February 3, 2015 by acoleman34
One of the central tenants of Rosenzweig’s thought that runs throughout each of the essays is praise of the decentralization of knowledge present through the Internet. “Unlike television,” Rosenzweig claims, “the Web allows alternative or contrarian viewpoints to flower, and it encourages users to compose their own narratives of the past” (Rosenzweig, 178) He consistently pushes for a public space, a space accessible to all – a space that could possibly undermine the institutional structure of history in its currently scholarly state and leave nothing in its place.
As we have discussed, credibility becomes an issue with open source editing and with free range writing in general but the digital age is producing a high potential for collaboration. Historical collaboration is one of my favorite themes in public history. It allows the common man or woman to inject their memory into the historical narrative of time. In the “Collecting History Online” chapter of Clio Wired, Rosenzweig alludes to the interaction between communities that share a range of memories, from family histories to folklore to personal artifacts, and institutions dedicated to the diffusion of knowledge. These pairings are the sledgehammers that break down the cloistered walls of academia. Useful information isn’t just in the halls of universities or in the books released by their printing presses or even strewn across millions of websites, but where communities of people can contribute to and benefit from history as a whole. A great example of this brand of collaboration is the “Stories of September 11th” site. Here people are encouraged to share their experience on a platform dedicated to the history and memory of that day. The resulting accumulations of stories are insightful and provide a history for and by the public that would not have been possible 25 years ago. These sites write history as it happens or immediately following. In a manner of speaking, it is historical writing 2.0.
The Internet being instantaneous is the facet that makes these online repositories so incredible. Had an event such as 9/11 occurred 25 years ago, perhaps an archive would have collected all the memorabilia and some oral history interviews but it would still take a researcher the time to gather all the data and build a narrative. Now, because memories and histories are so readily available and produced online, the public have given themselves as much authority to the creation of history as scholarship has in the past. The availability of information and source material on the Internet is mounting an unrelenting attack on the print academic publishing industry. So, I must ask, is that a good thing? Well, yes and no. Yes, it is a good thing because it only increases the diffusion of knowledge and, No, it is not a good thing because it raises issues of credibility. Unmonitored plagiarism throughout the Web and the inundation of advertising are factors contributing to the untrustworthiness of some Internet sites but, as we have discussed before, maybe it is time to begin teaching Web research skills (as we do with analog) at an early age to help prevent or decelerate the prevalence of such sites. It is pretty exciting stuff when you think about it but, although I am optimistic, it is still wise to remain cautious and conscientious when referring to some sites.