History 696:

Journal on Online Community

Barry Wellman and Milena Gulia note that most writing on virtual communities is based on "anecdote" rather than "evidence." "There have been few detailed ethnographic studies of virtual communities, no surveys of who is connected to whom and about what." This assignment is your opportunity to help remedy this surprising gap by investigating online historical communities.

You can choose to investigate historical communities organized around participants, enthusiasts, or professionals. You need to select the online community you are going to observe and then spend a significant amount of time (say, two-three hours) reading their discussions.Ideally, you might sample the discussions over a period of time (a year?) so as to to get a better sense of the shape of the discourse and the community. In some cases, the evidence of the community you have chosen may be too limited and you will need to look at more than one community to develop your report.

Based on what you observe, write and post a brief (ca. 500 words) report from the field. Who is involved in the discussion? Who are the members of the discussion community? What is being discussed? Is on-line discussion serving purposes that are not provided by other media? Are, as Wellman and Gulia ask, "online [history] communities 'real' communities?" If not, could they be?

Be prepared to make a five-minute report on what you learned. Please also email me by Sunday AM (sooner would be better)to tell me which community you are studying.

Here are some suggestions on finding online history communities. But don't feel limited by my suggestions; this is an uncharted world and there are lots of communities out there that I don't know about.

Usenet Forums: One of the first online discussion forums (going back to 1979) was "Usenet." In 1995, Deja News created a Web front end to Usenet. More recently, Google took over Deja News and their archive of 500 million Usenet messages. They have messages for a number of history related groups, including soc.history.ancient; soc.history.moderated; soc.history.early-modern; soc.history.science; soc.history.living; soc.history.medieval; soc.history.what-if; soc.history.war.misc; soc.history.war.vietnam; soc.history.war.us-civil-war; soc.history.war.world-war-ii; soc.history.war.us-revolution
You can get to these at http://groups.google.com/groups?hl=en&lr=&safe=off&group=soc.history

H-Net: Locating a "professional" historical community discussion is easy. Go to the H-Net discussion lists at http://www.h-net.msu.edu/lists/. There are more than one hundred different lists. Choose a list that interests you; you might want to subscribe, but you don't need to. Go to discussion logs at http://www.h-net.msu.edu/logs and start sampling the logs.

History Channel sponsor's various online discussions at http://www.historychannel.com/discuss/index.html

SeniorNet: Another kind of historical community is made up of participants in that history. SeniorNet has a very active discussion board on World War II. Go to http://www.seniornet.org/php/default.php?PageID=5801&Version=0&Font=0Another place to find "participants" is the History Channel's Veteran's Forum at http://veterans.historychannel.com/default.asp

Genealogy: There are a number of online genealogy discussions, which could be observed. One possible starting place is http://lists.rootsweb.com/

History News Network: Examine the various discussions surrounding articles on HNN: http://hnn.us