Faculty Pub Night with Nigel Raab: What You Missed

Today’s post was written by library student ambassador America Negrete. America is a second-year Marketing major with a strong interest in Accounting. She works at two separate departments in the library and loves every bit! She also enjoys binging shows on Netflix and pulling all-nighters to read Rick Riordan’s novels.

Students, faculty, and staff poured into the library for the semester’s final Faculty Pub Night. History professor Nigel Raab, in conversation with librarian John Jackson, discussed one of his recent publications: Who Is the Historian?

Before the event began, attendees of previous Faculty Pub Nights took note of the different format for the night’s event. Faculty usually stand at a lectern and present their story; however, Raab and Jackson took a different approach. Together, they captivated the audience.

So, who is the historian? Raab’s book introduces the reader to the real historian—not the one who’s stuck in an office, but the one who travels and adventures in order to access the materials he/she seeks.

A large portion of the night was focused on the digitization of objects and the challenges that arise for historians. Raab commented that often when searching for a digital resource, results are limited by algorithms, which translates into less exhaustive research. He sadly added that digitization and the easier access to certain resources is putting historians back in the office. In fact, many historians work with “born digital” objects; therefore, some of the adventure that is being a historian is lost.

However, many objects simply cannot be digitized. For example, a woven poem like the one at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin would be impossible to digitize. Taking apart a multifaceted piece and restoring it would prove difficult. But even if items like this could be digitized without causing damage, one would not be observing the piece as it was meant to be observed. Also, the emotion of beholding the physical item would be lost upon the researcher. Jackson brought up that sometimes in the digitization process, the meaning of the object itself is destroyed. An LMU faculty member in the audience countered this claim by proposing that sometimes something is gained, for example, marginalia that otherwise would be illegible.

Near the end of the conversation, Jackson commented that history is the context within which you want to see the world. While a profession in history could take one to an office in a university, it could also take one on adventures to many other places like it does for Raab. In addition, Raab’s parting thought was that he hopes that those who attended his presentation feel more comfortable asking questions in any situation and about all things.

History lovers and those interested in the digitization of resources definitely missed out on the night’s events. The clapping that ensued Raab’s conclusion is proof that everyone in attendance was fascinated with his thoughts and ideas. Overwhelmingly, the audience loved the relaxed, conversational format of the night. One guest commented that he “preferred learning [that] way about anything.” The conversation between our librarian and the professor was easy to follow and made the night all the more enjoyable.

Thank you, America, for sharing your perspective with us!

America Negrete