January 20, 2015 by jjackson39
It is commonly argued by many of the best and brightest among us that we live in a new golden age of learning due to our ability to acquire and disseminate information at speeds which would seem mind-bending to previous generations. While these advancements are undoubtedly impressive and quite likely to lead to discoveries we cannot yet imagine, the growing pains of adapting to this new status quo are equally unknown. Retaining some practices and thought patterns as way points for us will aid us in not losing the beneficial skills researchers have gained over centuries of study.
Sandle makes a poignant observation in Chapter 7 of History of the Digital Age when suggesting the idea that we can look at our experiences with history and research through the lens of, ‘the past as a foreign country’. This presents the idea that historians as ‘tourists’ can affect no change on historical events and can simply observe and report back their findings. With the exponentially expanding nature of digital research resources at the present period the argument can be made that this relationship has fundamentally changed to one of an explorer who is not restricted to the general ‘tourist traps’ for information and research when ‘visiting’ a topic of interest. These new found sources of information. as well as the variety of new ways that items such as maps, photos and oral histories can be utilized for academic purposes presents challenges to traditional methods of selecting sources and presenting a solid narrative that have not been faced in times past.
Turkel, Kee and Roberts seem to have parallel thinking on this subject when they discuss in Chapter 3 the exciting possibilities, as well as the pitfalls of the Pandora’s box of sources that are now at the beck and call of any researcher, professional or otherwise. I was personally impressed with the balance of opinions in this chapter and despite my respectable tech savviness, learned several new research tricks I’ll likely implement in the near future. DevonThink in particular is a great example of a highly useful tool that like many of the new technologies available to us, can at times be overused, obscuring a researcher from forming fully fleshed out independent ideas.
Seligman in his chapter on Wikipedia and the usefulness of it as a teaching tool is quick to praise its broad range of uses to the history student and while skeptical at first, I have been swayed to his side on this matter. Most importantly I appreciated how he emphasized students inability to determine where or even if arguments existed or were being made on Wikipedia entries. He notes that all tertiary sources feature a subtle level of argument simply based on what is presented as important enough to warrant examination, explanation and discussion in the encyclopedia or presented online in an entry.
What proves to be the most disconcerting issue in regards to entry editing is how an individual can now easily find the sources necessary to back up nearly any side of an argument that they feel is the truest presentation of a topic. Here again we see the impact of the sheer volume of information we are now faced with being used as reason to edit a Wikipedia topic, based largely on the whims of those dedicated enough to see those changes remain on a given page.