Public History In Review

The internet has changed us. The way we operate business, communicate with friends and family, view political activism, and basically everything else in our lives. That being said, why shouldn’t Historians embrace it as well? With the ease of access gained form the internet Historians don’t need to travel all around the world to be able to view and use historical primary sources for their research. This itself is a massive deal, it makes the study of history accessible to a widening population, instead of a select few. Another advantage gained is that it allows museums to interact with the public that they’re catering to, promoting themselves and their exhibits, as well as attempting to gain the support of people who would not normally go visit a museum, but are now able to interact with the staff who develop exhibits that the general public are now interested in visiting.

With the massive Spacial History Project, even they way history is viewed is starting to change, with it being seen as a living thing impacted by the people who helped to shape and create it, instead of as a chronological line of cause and effect. Though there are a few bumps in the road, with the expenses of putting sources into digital for mat, as well as the clunkiness of many historical database sites, I truly hope that this does not discourage Historical scholars from reaching out and interacting with the digital medium. The internet is still changing and adapting, and hopefully we are able to help shape the way it is formed around the historical discipline, and we do not reject it, leaving it and becoming history ourselves.

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Frustrations

Working on my Public History Project. I’m now more intimately aware with the development of Landers, Frary, & Clark’s Universal Coffee Percolator then perhaps any one person need be. Just trying to figure out what to do with this information now and coming to the frightening conclusion that I have not a clue.

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Dying of Thrist in an Ocean of Knowledge

Dan Cohen is revisited this week, though instead of a rallying cry to produce more content online as he did in his blog post advocating for more historical scholars to create blogs of their own, which I discussed here, he is now commenting on the seemingly over abundance of information that can not be easily sorted through in the majority of  historical databases available now. He compares this phenomenon to the reality described in the short story “The Library of Babel”, which is about a library containing books filled with all the words in the world combined in every way possible, but no way of knowing what contains what. The inhabitants of this world are destined to search the library through books of gibberish, hoping that eventually they will find something containing some meaning to it.

Needless to say this comparison of a fruitless search through an endless library of meaningless books to historical databases is a bit unsettling, though not without merit. In my time as a history major I can attest to the frustration of searching through countless library databases trying to find something of relevance, desperately trying to think of the specific combination of search words that will not bring up hundreds of links to something which only mention your desired topic in passing, or the same search terms being used in an article completely unrelated before shouting at your computer screen “No I did not want to know about French domestic life! I need something on Ottoman Coffee-houses!”, needless to say, the struggle is real.

Cohen proposes to help alleviate some of the problems attributed to trying to find related primary sources and scholarly writings on a specific subject my introducing an API format of searching, similar to the ones that Google and Yahoo both use. Cohen argues the success of this style, however he also notes that it’s not exactly a cost effective approach, stating that Google and Yahoo use it because they are both in the commercial sectors. Though this may be the case, both Cohen and I, as well as perhaps anyone who’s ever used a clunky search engine based Historical database, would say that the benefits far outweigh the costs.

 

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Spacial History? What, like the History of Space?

When first reading Richard White’s post on spacial history, and the enormous undertaking it is to accomplish, I was a bit confused. I had never heard of it before, which really was a shame because it is such a massive project, that you would think there would be a bit more of a buzz about it in History courses. Spacial history operates with the idea that space is not based on natural geography, nor is it simply a vacuum in which history happens in, but something that humanity produces itself. It seems a very heady concept to grasp, but to put it simply it is the study of the history of space, and what influences it, politically, culturally, economically, ect. The spacial history project is a way of mapping these events and occurrences, happening over the course of human existence, and to say that this is a substantial task seems to be somewhat of a gross understatement. Richard explains that there are multiple people working on it from all over the world, and its easy to think that this type of collaborative mass project would not be possible without the advent of the internet age. Even while reading the description, I was sort of reminded of Wikipedia, in that that too is a massive bank of constantly growing information, except with the Spacial History Project, you don’t have the additional hazard of the unreliable contributor nearly as often as on Wikipedia. It is an overall fascinating take on transforming the way historians are looking at history and I’m very excited for the continuing development of the project.

Interested in reading more? Read White’s article for yourself

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Week Eight: Feild Trip!

Instead of going to class today as per every other usual Wednesday, our class got to go to the New England education conference that CCSU had the luck of hosting this year. The main topic of the conference was about educational diversity, namely, the lack of educational diversity that seems to be dominating our educational system in America. We were lucky enough that our class was able to see speaker and author James Lowen, who wrote the cuttingly named “Lies my Teacher Told me” as he went through the different ways that our education system is cutting off histories accessibility to those who don’t tend to be featured in it, I could see his point entirely. It is a common joke that History in general is written about rich white men, and for the majority of my primary and secondary education that was very true. But then this brings about a frightening question, what can we, as history majors, do to change this? It is very clear that the way that history is being presented throughout the schools in America needs to change, as history happens to those who are not rich white men. The trouble is getting that information more readily accessible to the public, so that it doesn’t become a niche study in history, like women’s history, or African American history. Luckily, with the ease of accessibility on the internet, the study of history could very easily get away from what we’re used to learning, with a quick Google search providing us with the information we’d want to know about anything, from Latin American labor rights leaders, to the Suffragettes, it is simply our job as public historians to adapt with these changes and make sure that there are reliable sources accessible to those who wish to have them available on the web.

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Brain vs Google

Out of all the readings assigned to the class to look at over this week, Nicholas Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid” stood out to me. Maybe it’s because I can think of a few conversations with my parents about how “kids these days” (insert wizened generational observation here) in regards to this very idea. In the article Carr recalls the scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey where Dave unplugs HAL, making the artificially intelligent super computer lament the fact that he can feel his mind going, and compares it the way he is starting to feel now that Google has become and instrumental part of everyday functioning for him

Carr continues to make comparisons to the use of Google with other great technological advances in history, the written word, type writers, and clocks, and how for each of these at the time of their introduction there were those who were dubious of the positive impact they would have on the minds of humans. Carr believed that as time goes on, people will become more and more reliant on search engines to recall information that used to be stashed in our memories, and that without this exercise of recalling certain facts or trivia knowledge, humanity would lose the ability to do so.

Prior to reading this article I had actually already seen something akin to it while I was on YouTube, clicking on random videos to pass time, I’m sure instead of doing some sort of productive work that I was meant to be doing at the time. It comes from pbs’s ideachannel, and talked about if google is knowledge. In this video the addresses the claim that many, including Carr worry over, that google is creating a society of unthinking, search happy google machines who have trouble retaining information. However, the host on ideachannel argues that though it looking up information allows us to find it, it does not tell us what to do with it, or how to relate it to the world around us. In looking up information, people still need to maintain their critical thinking, because when we start believing everything that’s posted online, there’s a lot more to worry about then just whether or not reading online articles is causing eyestrain or reading impatience.

One of the best comments from the video I think was when the host compared using google to someone living in a library. We wouldn’t say that the information someone can look up because they have access to thousand of books while residing in a vast library was illegitimately gained, nor should we say the same for someone who looks something up online. The internet is a vast recourse and for the most part, it is extremely accessible around the world. It should be seen as a tool for education, and simply because there are other aspects to it shouldnt condemn the use of the internet as a whole. Personally, I do not think Google is making us stupid, but of course, if you’re one to disagree, you could simply discredit my whole argument by saying the sources I used I found on Google, and therefore, don’t truly know what I’m talking about.

What do you think? Is Google making us stupid? Comment below or take the poll

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In Response to Dan Cohen’s Blog Rallying Cry

The first assignment given to the class for Central’s Public History class was not one that I had ever been assigned to before, but I suppose that would be the purpose of perusing higher education, to be able to have experiences not had before, and become more well rounded for it. So that no one is lost while reading this post, the class was simply told to read a blog post written by Dan Cohen, an ex history Professor, and current blogger, and to respond to his claim of why academics should blog.

The post goes on about how blogs are generally seen in academia as mindless drivel posted by teens who believe the web revolves around them, and hormone driven collegiate twenty-somethings. Of course I do take a bit of offense to that, as somewhat ironically, this hormone addled twenty-somethings first blog post is in response to the very one that claims by most accounts I would be going on about something inconsequential right now. But I digress.

Cohen makes some excellent points in his post as to why other academics should all hop aboard the blog train. Of course there would be some blogs that could be considered to be a bit more on the vapid side, but likewise, there are some books that one could find on the grocery store shelves make no claims to be the worlds next literary masterpiece, they’re simply fun reads. The fact, Cohen states, is that the web opens up the field of academic history to a much wider, and much more broad audience then if it were to just stay withing the four walls of scholarly setting. There is very little excuse as to why not write a blog. Don’t have enough time? Doesn’t matter, with RSS feeds readers don’t need to feel like the must continually check in on you to see if you’ve posted something new. Not sure what to talk about? Most who are experts in the field have a long list of knowledge that they can tap into and put down.

The post argues that short or long, seemingly unimportant, or masterfully written, it does not matter what Professors and other academics blog about, just that they do. The internet as it is right now is essentially an infinite resource of knowledge, and globally reaching. Most of the resources needed are available and free, and there is little time commitment on behave of the poster, the most important thing for Cohen, is to just try it out, and add to the wealth of information that is on the web today

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