Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Now and Future of History on the Web

Greetings from the Australian National University, where Michael McKernan is speaking on "Doing History Differently". He started by confessing there was an error in his book "The Strength of a Nation: Six Years of Australians Fighting For the Nation and Defending the Homefront in World War II". The chapter "Australia is Also at War" describes how Professor Manning Clark he had been in Bonn (Germany) 8 November 1938 after Kristallnacht was which he described. Mark McKenna, discovered that Professor Clark described his wife's experience as if it was his own. Michael McKernan excuses this lapse, but used it to show how careful historians need to be. He then asked what was the greatest number of Victoria crosses in one military action (Wikipedia says Second Relief of Lucknow, 14–22 November 1857). Also he made the point that history is important to individuals.

Michael McKernan then discussed errors which Mark McKenna, pointed out in Professor Clark's The History of Australia. He then discusses the factual errors in Mark McKenna's work "An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark". This included a description of how the statue which was under the dome of the Australian War Memorial was removed to install the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier. McKernan argued that the historian has to check sources and particularly memory.

McKernan then nominated the National Library of Australia's Trove system as the greatest development in libraries, ever. I challenged this, pointing out that the Library of Alexandra might be more significant, which he conceded was important. But even so Trove, which integrates traditional library catalogs, with on-line sources, is a remarkable achievement.

Lastly McKernan nominated the Australians at War Film Archive. The film footage was a byproduct of the TV series "Australians at War", and has been archived with a green screen background so it can be reused. He also mentioned the Channel 9 TV series "In Their Footsteps", combining sound historical research and engaging personal stories.

One of the audience quoted Herodotus "Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all. The conscientious historian will correct these defects." and then asked if this was truly a quote. The Wikipedia suggests it is from Mark Twain's A Horse's Tale (1907). This brings up the issue of the role of Wikipedia in history: for better or worse. McKernan commented it was better, rather than worse.

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