The Difference of New Media

In a similar manner to Sheri (and I suspect several others), I came into this semester full of apprehension and more than a little bit of dread.  So what’s changed? Well for one thing I was prompted to download Adobe flash player the other day (don’t ask), and wondered aloud when it would go the way of the dodo bird. On a more serious note, while I am still full of anxiety over my lack of technical expertise and the guillotine that will be Clio II, I have a greater sense for the breadth and scope of New Media’s impact.  Perhaps more importantly, I have a greater sense of the possibility that New Media presents for the history discipline; although  accessibility of sources and the potential for both inter and intra disciplinary cooperation are important consequences of New Media, I think its most profound difference can be summed up in one word: relevancy.

Allow me to elaborate.  History is a discipline that always seems to totter on the verge of ivory towered obscurity, in no small part because so many of us seem way more comfortable with the dead than the living.  In other words, a large part of the discipline’s relevance used to hinge in large part on our inter-personal skills or our ability to write both for our peers and the wide public audience. This may come as a stunning revelation, but our success rate at both was less than stellar.  With the advent of New Media, we can create an engaging interactive website (although we have to get much better at the actual execution of this endeavor), or create a rigorous, academically relevant blog that with the addition of a comments section (again, double edged here), and the absence of the traditional constraints of the monograph format, can allow us greater liberty to write in an engaging manner (provided that hasn’t been drilled out of us).  Take that last sentence for example.  I would never put anything close to that in paper that would ever see the light of day, yet up it goes on my blog.  The point is, New Media makes it easier for us as historians to make history relevant by opening up new avenues for us to connect the past to the present.  As a public historian by trade, you fight an uphill battle everyday to try and reach your public audience, the difference of New Media is that now the battle can continue to be fought long after a visitor a left your site, museum, library etc.  Someone may go on your tour and, at the end, not buy the monograph that is your Bible, but maybe they go home and Google more information.  Maybe that information leads them to another historic site, a blog on a particular subject, or maybe they end up buying a book for further reading. Or maybe, just maybe, they ask a question that leads them to a local archive.  The rest, as they say, is history.

One more thought that I would never have thought possible at the beginning of the semester.  Digital history will not go the way of pyschoanalysis.  That is, the method/field is here to stay.  It is far too useful to go anywhere, and it has and will continue to change the way we research, write, and all around engage with, history.  This is less a prediction than an all but assured fact, and while I may never be comfortable with many of the technical components of new media, the fact that it is here to stay is a little less terrifying and a little more exciting. At least until I get to Clio II next semester


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