Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Open Source Scholarship?

Heard of the Centre for Co-operative Research? Me neither, until today. Here's what the Historiological Notes blogsite has to say about the project:

I came across 'open source historiography' in this morning's on-line read. Paul Thompson: One man can change the world tell the story about Paul Thompson who started to collect information about terrorist attacks after 9/11. After doing this in his spare time, he now collects information on Center for Cooperative Research where others are free to comment upon and correct the information published.

Is this 'open source historiography'? To define something as historiography I believe you need an author. In this case the author seem to be of less importance than the facts - and this might be the right priority. I would instead like to call this 'open source archivism' after the eighteenth and nineteenth century variety of historiography that believed in collecting as much facts about the past as possible to then give a correct picture of the world.

The history of terrorism is not at all within my range of knowledge, but it is interesting that a historical event as 9/11 creates new ways of historical research. We have always been interested in learning from the past, and I suppose this 'open source historiography' at the Center for Cooperative Research want to explain 9/11 and other terrorist acts.

I am quite sure there are many examples of new historiographical methodologies that have developed after a big historical event. What was brought to my mind, however, is how Begriffsgeschichte, which is a very intellectual form of historiography, came into being as a way of explaining how the German vocabulary developed a National Socialist society. Begriffsgeschichte is now useful in explaining all sorts of societal change, but the wish to explain the awful German story of the Second World War was its beginning.

Begriffsgeschichte was influenced by the linguistic philosophy - quite a novel take in the 1950s and 1960s. 'Open source historiography' is of course a melting of contemporary developments in software improvement and political science. Perhaps it is just a 9/11-fad, but it might develop into other fields of historical research.

'Open source historiography' will have the same pro's and con's as Wikipedia. It is not written by professionals. This mean that the weight of the information will not have a theoretical foundation. On the other hand, will the view not have the subjective perspective of one author - and we end up, for better or worse, with a postmodern pluralism. This is again a reason why I would prefer to call it 'open source archivism'. Using the term 'open source historiography' would give a claim of a theoretical foundation which is not present.

So in conclusion I welcome attempts at a new way of historical research, but I will still like to keep the difference between academic historiography and public historical writing.

Check out the CCR here.


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