Tuesday, February 21, 2012

5 must-read blog posts to start the week

I love writing this post. I'm an avid blog reader - there are so many exciting thinkers and writers out there -  but notice it is all too easy to skim-read content without critically engaging with the actual ideas. The process of curating the best posts of the previous week forces me to slow down and think about the articles that I’m reading and the themes that connect them.

 Several of the posts I was drawn to this week reflected a similar theme – nostalgia. Historian John Tosh has stated that;
‘Like tradition, nostalgia is backward looking, but instead of denying the fact of historical change, it interprets it in one direction only – as change for the worse’. 

Nostalgia can be a way of thinking, a political tool - or even a cultural commodity. Paradoxically, while facing increasingly complex challenges, the western world seems to be increasingly drawn to nostalgia. And when the past is packaged for public consumption it is generally shown in its most attractive light.

The articles below explore the ways in which people often seek comfort in the present or an imagined past, rather than looking to the future:

  1. Is the future shrinking? The Long Now Foundation was established in 1996 by a group of academics and thinkers determined to challenge western civilisation’s ‘pathologically short attention span’ and encourage long-term thinking (where long-term is measured in centuries). The team have recently designed a clock that will keep time for 10,000 years.
  2. Hipster culture has been one of the most interesting expressions of nostalgia and the search for authenticity in recent years and the fantastic New York Magazine essay ‘What Was the Hipster?’ provides historical and sociological context of this postmodern phenomenon.
  3. Fintan O’Toole asks 'would the last postmodernist please turn out the lights?'. O’Toole states that ‘the biggest thing that happened to postmodernism... was its loss of a sense of humour’ and argues that ‘in the end, consumer and celebrity culture defeated postmodernism by embracing it’. When everything is ironic, nothing is ironic.
  4. In her article ‘The Battle for Control of the Internet’, academic Rebecca MacKinnon writes that the longing for the comfort and security in the face of uncertainty is central to the battle for control over freedom of information. MacKinnon warns these desires have the ability to be manipulated to result in a population who ‘voluntarily and eagerly submit to subjugation' - a vision more like Huxley's 'Brave New World' (1932) than Orwell's '1984' (1949).
  5. But there are still plenty of freethinkers with big ideas out there - and more platforms than ever before where they can share them. If you already know and love TED you need to know about the Big Think.
     ‘In our digital age, we’re drowning in information. The web offers us infinite data points - news stories, tweets, wikis, status updates, etc - but very little to connect the dots or illuminate the larger patterns linking them together. Here at Big Think, we believe that success in the future is about knowing the ideas that allow you to manage and master this universe of information.’

Monday, February 13, 2012

5 must-read blog posts to start the week

In my double life as a social media manager and history student I often find myself coming across thought-provoking articles and blog posts written by exciting thinkers working across history, culture, digital media, digital humanities and online storytelling.

In an effort to curate and share some of the big ideas that are currently making my brain melt - here are five of the best posts I read last week:

  1. I do love a good infographic and Reif Larsen has penned a love letter celebrating the narrative eros of visual storytelling. Appropriate for the eve of Valentines Day I think. You’ll love his definition of an ‘infogasm’.
  2. Social media and technology have made humanity more connected that ever but are these connections authentic? Historian Jason Farman explores the myth of the disconnected life and offers a historical overview of the persistent fear that emerging technologies  - from the printing press to the telephone – drive us apart in the ways that really matter. Reading about fears of ‘Kaleidoscomania’ in nineteenth century England made my week.
  3. Historians and archaeologists have already begun to harness the power of online crowdsourcing to engage communities – from enlisting the general public to help translate a 1000 year old Egyptian papyrus to training armchair archaeologists. Gamification occurs in the online world when crowdsourced tasks are turned into games. Tac Anderson explores the truth, lies and promises of gamification and argues that gameplay has the ability to  'unite leaderless groups around shared goals and objectives' and 'turn a crowd into a movement'. Powerful stuff.
  4. You've probably already heard people talking about Pinterest. Last week Techcrunch revealed it is the fastest growing site ever. I started exploring the platform last week and wasted far too much time on it. It's exciting because it is both visual and social and has created a multitude of possibilities for sharing and discussing images online.  Archivist Melissa Mannon agrees and has outlined why she thinks Pinterest offers new opportunities to engage audiences with cultural heritage.
  5. And since it is Valentine’s day tomorrow I hope you enjoy a wonderful post from a blog I can’t stop raving about – the delightful and frequently life affirming Letters of Note.

Friday, February 10, 2012

And so it begins.

In March I’ll be commencing a PhD in History at the University of Western Australia – which means I will be spending the next three years investigating a research question that keeps me up at night. It’s an amazing opportunity made even better by the fact that the university has offered to support me with a scholarship while I am doing it. I like to think of it as a completely wonderful (but extremely underpaid) new job that just so happens to be equally thrilling, terrifying and the most difficult thing I have ever done.

My research project will investigate the influence of consumer culture on the Anzac Legend and Australian national identity - in particular, the ways in which an increased public fascination with the Anzac Legend since the 1980’s has been articulated and commoditised by memory industries including publishing, tourism and entertainment.  I’m a public historian at heart and through my research I hope to better understand non-academic forms of historical engagement  as well as the ongoing - and growing -  fascination Australians have with the past.

During this time I have a feeling that this blog will remain an important creative outlet where I can:
  • share untold stories from Australian history
  • explore the intersection of history and digital media
  • curate and share thought-provoking content from blogs & websites I follow 
  • try out different writing styles and develop my own voice as a historian
  • experiment with digital storytelling in diverse formats including photography, videos and podcasts
  • play with new ideas and get feedback from a community of fellow history nerds
  • keep connected with the outside world during the PhD researching and writing process
Historypunk is likely to remain a delightfully eclectic space - hopefully full of interesting bits and pieces to keep you entertained and inspired. There's a long road ahead so perhaps it will also inspire me too and serve as a reminder of why I fell in love with history in the first place.

Here goes nothing!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

History on TV

Remember when The History Channel showed historical documentaries?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Will future historians face a Digital Dark Age?

Lack of historical evidence has always been one of the greatest frustrations facing historians. Skills such as reading and writing were long the preserve of a privileged few – resulting in a historical record that often reflects the voices of those in power and obscures the lives of ordinary men and women.

All of which makes the recent creation of the largest and most democratic archive of information that humanity has ever seen pretty darn exciting. Behold – the internet!

Yet, despite promising a tantalising treasure trove for future historians our digital heritage is in danger of being destroyed. Digital preservation is not just an issue for historians, it is important for everyone wishing to preserve precious memories for future generations - photos, video or correspondence - in our digital world.

Here are five things you need to know.

1. Much of our cultural record is now ‘born digital’.

Records that are ‘born digital’ include websites, correspondence (such as email), digital photos, digital music files and ebooks. Unlike paper records or film negatives, this information is often stored solely in digital archives. We must find ways to store this data or risk losing it.

2. Digital data is extremely challenging to store for long periods of time .

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, the technologies for storing digital data are prone to decay. There is no way to tell exactly how long a burnt DVD, CD or external hard drive will last but the amount of time is likely to be shorter than you think – estimates vary from 2-5 years. Secondly, even if data is preserved perfectly, data will be lost if the technology that gives us the ability read it becomes obsolete. The U.S. Government found this out the hard way in the late 1970’s when they tried to access data from their 1960 census. By this time there were only two machines left in the world that could read the data (one was in Japan, the other in the Smithsonian Institution). Finally, the amount of data in humanity's digital archive is increasing exponentially. Researchers from University of Southern California have estimated that the volume of digital records overtook analogue records in 2002 and by 2007 (five short years!) over 90% of memory was in digital form.

3. These challenges mean that digital archives need careful management.

Unlike paper records, which often survive despite being abandoned for centuries, digital records will disappear quickly if forgotten. While your grandparents may have tucked away their old photos and papers in a shoebox for decades, digital data does not offer this luxury. The emerging field of digital archaeology is manned by specialists whose task it is to retrieve information and record these technologies.

4. There is only one known way to preserve your digital data.

Keep it moving! Think of your digital archive as a river of data. To keep it flowing you need to regularly move digital photos and documents into new formats. Here are some tips for preserving your digital memories:
  • Recognise that you need to actively manage your own digital archive.
  • Back everything up. Files should exist in at least two difference places in case one format fails or corrupts.
  • Keep external hard drives in a dry, cool , safe place, eject them from your computer properly and for goodness sake, don’t drop them!
  • Shift data onto a new formats every 2-5 years
  • And my best tip? Print out your photos and put them in albums. Retro, right? Printing your photos is inexpensive and a physical photo is still far more likely to be around in 50 years than one saved on a hard drive. Those emails you sent your family while you were on that backpacking trip in Europe? Print those too.

5. Digital archives will transform the way historians work in the future.

While digital archives (including social media such as Twitter and Facebook) are likely to offer future historians rich insights into the lives of a diverse range of people – they will also require the development of new tools to find meaning in an ocean of data. Storage of this data will require both time and money. Who will choose what records survive and which do not? It just may be that we see a kind of digital Darwinism come into action.

Or perhaps, in some cases, even a return to analog technology? The Rosetta Stone is wonderful example of the beauty of simplicity. The stone tablet, created over 2,000 years ago, was rediscovered in Egypt in 1799. It contains a single decree inscribed three times – in Greek, demotic and hieroglyphic. It was the hieroglyphic text that caused a sensation. Hieroglyphs were rarely used after the fourth century AD and the knowledge of how to read them had been lost. This single stone unlocked much of the world of ancient Egypt. When I was living in London, sometimes I would call into the British Museum just to see it.

Inspired by this simplicity, The Rosetta project is a contemporary effort to preserve the world’s many written languages. Academics have created a metal disk engraved with records of over 1,500 languages. The cover of the disc contains the following message for the reader;“Languages of the World: This is an archive of over 1,500 human languages assembled in the year 02008 C.E. Magnify 1,000 times to find over 13,000 pages of language documentation.”. Like the Rosetta Stone, it is hoped the tablet will survive for over 2,000 years.

The Rosetta Stone - Image courtesy of the British Museum.

The Rosetta Disc - Image courtesy of the Rosetta Project.