Readings this week:
Cauvin – Chapter 7 Radio and Audio Visual Production and Chapter 8 Digital Public History
Cohen – “Is Google Good for History?”
The theme of this week’s readings is digital history, how the rise of new technologies is transforming the work historian’s do and how new approaches are being developed in order to present their work to the public. To be honest Cauvin’s chapter on Radio and Audio Visual Production reads extremely dated, limited to terrestrial radio, T.V. shows and movies. No mention is made of youtube or other internet streaming platforms or even of podcasting. For a text written in 2016 it is extremely baffling. Leaving aside those omissions I do find the larger point about how all of these programs are being created and produced with typically limited input from historians who typically find themselves in the role of being critics, pointing out historical inaccuracies. So if historians decide to produce these historical programs themselves or to provide their services to the producers what should be their role? There is a tension because for the producers the goal is to create a gripping dramatic story while the historical setting is merely the background in which the story is set and for the historian presumably the goal is to portray the past as accurately as possible while telling the story. Cauvin essentially states that the role for the public historian is to create “films and documentaries to provide a historical understanding of the past”(168) and to “convey a particular message about the event, and not the few historical inaccuracies” (168). These are good principles to stick to and every creative project requires some amount of compromise since time and budgets are always finite.
The next chapter is about digital public history which is the intersection between public history and the transformation of historical work brought about by new digital technology and techniques which can be termed digital history. Cauvin states that digital history is “based on the use of new media and computers in order to analyze and understand historical information and/or to communicate its result” (175). Digital history is distinct from its roots in digital humanities through less emphasis on textual and linguistic analysis being “more connected to cultural issues through oral history and folklore studies” (176). The development of digital history to public digital history seems really based on user engagement, like user generated content and “crowdsourcing”. In order to build an audience user engagement is really important for these digital public projects and the form that it frequently takes is in soliciting user participation in the form of crowdsourcing through the internet. Defined as “the act of taking work once performed within an organization and outsourcing it to the general public through a open call for participants” (179) crowdsourcing is a powerful tool with its own particular strengths and weaknesses. Wikipedia is probably is the most well known example of a crowdsourced or rather user contributed encyclopedia. Thousands of users have created and maintained articles but making sure that the information is factually correct instead of opinion and making sure that each page meets a standard quality is a challenge which other crowsourced projects have to deal with. Some interesting examples of digital public history projects can be found in the websites section underneath this weeks reading at the top of this post. A interesting user generated map that includes ICBM, ABM and Nuclear sites of interest during the Cold War in the U.S. that I came across earlier this week can be found here. I never knew that Spokane had some early ICBM sites which the remains of which can still be seen.