It is to ponder

Thought 1

Beginning this Graduate program has been a great experience so far. I feel as though I “fit in” to the discipline, and hopefully so with my fellow students even though I am GenX. I’m rather proud to have belonged in the generation with the best music, but it comes with certain technical deficits when entering a contemporary classroom.

When I was in public school, beginning in junior high, educators lumped students intoImage result for computer class 1988 “probably college bound” or “vocational”. There was a lot of snobbery about this, and my sociological mind zooms into the fact that most of the “votech” folks were working to lower middle class and pre-college included the less low middle class. I didn’t have much variety to go on- we went to a working-to-lower school in the district. This was a part of tracking, a practice that has changed in some ways but continues: students who score well by certain guidelines are put into a class together and given material that compliments and challenges their perceived abilities. It’s not effective, of course, because children learn in various ways and some lower performing students would benefit from adapted challenges and socialization with people out of their class (in all senses). But anyway… I was put into pre-college which meant taking algebra and advanced language courses. Those bussed to the Vocational Technical center learned computer programing for automation or designing. This was 1989. By 1992 computer language classes in my district were electives or you could play Jeopardy off a disk in the computer if you were finished with your work, which I never was.

Then came college. I began as an English major and went through several others in the humanities and liberal arts, but never took a computer class. Ever. They began having “foundations” courses a few years after I went through. I learned email in 1993 and telenet for talking to others online, and usenet for finding people outside of my college town who didn’t bore me to death. I was then absorbed into social media platforms of IRC, Yahoo boards, Livejournal, then Facebook and the other marks of the beast. But, no programming. I know absolute fundamental html but no java, no pascal, cobalt (?) etc. I always thought the tech would cater to me and I wouldn’t have to learn anything but how to be a savvy user.

Now, learning digital history, it was suggested in one reading that to present material on one platform you’d have to know Python. Wtf?

I know that when email arrived into homes and PC’s became the new TV’s that Boomers and beyond had some adjustments to make because this was completely new. But, the language necessary was shaped into icons. Save?- click the picture of the floppy disc. Before society started catering to Millennial preferences the market was selling to Gen X and boomers making use as easy as possible but schools were teaching not just how to use but how to program, how to make, and how to really understand. In college and on I would call one of my basement-dwelling tech friends to fix my machine in exchange for a beer. In college now, you not only self-diagnose but students create apps and hack authorities. They are participants in a dialectical relationship much different than the master/slave of the previous era.

Continuing with this deficit is daunting but not insurmountable. Having to do real research and real work after a few decades of narcissistic writing, essays and pondering out loud is equally nerve-wracking. It is just remarkable that in 40 years time, there is this digital explosion and some of us saw it fall, see the fallout, while others have the right suits and are able to go on about life, as usual, eschewing the debris and collecting what they can use for themselves.

 

Digital Divisions and Elevations

In reading the article “Interchange: The Promise of            Digital History “, Dr. Kirsten Sword mentioned avoiding another “digital divide” in a discussion about the use of advanced technology for public history when focused on specialized practitioners rather than generalists throughout the field. As someone trained in Sociology as well, this made my ears perk up like a fennec fox.

One reason history found itself in a paradigm shift in the mid 20th century was because there was a perception, not unfounded, that history was suited for an academic or intellectual, social elite. It was in museums and books away from accessible common spaces, save libraries. So the aim was to release history into a wider, farther reaching audience with more of a democratic sensibility. But yet I wonder if we now contend with the digital divide?

The Pew Research Center follows the use and dissemination of technology, breaking it into demographic ranges. Lee Rainie from the center presented on the current snapshot of the digital divide as it relates to age, income, and race in 2016 and there has been a great improvement in household access to the internet since the seeming “stone age” of 1999 and even 2010. Yet, some groups still have greater access than others. I think about the aim of public history to reach and engage, and I wonder about the dismally funded school systems who, without the deliberate consideration of their plight, could not provide educational tools to expose and educate children. The positive side of the report is that the 18 and younger crowd is the most “connected”. But, what they focus their eyeballs on is another issue altogether.

I firmly agree that all historians should now acquaint themselves, if not master, current and emerging technologies in order to study and interpret data while sharing and presenting research in farther reaching, more meaningful ways than the more elitist past. However, we really need to consider the most common or typical level of technical useage rather that can translate or be manipulated for more sophisticated innovation when it then becomes most accessible. Public spaces such as a well funded museum might be able to host a virtual-reality history exhibit, but that experience fulfills the goals of a humanist project by also providing a comparable experience in common technologies such as an app or 360-degree photography on a website.

I am relieved that the digital divide is closing, but we still have the hurdle of how sophisticated the experience can be, and how fruitful, once we’re on the highway.

History as Res Publica

I have been fascinated by history since a young age. In early memories I find myself looking at family photo albums, books of old movie posters, and captivated by the stories of gods and saints. It makes me feel closer to others to know of their experiences and our shared history. But, as early as high school I began to wonder about the losers of the battle, the peasants out of royal frame, my own ancestors who somehow made it to Appalachia via ports and gates.

For some the idea of a “public history”, one that is accessible and speaks of many voices, is a radical idea. Howard Zinn, an academic “saint” to be sure, is sometimes seen as an American threat because he dared to bring the experiences of those who built the country onto the stage of those who own. This is just one example of the mid-20th Century paradigm shift for the discipline of History (big H) that goes from ivory tower lectures on the greatness of white men to the significant contributions of all human groups in creating the world of the present. Public History is a dynamic telling of historical events using their words, and deliberately excavating obscured lives previously deemed marginal or insignificant.

What I’ve discovered in my first class in the new phase of my life studying public history is that it also encompasses he presentation of this information. Just as C Wright Mills and his peers advocated for “public sociology” to go from academia to social change, history underwent a more “res publica” approach- not for historians but for the people. Canon was revisited to include women, non-whites, etc. (forgive the brevity there). The way in which it is collected also expanded for inclusiveness* and more importantly the intended audience is for everyone, increasing access, scope, reach, application, and listening to feedback. This utilizes emerging technology that can reach schools and libraries as well as public spaces and museums which are aimed at educating and revealing more precise and universal experiences and truths.

The first site I’ll review here is the ROY ROSENZWEIG CENTER FOR HISTORY AND NEW MEDIA (RRCHNM). Essentially they are “a multi-disciplinary team that develops online teaching resources, digital collections and exhibits, open-source software, and training in digital literacy and skills.”  Based at George Mason University, the group collects and lists public history exhibits and programs found online and presents a searchable directory. Think of it as a static trade magazine that highlights individuals, engagement opportunities, and news items related to public history in its many forms. The benefit of such a site is that it can bring you to a collection that might be harder to search casually online. As we know, Google tells you what its friends are doing above all else, and those not in the in-crowd might have a goldmine you’ll never see. Beyond this opportunity to find what you seek you can also browse and find the wealth of other points of view and sites that open up complimentary or contrary information to the more mainstream versions of history that remain in traditional education curricula.

For instance, consider the narratives that can come from exploring these two sites:

  • Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution: a lively introduction to the French Revolution presents an extraordinary archive of some of the most important documentary evidence from the Revolution, including 338 texts, 245 images, and a number of maps and songs. Lynn Hunt of UCLA and Jack Censer of George Mason University—both internationally renowned scholars of the Revolution—served as principal authors and editors. The site is a collaboration of CHNM and American Social History Project (City University of New York), and supported by grants from the Florence Gould Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  
  • Children and Youth in Historywebsite was designed to help teachers and students learn about young people throughout history by providing access to information about the lived experiences of children and youth from multiple perspectives as well as changing notions about childhood and adolescence in past cultures and civilizations. 

The RRCHNM, while not being a snappy acronym, it a great example of the new face of public history. The scholars who lead the projects and collect the information invite collaboration and highlight achievements and opportunities to share history, not just their own. Presenting it online and for free allows educators at all levels to search the material and share among students or hobbyists or the unidentified. 

When we think about “net neutrality” or vocation and grade-driven budgeting for educational institutions and libraries, we should consider sites like these and the people behind them. Wealthy endowments can only go so far. Public history would be successful when it is a dialog all can attend to and participate in.

Feel free to share links to other archives or projects along these lines. That’s the point 😀

 

*Inclusiveness has been discussed recently as a term describing a benevolent invitation by those in power. It’s worth looking into.