Over the years, the internet and other forms of technology have influenced how history is recorded, preserved, and presented. From websites to blogs to CD-ROMs, technology has made historians question the effectiveness of the medium on historical narrative. Does presenting historical information, such as primary sources and pictures, on the internet promote easier accessibility to the public? Should one be skeptical about the authenticity of a historical account of 9/11 on the internet? Does history portrayed in digital format promote active inquiry?
This week’s readings answer all of these questions. According to Daniel J. Cohen’s article “History and the Second Decade of the Web,” the internet has contributed as well as complicated the recording and preservation of history. Through e-mails and blogs, historians have been able to communicate back and forth, sharing information and reading each other’s findings easily and cheaply. With sites such as the September 11 Digital Archive and Syllabus Finder, various sources are easily accessed by the public. While history has benefited from the internet from a communication and accessibility standpoint, Cohen also points out disadvantages. The internet is an open system that everyone can use to access historical records and partake in historical discussion, and unfortunately, according to Cohen, only a few take advantage of its perks.
In Cohen’s article “The Future of Preserving the Past,” the realities of the internet and digital collections are explained. Due to their complicated nature, the preservation of digital mediums unknown, among other issues, numerous people have shared their doubts about displaying history digitally. Authenticity is another subject that many skeptics have brought up. How dependable are historical accounts on the internet? According to Cohen, the pros outweigh the cons. Because digital collections are so extensive and broad, they are able to contribute different perspectives to historical record. And while communicating on the internet through blogs or emails may seem complicated, interactivity has promoted discussion and research findings in an easier, more cost effective way. Cohen also trusts the authenticity of blogs and other internet postings. With researchers dedicated to contributing to accurate historical evidence, authenticity should not be a major concern.
Joshua Brown also contributes to the discussion of the internet and historical record in his article “History and the Web, From the Illustrated Newspaper to Cyberspace.” According to Brown, the internet, while promoting access to historical information and interaction with historical information, can also dissuade active inquiry. With The Lost Museum website as his example, Brown explains that while users were able to navigate through Barnum’s American Museum and view what a museum might have looked like during the late-1800s, they were uninspired to question what they were seeing and experiencing. Because the website focused too much on a Clue-inspired plot to figure out who burned the museum down, it kept people from truly observing the historical material. According to Brown, historical images on the internet alone promote active inquiry and true interest in history.
Overall, these articles sought to dig up the truths behind the internet as a medium for promoting access to historical records. Although both Cohen and Brown shared their concerns on history and the internet, they also gave the other, more positive argument to the discussion. Another important factor presented in these three articles is that history presented on the internet has yet to, and probably will never rival the importance and liking of physical books. While the internet promotes access to various historical records, it will never make books obsolete.