In an article in The Public Historian, David Glassberg questions whether "the task of the public historian may be more to create spaces for dialogue about history and for the collection of memories, and to insure that various voices are heard in those spaces, than to provide a finished interpretation of events translating the latest professional scholarship for a popular audience" (14).

This proposition really called to my mind a tension I've struggled with, about whether this web site is a creative forum for an academic thesis, or a presentation of historical "documents" with which an audience is supposed to interact and draw their own conclusions and meanings.

There would seem to be two prevailing models of history web sites out there today. My own experiment, as many web projects do, probably falls somewhere in between "web site as archive" and "web site as argument."

Internet projects like the National Digital Library (through the Library of Congress), as well as all sorts of smaller enterprises, are making material readily available to the global public that was previously the territory of specialists. For reasons that are in some ways justified and to be expected, this means that there is a lot of democratic rhetoric circling around the academic Web. It's pretty easy to imagine what web archives look like, and why they would be a good idea.

History web sites that develop explicit and extensive arguments are a little harder to come by. I've found that the challenge of writing in a specifically nonlinear way has been particularly acute because of the nature of history as a discipline. The basic gesture of historical logic is generative; it is hard to imagine a historical argument that can be entered and exited at any point. It seems, well, ahistoric.

If you're interested in some of the results of my experiment in making a hypertext argument, you should read the introduction to the "thematic tour" I put together. (This link will take you outside of this discussion).

You can also look at some of the principles I tried to put into practice when writing hypertext history.

As I've finished the project (as much as there is ever a "finished" on the Web) and attempted to secure a permanent (as much as there is ever a "permanent" on the Web) spot for the site, I've realized some interesting things about the perils of Web publishing, what Web scholarship requires of archives, and the future of this site.


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There are concrete reasons why history works well in hypertext, and why my topic makes sense on the Internet.



Juliet Gorman, May 2001