How Democratic Do We Really Want the Internet Anyway?

I posted my print project proposal last week, which I’m sure everyone read and enjoyed thoroughly. Anyway, as I think about the questions regarding whether the Internet has fostered elitist and institutional groups rather than egalitarian and democratic groups, I have to wonder: How democratic do we really want the Internet anyway?

In a democracy, the majority rules. Well, that means if people aren’t using a site anymore, like GeoCities, it’s just going to disappear. What if the people aren’t interested in historian-generated websites? Should we just give up and leave the Internet to those capitalist successes? We talked this week about planning a website and the need for developing an audience and trying to determine what people we want to gear our work toward. The problem is, we don’t want to filter important historical information just to make our websites more user-friendly for the general public, do we?

If historians are going to gear their digital offerings in the tradition way – directing information toward an academic audience – are we not destined ourselves to creating a solely elitist network of our own?

Of course, this all relates to another important question: Can a structure be both elitist and democratic at the same time? Perhaps this all relates to the type of republican-democracy we have in the United States today?

What do you think?

Trading Card Value Print Project Proposal

As a beginner sports photographer myself, I have an increased interest in the values of the business and its overall productivity in today’s society. Taking the development of digital photography into perspective, I would like to further explore the decline of professional photographers and the value of their pictures, especially in regards to trading cards. Over the course of the past decade or so, history has seen a large decline in both the demand and value of trading cards as a collectible commodity, as seen in Mint Condition. As a direct result of this decline, professional photographers have struggled to continue making a profit off the pictures they take.

While exploring this decline in value, I would like to explore several different options, the first of which would be the amateur’s accessibility to affordable, well-designed cameras. This being in perspective, the development of amateur photography has skyrocketed in recent years, as well as the accessibility of the amateur photographs. Not only have the amateurs become more competitive with their cameras themselves, but they now have accessibility to open forum websites that allow for users to post pictures up for free in a sharing-platform concept. Using sites such as Photobucket, Flickr, and Picasa, amateur photographers have memory space to post tons of pictures of their famous athletes. Because of the open platform that these sites are based upon, other users can easily search “tagged” items and look up their favorite athletes. I would argue that this in and of itself is a driving cause towards the decline in trading card value.

For my project, I would like to continue to explore the concept of these websites and their effect upon those who take pictures as a profession. I have a particular photographer in mind, Mitchell Layton, whom I have recently been in contact with, who I think would be wonderful to interview in order to gain a first-hand perspective on the decline of the business and problems that photographers now face. I am curious to find out just how much a photographer makes per photograph now, as compared to years ago during the business boom.

Ikon Photography and Getty Images and companies such as this run on the same concept—a large company contracting several “smaller” workers. Because of the access online of “copyrighted” material, I wonder what the photographers can do to make sure that their work cannot be stolen from a website, to ensure maximum profit. Additionally, I think an exploration into downtown collectible shops would be advisable for my paper. Because I come from a journalistic background, I find that creating a written “story” off of interviews would be in my best interest. At the same time, I would like to admit that I’m having trouble finding scholarly sources about collectibles and their worth over the years, but a re-searching of the university’s databases might improve my confidence in that area. Because of a suggestion of reading Mint Condition, I will explore my reading options with that book, but I would like to gain some background knowledge via books on collecting that I know will be accessible to me.

With all of this in mind, I would also like to contribute the advancement of video resources to a portion of my paper. On several occasions, I have been warned to get a solid background in film knowledge, as well as my knowledge in photography so that I can be more marketable to companies outside of college. Taking their advice, I enrolled in the Film and Media Studies program in the School of Communications, but I would like to talk to a few of the professors in the film department, especially in the area of sports, who might be able to help me pinpoint exactly why the business is turning in the direction it is. Using this interview, I would like to compare and contrast the mindset of the photographers and the mindset of the videographers when it comes to sports and the recording of the events.

While my total goal of the paper is to explore why the accessibility of amateur digital photos has led to a decline in value of trading cards, I think an exploration of the difficulties of the photographers and companies and creating profit from a struggling business will lead to an overall satisfaction of my curiosity on the subject.

Wikipedia’s Querelle des Femmes

Christine de Pisan

The foundation for my print project is in reaction to two recently published articles in the New York Times about the scarcity of women’s voices in online discussion forums, particularly Wikipedia, and the greater implications of this disparity. My project will explore and discuss the various sources that debate and evidence this gender gap in online discussion forums. The original article by Noam Cohen ran in the Business section under Media & Advertising on January 20th. 2011. He reveals that according to a study conducted last year, only about 13% of Wikipedia contributors are women. Cohen questions how this could have happened in such an open, collaborative forum? He submits that it comes down to the, “traditions of the computer world and an obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men and, some say, uncomfortable for women.”

Cohen cites Joseph Reagle, a Harvard fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society who published the book, “Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia.” Reagle’s stance, according to Cohen, is that the ideology behind the open source culture of Wikipedia, “resists any efforts to impose rules or even goals like diversity,” which can be a problematic. Without active neutralizing forces, this ideal of openness enables zealous contributors to take aggressive, conflicting positions that could manifest as misogynistic, among other things.  Thus the potential for anonymous sexist attacks on woman-generated/woman-oriented submissions probably drives away potential female contributors who are not interested in having to defend their honor. Delving further into Reagle’s text, I will try to unpack this argument more carefully and establish whether he can help answer Wikipedia’s querelle des femmes.     

Another source I will reference is a New York Times Op-ed from February 4th, 2011, written by Susan C. Herring, an information science and linguistics professor at Indiana University. She states that after conducting multiple studies over the past two decades about “gender dynamics in Internet communication,” she is not surprised that 87% of Wikipedia’s contributors are men. Focusing on linguistics, a field in which more than 50% of the Ph.D.s are held by women, there proves to be a disproportionately low rate of participation by women in web discussions.  After surveying a random sample of subscribers to certain linguistic forums, Herring deduced that women do in fact report to be turned-off by the confrontational, mud-slinging, antagonistic nature of the male dominated discussions. She also specifically mentions the Wikipedia ‘talk pages’, where highly contentious bickering wars go on behind the “Neutral Point of View” content of a topic page.

Herring unabashedly makes blunt statements about gendered communication styles in her piece, for better or for worse.  She reiterates some of Cohen and Reagle’s points about women’s aversion to the ‘kill or be killed’ nature of online debates. She reinforces her assertions with the previously mentioned studies on the nature of factual vs. opinionated content of women and men’s posts. Herring posits that women typically submit more factual evidence in their contributions, but are also are more likely to phrase their opinions in a conciliatory manner. The opposite goes for men. She concludes that, “Men traditionally populate the public domain, whether it be in politics, religion, or on the Internet. They tend to feel a greater sense of entitlement to occupy public space.”

When you’re finished rolling your eyes at that last statement, consider her closing argument which explains that women are more present in the blogging and social networking world because they are able to maintain control over who has access to their posts. Based on something of a ‘kinship-network’ appeal, Herring references The Omnipotent Lord Zuckerberg’s theory that, “the future of knowledge sharing on the Internet is social recommendation — people will trust information more if someone they know and like is associated with it.” Therefore information coming from familiar sources is more credible and, in turn, more valuable in the eyes of women. That then will also deter them from jumping into the ring with the cave men beating each other with rhetorical clubs.

Beyond analyzing the writings of Cohen, Reagle and Herring, I will also do primary research. I will examine some provocative Wikipedia talk pages (to be chosen) in order to personally evaluate the content in question. Is this talk space as hostile and discouraging as our authors claim? I will also explore some of the Wiki initiatives like the WikiProject Gender Studies. This forum seeks to engage women contributors in order to counteract the overwhelming ‘masculine’ content and discourse on Wikipedia. Further, I will compare the tone on more private web sources, such as blogs and Facebook pages. This should shed light on Herring’s theory that women’s voices are more pervasive in exclusive forums.  Surveying these various sources should help me better understand the state of gender participation on web discussions. I intend to gain a solid opinion of the current debate over women’s presence in online academic forums, anthropologically evaluate the possible reasons for this disparity and offer substantiated theories that could help restore balance to this gender-skewed world of online debate.

Print Project Proposal

The Internet and Institutionalism: Are Academics Elite or Egalitarian?

Modern technology has transformed the way society works. Information can be disseminated over large areas of the globe with the push of a single button, and communication can take many forms, including print, sound and video. Regardless of a person’s education or standing in society, anyone can contribute to various discourses through open source sites and wikis, like YouTube and Wikipedia. Given these changes, we must ask how academia, history in particular, has and will be affected by the digital age. While scholars are increasingly utilizing the Internet in obtaining and researching primary and secondary source documents in online digital libraries and archives, this ease of access also encourages non-scholarly participation. To what degree are individuals outside of academia engaging in academic discussions, and is their input given any validity? Also, do “new technologies foster elitism and institutionalism or … allow for increased egalitarianism and individualism?”[1] To answer these questions, this paper will be divided into two parts. The first part will examine literature on both sides of the elitism-egalitariansim argument to determine the effects of digital technology on academic scholarship. In addition, in this section I will also compare the various features of open source websites and wikis to establish whether the theories regarding the Internet’s elitist or egalitarian nature can be seen in practice. In order to see how the Internet is being used and whether historians are engaging with a larger non-academic public in their research, the second part will specifically look at recent scholarship in history focusing on politics during times of crisis. Whether or not certain works use open source information, their conclusions and arguments will be compared and contrasted to those ideas discussed on Wikipedia. By narrowing this study to politics and crisis, subjects the general public often engage in, we should be able to determine whether scholars are allowing the egalitarian nature of the Internet to influence their work.

The debate regarding whether the Internet is exclusionary or not has existed since the World Wide Web became public and continues even today. Recent scholarship has tended to lean toward arguing that the individuality the Internet initially promised has been increasingly threatened by elite interests. In The Myth of Digital Democracy, Matthew Hindman argues that the Internet provides a platform for the monopolization of websites by corporate entities such that elites can maintain their power over defining authoritative information through such technologies as algorithmic search engines.[2] Given that these are controlled by large corporate entities like Google and Microsoft, Hindman reminds us that “it may be easy to speak in cyberspace, but it remains difficult to be heard.”[3] Despite the possibility of media monopolies, other scholars remain optimistic regarding the Internet’s possibilities. For instance, according to Cass Sunstein, “with the Internet, the situation is definitely better, not worse.”[4] These studies, however, focus on the general and theoretical applicability of the Internet rather than examining its impact on specific subjects.

In order to determine the Internet’s effect on historical scholarship, it is important to start by examining what historians have written concerning the Internet. As Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig explain, “new media and new technologies have challenged historians to rethink the ways that they research, write, present, and teach about the past. Almost every historian regards a computer as basic equipment.”[5] While this may point to changes in the tools historians use in writing and researching, it does little in addressing the possibility of ideas and theories being incorporated into their work. Fortunately, Cohen and Rosenzweig include a case study on the history of one crisis in American history: September 11, 2001. To illustrate the impact of the Internet on constructing history, they show how “scholars, students, archivists, businesses, and members of the general public started online collecting projects in an effort to record the terrible events of September 11 and its aftermath.”[6] Including any of their findings regarding the politics of crisis should yield important insights concerning egalitarianism in historical research on the Internet. Also, in another article on the possibility of open source history, Rosenzweig asks, “Are Wikipedians good historians?” More importantly, he goes on to examine how historians can utilize such sites as Wikipedia and, if they do, how they could “allocate credit, which is so integral to professional culture.”[7]

When Wikipedia has been used by scholars in studies of crisis, it has not been historians but political scientists that have been willing to incorporate such open source technology. However, when Wikipedia is used, it is often accepted only as an authorless encyclopedia. In her study of the political crisis regarding nuclear weapons in Iran, political scientist Saira Khan uses Wikipedia when defining hegemony.[8] Another example of increasing acceptability of Wikipedia is Armando Navarro’s The Immigration Crisis. In this book, he uses Wikipedia in his explanation of the National Alliance, a white separatist political organization, and their role in fighting illegal immigration into the United States.[9] Beyond simple definition queries, however, Khan and Navarro rely solely on scholarly works and give no further consideration to open source information. Does this limited use of Wikipedia illustrate the destiny of open source information as a last resort of information? More importantly, in their aversion to using such sites, are scholars maintaining an elitist institution while dismissing a more egalitarian version of scholarship? These are questions I hope to answer in searching through recent historical studies on crisis, as well as modern essays on digital history.[10]

[1] Dennis Beesley, “YouTube and Apocalyptic Rhetoric: Broadcasting Yourself to the Ends of the World,” in Network Apocalypse: Visions of the End in an Age of Internet Media, ed. Robert Glenn Howard (Sheffield-Phoenix Press, forthcoming).

[2] Matthew Scott Hindman, The Myth of Digital Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 138.

[3] Ibid., 142.

[4] Cass R. Sunstein, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 207.

[5] Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, “Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web,” Center for History and New Media <>.

[6] Ibid., <>.

[7] Roy Rosenzweig, “Can History Be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past,” Center for History and New Media <>.

[8] Saira Khan, Iran and Nuclear Weapons: Protracted Conflict and Proliferation (New York: Routledge, 2010), 124 (footnote 19).

[9] Armando Navarro, The Immigration Crisis: Nativism, Armed Vigilantism, and the Rise of a Countervailing Movement (Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2009), 226.

[10] Recent historical scholarship examined will include the following: Richard Godbeer, The Salem Witch Hunt: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford/St. Martins, 2011); Mehran Kamrava, The Modern Middle East: A Political History Since the First World War (University of California Press, 2011); and Craig R. Smith, Silencing the Opposition: How the U.S. Government Suppressed Freedom of Expression During Major Crises (State University of New York Press, 2011). The essays on digital history are those assigned for this course.

Congress and the Internet: A Proposal

For my print project, I would like to research the history of the use of the internet by Congressmen and Senators.  The paper would follow the history of the internet in the 1990’s and 2000’s.  It would deal with attitudes within both houses, the pioneers who first utilized it, and the successes and failures legislators in the U.S. had in utilizing the internet for winning campaigns and winning public approval for their programs.

To complete my research, I shall use two general sources of information.  First of all, I will look at books and online journal articles available at the American University Library.  Secondly, I shall look for articles on  While I will use internet search engines, it should be said that this third category will require me to inspect the origins of my sources carefully.  Thus, I will probably rely on the American University Library and JSTOR more so for the project.

A preliminary investigation suggests that there is plenty of literature to choose from.  From general search of the internet, I found timelines of the internet’s birth and major milestones, which will be useful for putting any shifts in Congressional actions in context.  Through the website of the American University Library, I have found a 2008 article calling on Congress to utilize new media to deal with public concern about the bailouts, along with providing individual examples of Congressmen who did.  Book titles include Dennis Johnson’s Congress Online: Bridging the Gap Between Citizens and their Representatives, CAPWEB: the Internet Guide to the US Congress, Congress and the ?Youtube War?, and a variety of newspapers dealing with current event stories about particular bills regarding regulation of the internet.  From JSTOR, there are articles like, Deep Democracy, Thin Citizenship: The Impact of Digital Media in Political Campaign Strategy, Unraveling the Effects of the Internet on Political Participation?, and Free Advertising: How the Media Amplify Campaign Messages. Overall, these sources seem to have a focus towards use of the internet for campaigning rather than general use.  Still, I feel there is enough information to begin a look into the relationship between the American Congress and the World Wide Web.