Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Will digital history facilitate sharing authority and inquiry? Will placing primary sources at people’s fingertips create a more historically literate public? As a class you read three articles that grapple with these questions. Cohen and Brown both discuss the possibilities and problems with digital history. Many of you remarked about how exciting data mining can be for historians. Many of you also raised good skepticism about the relationship between quantity and quality. If the public does not know how to read a source critically, then does it matter whether it is online? How can public historians help the public to think historically about a source? What do we gain by being able to access information online? What do we lose? What is the difference between looking at a specific newspaper article from the 188s or skimming through the entire issue? What is clear is that discussing digital history opens up more questions then it answers and that is an exciting proposition.
As a class you nicely identified the tension that exists between the Corley & Rose, Toplin, and Davis articles. It seems that historians want it all. They want to be included in rendering history on film but yet are frustrated by the process. In general, it seems that a historian’s desire for accuracy will always prove a sticking point. As many of you pointed out it isin’t the disregard for details that is disappointing but the disregard for the spirit of accuracy that is more troubling with Hollywoodized history. Can artists render history on the big screen in a satisfying fashion? The jury is still out on this question.
It seems that Terkel’s memoir proved puzzling to most of the class until chapter five. I wonder is it because we (myself included) have preconceived notions about how a memoir should read? Terkel seemingly displaces himself from the center of his own autobiography. Is that what makes him a good oral historian? As a class, good job on distinguishing between the two styles of writing (Frisch and Terkel) and seeing how they could serve as complementary texts. Each raised questions about who owns history. Each asked how we, as individuals, can learn to see ourselves as part of larger stories. But we are still left with the problem of how does one become a good oral historian? How do we learn to be good listeners and conversationalists? Can practice make perfect?