Trust No One

By malloryjwhite

The season of reflection is upon us.

It’s that time in the semester when Professors and TA’s alike turn to their students for discussion and feedback, wondering whether their expectations for the course were fulfilled. Over here at HIST5702x, it would seem we’re following a similar theme for this week.

Set with the task of identifying “holes” in what we’ve discussed/not discussed in class, I was a little stumped. Considering I’d not heard of Digital History until Jesse mentioned the upcoming course last Fall, I struggled to come up with an idea of how the course did/did not meet my expectations in terms of concepts covered. After taking a look at DHNow, however, I found an article that expresses something I felt before HIST5702x even began.

In her 28 January, 2014 article, “It’s History, not a Viral Feed”, Sarah Werner attacks “@HistoryInPics and their ilk (@HistoryInPix, @HistoricalPics, @History_Pics, etc.)”. The accounts in question, post source-less ‘old-timey’ photographs, largely featuring celebrities, and occasionally feature a caption indicating who or what is depicted. Werner wrote:

These accounts capitalize on a notion that history is nothing more than superficial glimpses of some vaguely defined time before ours, one that exists for us to look at and exclaim over and move on from without worrying about what it means and whether it happened.

I have felt these same frustrations. I realize this is part of a broader conversation we’ve come back to on several occasions throughout the course. Firstly, is this good history? This question has loomed over our Air Canada project as I know many of us have been hesitant to try new things out of fear of the history gods smiting us and our non-existent essays. Throughout the semester we’ve discussed multiple ways to combine academic research and the tools of the digital humanities. However, the second question I ask is a “hole” we haven’t filled: How can academic digital history compete with the internet?

This is something we have brought up, but we haven’t come to any conclusions. While we’ve discussed new way of publishing online and collaborative efforts to print books through things like Lulu, we’ve not discussed the academics’ competition: the internet. It’s true that it’s becoming easier to print a book, and many people (who arguably shouldn’t) are producing printed materials, academics still have an easier time. There are sections in book stores for Fiction and Non-Fiction. Being placed in the Non-Fiction category, a work is automatically ascribed with a level of integrity.

But the internet is a different monster. As Digital Historians are beginning to publish their materials online in increasing numbers, how can they compete with the ocean of—let’s face it—b*ll sh*t that bombards us on a daily basis online. How can they market themselves to the common woman or man? Will meticulous research just get lost in a sea of doctored, mislabeled, or unlabeled photographs with more retweets? How can academics establish a level of authority online? In other words, how can we get the common person, who, pre-internet, may have opened an encyclopedia, to seek out legitimate research, and know the difference between that and a 13 year old with a twitter?

(To start and finish with an X-Files reference…)

I want to believe.


Source: Mallory