The book is introduced with a loose outline of what it means that history is being done and will be done digitally/online for the forseeable future. The heaviest ramification of this seems to be that no longer is history so authoritarian. The web creates a shared authority, and anyone and everyone (so long as they have internet access, and yes, this is an issue to be discussed) can now start a blog, comment, and publish their own thoughts, memories, and opinions to be consumed by anyone and everyone (there I go with superlatives again). Luckily, this trend mirrors one which has been happening in museums since the late 1970s. History in museums was once dispersed only by an unquestioned authority (THE HISTORIAN) and the wee little people known as the general public were pleased as punch to go along with whatever the historian deemed the absolute truth. No more. Shared authority is what’s en vogue nowadays, and though some museums are more successful than others, any institution with a professional staff knows that this is the goal.
Not only is history being written and published by the masses, but history on the internet can also create a dialogue. Internet users can then comment on John Q Public’s views on history, creating a two-way discourse which was impossible when history was only read in books or learned from static museum displays.
The authors go on to discuss that way in which this can and does sometimes confuse the historical record. Photoshopped images, uploaded and widely consumed on the web are anathema to professional historians who have spent their careers trying to get the record straight. (As an aside, the authors then make a strange analogy concerning comic strips and the Bible. The authors seem to assume that the Bible is as true and correct and literal as any historical document that could possibly be created by man and that everybody knows it. It’s an automatic stand-in for that absolute truth that was supposedly written off as bunk so many decades ago.) Additionally, online archives differ from their onshelf ancestors in that they lack a shared provenance. Rather than being of “The So-and-So Collection,” digital archives created by students and amateur historians are custom-built. They are made up of both published and unpublished media of all types, and are usually centered around a particular topic. This, to me, seems like something more like an electronically published bibliography than an archive. Indeed, the authors grant that anyone who has written a book or even a historical paper has created one of these catch-all archives. Randy Bass is quoted as saying that the web has put the “novice in the archive,” but, the authors state, it has not taught him or her what to do there.
The chapter ends with a fact that anybody familiar with Facebook knows well. If historical institutions want anyone to know that they exist, they must establish an online presence. The internet has become so ubiquitous in our daily lives that previous methods of locating a business, institution or organization such as phonebooks are, if not obsolete, somewhat unconventional. The internet allows for all sorts of media to be inexpensively used to entice, educate, and entertain like never before. And as the Facebook maxim goes, “Pics or it didn’t happen.”
Of course I do remember a time before the internet, but it was a time in my life so innocent, so carefree, that I’m not sure that its presence would have impacted me very much. I certainly wasn’t writing any history. I got my first email address in my 9th grade Spanish class. Señora Hotchkiss was well aware of the internet’s potential, and we were assigned pen pals in Bolivia with whom we could easily converse via el Hótmail. Anyway, the internet’s perpetual presence throughout my post-pubescent life doesn’t seem to have given me any sort of fluency when it comes to online research. I’ve lately come to realize that I have a lot to learn in the way of utilizing the myriad of different resources that can be found on the internet. Having said that, the things that I have managed to find have been immensely rewarding. I’m looking forward to being unleashed on the internet like Ferris Bueller on the streets of Chicago. Look out, all you techno-Camerons out there.