January 27th readings…

January 27th readings

             I am starting to see a theme develop through our readings; it’s not so much a question of, “What do you want to do?” as much as it is a question of, “What are you trying to accomplish, and why?”

            How is what we are doing going to benefit ourselves and those who behold our creations? The obvious short-term answer is: complete the class and get a grade, or successfully complete the class and earn a tool of research- but that’s too instant-gratificationy.

            Ideally, we learn to take our skills as historians and meld them with newly-learned skills (or at least newly-learned techniques) to create something that enhances someone else’s life in some way, regardless of whether it is in terms of knowledge acquisition or entertainment. And a large component of this effort can (and will) be collaborative, far more so than ever before. The biggest difference between what we used to do and what we’re going to do is that what we’re going to do in the future we’re going to do publicly, inviting instantaneous feedback and criticism, with the ultimate hope of creating a better product.

            In the past, I have been somewhat concerned about the amount of crap and misinformation that avails itself so readily on the web, especially when it pertains to history. I used to think that there should be some sort of ‘misinformation police’ that would go out there and somehow delete the bad information and fine/confine/deny internet usage to the offending/ignorant/just plain clueless person. But now I start thinking that for this internet thingy to work, it has to be free and clear and wide open to everyone’s work and opinion, and let the masses decide what to believe and trust. Yes, there can be plagiarisms and outright lies- but we’ve had that since time began (“yea, verily I say unto thee, Moses came down the mount with fifteen commandments from God, written upon three stone tablets.  But Moses stumbled, and one of the tablets was dropped, and broke into a thousand pieces forever.” And, of course, the inevitable follow-up conspiracy-theorist’s rant- “No, man- he was tripped by a Judaic feminist activist from the spacecraft Zebulon-7 because those last five commandments dealt with women being second class citizens and being denied the right to bear arms! I can prove it!”). Going digital isn’t going to change that. And it shouldn’t. Whether a person lets others know he’s nuts one person at a time or a thousand people at a time, he’s still nuts, and people are going to realize it. Besides, with almost a billion people having access to the internet, who would be able to police it one user at a time?

            I think an important aspect to historians expanding their abilities to bring the past to the world in a vibrant, easily accessible format is to get every item of historical import digitized and then invite collaboration, whether it is in the form of historian or non-historian, expert of novice. Make everything open source. Get those libraries and archives to open up those hidden or dusty collections, digitize them, and lose the gatekeeper mentality. To paraphrase Reagan, “Mr. Archivist, tear down these walls.”

            What do I accomplish here? I bring history to those who not have access to it otherwise. Why am I doing it? I believe information is power, and in making information available to everyone, I empower them. And hopefully, they can use this new power to make a better world, or at least a better life for themselves. And create a new warp drive so we can get off this damn planet before the population hits twelve billion.


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