Citizen History

Since Scott, Clare and I are leading the discussion tonight I will keep my comments brief so that I save all the goodies for class. I also noted that Scott and Clare beat me to the punch in terms of outlining the articles so I will forgo that. Great articles for this week, except maybe the Smithsonian Flickr one, but 3 out of 4 is pretty good. I think the advantages/disadvantages of crowdsourcing will make for lively debate.

Some questions for tonight:

1. There seems to be an underlying assumption that allowing user interaction/contribution to digital history reaches and engages new audiences. Clearly for a site like Wikipedia that is true but what about an online exhibit? Does the number of visitors to a site go up when you allow viewers to post comments, transcribe primary sources, i.e. contribute and not just passively look at the exhibit? I assume it does but I wonder if anyone has analyzed the numbers and come to any broad conclusions, such as “by increasing interactivity the number of eyeballs increases by X percent.” I know that numbers are primarily dependant on content, but how much does interactivity really help? How do we measure this?

2. I noticed in the Tim Grove article that of the 4 individuals interviewed, the two who were very enthusiastic towards user contribution were both techies, and the other two, who were wary of “citizen history” were presumably both historians (actually I couldn’t find the CVs for anyone so I am just going by their job titles so I could be completely wrong). Why the disconnect? Are the techies just enamored with the latest, greatest technology? Are the historians afraid of losing control?

3. With the growth of crowdsourcing and “citizen history” like Wikipedia (which, according to Rosenzweig does a pretty good job of getting historical “fact” correctly) do history courses need to be taught differently? It seems to me that with the increase in publicly written narrative history professional historian are still needed to give professional analysis, context, etc. Should college history courses be less about reading secondary sources on an era/topic and emphasize even more the art of research, analysis and writing? Right now in an undergraduate history course you read various books and perhaps have periodic tests, a mid-term, a final, and maybe one short research paper. Should we now start making every undergrad history course a survey course with a larger paper based on primary sources? For instance, should a course on Reconstruction now only have a couple of narrative, overview books and a short mid-term and final (really only to make sure the students actually read the books) but a research paper worth the majority of the grade?

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One response to “Citizen History

  1. Re: 3. I would love to see more schools, whether high schools, universities, or colleges, teach critical reading, analysis and evaluation. It comes in handy in so much more than just books. Interestingly, there was a report on WAMU this morning which compared the scholastic achievement of kids in the District and kids in Hong Kong. Although the kids in Hong Kong had a more narrowly focused education, they scored better: “by having a deeper understanding of certain learning techniques and issues, students in Hong Kong were able to handle unfamiliar problems when faced with them.” Hence the benefit, to my mind, of learning critical thinking.

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