Lisa’s CCK08 Wordpress Blog

September 29, 2008

Every Man His Own Historian

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lisa M Lane @ 3:56 pm

There is a natural tendency toward history. We each have a history, and modern psychology has taught us that, to a certain extent, we are each a product of our own historical experience. We learned in the classroom (well, most pre-college classrooms) that history is a recitation of names, events, and dates.

Of course, that is not the case when referring to history as an intellectual endeavor. Notice that I say “intellectual endeavor”, not “academic discipline”. Herodotus was not a member of the academy, and many a historian has been trained only by reading and writing (doing) history.

History, at least writing history, always has a purpose. For the Greeks, the purpose of writing about the past was to emphasize and justify moral lessons. Since then, history has been written for the purpose of creating social reform, supporting a political party, shoring up a public argument, etc.

My point is this: at no time in history has the purpose of history been the listing of dates and events. There must be a thesis, a point of view or guiding idea, a purpose for creating the list. In creating a list, choices are made as to what to include and what to leave out. We must cull our evidence. And in writing history, the reason for the culling is to support a particular contention.

In this week’s readings, I am having trouble finding those contentions.

Trebor Scholz’s A History of the Social Web was the original assigned reading for this week. Despite the fact that is was written last year, it remains in draft form. I tried to find a thesis in the first several paragraphs. He came close with

Emphasizing the role of women whenever possible, this history shows that the interests of those who used the Net as social platform shaped it in the interplay of military, scientific, entrepreneurial, activist, artistic, and altrustic agnedas.

I would not likely allow a student to write a paper using such a thesis, because it is very vague (“in the interplay of”?) and would probably lead to a list. Thinking that perhaps the point was about women, I then counted forty-three men mentioned in the article before a single woman appeared. (Be aware that I wasn’t concerned about this as a woman, but as a historian analyzing a thesis — don’t worry, it’s a common mistake.)

I did read the entire rambling, poorly written, disjointed, short-paragraphed, blog-style thing. A point of view popped up in a couple of areas, but nothing overall, no point to the article. It’s a list.

This morning I printed (I like to print to read, no surprise there) George Siemens’ A brief history of networked learning. Grateful that he mentioned right away the reality of networks existing since, well, forever, after three paragraphs Siemens detailed, not a history of networked learning, but rather the history (there was a thesis and everything!) of computer-assisted global networks and the learning theories accompanying them. I’d like to suggest a change in title to:

Late 20th and Early 21st Century Developments in Theories of Computer-Based Social Learning Network Models for Education

Does that work?

Stephen’s list, entitled A Folk History of the Internet, is a tracking list that said it was a tracking list and invited some participation. It’s just a list of links by year. No claims to “history” beyond the name and the chronological nature of the listing. Honest, I thought.

Now, if only I could get people to avoid using the word “technology” when they mean something like “the internet”…


  1. […] more time to read A History of the Social Web. I was deeply disappointed in the latter, a bit like Lisa, though perhaps for different reasons.  I, not being a historian, was less troubled by the fuzzy […]

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The comment’s server IP ( doesn’t match the comment’s URL host IP () and so is spam.

    Pingback by CCK08 - A tale lost in the telling « An Education and Technology Blog — September 30, 2008 @ 10:08 am

  2. I really appreciate that you explain your reasoning within the context of your discipline. It’s a bit like de Bono’s 6 thinking hats. If more people provided your kind of analysis, we would eventually get better at switching our perspectives when analyzing information on the web. eg “How would a historian look at this? “How would a philosopher approach it?” “What input would an economist like to see?” Perhaps connectivism is an applied discipline like organizational behaviour with different topics falling under different disciplines.

    Comment by ruthdemitroff — October 1, 2008 @ 11:56 pm

  3. Thank you, Ruth. I would love to see analyses by different disciplines — it would help me also understand the different perspectives of connectivism.

    Comment by Lisa — October 2, 2008 @ 6:39 am

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