Recalling and interpreting history is undergoing a monumental shift. Persons with advanced degrees, those with devoted amateurism, and the woefully uninformed may all participate in the same arena.
The benefits of this new arena are self-evident. Perhaps you saw this article tweeted via my feed @ProHoopsHistory. Perhaps you searched Google and somehow you landed here. After reading what my take on digital history might be, you find it charming and spread its magnificence. Or maybe you found it a flaming pile of digital excrement and leave a less-than-flattering comment below. Whatever the path, whatever the reaction, the Internet has allowed for people dozens, hundreds and thousands of miles apart to share the same experience on history.
That this conversation could even exist is a tremendous boon and bonus for the field of history.
However, there’s always a “but.”
While discussing the perils and promises of history in the digital age, Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig reveal that in 2004 the most popular hit on Google for a history on Abraham Lincoln belonged to a retired high school history teacher and not to any number of highly credentialed Lincoln scholars. (Run-on sentences are also a problem in any age).
Lincoln enthusiast Roger Norton described himself as “not an author or an historian; rather I am a former American history teacher who enjoys researching Abraham Lincoln’s life and accomplishments.” Well, that was in 2004. As of this writing in 2013, the website is now dead and gone: http://members.aol.com/RVSNorton/Lincoln2.html. So much for enjoying Abraham Lincoln.
The death of websites via amateur fatigue is but one danger. Even more worrisome is that access to the necessary resources that build thorough online histories is limited by corporate prerogatives. Just this past week, the NBA announced, via Twitter of course, that its Hardwood Classics would be available. Sounds great, right?
But remember, there’s always a “but.”
You can only access these classic NBA games and actually see for yourself the fantastic play of Oscar Robertson or Rick Barry if you purchase the games from iTunes. This monetary firewall continues to bedevil a truly complete and thorough recollection of professional basketball history. It’s bad enough many of the NBA’s early games are simply lost. Now those that are still around may only be accessed if the NBA itself profits monetarily.
That’s one thing the Digital History age has in common with its antecedents: denial of easy access to information will continue to dog the layman and hound the professional.