Technology and History: Mingling the Past, Present, and Future

During this week’s reading in the public history textbook by Thomas Cauvin, Public History: A Textbook of Practice, we were introduced to how technology and history, two seemingly different things, one usually thought of having to do with books, and the other computers, can actually fit quite well together. The first chapter mainly dealt with radio and film. Movies and television tend to be more successful in reaching public audiences than academic texts are, so audio-visual history production is very important in the field of public history, radio broadcasts also fall into this field, although in recent times radio has not been as popular as it was in past decades. Radio is similar to oral history, but it is still vastly different. For instance, when conducting an oral interview, the interviewer usually leaves the floor open and rarely intervenes in the story. With radio, the interviewer often speaks and keeps the pace moving along so there are very few pauses and awkward silences. Also, not everyone can “qualify” for the radio, strong accents don’t work well and the interviewer needs to make sure the narrators story will fit in well with what they want the production to be about.

Films are a bit more popular at reaching public audiences than radio is, although, historians are usually complaining about the historical accuracy of films. Two ways the book talked about how historians can fix this is to “quit complaining about bad films” and “write your own” (165) or to review and advise the work of others. Historians usually do not write their own films as there are many moving parts and different positions involved in production and it is better for them to focus on the historical aspects. The most important part in production is “to provide a historical understanding of the past.” (168) To do this one needs to help the viewer relate to what’s happening on the screen. One can do this by using pictures, narratives, artifacts, lithographs, and much more, anything that can help give the viewer a picture of the past. Another way to do this is to relate issues of the past to contemporary issues because “public history invites public participation” (168) and a great way to engage participation is to start a discussion and get one thinking about how the film relates to what is happening now. When making a historical film or documentary it’s not important that every single detail is completely right, but that the important parts are portrayed accurately. “What matters ultimately is the capacity to convey a particular historical message about the event, and not the few historical inaccuracies.” (168) Typically, unfortunately, historians are merely advisors “whom producers consult and sometimes listen to.” (172)

The next section in the text book focused on other forms of technology, such as computers and what made someone a digital historian. One could argue that since the internet is public, that anything historical out there automatically becomes public history. Although, “there is a difference between public access and public engagement.” (177) Even if something is available to the public, it does not mean that it was meant for the public, nor does it mean it will even reach many people. So, ultimately, the answer to the question, what makes one a digital historian, is pretty flexible and depends on who you ask.

We also looked at a series of blogs and websites this week that had to do with the same subjects of history and technology. One super cheesy YouTube video gives an introduction to computers and the benefit of using the internet at home. It emphasizes how great it is for research and learning. The post titled “Is Google Good for History?” only furthered the argument that the internet is a great tool for historical research, stating, “so Google has provided us not only with free research riches but also with a helpful direct challenge to our research methods, for which we should be grateful. Is Google good for history? Of course it is.” The poster also showed some faults with Google, but not in an effort to diminish it, but to help it improve. These posts with Stanford News, Cleveland Historical (my favorite story being “Ohio City (The City of Ohio)” because it spoke about a single man and his hardships as he tried to fulfill his dream of building a city along the river, and my least favorite “Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church” because it starts off by saying “history looms large in the neighborhood surrounding Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church” but then it doesn’t really seem to cover that history well, only touching on its building, dedication, and destruction), The Valley Project, and the September 11th Digital Archive are just a few examples of what history and technology can do when they come together. These posts on Northwest History also details the limits of crowd sourcing, and the power of Google, as well as the faults of public technology when it comes to things like podcasts.

Overall, I tend to agree with most of what we learned this week. Technology and the internet are GOOD for history. They allow the public to gain access to information they never would have had as easily in the past, at the same time it also opens doors to greater faults and mislead interpretations. However, this field will continue to evolve and those faults will be worked out, in the meantime the public is being educated and informed when they otherwise may not have been.

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2 thoughts on “Technology and History: Mingling the Past, Present, and Future

  1. Hey Lauren,
    Nice post! I like that you spent some time focusing on Cauvin’s comments about radio and film. Before reading that part of the book, I had never considered radio being an effective way to communicate history. I also liked how you described the differences between radio and oral history. It is interesting how much of a difference the interviewer can make.
    -Katie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Lauren! Great post! I liked the details you gave about the radio aspect of digital history. Before reading that section of the book I wouldn’t have thought it was something that would still be used today. The part about the accents got me thinking as well. It makes sense that you would want the person to be understood by the audience! I do agree with you that the Internet and technology are good for history! It will be interesting to see how the two continue to evolve!

    Liked by 1 person

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