This week’s readings conveyed numerous hopes and fears concerning the changes that Digital History and the Internet are bringing to historians and the public. Amidst the plethora of topics, discourses, and lines of thought that jumped out at me, my attention gravitated to two conceptions in particular: Authority and Truth. These ideas strongly relate to issues of power and systems of control, especially in the collection, preservation, presentation, and construction of history.
In one of the readings, a quote by Gertrude Himmelfarb illuminates subtle discourses, presuppositions, and fears concerning how the Internet, like postmodernism, is upsetting the balance of power and her definition of truth.
“Like postmodernism, the Internet does not distinguish between the true and the false, the important and the trivial, the enduring and the ephemeral…Every source appearing on the screen has the same weight and credibility as every other; no authority is ‘privileged’ over any other.”
While I agree with Gertrude’s assessment, I do not agree with her opinion that these ramifications are negative. By destabilizing the discourses of esoteric understanding and exclusive power held by “elites,” “professionals,” and “experts,” both postmodernism and the internet shift the power to define what is true, false, important, and trivial to a broader range of humanity, as opposed to a modern, traditional, non-digital source telling the reader what is true and important.
This line of thought is connected to hypertextuality. According to Cohan and Rosenzweig, “For postmodernists, hypertextuality fractures and decenters traditional master narratives in beneficial ways. According to George Landow, “Hypertext emphasizes that the marginal has as much to offer as the central by refusing to grant centrality to anything for more than the time a gaze rests upon it. In hypertext, centrality, like beauty and relevance, resides in the eye of the beholder.”
This relativity is frightening to many, for it challenges the established definitions and assumptions of what truth is and who has the authority to determine said truth. Gertrude expressed her concerns with such a notion: “Internet search engines will produce a comic strip or advertising slogan as readily as a quotation from the Bible or Shakespeare.”
When a comic strip created by an “average” person possesses as much influence as sacrosanct and authoritative texts, the balance of power and the established frameworks through which systems and identities rely on are significantly challenged. Despite what the opinions in our readings have suggested, we are witness to a revolution. Not merely a digital revolution, but a revolution of ideas, power, authority, and truth.
- nobodylovesaperfecthero said: Historians are scared of change, and they’re scared of the shift of power. What if we have to change in order to “keep” the power?
- khasbrouck said: I agree with Carl. Information should be freely available, but someone has to be a sort of gatekeeper or reference for what is reliable. I hesitate to use the word truth here. Can we, as historians, really be “in charge” of truth?
- rustin-lloyd said: I enjoy your thoughts on postmodernism. Even outside of the sphere of digital history postmodern thought has ruffled some feathers. My blog attempts to cover some aspects of this as well.
- jennifercook17 reblogged this from josephcorbett and added:
- sjgoesdigital said: I think that the shift of the balance of power will be one of the major hurdles that digital history faces, and it ties well with the democratization of history. Does the openness of the internet undermine the position of the professional historian?
- josephcorbett posted this