Black Confederates in the Digital Age
Those of you interested in how the evolution of digital technology has transformed the writing and publication of history will want to check out Writing History in the Digital Age, which is an open-review collection of essays edited by Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki. This is an interesting experiment. You have access to a fairly large number of essays and comments can be added to each paragraph. This open review process will continue until Nov. 14 when the editors will select those essays that will be included in the volume.
The first essay is titled “I nevertheless am a historian”: Digital Historical Practice and Malpractice around Black Confederate Soldiers” by Leslie Madsen-Brooks. The author uses the black Confederate “debate” to explore issues related to how “members of the public who are not academically trained historians ‘do history.'” While the essay is thought provoking one of my problems with it is the assumption that some of the usual suspects referenced are actually doing history. Rather, I would suggest that they are doing something along the lines of sharing documents without any context or analysis. The document in question supposedly speaks for itself. For me, doing history involves more than simply engaging in insult and a reliance on anecdotal evidence. It involves analysis of primary sources and the situation of that analysis within a broader historiographical context.
The essay makes clear something that I’ve noted for some time: There is a great deal of crap on the Internet! In acknowledging this, however, the author remains focused on the need for professional historians to become more involved in this new digital/social media landscape rather than the more important challenge of how historians and teachers can more effectively engage both students and the general public in the proper evaluation of websites. That is a minor quibble with what is an insightful and highly entertaining essay.