“Blogging is a new digital medium that provides insights about the position of public historians as well as how ordinary people understand their past. Blogs are free online platforms where individuals post thoughts and ideas. As Michael Conniff asserts, they are structured in reverse chronological order, so that the latest addition is viewed first, and generally feature unfiltered content, posts with an informal tone and hyperlinks to other sites.60 In 1998, there were less than 50 known blogs worldwide, while in 2006 there were an estimated 57.4 million blogs in cyberspace. This figure is likely to continue to increase.61 Historian Stephanie Ho has recognised these sources’ significance and pioneered an investigation that uses blogs to uncover how people understand the past. Using Singapore as a case study, Ho demonstrates that blogs can be used to create a communal, participatory historical culture. They allow ordinary people to engage in a dialogue with one another and share their interpretation of the past. Although there are restrictions on what can be posted online – for example, ‘seditious’ and overtly political statements are policed by the State in Singapore – blogs still provide new avenues for historical understanding. They can expand the scope of history from the national and political past taught at school to the personal and experiential, as well as connect people by sharing knowledge about ‘their’ history.
Ho’s article draws on some foundational traditions in public history. In the 1990s, American scholars Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen were the first to study how ordinary people thought about the past, and this topic has remained popular ever since. Similar projects to the American case have been carried out in countries around the world and the most recent study, in Canada, was completed in 2013.62 These previous investigations, however, largely relied on interviews and questionnaires to understand how people use the past in their everyday lives. Ho’s study and others that use online forums do not need historians to intervene to gather this evidence. Individuals and communities make digital sources for themselves. This breaks new ground as it shows how people are using the Web to create, understand and interact with their past on their own terms. It also changes the historian’s role in these studies. From a participant-collector who physically interacts with ‘the public’, historians become more akin to observers as they analyse the material before them.”
60. Michael Conniff, ‘Just What is a Blog Anyway?’, Online Journalism Review, 29 September 2005. Accessed 10 January 2014 via: <http://www.ojr.org/p050929/>.
61. [Stephanie Ho, ‘Blogging as Popular History Making, Blogs as Public History: a Singapore case study,’ Public History Review, vol 14, 2007], p65.
62. Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen, ‘The Presence of the Past: popular uses of history in American life,’ in Kean and Martin (eds) The Public History Reader, pp30-55; Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen, The Presence of the Past: popular uses of history in American Life, Colombia University Press, New York, 1988; Ashton and Hamilton, ‘At Home with the Past,’ pp5‐30; Ashton and Hamilton, History at the Crossroads; Anna Clark, ‘Ordinary People’s History’, History Australia, vol 9, no 1, 2012. pp201‐216; Margaret Conrad et al, Canadians and Their Pasts, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2013.
“It is perhaps the recent pan-Canadian survey led by Létourneau and his team, Canadians and Their Pasts, that provides the most comprehensive review of people’s understanding and use of history. Using a detailed questionnaire with a representative sample of nearly 3,000 adult Canadians across the country and in both official language, Canadians and Their Pasts offers powerful evidence that “no matter what its source, the extend of the public’s engagement with the past in Canada and elsewhere is remarkable, suggesting that historical consciousness is alive and well.”
Our survey illuminates a number of important themes that have been prominent in media commentary in recent years. Have people lost contact with the past as a result of today’s extraordinary changes in communication? We say, emphatically, no.
This week, on THEN/HiER blog, Heather McGregor expresses her concerns about Canadians & Pasts survey, who’s “Ignoring the Territorial North, Again” :
Nowhere is there a mention of the territorial North broadly speaking, or the Yukon, NWT or Nunavut specifically. And what about Nunavik and Nunatsiavut? Nor (that I could find) is there an explanation for the decision to leave them out. The survey was conducted by phone across the country; that the territories could not be included in this effort puzzled me.
Jocelyn Létourneau was the principal investigator in Community-University Research Alliance Canadians and their Pasts. Here’s a short and recent article written by Del Muise, co-investigator in the project.
Poll Says Canadians Love Their History
Canadians and their Pasts, a Community-University Research Alliance project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, surveyed 3,419 Canadians on their engagement with and attitudes toward the past. Conducted as a telephone survey during 2007-08, its more than 70 questions per interview provide the most nuanced understanding of Canadians’ engagement with the past to date.
Among other things, the survey puts paid to commonly held notions that Canadians are uninformed about or uninterested in the past. In fact, considerable interest and activity regarding the broad field of history was reported; Canadians visit museums and historic sites and watch history related movies and television as well as reading history related books and magazines. So much more of Canada’s history is available in so many media that access to the past has flourished in the past few decades.
What can we conclude? Our survey illuminates a number of important themes that have been prominent in media commentary in recent years. Have people lost contact with the past as a result of today’s extraordinary changes in communication? We say, emphatically, no. Do they express any interest in Canada’s history? Yes, quite clearly they do. Are ethnic and religious loyalties evident in the pattern of their responses? Yes, without question, but regional and linguistic differences were not as significant as we had anticipated. Do immigrants differ in some way from the Canadian-born in their relationship to the past? Not nearly as much as has been suggested in public debates in other countries. Do interprovincial migrants have a distinctive view of Canada’s past? Yes, like immigrants, they express greater interest in Canada’s past than many of their fellow citizens. Do Canadians differ from Americans and Australians? In some matters, yes, but the bigger story is the presence of an internationally shared perspective.