The Historian’s Toolbox: RSS

In this course, we will be exploring recent work in digital history. But as you will soon discover, that field is incredibly broad and wide-ranging, especially if you define “digital history” (as we will) as work that seeks to use computers and digital media either to conduct historical research or to communicate its results.

Keeping up with a field this large may seem like it requires an historian to Research 24/7, as William J. Turkel puts it. Fortunately, however, there are ways to keep tabs on what’s being said by digital historians even while you’re sleeping and doing non-scholarly things. And it all happens, as Turkel explains, through the magic of RSS.

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a technology that allows you to subscribe to feeds of online information that are tailored to your interests. If you have a Google Account, you already have access to a good RSS feed reader. To make it work for you, simply subscribe to feeds like Digital Humanities Now or the personal blogs of individual digital historians like our speakers. You can usually tell that a page has an RSS feed by looking for a little symbol like the ones that appear above the sidebars on this page.

RSS is also the technology that I’ve used to generate the lists of recent tweets and links that you see on the right. To make the sidebar to the far left, I used a WordPress Widget for RSS and pointed at this URL:

That feed pulls any tweets that contain the words “twitterstorians” or “ricedh” (our hashtag for the course) into the sidebar of this site. Similarly, the sidebar labeled “Recent Pins” is generated from the RSS feed for this page, which contains all links saved on Pinboard with the tag “digitalhistory.” The Pinboard How To page explains how you can turn virtually any Pinboard page into an RSS feed. The feed I used looks like this:

Still a little lost? Check out this Gentle Introduction on RSS. Then, try this on for an assignment: can you figure out how to make a tweet or link appear on this homepage using your own Pinboard or Twitter account?

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