GBS: American Historical Association Panel

The recent annual meeting of the American Historical Association featured a panel on Google Books. Dan Cohen spoke more in favor and Paul Duguid more against; they were joined by Brandon Badger from Google.

Here’s the Inside Higher Ed story; here are videos of Cohen and Duguid. Cohen has posted his remarks. Here’s a sample:

Is Google good for history? Of course it is. We historians are searchers and sifters of evidence. Google is probably the most powerful tool in human history for doing just that. It has constructed a deceptively simple way to scan billions of documents instantaneously, and it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars of its own money to allow us to read millions of books in our pajamas. Good? How about Great? …

Google is also good for history in that it challenges age-old assumptions about the way we have done history. Before the dawn of massive digitization projects and their equally important indices, we necessarily had to pick and choose from a sea of analog documents. All of that searching and sifting we did, and the particular documents and evidence we chose to write on, were—let’s admit it—prone to many errors. Read it all, we were told in graduate school. But who ever does? We sift through large archives based on intuition; occasionally we even find important evidence by sheer luck. We have sometimes made mountains out of molehills because, well, we only have time to sift through molehills, not mountains. Regardless of our technique, we always leave something out; in an analog world we have rarely been comprehensive.