January 20, 2015 by acoleman34
In the readings for this week, whether in History in the Digital Age or in some of the online material, various topics are discussed and some underlying themes are detected. Issues of credibility and tradition reoccurred and each challenges historians to adapt (or not in some cases) to the ever-evolving world of digital resources.
Credibility in writing is paramount, and this is particularly true in the world of historical writing. Finding credible sources was once a task of sifting through archival materials and denoting pieces of information that offer a new or different perspective on historical topics. The advent of the digital age has changed that routine drastically. Many would claim that now, with information at our fingertips, it is much more efficient and easy to gain access to reliable information by simply typing in keyword searches into a digitized archive. Although this assessment is true, it would behoove historians not to be wary of open source, well, sources. As we have heard in many instances, encyclopedia sites like Wikipedia are hardly credible resources for historians. In fact, much of the reading touches on the use of these wiki-style resources as lacking a neutral point of view and it is difficult to disagree. As Crone and Halsey allude to, the allowance of free editing creates an opening for bias and raises the question of whether it is the job of the creator or the researcher to establish the veracity of a source. For the former more citation is needed and for the latter more corroboration. For our sake, Wikipedia and similar sites should only be used as a jumping-off point for research. Amanda Seligman writes, “When we seek out an encyclopedia article on a topic, we are (theoretically) looking for a basic introduction to the topic, an introduction that is balanced. We are not looking for the cutting edge of a scholarly debate.” In essence, these sources should be used for what they are and nothing more—A forum of ideas and basic knowledge. Credible (in the sense that we as historians need it to be), maybe not, but useable, sure.
So, how do we adapt? The prime example from the reading was to create a similar site that combines a traditional approach toward data and editing with progressive accessibility. The UK RED project does this by placing a high importance on verifying the sources of each entry and by weeding out any duplicate information. This method creates efficiency and consistency. As Turkel, Kee and Roberts suggest, historians need to remain attentive to conventional methodologies and sites like UK RED allow for that. This brand of digital history offers an interactive aspect as well. Through sites like UK RED, creators and editors work together to provide high quality information that researchers can trust to a certain extent. Like Susan expressed so eloquently in our last class, “Any idiot with a computer can put something on the internet.” It is comforting to know that some researcher friendly sites (hopefully more to come) are developing processes that minimize that idiocy.