The Web: Collaborative or Exploitive Readings 5-9 (February 10th Readings)

Hi everyone! I wanted to start off this reading response blog first by saying I so enjoyed reading everyone’s introduction posts and I am very excited to continue to get to know you all over the course of the semester. I also wanted to let you all know that I will be covering readings 5-9 as listed on the syllabus, however for the sake of discussing how they connect with each other I will not be covering them in order as they appear on the syllabus.

The first reading I wanted to discuss is Roy Rosenzweig’s 2006 essay “Can History Be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past.” In this essay Rosenzweig gives a brief history on Wikipedia and discusses its success as a platform for democratization of knowledge and collaborative work. Rosenzweig begins by discussing how professionalized historians are highly individualistic, rarely publishing co-authored or multi-authored works, and are highly concerned with authenticity of work, always citing original ideas to their source and avoiding plagiarism (117). Rosenzweig argues that there is a dichotomy between the way professionalized historians have traditionally operated and the ways in which Wikipedia operates; calling for anyone and everyone to contribute their knowledge from a “neutral point of view” or “NPOV”. He argues that despite this dichotomy historians need to care about wikipedia because students care about it, as well as its open-access approach to knowledge, in comparison to so many academic journals that are locked behind paywalls. Overall Rosenzweig concludes that historians should pay attention to Wikipedia, learn from it, and attempt to include aspects of it’s open sourced, democratized approach in their own work. As this article was written in 2006 I’m curious if you all think historians listened? Do you think professionalized historians are open to approaching history in ways similar to how Wikipedia does it? Is there a difference between generations? 

The next reading is Elissa Frankle’s 2011 article “More Crowdsourced Scholarship: Citizen History”. This piece seems to be in almost direct conversation with Rosenzweig’s call for historians to incorporate crowdsourcing into history, Frankle and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum did just that with their “Children of the Lodz Ghetto” project. This project allows for “citizen historians” i.e. anyone who is interested, to access certain historical documents and sources the museum has and do research to attempt to draw conclusions about what happened to the students of the Lodz Ghetto. The project allows “citizen historians” to participate in the research process of history and come to their own conclusions, which are then checked by Frankle, instead of just viewing the interpretations museum professionals have drawn in the form of an exhibit. Frankle predicts that more museums will crowdsource out the research process and search for more ways to engage everyday people interested in history. 

In response to Rosenzwieg’s essay and Frankle’s successful experience with the “Children of the Lodz Ghetto” project, it feels appropriate to next discuss Alison Miner’s 2010 blog post (and the comment thread) “if everything on the internet has to be free, why isn’t my healthcare, too?” More so than any of the other sources I examined this piece challenged me to think about my future as an emerging professional in the field of public history. In this piece Miner, a LIS student, poses the question, “how can i get paid for my profession if there are people out there who are willing to do the work for free?” Miner argues that with a turn towards open-source platforms, crowdsourcing approaches, and the overall demand for free knowledge and free products of intellectual’s work, her hope for her job to continue to be in demand and a paid possession is faltering. Miner and many commenters pose concerns about American capitalism and the devaluation of intellectual work, as a result of many non-tenured humanity positions struggling to maintain living wages. This piece, especially when read in conjunction with Rosenzweig’s call for historians to approach history more in more open-sourced ways and Frankle’s success with her project, made me think… a lot! Where is the line between gatekeeping knowledge (something historians are accused of – think again paywalls to academic journals) and maintaining a level of professionalization? These articles didn’t begin to discuss differing access to education and the need for now (at least) a Master’s degree to enter the field of history and hope to be paid adequately for your labor. How can we as professionals navigate our desires to engage more people but still maintain our jobs? Is this something others are worried about or just concerns of my cynical, over-thinking prone brain? 

The final two sources switch direction a bit and instead discuss the more ‘meta’ ways in which people and the internet interact. The first source, a 2007 YouTube video titled “The Machine is Us/ing Us”, provides a history of digital text and technology and poses many questions to viewers about not only the usefulness of digital text and technology but the ways in which we (we being internet using people not necessarily historians) interact with it. The video points out that interactions with the internet go both ways, we use it to gain information and it uses us to gain information. While this video is a bit dated, I’m interested to hear your thoughts about it. Was it still effective? Did it achieve (what I believe to be) it’s goal of getting you to think about the ways in which you use the internet and it uses you? Are there things you would change or add to the video now, over 10 years later? 

The final source I’ll be discussing picks up on the thread of the above video and is Siva Vaidhyanathan’s “Making Sense of the Facebook Menace” article posted on January 5, 2021 (a date in itself I found very interesting as it was the day prior to the insurrection at the capital, something largely contributed to the allowance for right-wing conspirators to openly plan on online social platforms). In this article Vaidhyanathan begins by discussing and critiquing the “Facebook’s Top 10” list, a twitter account run by New York Times’ journalist Kevin Roose that publishes the sources of the 10 most interacted with links on Facebook in the United States for any given day. Vaidhyanathan points out that the list has been used to point to the propensity for Facebook to disseminate right-wing information, but argues that the lists don’t give a measure for the top 10 nor do they take into account other vital information needed to draw conclusions about how links are being shared, used, and understood. Despite these critiques Vaidhyanathan continues on to argue that as a platform that is constantly using and collecting user information to tailor itself to each user, Facebook poses such an efficient threat to Democracy worldwide, many could not recreate it if they tried. What implications does Facebook, the continued push for regulation of Facebook, and the propensity for Facebook’s undermining of Democracy have for historians? 

Thanks for reading this, I know it got a bit lengthy but I can’t wait to hear what you all thought of these sources!

Rosie Cain Introduction

Hello everyone, my name is Rosie Cain and I am in the second semester of my first year in the Public History Master’s Program. I am originally from Boulder, Colorado. I attended American University for a semester and a half in undergrad, before transferring to the University of Colorado Boulder, where I received my BA in History.

I am interested in public history because of the focus on connecting history to people outside of academia. As a first generation college student, I found access to conversations around history in the academic world somewhat difficult to navigate and found myself turning elsewhere to learn, be it a museum, book, or even historically set television shows. I hope to one day work in a museum doing curatorial work, or in another capacity in which I can engage in interpretive historical work. I currently work at Tudor Place Historic House and Garden in Georgetown in the visitor services department. My research interests span a variety of topics and time periods, including LGBTQ+ history, women’s history, Mexican American history, and Soviet Union history (I know it’s quite the mixed bag).

I am very excited to be taking History and New Media this semester. I do not have much experience with digital platforms and am eager to learn about how to utilize them to help a wider audience access and engage with historical information. I am very curious about the relationship between place based experiences in museums or at historical sights, which initially sparked my interest in history as a child, and how that can (or can not) translate to a digital platform. I also am interested in learning about digital exhibitions, especially since as a part of my Public History Practicum course this semester I will be working with a group to assist the DC History Center in creating a new digital exhibition on the history of the Carnegie Library on Mount Vernon Square.