A Digital History Lab at the University of Zurich?

The University of Zurich is developing a Digital Society Initiative (DSI) to engage with the impact of digital technology that should be studied historically. Monika Dommann, Martin Dusinberre and Gesine Krüger therefore plan to establish a History Lab within this Initiative. They argue that digital history should have to play a key role there because Big Data, surveillance, privacy, access rights and the circulation of cultural artefacts and other digitally mediated social interaction demand a deep historical understanding. Find here a short cut of the concept.

Digital technologies profoundly transform research environments and teaching methods of history as a discipline. They shape a new ecosystem that challenges traditional norms of knowledge formation. New Media bring us historians to revise and rethink our methods of analysis and presentation of the research results.

In the last two decades, major digitization projects have led to key source collections and in some cases entire archives being made accessible online; examples: Historic American Newspapers of the Library of Congress or the Trove Help Center that assist clients to discover resources in Australia. There could be mentioned also Swiss examples like the collection of Federal Gazettes of Switzerland.

Digitization and new search engines allow historians to mine thousands of documents, and thus to develop new types of (meta-) analyses. At the same time, digital platforms enable them to present the results of their research projects in a practical and convient way. But there is more: Geographic Information System (GIS) now allow to visualize historical events and places. GIS offers historians new perspectives on understanding topics as for instance the acient Roman World in ORBIS, the Standford Geospatial Network Model.

The rapid growth of websites and online tools transforme the teaching and learning landscape of history (e.g. Guido Koller, Geschichte digital – Historische Welten neu vermessen, 2016). The historian’s changing toolkit and new forms of narrative transfer history into a discipline that is now in a more direct contact with the general public than before.

The Department of History’s proposed Digital History Lab will deal with the historical emergence and evolution of digital societies. It will analyse a history of digital data, including its cultural and epistemological dimensions. So, the Lab will focus for research, teaching and engagement activities, offering scholars a space in which to reflect on and practice history in the digital age.


Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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