Two Humanists Exploring Together: or, a View from the Weeds

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Rechtsgeschichte - Legal History





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This essay is the product of a partnership between two professional historians interested in the possibilities of digital tools for furthering humanistic inquiry. Nystrom is a historian of technology with a personal history involving open-source software and a keen appreciation for how much fun it can be to tackle old problems with new sources and methods. Tanenhaus is a legal historian, who has been searching for methods to understand legislative borrowing. Our partnership is unusual on several fronts. Our shared field of history generally involves a lone practitioner working long hours in solitary confinement on his or her book. Digital history and digital humanities more frequently feature professional teams or partnerships attacking problems; however, these are often »patronage« or »client service« relationships because the digital historian conceives of the project and then pays experts to implement the technical bits. Other such partnerships involve »student/mentor« relationships, which imply a greater learning component for the student doing the work but are still based on an unequal relationship. By contrast, our partnership is built upon a collaborative framework motivated by an egalitarian ethos. Along the trail of inquiry, we spot different kinds of things. We take turns following each other into the scholarly weeds, and when we come to forks in the road, we discuss possible courses of action with reference to our shared professional culture and ethics. The cumulative result is a dynamically evolving historical research project with the digital humanities at its center but not bearing the full weight of our analytical expectations.

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