The relationship between the medium of the Internet and the academic fields like cultural studies and History is reciprocal. We shouldn't put history on the Web just because everything seems to be there nowadays, or even simply because it makes it more readily accessible. There are real parallels between recent transformations in the practice of history and the development of the Web.

As American Studies scholar Randy Bass argues, "if it seems as though new interactive technologies- such as electronic discussion lists, bulletin boards, and newgroups- have instigated venues for every kind of special interest and subfield imaginable, it is only because the academic disciplines have been subdividing and recombining at an accelerated rate ever since curriculum revision inextricably fused with identity politics in the 1960s. And if it seems as though virtual environments and electronic texts are inviting us to make real the presuppositions of postmodern theory, it is only because both postmodern theory and interactive technologies are manifestations of our lived experience in the 'late age of print'" (Bass Introduction). Bass' point is that there's no coincidence here; both are rooted in the same historical moment.

The main parallel Bass identifies between new technologies and shifts in the practice of history is between "distributive communication" (which is just a fancy way of talking about the shift from broadcast to interactive technologies) and distributive epistemology. I thought "distributive epistemology" was an interesting (if inaccessible) way to class together some massive changes that have taken place in our institutions of knowledge production.

A crisis of authority (the deconstruction of objectivity, the new emphasis on the problematics of history, and the rethinking of authorship), the rise of social history (the "democratizing" of history and the politics of representation), the fracturing of a coherent and singular "history" of a people and the emphasis on multiple perspectives; all these recent phenomena in the field of history coincide with the development of technology that allows anyone to be a potential producer of shared information, that refracts knowledge through many perspectives. As Bass points out, knowledge is no longer conceived of as a product but as a process. If your eyes roll involuntarily back into your head at the term "process" (or any of the ubiquitous language I've used in the past few sentences), that's because these new ways of understanding the world really are pervasive and systematic.

(Just to situate this web project in the current historiography...)


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I also think that my topic happens to make sense in hypertext.

Are you wondering what kind of history web site this is, anyway?


Juliet Gorman, May 2001