When people hear the term “millenial,” one of the first things that pops into their head to describe them is: dependent upon technology. We are the creators of memes and gifs, the generation that obsessively watches and shares trending cat video’s. Constantly attached to our phones, there are moments we do not even look up to see where we are going or where we have been.
A self-identified millenial, I grew up in an age of technological development where computers, internet, gaming, and new media have emerged as the movers of popular culture. It is impossible to begin to understanding our generation, and how we perceive ourselves, without engaging with new media in some form or another. That being said, our ability to understand the depths of new media and the internet is still lacking and a bit shortsighted. Like dark matter out in space, their is aa vast unexplored territory of knowledge to mine. do I depend upon it to survive and make sense of the world that I live in? Absolutely not. However, as an active social media user, I do participate in this world.
What this History and New Media course has taught me is, as a historian, that integrating new media and digital history into historical practice is paramount to public history. Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig wrote that “new media challenges historians to rethink the ways they research, write, present, and teach about the past.” For the sake of this reflection I will choose to reflect upon two major areas where I took the most away from: rethinking how we research and rethinking how we present the past.
During this course I learned to understand how new media can transform the way historians think about and research the past. More importantly, I learned that this was an aspect of new media in which historians are still somewhat slow to picking up on.
Although some individuals believe that the jurisdiction of digital history primarily involves dissemination and presentation, new media, and more specifically the internet, provide an interesting place to expand upon historians’ ideas of how and what we can do research on. Using Facebook as an eventual source of information for example, treating it as an interpretation of the past that is worthy of analysis.
My favorite part of the course however involved moments in which education and new media arose. Mobilizing new media to educate people on how research works and why it is important is a strong argument for new media as a tool or research and education. In his essay “Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past”, Roy Rosenzweig, delves into the potentials of Wikipedia for historians and historical practice. One such potential is that of crowd sourcing in historical learning. He argues that historians can utilize and in fact, mobilize Wikipedia in education because it not only offers a good reference point for students, it teaches them, especially those who are editing the pages, a “more complex lesson about history.” In fact, what Wikipedia offers is an understanding processes involved in historical practice and “an appreciation of the very skills historians try to teach.”
Rethinking how we present history
One of the largest debates that emerged from our class was historical credibility and presentation of the past on the internet. We were assigned several projects that involved creating interpretive content for History Pin, Wikipedia, and Omeka. Every single one of these platforms requires a user to create, interpret, and publish their individual historical interpretation.
Especially jarring was the ease in which to create an Omeka exhibit. Essentially what Omeka, Wikipedia, and History Pin are providing is an opportunity to crowd source and to democratize history at the cost of credibility. If anyone can create an account with any of these platforms and create a product of historical interpretation what does that mean for historical practice and the value of history in general. With such a democratized platform, we run the risk of information being misconstrued or misrepresented. Is it worth the cost? In my opinion, we will always need historians to monitor and regulate historical products because they are trained to weed out the blatantly incorrect information. However, I also strongly believe that all history is interpretation and perspective so these sites provide the trained historian with an invaluable resource in which to examine how people are making sense of history and why it is important to them to interpret it in such a way. As a result I view these platforms as an opportunity to evaluate how history is being understood at this particular moment in time.
Also, the debate over digital archives was an extremely enlightening week because I had never really understood the gravity and extent to which the meaning of archives was heatedly debated.It is a debate surrounding the state or archival practice, the meaning of archives, and the digital world. With a push towards more accessibility, various interested cultural entities are moving towards mass digitization of their collections online.The traditional archivists argue that digital archives threaten the integrity of their field and practice. Some believe that the two cannot coexist and communicate with one another, while others describe institutional, more traditional archives, as the outdated versions of the potential of the new digital archive. Some of these people are creating digital archives that are a collection of archival materials consolidated to one site based upon a topic or historical event.
At the end of the class I can say wholeheartedly that what I have learned has proved invaluable. This class has prepared me in moving forward in my career to think about the types of questions that my generation of public historians will be forced to encounter. It has also provided me with the technical training to utilize these tools in the workplace and in my research in the future.
At the end of the day I really do love the possibilities that technology and new media hold for history.