One of the first sessions of the second day started out very digital. With Juliana Bastos Marques reflecting on the use of Wikipedia by Public Historians and Anita Lucchesi talking about the Rio450 project.
Juliana Bastos Marques started by pointing out the fact that Wikipedia was presented as a ‘new’ media tool but is around for 13 years now. An insightful joke about how historians are, maybe, always trapped in the old. She continued by revisiting Roy Rosenzweig’s essay about whether history could be written in an open source model. Pointing out Rosenzweig’s observation that the limitations of Wikipedia cause a denigration of ideas and professionalism. Marques continues with how Rosenzweig’s analysis misses some understanding in what Wikipedia is about. On Wikipedia the authority of the historian is not absolute because of the open peer review model. The difference between right and wrong is made by the need to cite the source on Wikipedia. Marques then continues that popular culture and bias have shaped the encyclopaedia. This is important for Public historians to realize. Because by realizing this difference we as Public Historians can better understand the interests of our public. As in the NIOD session yesterday was pointed out the WWI got more views on the Dutch and German Wikipedia then WWII. Does this mean we should pay more attention to WWI than WWII? I don’t know. But we should not underestimate the power that Wikipedia has on the public understanding of history. Therefore Wikipedia can be a great tool for Public Historians to understand the public interest. But it also can serve as a great tool to learn how to write Public History.
Next up was Anita Lucchesi she presented the Rio450 project. The project is about the commemoration of 450 year anniversary of Rio de Genaro. The project takes a progressive step in the field of Digital Public History by using Instagram. The project managed to attract 4.231 followers in less than a year and without any promotion apart from social media. Resulting in over 30.000 tagged photos and 9.000 comments. The project tries to achieve engagement, historical understanding and skills by launching a specific mission every week. These missions ask participants to make a picture of a specific historical subject and to actively make a connection between the photo and the past… By making pictures of the present and adding comments about the future the relation with the past of the participants becomes less distant. Participants get the feeling that they too are part of the past.
The project is keeping participants motivated by choosing the best seven photos every week. Which they then feature with an editorial on their Instagram page. Lucchessi says that this competition is motivating people to not only make better pictures but also to connect them better to the past. Lucchessi points out that users developed a more academic way of connecting their photos to the past by using citations. She further motivates participants to take on a more historical attitude by explaining how she does her own research and what kind of sources she uses. But there is also a benefit for Lucchessi in working with Instagram:
‘Photos speak by themselves about memory and heritage’
In other words, by looking at the kind of pictures the participants make it becomes insightful how they connect with the past.
As both researchers in this session have proven it is inevitable in the digital age to get involved in different types of social platforms on the internet. Platforms such as Wikipedia and Instagram not only provide people with entertainment and information but also can give the Public Historian an insightful image of what the public is interested in. Social media changed the way in which we communicate and how we make connection. I applaud the brave step of the Rio450 project to use Instagram as a way reach the crowd. I think Public Historians should think more of ways of how they could make social media useful in Public History projects as it has become part of our day to day lives and more and more people start to use it. Of course there will always be the problem of accessibility but with over 150 million people using Instagram and 1.2 billion Facebook users it is no longer something that can be ignored.