Friday, May 8, 2009

New idea for a wiki? Object-driven history project

I trapped an idea this morning and it makes me wonder if something like it might exist somewhere in the world of collaborative knowledge production:

A written history of the world that is driven by an online, collaboratively-assembled catalogue of the historical objects and sources that have formed the histories we have read. Its the idea that if every historical claim can be traced back to artefact evidence, then maybe a new historical project can begin to rewrite a history that catalogues all historical objects housed in public/private collections first, then used to fleshed out the narrative afterwards. I’m imagining this done on a wiki, where people can simply try to obtain as many available digital photographic evidence of vases, scrolls, hand-written accounts, whatever and then organize them into a master chronology within the wiki space. There can even be geopositional links that point readers to where these objects may be located (in addition, offering them information on how to access them, who has studied them, etc.) These images could also have trackback links to certain written accounts that have relied on the evidence to fuel their historical narratives. Text in the body associates itself directly and immediately to the sources which form the outline of the project. Text is principally used to describe how these sources have been used by historians. In later versions of this project, master historical narratives could be added as a way to lend “surfability” for student audiences.

I credit the inspiration for this idea, by the way, to an excellent grad-level methods course I took with Sandra Braman in 2006, who had me read Hayden White’s “Tropics of Discourse”.

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