Understanding the Digital Divide

maxresdefaultGee in What Video Games Have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy says “three things are involved in active learning: experiencing the world in new ways, forming new affiliations, and preparation for future learning.”

To me digital history encompassed all of these aspects, and it seems up to all historians to actively seek out new historical experiences on the open web. As Causer and Wallace clarify, it is “vital to have a visible and interactive online presence,” or in the words of another academic, “be online or be irrelevant.”

In that regard, I have been opened to a variety of means to both explore historical resources and experience/conceptualize history in new ways. On the one hand, digital history means presenting traditional historical ideas, concepts, or collections in an interactive, online format or via an app. These new formats of disseminating information provide unparalleled access to a wider audience, making data or documents easier to locate, while processing and presenting vast amounts of digital data.

On the other hand, digital history includes making online space to organize and present particular research findings or museum artifacts.http://people.static.pnop.com/76/67/75/7675bdd9b54a9282da4a476a5a90e9d5_1000.jpg

Next, digital history provides for never before possibilities for new affiliations in regards to how academics and can interact with users, whether students in a classroom or patrons in a museum. The web allows one to explore practically any niche interest and express their opinion no matter how mundane, confrontational, or outright wrong.

People form connections based on these outlets and some even let their virtual identity leak into the material world. New ways of connecting – video game communities, dating sites and apps, or concepts such as reddit meetups (some of Michael Edson’s relevant Dark Matter of the web). It provides an outlet where users can feed into the question, “Why wasn’t I consulted?” (WWIC) as it gives everyone a platform to voice their opinions and be “heard,” even if that means in a sense of being one lone voice in the crowd.

The concept of WWIC is present daily with companies and organizations mining for consumer feedback – sending out email surveys, holding focus groups, and offering free gifts or trials to test a product. This is all to improve or be able to provide the right aesthetic and usability features, whether it be of a new product or a website redesign. To be able to become successful in the marketplace, these companies must cater to the consumer and provide the ultimate customer service.

Digital historian muinternet-argumentst learn to harness these same principles if they are going provide effective historical learning to the future generations of digital natives. While I certainly agree that digital technology has drastically increased both the user base for archives, and the access to historical sources and data, it does not necessarily lead to a more knowledgeable user. I would again stress that the skills of a historian become doubly important when it comes to providing interpretive nuance, as well as, discovering, evaluating, and contextualizing digital sources.

As Kate Theimer clarified, the web has changed the ways archivists (and historians) work, “among the most significant of those ways is in the increased workload to create descriptions and digital copies to post online, find ways to collect and preserve digital materials, and of course, actively connect with the public via the ever widening world of digital tools and social media.”

Here historians must make better use of all the digital tools available, whether that’s through open source collections (see the impressive lists for history crowdsourcing projects here and here), apps, or just updated websites that cater to the patron’s experience whether they set foot within our walls or not. All of this comes down to what you refer to what a classmate referred to as “an environment of action and experience.” This is the key to interactivity and only when we can harness that will someone be both interested and invested in history.

The third, and perhaps most important aspect deals with prospects for future learning. Here, the tools we used throughout the course, to me were new, innovative, and educational.

I agree with several aspects of Roy Rosenzweig’s analysis. First, that those who write history for a living should join popular history makers in contributing a better type of history. In his case he refers to Wikipedia, but it seems historians have a similar obligation when it comes to doing history on the web. Enhancing the popular historical literacy through the web should be a primary focus, which could eventually allow teachers to spend “more time teaching about the limitations of all information sources…and emphasizing the skills of critical analysis of primary and secondary sources.”

In that regard, historians should probably be thankful that Wikipedia has done a good job at managing the masses of voices while pulling/gathering crowdsourced information, but not giving in to the complainers/trolls (allowing for the WWIC without just being a comment section).

Omeka was a different tool I was completely unfamiliar with, and the ease of creating and sharing online collections seems an effective way of sharing research. While it does not necessarily reduce the digital workload, it offers a usable and consistent way to organize and catalog items. I am particularly interested in how the platform could provide new avenues for users to experience and interact with primary documents. The casual can go beyond a passive reading of history text, and connect and explore the sources themselves, in effect “doing history.” As Sheila Brennan stresses, this provides limitless possibilities for making historical material more “disc60710692overable, open, or extractable.”

While somewhat less relevant to me directly, the Historypin website essentially ties into Tebeau’s discussion about apps and their ability to transform “the landscape into a living museum,” allowing users to follow right along literally in one’s historical path on a virtual walking tour. Or as Guldi describes, it allows the user to go “beyond the academy, to turn implies retrospection, a process of stopping in the road and glancing backwards at the way by which one has come.”

Innovative apps and interactive technologies allow the museum curator and historian to tell a narrative in a new way, while also providing an exploration of before and after that museums, organizations, and public historians must implement to make a compelling case for their collections.

If we have been living in the Information Age since 1962, it is only now, with the research and interpretive capabilities of the internet that historians can contribute to an Age of Understanding.


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