Tag Archives: Meg Foster

In Foster, M. (2014). Online and Plugged In?: Public History and Historians in the Digital Age. Public History Review, 21, 12–13.

“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.


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