How Web 2.0 will change history

As an editor of archival websites, I’m interested in the tools available for historical publishing, research and interpretation. And the advent of Web 2.0 means that such tools are proliferating and becoming easier and more fun to use. Social software is making search interfaces more intuitive and clever; it is making publishing dialogic – readers can also be writers; and it is enabling many new kinds of collaborations to occur in interpreting collections.

Last month I addressed a small group at the Australian Historical Association conference in Canberra on this topic of How Web 2.0 will change history – possible futures for websites of the National Archives of Australia (PDF 312kb). The paper was framed by this mindmap I made

Mindmap of Web 2.0 and the life cycle of historiography

(inspired by other mindmaps on Web 2.0, like the one on Wikipedia).

There are plenty of exciting things the National Archives of Australia could do with these technologies, and it is starting to happen, but the path is long, resources are limited, and in some ways a cultural shift is necessary – it does not come naturally for a cultural institution to radically trust its audience.* So the paper is a bit imagin-ary. But didn’t Einstein say that imagination is more important than knowledge?

* Deep bow here to the Powerhouse Museum and its new collection interface, which you can read more about on the fresh + new blog.

9 thoughts on “How Web 2.0 will change history

  1. I really like this term, “radical trust.”

    It reminds people that often the biggest barrier we face in implementing these new strategies is social and institutional rather than technological.

    As our missions change and reflect our educational strategies I think it will be harder to argue against putting our trust in the visitors.

  2. Indeed, Bryan. What amazes me is that even though museums have been talking the talk of belonging to communities since the early 1990s, now that technology has made it easy to involve visitors in identifying significance and making meaning, the lack of trust has emerged as the barrier to walking the walk.

  3. Yes, the technology and its uses in other arenas help to show us that we might not be as open as we think. When a venture such as Wikipedia takes off it gives us inspiration or a nudge out of the nest to try some truely open ideas as well.

  4. Like Bryan, I was struck by the term “radical trust” –I agree that this is the biggest barrier we face in implementing Web 2.0 technologies and approaches. I followed the source and did a bit of searching to find out more about the term. I posted about it here.

    Another academic citation tool is H2O, a ‘playlist’ of readings and content about a particular subject.

  5. Great stuff Cath! I really like the way you’ve put this in your paper and this blog intro. There are major implications for us at the Memorial as well. Yesterday I spoke on most of this to our Emerging Technologies Group here and despite my very clumsy delivery, it was received with a good deal of enthusiasm. I’ve now asked everyone to read your paper and I’ve threatened them with a follow-up test (no multiple choice answers). And I join with your deep bow to the Powerhouse Museum!

  6. Seb and Jim, I’ll check those tools out — thanks for that. But the lack I perceive is less about citations and references than an easy way to publish an academic journal, ie a set of articles bundled up as an issue with an editorial intro — blogs are great but they privilege the very latest post, rather than a bundle of posts on a theme. Making an issue a ‘category’ is a workaround but it’s not ideal.

    Jim, good follow-up on ‘radical trust’. I find it interesting that it emerged in the context of libraries, which have always already been about trust, in that they have always been about public access — hey, most libraries lend their collections to the general public — for an archive, that is anathema. [an anathema? anathematic?] So we have a way to go there, and I look forward to seeing how the discussion — and the action! — unfolds. Perhaps ‘radical trust’ should be a theme of the next Museums Australia conference.

    Mal, I am impressed that the Memorial *has* an Emerging Technologies Group. And you have inspired me to go back and correct some typos, and insert the mindmap into the PDF.

  7. I really love your thoughts on libraries and trust; it’s true we lend out our collections, as archives don’t, and that’s an interesting point.

    Perhaps the reason why the concept of radical trust can come from libraries is based entirely on the fact that the places where we don’t trust our communities is where we exist in complete opposition to the rest of our mandate. It’s entirely contradictory in so many ways that we are precious about our “objective” catalogues and our pristine collection, and yet a library should be a reflection of its community. We want our collections and our buildings to foster learning, speaking out, and social change, but not necessarily inside our four walls, it seems.

  8. there’s a lot in the history of libraries, archives and museums that conditions their instincts about collections and shapes their attitudes to users. I’ve begun musing about this, here.

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