The Beginning of the Road

The beginning of my road in respect to the readings this week began with Stanford’s “The Spatial History Project.” Without a shadow of doubt the Project, specifically “Shaping the West,” is an innovative and inventive public history project. The theoretical underpinnings of spatial history are fascinating and the methods they employ in their research are fresh and interdisciplinary. That being said, I couldn’t help but be annoyed. Perhaps it was the BSU chip on my shoulder reading about Sanford research and becoming green in the face with funding envy. But more likely it was passages like “We can use sources that historians would normally pass over as too dense and opaque or as too hard to merge with more literary data” that made me want to send a copy of Resurrecting the Granary of Rome to the “lab.” (For those of you who were not in History 500 last semester the author coupled “literary data” with cultural landscape paintings as source material.) In a field where thesis and dissertation topics are becoming more obscure the use of dense and opaque source material is not an option, it is essential.

If the beginning of the road was like heartburn, the end of the road with Scott W. Berg’s Washington Post article was the Prilosec antidote. What was so refreshing about this piece was the idea that historical scholarship and methods were the driving force instead of technology. The StarTrek emulating Bailey said it well, “it isn’t the technology that’s driving the history, but the other way around.” After exploring apps and brainstorming platforms for the public history project I was beginning to get bogged down in the technological aspects and paying less attention to the historical research. This article helped me realize there are endless technological platforms for a history project but the content of the material is the most important factor. In a word the article grounded me. For the last five years of my higher education I’ve been trained to be a historian. I sleuth, I write, I rewrite, I cite and I cite some more. Technology is a means to convey to a larger audience what I find mind-blowingly fascinating. Public history is still history, perhaps just with an edge.

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