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Generating Meaning in a Sea of Information

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February 18, 2015 by cdavis132

I found this week’s reading quite interesting. Not having much experience with transcribing, I found, Chapter four of “A Guide to Documentary Editing” very useful. Though at times, it was hard to understand given my lack of knowledge, I thought that the reading provide a useful overview of the ins and outs of the editing process.

However this is not the text I want to focus on for the purpose of this particular post. “Creating Meaning in a Sea of Information,” I thought presented a very interesting concept. The discussion early on in the text about how primary documents and interpretation support one another, seemed odd at first, because it seems like this would be a given. However, as the authors point out, many times the primary sources are inaccessible to the general public. It seems to be the trend that the historian writing on the web will pull from primary sources for their interpretation, and while they may cite the source, there is still no way for the reader to obtain a copy of it. With this being the case, as historians, it is easy for us to forget that the reader is not interacting with the primary sources, just our interpretation.

What limitations does this put on the reader and the knowledge he or she can gain? First and foremost it means that they are unable to come to their own conclusion and interpretation of the sources.

The authors are writing about two different projects, each using the “document archive” format. This format is design so that the reader can engage with both the primary sources as well as a historical interpretation of those sources. The key point here, though, is that they are engaging with the primary source. Giving the reader access to the primary source they are then able to generate new knowledge for themselves. Further more this format is constructed with a question at the forefront. The authors will pose a question, gather sources addressing that question and then provide an interpretative essay as an additional source, rather than making it topical, they are able to use more resources. They are also working toward a goal of answering the question setting it up this way, rather than simply dictating a history. This format got me to thinking about my own work as a blog writer, I have, like the majority of us writing on the web, are not publishing the primary sources along side our interpretation. As the authors point out for this format to be successful, you have to have both the time and the funding available, and unfortunately for myself as many other it simply isn’t possible.

The authors conclude that by setting up their projects in this particular manner they are able to construct a more meaningful understanding “in a sea of information.” This relates to previous discussions on authority and how to use a digital medium for interpretation. As we have noted before the internet can be a great resource, but many times there are too many voices or too much information, making the research process confusing and overwhelming. Using this format however, not only are the authors generating new knowledge, they are also providing an authoritative voice on the web while allowing for the reader to conclude their own interpretation by giving the access to the primary sources.


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