Academic, Public, and Digital Writing.

On of our recent public history class discussions focused on writing for a popular audience. The ability to write for a larger, non academic audience is a valuable skill for any public historians. Writing text panels, tourism packages, website texts, and blogs all require a different style of writing than the traditional essay. While allowing more freedom of expression, less strict grammatical rules, and fewer guidelines, popular writing has it’s own challenges. Years of academic writing practices are hard to break. The use of verbose language, complex sentences, and the format of an essay have been ingrained in the minds of many academics.

That being said, I’ve actually come to enjoy writing both digital and print text that is intended to reach a wider audience. Writing text panels, and short website text is definitely a challenge that is very different from writing a paper full of elevated language. The idea of writing for a larger audience on the web, via my blog, took some getting used to. The idea of putting my work, ideas, and commentary on the web was a scary thought at first. What do you mean the entire world is able to look at my work? In reality, I’m sure the entire world isn’t looking at it, but it is still a drastic change from writing a paper that no one other than a Professor will ever read. I still occasionally have concerns that certain things aren’t ready to be put on my blog, and subscribe to self-censorship at times.

But, overall I think that presenting ideas online opens up an entirely different avenue of learning. The ability to create hyperlinks, inter-textual works, and the accessibility of digital writing, makes it a valuable forum. Digital writing can be used to test ideas, gain experience writing, and potentially create an audience for your work, all of which are valuable pursuits and much harder to achieve in the traditional print world.

Consumed by History.

Being a university student who is interested in the digital representations of history has its downfalls. One of the largest being that because there is such a wide range of digital information available online, hours can be spent looking up different historical topics and tools online. Since I have spent so much time looking at different history related digital items I thought I would share some of my favorites:

Podcasts:
-The BBC podcast, In Our Time by Melvyn Bragg. This podcast covers everything from science, religion, philosophy, culture and traditional history. A lot of the podcasts focus on the history of a particular idea, person or concept and include guest speakers who are often experts on the topic.

Making History by Vanessa Collingridge is another BBC podcast. This podcast focuses on the historical quires of listeners and the way in which history is perceived and constructed.

CBC podcasts could consume my entire day if I let them. They have podcasts of their radio shows, the hour, various TV productions, and numerous regional based podcasts.

-The History section of LearnOutLoud.com features numerous podcasts which are historically focused. A good majority require the user to pay, however they do occasionally include include featured podcasts which are often free.

Alan Cross ‘ podcast of The Ongoing History of New Music. Okay so this may not be traditional history. But it is definitely well researched and well worth a listen to anyone who is interested in the evolution of a particular band or music genre. As with over 500 episodes produced there is bound to be something that interests you.

Educational Resources:
CBC Digital Archive. The site has numerous video clips and interviews which are easily accessible and search-able. The site also includes an educational section which is designed for teachers, which includes a variety of multimedia learning activities such as “What was Oka About”, “What was the October crisis?”, “The World of Satellite Technology” etc.

Canada’s National History Society: The Beaver. Like CBC The Beaver’s website has a section dedicated to the educational uses of history and includes lesson plans and resources for teaching history.

Early Canadiana Online, is a digital library which features works published from the time of early settlers, up until 20th century Canada. Its a valuable resource as well as a good example of the use of digital technology to transmit historical information to an increasingly diverse audience.

The Canadian Encyclopedia. This resource is both Canadian and informative. It also includes a youth Encyclopedia which provides public and high school friendly interpretations of historical events.

-You know those catchy history minutes that are shown on TV? Well they are available online at Historica Minutes Online. The site also features lesson plans based on the history minutes.

Steve.Museum. A site which is based in applying social tagging principles to museum collections and is based in open software to allow people and institutions from a variety of backgrounds to participate.

Digital History Online. This site is primarily focused on the history of the United States but includes a ton of resources for making learning interactive. The “For Teachers” section includes interactive modules, handouts and fact sheets, lesson plans and resource guides. Outside of the teacher section the site also includes a ton of digital resources such as maps, music clips, online exhibits, games and newspapers.

Digital Things (That aren’t really history geared, but could be)
Google Sketchup. I’m not quite as addicted as my classmate Meaghan. However I definitely agree with her assessment of the potential of sketchup for creating plans for collection displays and any type of physical project.

del.icio.us. A social bookmarking tool which is search-able, and if nothing else provides an interesting look at what the general public consider history.

Google Books. Its raining outside and I have readings to do. Needless to say Google books often wins over trekking to the library.

This list is not nearly exhaustive and isn’t close to being a complete list of everything history related I do online. But it does highlight a few of the digital things that I am intrigued by.

Finding Relevance

I have been attempting to legitimize my choice to pursue History (and now Public History) to others for quite sometime now. After enthralling but somewhat abstract class discussions I often find myself wondering if anything we are talking about has relevance to people outside the realm of history. I think this desire to feel relevant is in part why I was first drawn to Public History, as it seems to be more interactive with the public at large.

This weekend while reading the Globe and Mail I stumbled on an article that was essentially a rehashing of a topic which we keep returning to in digital history. In the article Can Hard Drives Replace Archives, Anthony Furey discusses the rise of digital technology and the concerns which many historians have over the way in which technology is changing the way in which history is written. Furey focuses his article mainly on the writing of historical biography, and suggests that email communication and other more informal electronic communication has the potential to greatly enhance a biography. I wish Furey had of mentioned other positive ways that technology can be used by historians in the classroom, in museums, academia and other institutions (as the possibilities seem nearly endless at this point). However the mere fact that this article appeared in the Globe and Mail was some what reassuring in itself. We aren’t the only people who care about some of the stuff we are talking about in class and maybe History isn’t as irrelevant as some people think after all.