Document Type

Contribution to Books

Publication Date

Spring 2012

Abstract

I have a good deal of interest in how members of the public who are not academically trained historians "do history." For me, then, "public history" does not mean just projects, programs, and exhibits created by professional historians for the public, but rather the very broad and complex intersection of "the public" with historical practice. Provision those occupying this intersection with freely available digital tools and platforms, and things become interesting quickly. Because setting up a blog, wiki, or discussion forum means only a few mouse clicks, and archival resources are increasingly digitized, we are seeing a burgeoning of sites that coalesce communities around historical topics of interest. Even those who have no interest in setting up their own websites can participate in history-specific Facebook groups, blogging communities, and genealogy sites.

Such digital spaces expand and blur considerably the spectrum of what counts as historical practice. For example, on Ancestry.com, users piece together family histories by synthesizing government records and crowdsourced resources of varying origin and credibility. Professional historians might take an active interest, then, in how digital archival and communication resources affect the spread or containment of particular historical myths.1 It is not clear, however, how these technologies aid academic historians in participating, or impede them from intervening, in these discussions. This chapter uses discourses about black Confederate soldiers to explore how digital technologies are changing who researches and writes history—as well as what authorial roles scholars are playing in the fuzzy edges of historical practice where crowdsourcing and the lay public are creating new research resources and narratives. These digital tools and resources not only are democratizing historical practice, but also providing professional historians with new opportunities and modes for expanding historical literacy.

Comments

This document was originally published by University of Michigan Press in Writing History in the Digital Age. This work is provided under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 license. Details regarding the use of this work can be found at: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/us/. http://writinghistory.trincoll.edu/

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