In today’s world, history is not only being stored and posted on the Internet, but also created through it. As Suey Park reminded her followers, “communication technologies are not cold and mechanical, but are simply a platform to allow for human interaction.”
And what is history but the recording and interpretation of human interaction? Questions about the validity of sources gathered from the Internet have arisen since its implementation, giving way to harsh criticism of the online community’s ability to produce reliable information. Sometimes it seems as if academics and universities feel challenged by this new source of collective knowledge.
To be fair, there is a certain amount of criticism that needs to be brought to the table when exploring information on the Internet.But instead of dismissing and discrediting, why not try a new path? Why not educate and work with citizen scholars and online communities to create, research, and engage in reliable production of information.
Amanda Grace Sikarskie’s article “Citizen Scholars: Facebook and the Cocreation of Knowledge,” exemplifies the kind of informative dialogue that can be produced through social media interface. She discusses the project, Quilt Index, and the use of what she
terms “lay scholars” or “citizen scholars” to enter into a dialogue that enhances information regarding the project. The Facebook page is about “sharing but not relinquishing” responsibility. For example, the Quilt Index Facebook community has actively participated in providing information to create a more accurate set of metadata. The scholars collaborate with Facebook users to research their suggestions and correct their own information. In the process, they have created an interweaving dialogue that strengthens the fiber of their project as a whole, while generating active interest in the project. What looms over the horizon for future scholars and citizen scholars? What threads will they uncover? There is sew much promise. [Ok, I’m done.]
Suey Park’s blog post, “The Viral Success of #NotYourAsianSidekick Wasn’t About Me, But All of Us,” discusses the role of online communities in the production of social movements and trending hashtags. The hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick is a beautiful example of history being produced through the Internet by an online community.
Sikarskie and Park illuminate two sides that scholars are going to have to come to terms with. 1. Engagement with citizen scholars can be immensely useful to historical projects. They provide legitimate and accurate source material. Like any good researcher understands, source material, no matter where or who produces it, should be contextualized and checked for accuracy, but no type of source material should be dismissed as a whole. 2. Scholars are going to have to grapple with the emerging history that happens on and through social media platforms. As a history student, who has been frustrated on many occasions by how, who, and what to site while writing research papers, this brings up a lot of interesting questions. It is clear that in studying history, online communities play a huge role in promoting and creating history. So, how would one site a hashtag? Who gets authorship of that hashtag? How does one give credit to an entire online community? How will scholars contextualize historical moments produced through online interfaces?
At some point these questions will have to be carefully considered, for now, it is important to understand that there is a way for scholars and academics to incorporate, create dialogue, and engage with online communities to produce accurate information and context. There is a way to bridge the gap between scholar and citizen scholar, probably several ways. I look forward to being a part of and participating, from both sides, in this exciting time of collaboration and research.