Surfing on Crowds

A week or so ago Stephen Mihm had an interesting article in Boston Globe, Everyone’s a historian now: How the Internet – and you – will make history deeper, richer, and more accurate. Mihm concentrated on the effect of crowd sourcing on history as a research/archival practice, but I have been thinking about the positive contributions to pedagogy as well.

Google Earth – the application which allows you to fly around the world and find oddities – is a case in point. Historians would be delighted to know that Google Earth has an amazing array of communities dedicated to charting out time and event in space. For example, the battles and routes of Alexander the Great which includes his route, maps of cities and sites of battles. You can download the .kmz file (aka the Google Earth file) and open it up in your copy of Google Earth. Now you can fly like a bird alongside Alexander with notes and comments from the wikipedia, from the Google Earth community, from National Geographic and host of other sources. Surely, you can see the amazing opportunity that offers as an aid-in-teaching. Or, look at the Life of Muhammad which is incredibly detailed time and place map of the Prophet. Or, Paris in 1808. Or, footsteps of Buddha. You can find your own interest at the moderated History,Illustrated forum or the broader Educators forum. You can also simply search for keywords with .kmz extensions.

Going back to Mihm, these are more than collective applications of research or documentation; they allow us to present history in altogether new formats to our students. It grants a physicality to history that often has to struggle to be taken as “real” – separated as it is with time and distance from any typical classroom (yes, I wish I was teaching Civil War history in South Carolina or Muhammad b. Qasim in Thatta). This is not simply crowd-sourcing intelligence, it is re-illuminating our solo-sourced research with crowd-generated technology.

The recent news at Google I/O was that Google Earth is coming to the browser which opens up great possibilities of creating our own versions of digital archives that adhere to the geographical spaces.

Textual Commentary

One of my favorite activity in the archive was to work on the marginalia of the manuscript – mostly just trying to decipher but often thinking through the gloss it ‘added’ to the text.

Thinking about digital archives, I have been keenly aware that this ‘conversation on the margins’ must be incorporated into the text – along with layers, annotations etc – if we are to ever fully realize the promise of hypertext. [Basically think of having the Discussion and the History sections of any wikipedia entry remaining integral to the presentation of the text while adding commenting].

We can take, at least, one step forward on that project today: The Institute of the Book’s newly released Open Source Word Press theme, CommentPress 1.0. It allows one to display a text with the unique ability that interlocutors can discuss down to an individual paragraph. The genius of course is that in breaking the text up in such a manner, it makes the text far more legible and readable online.

This is a first step but I think that the Future of the Book folks deserve a huge round of applause.

In terms of application for historians, an easy one is the ability to workshop a paper – elicit comments, suggestions, etc.

Some of us from the history blogging world will be doing a roundtable at the AHA in January. Our intention is to present our panel work at Memory Matters. On this site, in the coming months, we will expand, discuss, debate some of the themes that underline our research and which we will presenting at AHA. Hopefully, this will serve as an example – even if it ends up being a cautionary one – of extending the ways in which we share and learn.

Hey Malkovich, Think Fast.

I have been seriously amiss [um] in acknowledging the [somewhat disconcerting] distinction that friends & gentle readers of CM have bestowed [in service of a meme (those things are still around? {apparently})]: It makes them think.

Mucho thanks, folks. As a meme, it has some rules. Like linking to this post and listing five bloggers who make me think. Well, that’s easy enough: e., who I can’t believe I have yet to meet; juan who I have met and can confirm is a scholar and a gentleman; angry arab, who amazes me with his wit; joshua, who will be no surprise to anyone but still; and zp, whose posts I look forward to like none other. Ok, now I can go back to my no-meme rule.

Reading Manifestos

Some while ago, I wrote up my thoughts on being public intellectuals in the new digital age. I had always meant my ‘manifesto’ to serve as an introduction to a larger piece on digital history – that I would try and get published. I wrote parts of this larger piece and presented it at a conference in Madison – but I have been severely distracted since then. And, it may have sat unfinished forever.

But recently, I got an email from Paula Petrik, Professor at George Mason University and a true inspiration for us digital historians, that she had assigned my manifesto to her graduate class, History and New Media, and that her students had responded enthusiastically. First of all, let me just ask history teachers everywhere to visit that class site and go over the syllabus to see a great example of successful incorporation of blogs/digital media in the class.

With some trepidition, I visited the class blogs to see what they said. You can read Bill’s Waiting on Abdulhamid II, Jenny’s History Polyglot: How to Translate or Interpret in a Digital World, Historiarum’s I’d Love to Take a Public Beating, Misha’s Thank you, Sepoy, and Laura’s Three Cheers for Digital History. I found the comments to be probing, provacative and interesting and it made me realize that I really need to finish the second half of the manifesto.

But it wasn’t until I read that the good people at Progressive Historians – a ribald bunch of troublemakers, also liked the manifesto that I really cemented my resolve to write this weekend.

Long Live Digital History.