Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Reflections on Digital History and Where It Will Take Me

Ironically, as I began jotting down ideas for a reflective blog about my Digital History course, I regressed to pen and paper. I was on the bus, heading back to London from an afternoon of Christmas baking with my extended family in Toronto. Never having owned a vehicle, I’ve spent hours on the Greyhound throughout my academic career, and always found it valuable time to catch on assignments (aside from the bumpy roads that wreak havoc on my handwriting.) However, for this class (and indeed, my entire MA), my laptop has evolved from a convenience for writing papers to an indispensible tool that moulds the nature of my work. I can no longer stew over my own thoughts in isolation; I need the gateway, the interaction, the cacophony of the Internet.

One of my earliest blogs expressed a wariness and snobbish disregard for hyperlinks (Maybe Hyperlinks Aren’t So Bad). Change has definitely occurred since I began this course. As I was stranded on the bus without the hyperlinks and the bookmarks, I found myself floundering. I couldn’t hop over to articles I’ve read to refresh my memory, check out blogs or peek at Twitter to see what everyone’s buzzing about. My sense of community was gone, and it has become an integral part of my academic experience. My framework for thinking and writing has changed from being hunched over books in the corner of a library to active engagement with new and potentially radical ideas that are readily available at my fingertips.

For me, the most striking aspect of Web 2.0 and the digital revolution is two-fold: the extensive community and potential for fresh, innovative thinking as mentioned above; and the willingness and enthusiasm individuals are pouring into creating open source software. In August, I had no concept of open source software and its malleable, accessible nature. It was both inspiring and surprising for me to learn that individuals willingly work together and produce tools which are in turn used and improved by massive networks. GIMP serves all my photo editing needs, and all it cost me was the time it took to download. I’ve had the chance to glance at chapters on Google Books, experience posting information on wikis, and create my own webpage (both by struggling through HTML and feeling extremely proud and rewarded when it actually worked, and surprising myself with how easily I could make something that looks pretty nice with Google Sites.) Not only have I had the pleasure of following the blogs of my classmates and other interesting individuals, I have also had the opportunity to being this blog, which is an exciting chance to express my thoughts. The really great thing about Web 2.0 is that I can not only check out these new, exciting mediums, but I can also play a role in many of them. It’s empowering and exciting, two adjectives I would not previously have used to describe my academic career.

I have never been asked to formally reflect on coursework before, and this has turned into a valuable opportunity to being seriously considering my direction after I complete this MA (time is already running away with me.) As I begin to consider internships for the summer, and think about what I have enjoyed and where I have excelled in the courses I took this fall, I start to narrow down what kind of public historian I think I am, and how I would like to apply my skills after I finish this degree.

I love to research and I love to write; I envision myself producing work that breaks out of the traditional mouldy confines the public associates with historians. Interestingly enough, I wrote that previous sentence on my aforementioned bus ride last weekend, and in today's Introduction to Public History class we had a guest speaker named Sean Stoyles whose work embodies the ideas I'd been considering. He works for CDCI and has also begun his own company, Cobblestone Heritage Consultants. The work done by a firm like Canadian Development Consultants International really interests me, and the digital skills I have picked up in this class will be a great asset when I hit the job market. History consulting would be a great match to my skill set, and I could also see myself enjoying the work. It would be amazing to begin my own history consulting business one day, although I am somewhat discouraged in that regard after watching all the headaches my boyfriend went through when he started his own landscape construction company. That being said, it doesn't hurt to dream big!

To conclude, Digital History has perhaps been most influential in encouraging me to explore the Internet not only for superficial searches but also for the interesting and exciting opportunities that are arising out of the new age, Web 2.0.

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