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Week 4: Writing History 2.0


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.


  1. kdaly3 says:

    I agree that collaboration is vital to historical discourse, especially within public history. Thinking of the many public history projects we have all undertaken, digital or not, collaboration is at the heart of every issue. Your thoughts on public memory and the dissemination of these memories is of particular interest. I think digital resources have allowed people to open up about their experiences and ideas more than ever and while, as always, one must proceed with caution, the overarching ideals are vastly important to scholarship within the realm of public history. On the other hand, along with issues of credibility, I think a lot of useful information can get drowned out in the noise of the web, but I think having the information available is better than not having access to it.

  2. nsakas1 says:

    I also agree Austin that what makes public history satisfying is the element of collaboration that allows for the creation of history to be wrestled from the stronghold academia has had on it, and given to individuals and communities that have histories equally important to the overall historical narrative. This idea is what attracts me to oral history and the underlying premise of Story Corps. These endeavors allow any person to contribute their personal histories, creating a more comprehensive picture. I also think your idea of education in the uses of online resources in addition to analog research skills has merit. A new generation of researchers with online research skills would help to dispel some of the trepidations many have about the use of the Web for historical research.

  3. chuber1 says:

    Austin, you are right that the medium of the internet to speed up our ability to collect information about the past. You also wisely identify that it is a double edged sword. I think you are right to suggest that we begin to teach critical digital research skill to help combat the misinformation that these less than reliable sites present.

  4. jeldredge1 says:

    Yes, I think the most important thing is to teach how to critically evaluate online sources and research from the get-go. I like the idea, I forget which article it was from, of teachers asking students to bring in sources on a topic, and then discuss their ‘authenticity’, potential bias, and authorship. From elementary school, even. This is a lifelong skill that can be utilized through all levels of forms leaning, as well as everyday use of the Internet. How many internet hoaxes would be stopped in their tracks if everyone understood more about critical evaluation of sources? I find this especially prescient with all the anti-vaccination posts across social media these days. People will continue to post whatever they want on the web, so the only way to improve reliability is to educate as many consumers as possible how to critically filter the information they take in.

  5. jjackson39 says:

    I definitely agree with your assessment on how we should teach digital research skills. I remember being very young and still being taught how to properly use card catalogs to find books in the library. The empowerment of knowing for a fact that you can track down the information you want and not likely miss anything vital because you know how to scour the internet in a systematic way will only enhance future researchers.

  6. Adina Langer says:

    Austin, I appreciate your thoughts on the importance of collaboration and on the special nature of instantaneous historical collecting on the Web. You write that “The Internet being instantaneous is the facet that makes these online repositories so incredible…. “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.” Yet, do you think that “the public” is actually writing historical narrative, or are they still mostly aggregating information for a scholar to write a narrative about in the future? What role does the passage of time play in the crafting of historical narrative?

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