February 3, 2015 by jeldredge1
After reading the rest of Roy Rosenzweig’s Clio Wired, and Chapter 2 of History in the Digital Age written by Luke Tredinnick, I am still cautiously optimistic about the opportunities that the digital age and the web have and will offer for historians and the members of the public interested in history. Time has proved that many of the extreme prognostications for the future of history on the web have failed to come true, both positive and negative. The web has neither completely revolutionized the way that history is practiced, nor has it been overrun by capitalist motivators to the extreme of snatching the creation and consumption of historic sources out of the greater public’s hands.
Instead, the occurrence of important events like 9/11 during the digital age has allowed for a “democratization of history,” as Tredinnick categorizes, as anyone can capture and contribute materials in real time that will be useful and enlightening for historic research in the future. I agree that this “participatory mode” is one of the most promising aspects of the web for the broadening of the understanding of history as experienced by a much broader swath of the human population than ever before. Such immediate, relatively un-filtered reactions and chronicles of events will also prove an important resource for scholars to study and analyze the changing opinions of various factions and popular and fringe interpretations to events over time.
In reading the histories of computer technology and the creation of the Internet in Clio Wired, it is obvious that the capacities of search engines and the availability of primary and secondary sources of history have certainly improved since the publication of the book. Certainly, there is a continuing need to exercise caution and teach web novices how to discern the authenticity of sources. The web still calls for an information caveat like “buyer beware.”
Still, the wide open aspect of the net also brings the beneficial aspect that the public can freely publish their own collections and interpretations of history, and I do see this as more of an overall benefit to the discipline. True, this opens consumers up to the opinions of crackpots, etc., but here again is where the importance of understanding how to evaluate sources is essential. The web has also become more democratic in its ability to educate and simplify the ability of people to create their own pages and add innovative, new effects and content to their pages. Many younger students who read Rosenzweig’s book today would hardly recognize the web page layouts as seen on p. 177. Archives now have the ability to present books and other written sources and holdings as visually similar to the physical object; viewers can see the waterspots, ragged edges and even ‘flip’ the page like they are holding the real book. My point is that the technology of today and the future can increasingly mimic the traditional mediums of historic research while also creating new innovations for collaboration, interpretation, and dissemination of history.
One aspect of digital history that I personally plan to utilize is outlined in Chapter 8 of Clio Wired, “Collecting History Online.” In my future work with Oakland Cemetery, I plan to create a page on Oakland’s website that will outline and facilitate a project to collect accounts and materials about our residents. Many people still send in handwritten family histories, pictures and newspaper clippings through the mail to our offices. I believe that a web presence specifically asking and advertising for submissions would greatly broaden our historic resources. I appreciated some of the helpful and practical advice that the authors offered to historians who want to implement such a project.
A final aspect that was covered repeatedly in this weeks’s readings concerns the need to make more primary and secondary works of history free to the public. I do agree that too much scholarship and source material is kept behind gateways, and this can only prohibit the promising democratization of history for the present and future. As the chapter outlined, there are many thorny aspects of making all scholarship free, but I think that self-archiving by authors is an important first step. If I have found that a paper I want to read is stuck behind a pay gateway, I next look for the author’s own or university page to see if they have a free copy there. I would, myself self-archive any published works I author or co-author whenever possible. I have found sites like Academia.edu are also very useful for searching and collecting scholarly work.