Bill Turkel has a fantastic post about the ways people search for history online. Using search data released by AOL and some statistical methods, Bill has been able to tell us a lot about how ordinary Internet users think about history and what topics interest them most. Clearly this is very important stuff for Found History, and I hope he takes it further. I’d be particularly interested in how the history searches of AOL users compare to those of Google and Yahoo! users, but I suppose (thankfully) that Google and Yahoo! have more respect for their users’ privacy and that this won’t happen anytime soon.
One thing Bill notices is how many searches for “history” relate not to the study of the past, but to the web browser’s cache and how to delete it. Though Bill’s methods are statistical and mine are anecdotal, this is something I have noticed as well. I do a lot of searching around the web for the pieces of found history I post in this blog, and I often find myself sifting through lots of web pages and blog posts about clearing Internet Explorer’s history files on my way to finding a truly historical nugget.
This suggests a converse research question to the one Bill has asked of his data set. It would be interesting to compare the kinds of history people are searching for with the kinds of history they’re posting about. I suppose you could do this by pulling three months’ worth of feeds for blog posts containing the word “history” (easily done through Bloglines or blogsearch.google.com) and running some similar text mining operations on them. Analyzing how “history” is used in titles could be particularly enlightening in that titles and search terms share a similar descriptive intent. And you could easily ask the same kinds of information distance questions of both.
Obviously this has me thinking. Many thanks to Bill.
This is slightly off-topic, but anyone interested in public history should check out the student blogroll for Alan MacEachern’s graduate seminar at the University of Western Ontario. (Most of MacEachern’s public history students are cross registered in Bill Turkel’s digital history class, so there’s lots of good history and new media stuff there too.) I’ve spent most of my time at Kelly Lewis’s Curiouser and Curiouser, Molly MacDonald’s Public History, and Jeremy Sandor’s Humility in History, but they’re all worth a look.
Well done to all the gang at UWO!
The English History Matters (not to be confused with the U.S. History Matters—CHNM’s own “U.S. Survey Course on the Web”) is encouraging all England and Wales to submit entries to a “mass blog” on October 17 as part of their One Day in History drive. Organizers say they picked October 17—an “ordinary day”—because they are looking to record the “mundane and ordinary lives of citizens.” They are also asking participants explicitly to reflect on “how history itself impacted on them—whether it be simply commuting through an historic environment, or how business history influenced their decision-making, or merely that they looked up some old sports statistics or listened to some pop music from the 1960s.” Entries will be archived with the British Library, the National Trust, and other agencies. The group, a heritage advocacy organization, also encourages regular public contributions of photographs and stories to its website through it’s Share Your Thoughts section.
Late Update (10/13/06): “One Day in History” is now open for contributions in advance of the main event.
Late Late Update (10/18/06): “One Day in History” looks like a success. As of this writing, more than 500 people have contributed to site. Based my own experience with online collecting, I’d say that’s a more than satisfactory day’s work.
This one has been making the rounds, and rightly so. Bill Turkel has posted a very useful and much needed roundup of digital history blogs over at Digital History Hacks. It’s not quite “found” history, but it’s one-stop-shopping for anyone looking for history online. The blogs on Bill’s list run the complete gamut of history and new media, from digitization to data mining to teaching with technology, and their authors represent some of the best talent in the field today. Found History is kind of the list’s odd duck, but we’re not complaining. It’s very flattering to be placed in such good company.
More history on Rocketboom. Check out Amanda’s t-shirt.
Rocketboom had a piece this week on the Big Foot Riders of Wounded Knee. For the past 19 years, a group of Lakota men have completed a ceremonial ride along the path Chief Big Foot followed from Bull Head, North Dakota to Wounded Knee, South Dakota, where some 200 men, women, and children were killed in the last armed engagement between the U.S. Cavalry and the Lakota Sioux in December 1890. Each winter the event draws dozens of new riders and hundreds of new spectators far into to the Dakota Badlands. Correspondent Mitt Lee closes his piece with a question, which host Amanda Congdon invites Rocketboom visitors to answer:
This event is like so many things in Indian country. Different people coming together—Indians, folks who want to touch Indians, young people who love the idea of it all, the foreign press—all of these people coming together. It’s cold, there’s not enough money, and they come anyway. Longing for what? For spirituality? For connection? For what?
This question—why ordinary people do history—is the foundational problem of Found History. And if I hear Lee and Congdon correctly, Rocketboom and Found History agree that this question will only be answered by throwing it back to those people themselves, by taking stock of the many ways they do history and listening to their reasons why.
Lots of answers are provided by the Rocketboom visitors who answered Congdon’s invitation. Here are just a few of the more than 100 responses received:
Continue reading “The Big Foot Riders of Wounded Knee”
Predictably, the Harvard undergraduate plagiarism scandal has focused more attention on the thief—sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan—than on the thieved, coming-of-age novelist Megan McCafferty. In terms of found history, however, McCafferty is much more interesting than Viswanathan. Each day in (retro)blogger, McCafferty offers a glimpse into her past, reproducing an entry from her own teenage diary for the corresponding date. Today, for example, McCafferty gives us her diary entry from May 11, 1987. On Saturday, she posted her entry from May 6, 1991. It’s probably a stretch to call (retro)blogger history, but McCafferty’s clever adaptation of the chronological weblog medium to re-collect entries from her childhood journal not only suggests her own intimate connection with the past, but also does a good job of conveying that connection to her readers, simply and effectively making the past more present for us as well as her.
While professional historians are just gearing up to write the history of the web, developers and other web industry people are already busy at work. These people seem especially aware of their history and are eager to write it down. Jeremy over at ClioWeb turned me on to Roberto Scano’s amateur history of web accessibility standards this morning. And we’ve found a bunch of similar things in research connected with CHNM’s forthcoming Mozilla Digital Memory Bank, for example, Firefox lead engineer Ben Goodger’s Where Did Firefox Come From?
I can think of a couple explanations for this phenomenon. The first is the fact that most of these people maintain blogs, and it seems a relatively short leap from reflective and retrospective journaling to intentional historical authorship. Another is that these people seem to share a keen sense of change over time, even if the period they’re talking about spans only a few years. The speed at which the web has grown and the dramatic ups and downs it has experienced in little more than a decade seems to have reinforced this sense in them. Reading their work sometimes can make a traditional historian feel like he’s entered a sort of time warp, in which 1999 or 2000 represents the distant past. Mozilla community members, for example, tend to think of people who started working on the project during the Netscape days (i.e. 1998) as old timers. (One of the first things we’ll do when we launch Mozilla Digital Memory Bank is publish the oral histories Olivia Ryan and I have been collecting from Mozilla community members, and you’ll be able to hear some of this for yourself.) Scano even quotes Genesis in the introduction to his account, writing: “In the beginning… Let us take a wayback machine to travel back in time to the last century….”
This is fascinating to me, especially the ways people conceptualize and mark out time based on their own experiences of change, and I’d love to see other examples of histories written by web practitioners as people come across them.