• Active History: From Papers to a Blog

    This continues the previous post by Jim Clifford about the original ideas behind our website, ActiveHistory.ca. After launching, we began actively soliciting papers from contributors throughout the Canadian history community. Initially, we focused on economic issues as we were in the midst of the recession, although we quickly broadened our eyes for papers on any topic that might conceivably be of interest to Canadians (our target market).

    Papers were not forthcoming. We had some promising prospects, but few materialized. We were able to get the rights to at least link to a wonderful example of ‘active history’ looking at universities in the Great Depression. Only in the last few weeks have we been able to post an original Canadian history submission, a magnificent paper by Larry Glassford on Ontario textbooks.

    Instead, we had to change our directions in two ways.

    Firstly, we began expanding our scope and included global issues. This stemmed from tremendous interest that we received from the European historical community, perhaps reflecting a different conception of public intellectuals. We published papers by Gérard-François Dumont on the Berlin Wall, a paper by Yves Montenay comparing Vietnamese and Cuban development, and a paper by David Webster on Papua New Guinea. These have received a fair amount of random web traffic, which helps expand our readers.
    Our second shift was to move from formalized papers to blogging. With a formalized schedule among our five person large steering committee, as well as a slowly but steadily expanding circle of regular and guest contributors, we’ve moved in this direction. The downside is that this has in some ways moved away from our original goal and has become more of an internal conversation with other Canadian and international history blogs. Our audience has shifted in some regards with this. Alongside this, we’ve begun using social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter. The former has helped us reinforce our internal discussions, while the latter has helped us market in a broad yet random manner. Any tips on how to improve our use of these technologies would be appreciated.
    All this raises several fascinating questions that we hope to explore. Firstly, why have historians been so reluctant to publish electronically? It is telling that as we have recently had a CFP for a special journal issue, there has been considerable interest in providing papers in that avenue. This was not the case for our papers section. Secondly, the danger of this internal creep towards a blogging network of historians throughout Canada – how can we make sure our blog reaches a LARGE audience, and not just colleagues in other history departments.
    Any thoughts? Thanks so much and looking forward to the conference!

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1 Comment

  1. ArchMeg says:

    Have you seen this sesion posting: http://www.2010.greatlakesthatcamp.org/2010/03/digital-note-taking-the-semantic-web-and-scholarly-collaboration-in-the-age-of-crowdsourcing/

    Seems like there might be some crossover discussion. As I mentioned in my comment on that posting, Mathematics has successful created ArXiv.org – which is a place for people to publish their work online, where it is essentially peer-reviewed via crowdsourcing. I’d be interested to think (collectively) about what they’ve done that made them successful? Is it because mathematicians needs these other articles/proofs to build upon for further work, whereas history can be more debate and theory?

    Additonally, ScienceBlogs is an extremely successful science blogging center that reaches well beyond the specialists in terms of audience. They’re also run by Seed Magazine, so they probably have a bit more infrastructure. Would a more expanded humanities or social science blogosphere attract more non-experts?

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