How Do Databases Tell Stories?

This week’s readings focus on the subject of new media and various ways they manifest themselves in our everyday lives.

The first reading “Database as a Genre of New Media” discusses the various ways that new media has reused the methods of databases and how databases are used as a structured collection of data. Databases allow users to view, navigate, and search collections of items; many digital history collections use this method of storing images, data, etc., for public consumption. Other examples of databases are multimedia encyclopedia’s CD-ROM’s, web databases and even video games (pg. 7). According to author Lev Manovich, databases “occupy a significant, if not the largest, territory of the new media landscape,” but also questions why narratives still exist in new media if databases are more useful.

Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media continues the discussion of history and uses of new media in his article “Essays on History and New Media.” Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig discuss how the humanities has accepted using digital forms of new media to collect history through digital archives. By using digital means of displaying archives, historians are able to use a less inexpensive, more diverse type of archive. The most important thing to remember is that economical forms of digital history does not compromise the integrity of the historical collection. Another aspect of digital new media is the method of historians seeking input from the public. Requesting the public to share their stories of a historical event (ex: Hurricane Katrina) in an effort to collect as much history surrounding the event as possible. After the disappoint of collecting digital input from the public relating Hurricane Katrina, historians began to study what could cause a request for public input to be unsuccessful. Historians came to the conclusion that you must allow enough time to pass (especially if it surrounds a tragic, or traumatizing event) before requesting that the public revisit a traumatic moment in their lives. Also, don’t underestimate the sheer amount of manpower digital history collections may need. Additionally, when requesting input from the public, make the methods of contribution quick, simple and easy. Create an interface that allows for public input via blog postings, uploading images, recording videos, etc. This not only makes the method of collecting public personal input easy on the contributor, but it also makes the method of archiving, storing, and sorting contributions, easier on the historian as well.

The term “Web 2.0” appears in both the “Essays on History and New Media,” and in the article “Discourse in the Blogosphere: What Museums can Learn from Web 2.0” by Nina Simon. Web 2.0 refers to “web-based applications of which users generate, share, and curate the content” (pg 257). The article focuses on the ways in which Web 2.0 promotes user interactions, and how museums can apply peer-to-peer interaction to encourage visitor interaction with the museums they visit.  Some historians argue that utilizing Web 2.0 with museum visitor interactions may result in repeat visitation from visitors, more engagement from visitor, and a more personalized and meaningful experience for visitors. Disadvantages of using Web 2.0 interactions with museum visitors would involve the fact that most museums do not change in design and content, at least not as frequently as web content does. Attempting to keep up with the constant changes of Web 2.0 could result in an unnecessary burden upon museums. Perhaps the most obvious disadvantage is the fact that Web 2.0 platforms are open territory, allowing access to some of the most uncivilized, hateful, and vile content. Would museums want to allow users to contribute offensive materials to their institutions? This is a dilemma that museums will have to decide whether the pros out weight the cons; either way, it is worth a try.


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