Blog Post

The Hypertext Game

Many of you may have already played this game. The basic premise is that you go to wikipedia's main page and just start following the hypertext (text that is complex - basically links to other information). You go through a variety of diverse information, yet there is no "you end up..." (I guess if you played the game through every Wikipedia page you would in fact reach an end but new pages are constantly created.) It may seem like a "time killer" to many but this game actually represents a very interesting aspect of historical methodology. On a grander scale, digital technology - and, specifically, the internet - allows for new representations of historical data (which could be any thing from an oral tradition in Africa to death rates in 1912 France). The whole idea of such ease of information access causes me to wonder: will our historical methodologies homogenize through this new platform, or will it diversify them? I believe the latter.


There are many various historical methodologies currently in use and each has its own subcategory of differing methods. For instance, you may have social history but within that there may be labour histories, folk stories, etc. The range of existing methodologies is incredible. Yet with globalization and specifically the world wide web, those methods which may have once been unknown or thought useless by different cultures are much more widespread and accessible. Historians, though they may specialize in a certain method, are quite aware of the various others. This raises the question: does the platform of the web, in allowing access to the knowledge of other methods and their historical creations mean that we will become homogenized in the way we study history? Though it may seem like a silly premise, it is loosely based upon the idea from many that globalization (such as of economies) has led/is leading to the homogenization of cultures and societies. This cannot be a good thing as diversity, as nature and experience shows, is a necessary key of life and progress. Yet I believe, as with globalization, that this will not result in a homogenized method. Rather it will mean a more unified understanding of each other. The understanding of other cultures and their methods of knowledge through the world wide web is a prudent undertaking as it allows humans to experience another's perspective. We become less sure of our inherited methods (every one of us). We begin to realize the diversity of human understanding on this planet and are shaken up everyday in our studies. The world wide web is not a platform of homogenization but one of closeness - that is, we are able to understand different cultures without physically being among them. 


One needs only to look at the 911 archives, which is almost purely a user-based platform for posting emails, videos, photos, etc. of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York city. There are tens of thousands of uploads from people who subconsciously documented their lives during 911 through their daily actions. Thus someone in, say, South Africa, physically distant from the time and place of that day, will be able to experience, and at least grasp some understanding of the events on September 11. This has its problems of course such as the ability to forge data and thus upload it, etc. I will deal with the problems of digital archives in my next post though.


The world wide web and available digital tools have created a platform of better understanding between cultures and societies, once with very little knowledge of each other. Therefore I do not believe that it will cause a homogenization of sorts, but a better understanding of the different methods and perspectives on the past used by varying peoples.


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