paul-André Rosental at the Institut of Political Sciences of Paris (URL: < http://www.sciencespo.fr/ >). He cofounded – with Franziska Heimburger – “La Boite à Outils des Historiens” (URL: < http://www.boiteaoutils.info/ >), a blog on informatics’ tools for history and maintains the blog “Devenir historien-ne” (URL: < http://devhist.hypotheses.org/ >), about methods of historical research and historiography. Among his recent publications: «Compter: l’invention de la statistique des fonctionnaires en France (années 1890-1930)», in BEZES, Philippe, JOIN-LAMBERT, Odile (dir.), «Comment se font les administrations», in Sociologie du Travail, 52, 2/2010, pp. 212-233.

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 4, no. 2
pp. 1 – 24


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Since the end of the 1980s the historiographical context has changed considerably. Over the course of the last ten years, we have reached the “digital age” and computers as well as resources available via the Internet have become indispensable tools for all researchers. Be it for the stage of documentation or for actual writing, we are now living and working in a context where historians can no longer completely refuse all IT tools. As long as there are no solid, durable, large-scale training efforts to equip all historians with the skills to use the new and old IT tools, their potential is necessarily limited. While there have been studies on “researchers” in general and also on political scientists in particular, there has, to our knowledge, been no scientific study which would allow us to reach conclusions on the use of IT tools and digital resources by French historians. It is thus difficult to reach conclusions on a larger scale and we have decided to base our analysis on our own experience in order to consider what could be the transformations of the historian’s craft in the digital age. We will thus proceed first to a series of conclusions based on our activities in mediation (teaching and blogging), before proposing a typology of the principal evolutions. We will conclude with a certain number of propositions as far as training of historians is concerned.