• Active History: From a Conference to a Website

    Active History began as an idea for a conference at a fellow student’s post comprehensive exams party back in the winter of 2007.  In the year and a half that followed we created a vision statement, circulated a CFP, applied for funding and finally hosted a two-day symposium in September 2008.  We defined active history variously as history that listens and is responsive; history that will make a tangible difference in people’s lives; history that makes an intervention and is transformative to both practitioners and communities.

    From the early stages we recognized that we needed to engage with the internet to help achieve some of these lofty goals.  As none of us had any real experience with websites, I agreed to play around with WordPress.  I managed to create a basic website for the conference that can still be found at http://activehistory.wordpress.com (now largely defunct).  We hoped to make this into more than a simple message board for the conference and we asked the conference presenters to contributed blogs in the run up to the event.  Looking back at the site it is clear this request did not resonate with  any of Active Historians attending the conference and even our request for blog posts reflecting on the conference only resulted in two posts.

    At the conference’s end we were lucky enough to have a significant amount of money to support dissemination, as per the terms of the federal SSHRC grant.  Our initial experience with the conference blog caused us to turn away from the web for the first few months after the conference.  We entered into discussions with a number of more traditional academic publishing options and we organised a round table for the Canadian Historical Association’s May 2009 annual conference.  As the months went on it became apparent that all of our publishing options had flaws.  A strictly peer-reviewed journal limited participation from non-academic community historians and we wonder how many people would read a book (and if anyone would publish it).  We began considering a website, but remained reluctant because of the lack of buy in from the conference participants.

    At this point I found an old pamphlet for the History & Policy website in the UK.  I read through their site and found that it took a few years, but with time some of the top historians in Britain started publishing papers with them. This made me realised that it takes time to introduce the web into an academic community.  At this point we started to rethink the purpose of a website, shifting from simple dissemination of the ideas present at the conference to a new project that embodied the Active History mission.  So we assembled a new and expanded steering committed and began work to create a website for historians to engage with the public, policy makers and the media.  We loosely based our new site, ActiveHistory.ca, on HistoryandPolicy.org and began soliciting short history papers from the Canadian history community.  Ian Milligan’s forthcoming blog post will cover some of the pitfalls and successes we’ve had since the site launched in April 2009.

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1 Comment

  1. robotnik says:

    This is a great story, Jim. I’ve been quite impressed with all the activity at Activehistory.ca , and I’m even more impressed now that I know its genesis. I have my own fairly cobwebby website left over from a conference I organized that we’d hoped would turn into something more lively and lasting, and I know I can’t be the only one. I look forward to hearing more next week.


  1. Active History: From Papers to a Blog - Great Lakes THAT Camp

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