Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Effects of Instant Heritage

Today’s public history class discussed the idea of “instant heritage,” when 1970’s cars are already considered vintage. Even the not-so-distant past seems far removed. Patrick Swayze passed away September 14th and his autobiography, The Time Of My Life, is being released today. No hesitation there; the past is being recreated almost instantaneously.

One of the biggest historic events that has occurred in my lifetime and I remember watching the news as it unfolded was the terrorist attacks on September 11th. I was wondering how much has already been written about that event and found the September 11 Digital Archive which boasts in excess of 150,000 digital pieces (40,000 emails, 40,000 accounts of the events, 15,000 images). Said archive is only example of the massive amount of websites that have been compiled about the events.

My father used to joke that one of my personality flaws was an inability to exercise delayed gratification. I knew what I wanted and I wanted it immediately. “Instant heritage” seems to pervade not only history-shaking events but also things as mundane as music (I was playing “Superman’s Song” by the Crash Test Dummies the other day, which prompted one of my friends to exclaim, “That’s sooo retro”... the song came out in 1991). That phenomenon seems to be a product of society’s insistence on instant gratification. I feel like this is simultaneously a positive and a negative phenomenon. It’s neat because we can see mass responses to earth-shaking events (what if everyone had written down where they were and what they thought when John F. Kennedy was assassinated? The historic record would be very different). I find it somewhat disturbing because it makes the near past seem so alien from the relentlessly advancing present. It almost reeks of a sentiment that as soon as an event occurs or a song is released it should already be considered ancient history.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Community and Interaction in the Digital World

One of the things I find fascinating about the evolution of the Internet is the fact that even as our potential ability to interact with each other and build a community is expanded, something is lost. My boyfriend used to play World of Warcraft continuously, which he claimed was basically as good as hanging out with his friends, since they were all online. I begged to differ.

Is anything lost with the increasing digitization of primary sources? Convenience and accessibility are fabulous things, especially in our fast-paced society. But isn’t there something to be gained by having to travel somewhere and search its archives? I have a romanticized view of Gandalf in Fellowship of the Ring crouched over ancient scrolls, mumbling old languages and smoking his pipe.

So we don’t get to do anything that fun. But if I could go to Ottawa to look at something instead of pulling it up on the Internet I’d jump on the chance. Scholars managed to find funding for these endeavours before the Internet convenience revolution. Hopefully it won’t be lost.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Maybe Hyperlinks Aren't So Bad

I’ve been mulling over our class discussions about how hyperlinks influence the way that we read online. Do they encourage us to follow the train of someone else’s thoughts instead of digesting the material for ourselves? If you’d asked me two weeks ago I would have come down in the vehemently anti-hyperlink camp. I skipped over them and feel somewhat haughty as I did; obviously I’m not going to divide my attention by hopping to another page!

Now I’m starting to rethink my position (which is very exciting, because isn’t that part of what grad school is about?)

I found an interesting blog by a man named Venkatesh Rao who argues that, “… when you browse and skim, you aren’t distracted and unfocused. You are just reading a very dissonant book you just made up.” (check it out, www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/07/01/the-rhetoric-of-the-hyperlink/ ). For Rao, hyperlinks do not force us to read in a particular fashion; they allow us to decide for ourselves how we’re going to read. Additionally, they can incorporate the ideas of multiple sources and authors instead of focusing on a single voice. Community, independence and flexibility… I might have to switch to the pro-hyperlink camp. I even wanted to be cute and ironic by working some clever hyperlinks into this article but I don’t know how to do it yet. Looks like I’ll have to learn! Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Brief History of Me

Blogging! I am new to the concept but keen to explore the possibilities it presents.

I completed my Bachelor of Arts in History at the University of Alberta. I spent the third year of my studies abroad at the University of Dundee in Scotland, an experience that was both extremely fun and influential in shaping my historical interests. My roommate (flatmate, as it were!) was a delightful if loud-mouthed Northern Irish girl. After long conversations with her and time spent traveling through Northern Ireland I decided to focus the topic of my fourth year Honours thesis on the activities of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Said thesis examined the evolution of changes in the Provisional I.R.A.'s ideology from the late 1960s to early 1980s by exploring specific terminology from several of the organization's key documents.

After graduating in 2007 I found work bartending at a neighborhood pub, fully intent on quickly leaving the job and returning to school. Two years later I am finally beginning my M.A., excited to be back in a university setting and eager to see how my year in Public History pans out.