Friday, October 27, 2006

Thoughts on Final Project

So after a couple of weeks kicking this idea around, I think I'm ready to put it into narrative form. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I have given my project the title "History's Prism." This website will be a wiki for historians. Just as a prism divides visible light into its component colors, "History's Prism" can be used to break the narrative of history into separate versions, reflecting particular dogmas or different sets of sources. Where Wikipedia takes submissions from disparate contributors and tries to edit these into a single version of history, "History's Prism" seeks to gather as many different versions of core events and save each as a separate entity. The goal here is not to get one definitive version of history based on the aggregate contributions of many. It is a method of looking at an event through many lenses.
The home page of the website would consist of a search able time line. The entries on the time line would be either "core events" or "core themes." A core event is an event defined by the contributing scholars, and could be as big as the Battle of Hastings, or as small as the publishing of a book. The core themes, also determined by contributors, could cover issues not limited to singular events, such as the migration of African-Americans to the North after Reconstruction. The granularity of the listings is a factor of contribution, but cross-referencing between themes and events is a must. As a wiki, the environment will expand to fill the demand-until it overloads the server, that is.
Once an event is selected or included, the user is directed to a separate page that handles the information. One method of presentation I wish to avoid is the stacking of one element below the other. This smacks of establishing a hierarchy of accuracy, and I want to avoid it. I saw one method of positioning information on the screen that put a single piece of information in the center, and the multiple relevant entries circled and moved around the center, but were tied to it with visible links. It looked very much like a sea urchin that was used as a note spindle. (For those of you born after the invention of Post-it notes, the spindle was a big pin that sat on a desk, and you could impale notes on it as a way of keeping them from spreading around and getting lost. If you are still in doubt, see the Rod Steiger movie "The Pawnbroker.") I do not know what this format is called, or even if it far beyond my lousy computer skills, but if anyone else is familiar with it, please let me know-Josh? I just really love the non-hierarchical nature of the arrangement. Also, the events could be tied to other events, or to themes. So I could follow a link from the theme of "British Colonialism" to "American Revolution" to events like "Cornwallis' Surrender" to "The Battle of Yorktown." From there, I could find contributions on maps, uniforms, weaponry--whatever the contributors chose to link to that core event. I envision the contributions to be anything from articles to scanned primary sources to maps to movie clips to bibliographic essays of books. The contributions need be no more than simple bibliographic information, although a small description would be nice. The main idea is that this site is all-inclusive, and each entry links to the core event. It takes some of the most useful parts of bibliographic index, but unlike the index, it can be expanded. Some editing will be necessary to prevent nuisance additions. This would be a nice mash-up with Zotero, Google Earth, Flikr, etc, and make use of RSS technology. I see it as a good repository for students writing papers, posting the bibliographic info, and exploring links.
One of the main strengths I see is this--for each core event, different viewpoints are linked there for everyone to compare. This site needs to expose Methodology, not Content. In other words, it is an opportunity to explore historiography, not just history. This is why I want to avoid a hierarchical structure. I would like to see Marxist interpretations sharing space with progressive histories. Dr. McGrath, GMU's Byzantine specialist, insists that a thorough review of all the relevant material is the first critical step in creating a long format research project. "History's Prism" can provide a platform for sharing that information.


At October 30, 2006 9:51 AM, Anonymous Jenny said...

Interesting... can you link between entries as well? I have a very visual picture of the note spindle. I like your description.

At October 31, 2006 3:15 PM, Blogger Epistemographer said...

*Love* the'll require you doing a whole lot of thinking about how to maintain coherency of discrete events while at the same time maintaining the integrity of contradicting accounts of those events. You'll need someplace to plant your feet as an organizing principle for the site, whether it's simply wiki-like headings or more of a time/space based interface. Let's talk more about this...

Oh, and I'm not sure what to call the hub-and-spokes form you described earlier, but I think one of the best examples of it can be found at

At November 07, 2006 1:51 PM, Anonymous Karin said...

would like the note spindle on my desk...I always lose the post-it notes. I love the idea...would be huge help with the Nelson paper. It seems like you might be proposeing a huge organizational undertaking though. Would you organize the site by methodology (although the more the I think about that concept the more it overwhelms me) as you want that to be your main focus? V. cool idea though


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