04 September 2006

Commentary for Reading Assignment:

Cohen, Dan and Roy Rosenzweig. Digital History.

As far as the whole concept of disseminating history on the Internet is concerned , I am definitely in opposition to Gertrude Himmelfarb and the Marxist info-historian David Noble. I am a cyber-punk; a youngster, inexperienced, insignificant, and presumptuous. I think this is a good definition for me since I have never taken any legitimate computer classes, but I am doing exactly that which is described in the reading. Everything I know about the use of a "confuser" or "devil box" is self-taught. I love new things and ideas and I love to trail blaze. I believe that an open mind, and the ability to think outside the box, will go a lot further in a professional career. I am a Federal employee with the Department of Defense, and I see that most historians and museum professionals know only the basics, such as word processing and the use of email. To that end, I am not sure if more IT training is really necessary. After all, IT departments are set up for people, who have limited skills in computer applications, such as historians. I know a little about websites, but if my boss had the option of contracting someone to design and run a historic website, using Flash with awesome graphics, etc., do you think he would rather save the money and have the Cyber-Punk design it? Don't hold your breath. You probably wouldn't, but the Marine Corps would, at least in part. I should mention that I sought out such responsibilities, rather than live with an obtuse website with no dynamics.

The only real issue I have with history and the use of computers is the industry itself. The computer scientist Michael Lesk forgot to mention the effects of the industry on everything people write, say, perform, or photograph, saved on a single disc, or "pie in the sky." The typewriter may be timeless, but upgrades or changes in software and hardware make accessibility a huge issue for many. New versions of applications and completely new programs require that you constantly upgrade. When will I ever have a system that won't need upgrading? I am using Photoshop 6.0. I have Flash, but that is already three years old. I cannot remember what version of Dreamweaver I am using. The point I am trying to make is that eventually all the digitized history and images, stored on compact discs, will not work without a new system. I have experienced that problem over and over. My first real history project, an Army War College battle study of the Battle of Saint Vith in the Ardennes, sits on a 3.5" floppy disc, which MS Word can't read. So what good is it? Well, you learn from your mistakes by paying attention to the industry and convert your old documents into a readable format.

For me to take a position on the various aspects of digital history would take all night. To keep you from falling asleep, I will hit on one issue that I believe lies at the center of the debate: credibility. I think digital history, whether produced by a professional or a novice, provides for a greater understanding of a given subject matter. A trained historian in a particular field should be able to detect nonsense, based on the source of the information. It is the historian's responsibility to check out the sources if there is ever any question about credibility. That can be hard, but necessary.

See you tomorrow!