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.

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