March 3rd readings…

March 3rd readings 

            We met Tom tonight, and had an enjoyable session talking to him about digital history and creation of sites. I think a lot of what these guys are dealing with is they are creating things that the Old Guard have never seen before, and the Old Guard have no way of gauging what it means in terms of a contribution (or a threat) to their known world. Increasingly, it seems that there is an ever-widening divide between History 1.0 and History 2.0, and much of the divide parallels the age divide between professors.

            The Old Guard seeks to maintain power by asking the question, “Well, is it History, or is it Computer Science?” to which the Young Turks reply, “Yes,” thereby confounding the issue. We see this everyday; I’ve been observing a similar phenomenon in politics for years. A Young Reformer makes a name for himself by attacking the Old Guard, wins an election, then promptly entrenches himself in power and begins the transformation into part of the Old Guard.

             The scary question is, will this happen with Digital History? Will the new guys finally get tenure after the old guys finally die out, and then will they be as entrenched in their mindset that in forty or fifty years when History 3.0 comes into existence (holograms, time travel observational technique (which I should have perfected in another twenty years), mind implants, four dimensional historiographic analytical technique, etc.)? Will the Young Turks remember what it was like to be a Young Turk after finally achieving tenure? Will plain old historical research in hidden archives be viewed as passé? Will Jennifer Aniston ever find happiness? Heady stuff.

             Part of this week’s work also including a reading about archive animation and visiting several digital history sites. Most of the sites I have visited I have enjoyed, although a couple bothered me. I already discussed the ‘History Engine’ site; the one I’m trying to decide if I like or not is the ‘Flickr Commons’ site.

             I get the posting of pictures in groupings. I get the invitation for commentary. I get the sharing aspect of the site. Where I start to get bothered is the absence of a clear and concise breakdown of everything the site has. It seems to me that with each upload of photos there could be a manipulation of an alphabetical listing or table of contents of subject matter, artist, collector, etc., etc. so that there is an instantaneous collating process in operation. Could I do better? Not at this time. Would I like to see it done better? You betcha.

             Furthermore, isn’t anyone checking the comments that are left on these photos? You see a fascinating photo, and then when your cursor glides over it you get the Flickr Commons equivalent of graffiti. Like having the lights come on in the middle of watching a scary movie at night, it breaks the mood. And I want it stopped. Now. Run parallel sites, ‘Flickr Commons’ and ‘Bizarro Flickr Commons;’ each site has the same images, but one allows for scholarly commentary, and the other, for the preadolescent interpretations of cleverness that currently take up space on some of the images.

             My two favorite sites so far are the ‘Transatlantic Slave Trade’ and ‘SmartHistory’ sites. Both are well-thought out and visually appealing sites. I love the organization of both sites, and am blown away by the depth of coverage (especially the “Transatlantic Slave Trade’ site). Granted that both sites benefit from generous grants and lots of labor, I still hold them up as templates for the right way to do something. Viewing these sites, and the others, is giving me a lot to think about as I begin work on my project.


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