The Democratization of History and Its Audience – An Urban-Rural Divide?

The essay in the Graham reading discusses relinquishing control of the historical voice in order to crowdsource cultural heritage and history. It begins by stating that while a successful crowdsourcing site like Wikipedia have led to a “democratization of history”, it does not yet  allow the “democratization of audience”. The essay argues that digitization is not equivalent to equal accessibility, for there are differences among people in terms of technical literacy, hardware access, and internet connection. The HeritageCrowd is then proposed to negate these differences; especially in rural areas.

This is interesting in contrast to the mainstream use of technology in urban areas such as the city of Toronto. If we go to the Entertainment District, for example, there are screens flashing with advertisements. If we visit our very own Robarts Library, scanners, printers, and digital touchscreen maps help us complete tasks with speed and ease. However, it is interesting to note that such use of advanced technology is not always the case. If you visit the Royal Ontario Museum to gather, say, history books and archaeological sources, you are met with display cases and their plaques containing a bit of information, as well as ancient desktop computers in the library section. Those computers, which allow students to retrieve material for their USBs from a scanner, sadly still use Internet Explorer and Windows 2000. Although history is about the past, the technology in which we use do not have to be of the past as well.

The HeritageCrowd project uses “old digital media” such as the short-message service to create a site where a rural community could learn about history. However, is this truly enough when we know that more advanced technology is within our grasp? Low internet access and the lack of technological proficiency are certainly issues that prevent more rapid advancement, however perhaps the values of rural communities play into it as well. And from where are such values taught (or not taught do to the lack of educational institutions)? These are some questions that arose from the reading, and may be explored further.

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