Recording History’s Minutes: the digital junction of historians

Historians have the task of reconstructing events, moments, eras, thoughts, lives, and more. The increase of historical data becoming available on the Internet, brings one to question what will the profession of the historian look like in the future? What if every minute of history is recorded? What would be left for historians to synthesize and analyze? Will the digital-history-highway make historians obsolete?

Authors Debra DeRuyver and Jennifer Evans, in Digital Junction, (American Quarterly 58:3 (September 2006): 943-980.) takes a look at the increased availability of digital history, while also showing a glimpse of what’s available on the Internet for readers or historians. Her article allows me to ask the above questions, which aren’t necessarily addressed in the article.

Some interesting points that are made throughout the article include the importance of access for the public. Citing the fact high school students can access collections otherwise off limits. Does this assist professors, historians, and other public venues in making history more appealing, less boring as it is still characterized?

Private collectors can now put collections on-line. This is a bonus for historians and the public to have access to otherwise lost information.

One question not discussed is the possibility of collections being censored. If there is limited time and funds to put archives/information on-line, will the research be incomplete, or will it be condensed and specific, leading with a marketing premise? For instance, the article mentions the collection of the Salem Witch Trials, (http://etext/virginia.edu/salem/witchcraft), is this a complete collection, or one that is geared and marketed to a certain end? I see a future where every tidbit of life is recorded, or that only certain information becomes accessible, leading to less growth in the historic field. If all the information is contained online and everyone has access will it limit historians ability to make new claims or new hypotheses?

Funding is another issue, which Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig in their introduction to Digital History (Univ of Penn: 2006) brings up. If websites like the History Channel have funding and can entertain, while providing history, how will this effect other non-funded sites? Further, who owns the History Channel? General Electric, who also makes plastics and aircraft. (http://www.cjr.org/resources/index.php?c=newscorp or http://la.indymedia.org/news/2003/04/47530.php) Which leads to the ethical reporting of history. History through the History Channel may be read through the lens of its corporate parents and tote a political and pro-war message, maybe not. It’s like Mcgraw-Hill Companies who make history textbooks and also have financial profits in the war in Iraq. Professors or historians using Mcgraw-Hill texts not only risk biased history, but support the current war. (http://www.mcgraw-hill.com/). Who will write our history and put it on the net and how will history be altered if corporations are allowed to run it?

Digital Junction is worth the read, for while it brings up a multitude of important questions, it also serves as a guide to some fabulous websites and historians doing history. The task will be how to attract visitors and to make money to support the project and future ones.

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~ by disembodiedspirit on September 13, 2008.

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