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My Adventures in blogging, digital and Public History

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Historical Research in the Digital Realm

In his interview with Fox news, Allen Renear describes the Internet as a ."revolutionary historical event". He goes on to say that we basically have a tool that fundamentally affects how we think, communicate and experience our world. What then are the implications of this tool for teaching and learning history and how do we configure the net in such a away that it is most useful for this purpose?

If we are going to use the Internet to do history, we first have to think about what makes good digital history. For me I always return to the consideration of‘audience’. Who will this web history be for? Who will be reading it, watching it, interacting with it? The answers to these questions should determine the content and the layout for the page or site.

The content also has to be appropriate to the medium If you are putting up a museum website or writing history for the net, you need to be aware of the restrictions of the medium. Smaller chunks of text and some visual representations on each page seem to be the favoured style as many of my classmates in Digital History will agree.

Does the average high- school history student want to read a 259 page monograph online? Probably not. Does this person want to look at a site that is a complementary combination of text and visuals? I would suggest that this is the approach that will engage students who access history on the web. Students want to ‘do’ history. They want to be engaged because fundamentally they are interested in discovery. Sites that offer an interactive approach are a good hook for many users who will then, hopefully, engage in active learning of history and historical research.

I am not saying there is not a place for lengthy online historiography, but if you are wanting to engage a younger audience in the study of history, digital history must be as engaing as utube, online gaming and the host of other sites which have become mainstays for the next generation. Of course access to historical information and as Levesque describes it, decentralization of knowledge [1], are fundamental if the web is to become important in teaching hisory. There must be digitization and open access to archival collections, historical journals, and museum collections.

I go back to Manan Ahmed’s thoughts in The Polyglot Manifesto regarding the idea of historians as interpreters. If the role of the public historian is to facilitate an understanding of history - “interpret” history for the public- then I think you have to ‘speak the language of that public.’ If people are accessing information through the internet and virtual sources more and more , historians need to become part of that world or risk losing relevance in the public sphere.

Combining the ideas of understanding and access, there must be some discussion of mark up languages. Mark up of digital text is key if historical research on the net is to be wholly beneficial to the researcher. Admittedly, I don’t have the best grasp of the technicalities of this process, but I do see that effective mark up will allow historians , whether they be students or academics to find more meaning in internet texts and allow them to structure their inquiries so that they are getting the most from a particular document or search. Mark up languages will allow individuals to search in different ways, making history in the digital realm a stronger resource for researchers.

1. Stéphane Levesque. “Discovering the Past: Engaging Canadian Students in Digital History,” Canadian Social Studies 40, no. 1 (Summer 2006).

2 Comments:

Blogger Actos said...

nice post, it's really interesting for me today, thx

3:41 PM  
Blogger Actos said...

nice post, it's really interesting for me today, thx

3:41 PM  

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