Anonymity and Audience

15 Sep

To begin, I’m typing this in the Nashville Airport, waiting for my flight home, but I’m just not willing to pay $8 to get online here.  I’ll post when I’m home where the wireless is already paid for.  More on this later…

This past weekend has been hectic, but given the nature of the assigned readings, i was able to read them here and there throughout.  I kept Lynn’s comment in mind while reading, and the argument in the first reading gave me a lot of food for thought about how to create a solid museum experience online.  That being said, I found the introduction and first chapter of Digital History to also be very thought provoking, and that is what i’ll discuss here.

To review my technical knowledge, as far as I’m concerned, my computer is run by a hamster on a wheel and little green men.  If there’s a problem, either the little green men are on strike or they didn’t feed the hamster.  I have picked up some hardware knowledge from DH (short for dear husband, it’s how I refer to him online) but that has left serious holes in my understanding.  Reading the introduction and first chapter of Cohen and Rosenzwieg (C&R from here on out) has both filled in some holes and eased my mind about the other holes, whereas Manovich left me in a state of complete anxiety.  All this being said, let’s get down to business.

On page 6 of the introduction, C&R bring up the point that the internet allows many diverse people a voice in the historical debate.  Not all of these people have the training that traditional historians have, including ourselves.  Usually we have to go through an extensive submission process to get published, but with a laptop and a Wifi connection we can post the same article online and reach millions of interested readers immediately.  To quote:

“No publishing medium has ever had such a low barrier to entry.  At virtually no cost, millions have access to their own printing press…But the even more dramatic contrast is in the social composition of the two sets of authors – web history authors are significantly more diverse and significantly less likely to have forma credentials.  Their strong presence online unsettles existing hierarchies, thus producing Himmelfarb’s jeremiad and the laments of other technoskeptics.”

“Unsettles existing hierarchies” is what caught my attention.  To me, the plethora of historical websites out there speaks to the democratizing power of the internet.  I think it can be a very good thing to “unsettle existing heirarchies”.  As historians, part of our job is to enter into discussions with each other.  We consider existing evidence, current scholarship, and any new material that’s come to light, and we present our interpretation of that evidence.  In short, we pick fights with each other.  Upsetting the status quo is also picking a fight.  This, to me, says we need to get ourselves onto the Internet sooner rather than later, or else we’ll be left behind.

Further, the anonymity provided by the nature of the Internet allows for greater candor in posters.  For example, a good friend writes a blog at  Some of the commentors I know personally and some I don’t.  Given the nature of the content (pretty much anything we’re not supposed to discuss in polite society, mostly religion and politics) the comments can get pretty aggressive.  Some of the commenters I personally know post things to the blog they would NEVER say in person.  And they pick fights left and right. They make use of the relative anonymity to say what they’re really thinking.  i have every reason to believe that the commenters I don’t know are doing precisely the same thing.  And having commented on this blog a few times myself, I can say with authority that most of what I post I would NEVER say in a face to face conversation.  Now, the trouble with anonymity in a historical debate is that we don’t know who we’re talking to (seriously).  I post my paper on WWII Army Nurses.  is the comment posted by DCNurse from D’Anne Campbell, who wrote the first works on the subject, or a nurse working at George Washington Hospital?  The original poster or moderator MIGHT know, if the email address is recognizable, but will a reader know?  Of course, the next question is will a reader even know who D’Anne Campbell is?  (Do any of you?)

Moving on to page 12, C&R bring up the issue of inaccessability.  This is the biggest problem I see facing digital history.  We tend to talk about how many sites are out there, and how many people are online, but we fail to consider the people who never see what we do.  Of course, we fail to consider the people who don’t read journals or even browse the history section of Borders.  Yet, given the prevalence of electronic media in everyday life, i don’t think it’s that far a leap to a time when everyone is able to access the internet all they want.  That being said, do we consider the fact that the internet is NOT free?  We take for granted the Wifi available on campus or at home, but until we’re confronted with a dialog box asking for credit card information to access the internet, it doesn’t occur to us that we do actually have to PAY for the Internet.  Even if we remove the internet from digital history, there’s still the issue of access to other digital media.  If we’re limited to the internet, we’ve once again limited our audience.  How do we deal with that?  One solution that’s occured to me is to partner with schools.  Most schools have internet access somewhere, and some interest in getting students online.

Well, my flight is about to board so I’ll post this when I get home.

1 Comment

Posted by on September 15, 2009 in Readings


One response to “Anonymity and Audience

  1. colamaria

    September 15, 2009 at 11:23 am

    the anonymity of web posters has created a really irksome community of virtual tough guys and idiots. a few years ago I used to post on message boards of interest to me, but I eventually stopped because the rabble just make it not worth the trouble. basically whoever is loudest wins.

    I hate to say it, but maybe the founding fathers knew what they were talking about with their fears of a true democracy.


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