“Not a thing but a continued experience”
E.P. Thompson was speaking of class in his foreword when he wrote the above quote. I believe the line is more about history in general than his research topic. As history moves forward and evolves it and the subjects of research become a continued experience. Thompson used his own methodology to support his interpretation of class in late 18th and early 19th English society, contemporary historians can develop new methods to demonstrate their historical interpretations. Just as Thompson built on the previous work of others, strengthening some arguments and debunking others, current historians must create their own methodology to support their work. One of the new tools modern historians have that was not available to Thompson is the technology, expertise, and network of knowledge on the internet. The Net has revolutionized other fields and it has the ability to continue the experience of history.
Weinberger states that “science is doing better than ever.” (156) He attributes this primarily to the network of knowledge and information available on the internet. This new web of knowledge has allowed the field of science to expand exponentially. The Net has enabled scientists to work together in ways never before possible. This has also all happened within the last few years. This rapid expansion of the scientific field has led to new discoveries and reach different audiences. The field of science is experience rapid growth and it’s largely due to the network of information and organized expertise. Weinberger does sarcastically admit that there are a few stubborn scientists who wish to remove themselves from the Net and conduct their research isolated from other scientists. He also cautions of the potential for falsehoods as a result of the Net and the media, but on the whole the Net is a positive force for scientific discovery. I wonder how this relates to the field of history.
To me it seems that the historical field has more possible holdouts than the scientific field when it comes to using the Net to its full potential. Science, because its direct link to technology, advances at a rapid pace while history takes time to develop and evolve. Time has to go by for history to take place. This makes history advance at a slower pace. If historians were to embrace the wealth of knowledge and expertise available to them on the web, then history could make leaps similar to science. As Ben Schmidt’s website showed us one of the ways to relay a message from history to a large audience in a remarkably short amount of time. If new technology and collaborative efforts are utilized the historical field may be able to make better use of the resources available via the Net. Not only does this quicken the pace of historical research, but it also expands history’s reach to a mass audience.
A networked history helps experts and society better understand both current and past events. This network draws expertise from multiple fields and creates what Eley found during his time at Oxford, an interdisciplinary study. The Net could be the next big thing in the historical field. It could lead to new types of research and different perspectives that may redefine history as a discipline. I think the Net, like social history in past generations of historical research, has the ability to “make the world knowable through history.” (59)
I agree that the Internet now gives historians the ability to reach a wider audience and to reach out to those who may otherwise have little interest in the subject. This is an exciting and optimistic outlook for the future of history, in my opinion. And as a budding teacher, I feel that ultimately the Internet will also aid in educating future generations and that we are only just beginning to understand its potential, particularly when it comes to motivation and actually kids excited about the past. On another note, I am anxious to see how much “redefining” of the subject will occur, as you mention, in your post, but I feel that regardless of what happens, history will remain the same at its core and that the Internet will only enhance the subject overall. But, I suppose time will only tell!
I agree with Laura that history will keep its core and Internet will improve the subject, and I think one of cores is Thompson’s statement you mention in the beginning of the post: a continued experience. Just as Thompson’s research tells us, people are not living in a period separate from the past and the future. Knowing history is to know where we live in time flow. And this is no one but historians can help. Internet and interdisciplinary knowledge are ways to let historians do better.
The internet, with it’s ability to connect people, and also with its ability to display multimedia visual information in new ways, does appear to be the next revolution in the way we “do” history. While it’s not necessarily the same kind of revolution as the social history described by Eley as emerging in the late 60’s, it has the potential to revolutionize content and perspective by including many voices in a continuous conversation.