The purpose of this section is two fold: one, to introduce and
discuss the current conundrums facing public history on the Web; two, to create
useable guidelines for students who rely on the Web's resources for their
historical research and for public historians who want to create, critique, and
review their own sites.
(pdf) by Debra DeRuyver and Jennifer Evans (American Quarterly, Sep.
PHRC's Rating System,
a unique system of criteria developed by PHRC specifically for the evaluation of
Public History Web sites. All reviews published on this site employ this
Public History Web sites" (doc) by Debra DeRuyver, the original essay
published on this site back in 1999. Warning!
This essay is old and out-of-date and is included here simply as part of the
history of how we've thought about this subject.
Evidence. Interpretation. Documentation. These are the cornerstones
of solid historical work. While the historian's relationship to evidence
has changed over the centuries-with new kinds of evidence being accepted
and old being placed in different interpretive frameworks-- the task
of the historian has essentially remained unchanged. Historians determine and interpret evidence. They glean the meaning of ephemeral activities
from the artifacts of those activities that have traveled forward into the
present. Finally, historians carefully document the evidence they find
and use, creating a discursive space where contemporary and future
generations, alike, can retrace, discuss, and debate our understandings of
The World Wide Web presents historians with several problems and
First, the Web, itself, is a new kind of historical
evidence that must be understood, assessed and, if shown to have value,
preserved. Are home pages, for example, the scrap books future historians
will use to understand the life of the bourgeois in late 20th century
America? Should these home pages, which, to many minds seem
trivial and unimportant, be saved for what they might reveal to later
Second, the Web presents traditional preservers of
historical evidence-- e.g. curators and archivists-- unparalleled opportunities
to make their collections known and available from the publication of indices
and finding aids to the digitization and mounting of actual primary source
documents. But, who will be able to afford the expense of
digitization? Who will guarantee that the computers which store these
digitized records will not be tampered with? How will different audiences
know where to find these primary sources and if what they find is authentic?
the Web presents unprecedented publication
opportunities for people who may not have had access to
traditional venues of historical publication such as peer reviewed journals, newspapers, books,
museum exhibitions, and film or television documentaries. This may allow
new and exciting historical interpretations to be voiced. However, it also
necessitates the development and careful exercise of critical thinking
skills. Web users must assess, at a minimum, the accuracy, scope, and bias
these sites. Unlike research in a university library, for better and for
worse, there are no gatekeepers of knowledge on the Web.
Finally, the Web also
presents unequaled commercial opportunities to directly market individuals. Many
commercial history sites have arisen with this goal in mind. While these commercial entities may produce interesting,
factually accurate sites, their interpretive framework
are sometimes of questionable value. Trained public historians need to
get on the Web and create sites that perform the dual task of maintaining
rigorous standards of evidence and citation as well as engaging the public
in a rich, diverse and dynamic understanding of the past as a contested
terrain. If we do not, we run the risk that corporate entities will overwhelm public history on the Web, presenting,
by default, history as a slick, market-oriented, wasteland of
facile dates and facts.
The purpose of the following essay is two fold: one, to introduce and discuss
the current conundrums facing public history on the Web; two, to create useable guidelines for
students who rely on the Web's resources for their historical research and for public
historians who want to create, critique, and review their own sites. Publication on the Web
has collapsed many of the distinctions between writers, editors, curators,
publishers, distributors, critics, and readers. At the opening of the new
millennium, we must once again take up many hats and become-- in our
apprehension of information-- Renaissance men and women.
This essay is currently under revision. To read the complete
original essay, download: "Evaluating
Public History Web sites" (doc) by Debra DeRuyver,
Warning! This essay is old and out-of-date and is included here simply as
part of the history of how we've thought about this subject. The author
highly recommends following the links at the top of this page to Digital
Junction and to PHRC's rating system.