Interconnectivity

Despite any paranoia regarding the rapid and pervasive shift in technology and digital media, I see benefits to embracing anything that promotes making cross-discipline connections, and really, the digital world certainly makes interconnectivity an increasingly foreseeable frontier. I divide my conceptualization of interconnectivity in three major parts: connection between ideas in the same field, connection between disciplines, and connections between learning and experience.

As an embarrassing anecdote to move into this concept, I will certainly admit that I am not always the brightest of people, and I did not realize how connected certain aspects of history were interconnected. To me, Europe and Asia existed on an entirely different timeline from American History. The Harlem Renaissance and the Prohibition eras seemed entirely disconnected to me due to the way they were taught. My personal experiences in education, we paid more attention to Prohibition in history classes and the Harlem Renaissance was a focus in my American Literature classes—they weren’t the same history. The Antebellum era and Victorian era were separate periods of time, because we learned about Europe and the Americas as separate histories. I learned about many different Native American cultures, in isolated contexts. I never made connections between them, because no one impressed those connections.

This interconnectivity also applies to connections between differing disciplines, which is the most obvious issue many wish to combat. In a quick, but non-representative, survey of my friends who carry bachelor’s degrees within the beloved STEM fields, have taken few (if any) classes that connected history or philosophy and their fields. Sure they took the standard core courses that taught the basics in liberal arts fields, but nothing that really connected the things they wanted to learn and these seemingly superfluous courses. Which in a small way, is a bit surprising, because many of the foundational principles coincide with major cultural or historical patterns. However, admittedly, you can complete liberal arts program with a similar amount of experience in the sciences, and this “lack of” partially introduces us to the concept of studying digital history. Liberal arts scholars often avoid learning skills related to the sciences, including computer sciences and technological skills.   Burton discusses this as a “chicken and the egg conundrum: “(h)istorians will not develop digital technology skills because there is no field of digital history to make those skills valuable” and visa-versa. As Cohen notes, the field of history currently focuses on the value of the monograph. The primary incentive, as both authors point out, is to keep producing history in the “traditional” way–through dissertations, theses, journals, and books. Many students are discouraged from participating in less traditional methods of production, and are even pressed to believe that the traditions are the most beneficial way to build a resume and gain access to employment.

This also presents another psychological location of disconnect is between what you study and what you experience. Interest decreases dramatically when you cannot answer the question—“Why does this matter to me?” This is almost the core question within Public History, yet the field of history (along with other liberal arts disciplines) experience a near crippling aversion to digital media, which almost places us at odds with ourselves in today’s thickly mediated world. Cohen describes this crippling aversion as a product of “widespread subtle biases that hinder the academy’s adoption of new media”. Cohen also notes that economists, physicists, and law scholars participated in digital media production since almost the dawn of the possibility. They saw the benefits of this new emerging world, despite it hadn’t yet become He also points out the history field’s reliance on the pinnacle “monograph” as the summation of one’s career. As technology moves forward, traditionalists fall into the background. Students ask “why should I be learning this?” more and more; the field is one that you study because of love, and there is no value in it. With the massively available and “free” internet, it seems foolish for any discipline to completely snub the digital world. We live our whole lives through the digital world these days, and anything outside of that seems increasingly irrelevant as newer generations entrenched in the digital experiences.

On a different note, Nate Silver’s site presents a brilliant marriage of disciplines/styles/techniques. The FiveThirtyEight site is still going strong today, and it is not sitting on a shelf in the catacombs—I mean stacks—of a university library, like a traditional economics dissertation or book might. Even a comparable site, styled in a different fashion faded into the internet archives, while the other is still widely spoken about regarding its revolutionary approach. FiveThirtyEight is a widespread tool that, whether 100% accurate or not, still benefits a broad audience.

These are links to the two comparisons.  You may also find a page from the Princeton site, competing with Silver’s tool and pointing out weaknesses of his method:

https://web.archive.org/web/20081023074655/http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/

http://election.princeton.edu/2008/11/11/post-election-evaluation-part-2/ 

As commenter Tom Walters on Cohen’s article points out, perhaps Silver’s advantages lay in the fact that he had a stronger mastery of communicative skills. The Princeton page is much more technical and statistical in the writing style. Silver’s pages have more of a narrative structure. In my observations, another noticeable difference is Silver’s design is smoother and more visually appealing. This exposes a propensity and keen eye for the visual arts as well as writing. Walters’ comment reveals another capability about coming into the digital era, that is pointed out by  both of these authors.  We can actually have a dialogue regarding our information and make a platform for ourselves defending why our chosen field is important/relevant–with the skills we can demonstrate aptitude and relevance. We also keep up with the “new world.” In Cohen’s case, he could use the digital platform as a sounding board to produce his physical book format.

And once again I ramble too much.
-Kayla R. Wirtz

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