History 615:

The Web Journal

Each student will develop an on-line "web journal" in which you will record your reactions to readings and carry out other assignments. There are 8 journal entries; of these, you are required to do #s 1, 2, 7, & 8; you can choose to do any two out of #s 3-6. Journal entries are meant to be informal, yet serious and analytical, responses to the work of the semester. The entries are due by the evening of the class where the reading is assigned. (You will lose credit for unexcused, late entries.) During the optional weeks, you should send me an email to alert me to the fact that you have posted a journal entry.

I will comment at least twice (but perhaps more frequently) on your entries. At the end of the semester, you will offer a larger commentary on your own entries and those of your classmates.

Journal #1 (Due 14 September): One page (250-350 words) reflection on readings; bring your comments on a floppy disk (pc or mac) in a file format that is readable by Microsoft word version 6.0 (In other words, if you use word perfect, save it as a word file; if you use, something more unusual, save it as text.)

Discuss either of these questions/topics:

    1. What are the assumptions and arguments that underlie the commentaries by Birkerts and Kelly? How would Phil Agre respond to them? How do you respond?
    2. What are the general principles that Agre recommends to analyzing new media? Apply those principles to analyzing the implications of translating an existing genre of historical work into new media form?

Journal #2 (Due 28 September): One page (250-350 words) reflection on readings; must be posted to your web page. Write on either of these topics:

    1. Compare the arguments that Bass, O’Malley & Rosenzweig, and Smith make for the contribution of the Web to history and American Studies? What do you think is potentially the most important contribution of the Web to these areas?
    2. In the first class I asked the question "can you top this" to make the point about the need to consider whether new media are better than old. In what ways is Chicago Fire web site better or worse than visiting an exhibit or getting a book from the library?

Journal # 3 (optional and due 5 October): One page (250-350 words) reflection on readings; posted to your web page. Write on any of these topics:
1. In his conclusion Czitrom says that his schema may seem to favor "the utopian side of the dialectic." But one reviewer calls the book "downbeat." What do each of them mean? Is the book utopian or downbeat or both? Should the history of media make us pessimistic or optimistic?
2. One of the central debates in writing about communications technologies and media is about the degree to which technology shapes social change. Probably the most influentialapproach to the relationship between technology and society in both popular and academic writing has been "technological determinism" (or perhaps "media determinism") in the which the technology or the media is seen as the "prime mover." To what degree are the authors you have just read "technological" or media determinists? Does technology or media shape history?
3. Having read about print, photographs, telegraphs, radio, and film, do you think that "new media" (digital and computer based media) are genuinely "new." In what ways are they similar to or different from these "old" media?
4. Critically explore how media history is represented on the Web.
Web Journal 4 (optional): Due 19 October: One page (250-350 words) reflection on readings; posted to your web page. Write on any of these topics:
1. One way to think about the connections between Landow's approach to hypertext for literature and literary studies and the subject of history is through the common thread of "narrative." More specifically, the common bond between literary and historical studies is what I think of as the relationship between "the story and the archive." What is suggested by Landow and other hypertext theorists is a fundamental shift in this relationship between "the story" (big historical narratives, narratives of events or historical moments) and "the archive" (the cultural and historical record drawn from in order to construct the narrative). What does hypertext, as a presentational and rhetorical tool, suggest for the practice of history and the telling of historical stories? Beyond access to materials, what does hypertext offer as a tool for changing the way historical stories get told? Are they differences in degree or in kind? Where do you see relevance in Landow's descriptions of hypertext (and networks) to the representation of multilinear and multivocal history?

2. In reading about hypertext as a rhetorical and presentational tool, and ooking at an example of hypertext fiction, such as Marble Springs, consider how one might present a historical period, event, or theme in
hypertext? Think of an historical monograph on a topic. How would that study or one like it be mapped in hypertext? How might the relationship between the monograph's argument and its (largely) invisible archival sources be different in hypertext? Would a different access and arrangement of the monograph's archival materials transform the nature of the argument, or would it just enrich it? How might a particular monographic argument and narrative be different if represented in space and not just in time?

3. Consider Jerome McGann's point about no longer "needing to use books to study books," that we no longer need be limited by the "scale of our tools." What does he mean by that? What possibilities for current and future epistemologies and methodologies does a change "in the scale of the tools" open up for the discipline of history?
Web Journal 5 (optional): Due 26 October
If you haven't already answered questions 1 or 3 (story and archives and scale of tools) from last week, you can answer those for this journal entry. Or, you can answer any of the following three questions:
1. Lanham's key theoretical precept revolves around the notion of the end of print's single-minded paradigm of "unselfconscious transparency," and its replacement with what he calls the AT/THROUGH oscillation. The discipline of history epitomizes, it seems to me, a devotion to "unselfconscious transparency." Yet, like literaray studies, historical discourse is both about narrative and rhetoric (even if it is not conceived as rhetoric. Where is there a place for seeing the AT/THROUGH oscillation in historical discourse? What dimensions of historical discourse might new media illuminate with its capacity to communicate content while at the same time exposing the apparatus of the production of content (wearing it on the outside, as the Centre Pompidou wears its pipes)?

2. Janet Murray lists four characteristics of digital environments that make them especially suggestive for new types of literary form: they are procedural, participatory, spatial, and encyclopedic. Just working with those characteristics can you imagine an historical treatment of a theme or an event in which its treatment in new media would be "expressive" and not merely "additive"? Which of those characteristics, and in what combinations, characterize the sites you have examined thus far in the course?

3. What aspects of Berkhofer's "reflexive (con)textualization" would be facilitated or made visible by new media environments? Are Berkhofer's ideas similar to Lanham's AT/THROUGH oscillation? Without getting caught up in any sweeping claims, try to identify some local points in Berkhofer's discussion that match up with things you've read or seen in new media so far. What is an example of a correspondence between a theoretical or methodological precept that Berkhofer puts forward and capability of new media (technical, rhetorical, expressive)?
Web Journal 6 (optional): Due 9 November: One page (250-350 words) reflection on readings; posted to your web page. Write on any of these topics:
1. "The computerization of society," writes one commentator , "has essentially been a side effect of the computerization of war."Do you agree or disagree based on your reading of Campbell-Kelly and Aspray's book?
2. What insights into the future of the Internet and the Web do you gain from reading Campbell-Kelly and Aspray? If none, say why not.
3. Do machines change society? What about the computer? Does Aspray and Campbell-Kelly’s book support or challenge a technological determinist reading of history?

Web Journal #7 (required)

So far, we have looked primarily at Web sites as places where digital history is being practiced. But there are many other ways in which digital media are used to convey ideas and information about the past. Next week, we investigate two very different genres of digital historical work. One is the CD-ROM, which itself maybe multiple different genres; the other is the Internet and Web as forums for on-line discussion about the past.

You will need to investigate either of these genre for next week’s class. Regardless of which one you choose, you need to do all the reading for next week.

I. If you choose to investigate CD-ROMs, you will take one of the cd-roms that I will provide. You should write a brief, critical evaluation of that CD-ROM in which you describe the values and limitations of CD-ROM as a medium for presenting the past. You will probably want to make use of the week’s reading by Rosenzweig, Noam, and Nielsen. One question you might want to consider is that posed in the titles of the articles by Noam and Nielsen: "Will Books Become the Dumb Medium?" and "Electronic Books—A Bad Idea." You should be prepared to make a five-minute report on the CD-ROM that you considered. Note that some CD-ROMs take a very substantial amount of time to read in their entirety. In those cases, you should spend enough time to have gotten a full sample of what the CD-ROM offers—probably spending at least two hours considering it.

II. If you choose to investigate on-line historical discussion, you need to look into at least two different on-line discussions—one involving professional historians and the other involving at least a substantial number of non-professionals. Write a brief 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? What, if any, are the differences between the academic and non-academic on-line communities? Be prepared to make a five-minute report.

Locating a "professional" historical community discussion is easy. Go to the H-Net discussion lists at http://www.h-net.msu.edu/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 select the discussion logs for one month for that group. Read one month of discussion (unless it is thin and, if so, the do two or three months).

The more popular or nonacademic lists vary a great deal in quality. Below are some places to find them but I should say that I have not reviewed all of these. Some will turn out to be worthless or possibly offensive. There are lots of other places where on-line discussion about the past is going on, and I encourage you to search out other sites on your own. Don’t feel that you should be limited by notions of "formal" history; think about the past broadly defined, included hobbies, collections, and enthusiasms.

A. One key site is "Deja News," where you "can read, search, participate in and subscribe to more than 50,000 discussion forums, including Usenet newsgroups." It is at http://www.dejanews.com/

Near the top of the page on the left hand side, you will see a link to "interest finder." If you click on that, you can search for "forums" related to your interests. If you enter "history," you get 39 forums in the "main archive." Some of these don’t appear to be historical even using a broad definition of the term (e.g., "rec.sport.pro-wrestling"), but others sound more plausible, e.g.,

  • soc.history.medieval
  • soc.history.what-if
  • soc.history
  • alt.genealogy
  • alt.war.vietnam
  • rec.music.rock-pop-r+b.1960s
  • alt.history
  • alt.history.british
  • alt.history.what-if

In fact, the search for "history" doesn’t turn up all the historically related discussion groups. If you try "civil war," for example, you get

  • alt.war.civil.usa
  • soc.history.war.us-civil-war
  • rec.games.miniatures.historical
  • soc.history.war.world-war-ii
  • comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.war-historical
  • Or by browsing I found:
  • soc.history.african
  • soc.history.ancient
  • soc.history.living
  • soc.history.moderated
  • soc.history.science
  • soc.history.war.us-revolution
  • soc.history.war.misc

You can find other newsgroups by thinking about history boradly defined.

B. Another promising starting point is "Forum One"(http://www.ForumOne.com/)—"the web’s search engine for on-line forums," which claims to index 225,000 Web Forums. Searching on "history" gives you hits on such forums as "AncientSites Discussions: The Forum" and "American Truck Historical Society / Bulletin Board." Searching "Civil War," leads you, for example to the "Civil War Navy and Marine Reenactor's Forum" and "Spanish Civil War 1936-1939"

Here are a few other places to look for discussions that go beyond professional historians:

C. "The Town Crier . . . an active forum of educators, historians, students, researchers and journalists with one common interest: Early America." At:


D. "Talk About History is TheHistoryNet’s interactive forum devoted to discussion of history and history-related topics." It includes different forums on topics like the Civil War and history books. At:


E. The Mining Company includes bulletin boards on such topics as

Historical Reenactment at http://reenactment.miningco.com/mpboards.htm

Genealogy at http://genealogy.miningco.com/mpboards.htm

American History at http://americanhistory.miningco.com/ (then look for chat)

Women’s History at http://womenshistory.miningco.com/

And other topics, including live chat; the starting point for looking is http://home.miningco.com/gi/boards/proxicom/mpboards.htm

Or specifically for history at http://home.miningco.com/issues/mbody.htm#history