Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The internet, email chains and the writing of history

No significant post today. My normal early morning writing time was consumed instead by a series of emails linked especially to the Armidale Demonstration School. This is the type of stuff that is of intense interest to those involved, but of much less interest to those outside.

However, the whole email chain has been quite fascinating at two levels.

In my last post, New technologies and the internet, I referred in part to the way that the internet had accelerated the group formation process. The chain illustrates that. It also illustrates the way in which new and old media mesh.

I have been blogging about Armidale or New England based issues for some time. So has Paul Barratt. We play against each other in the same way that Neil and I so often do on other issues. This drew some feedback, but this was essentially limited to the slice that actually reads blogs.

Then I started a column in the Express. Copies of that column were sent to people outside Armidale. They contacted me, but also visited the blogs. An email chain began that peaked Sunday with some sixty emails. One outcome was the decision to hold an Armidale Demonstration School reunion. This was facilitated by the fact that the email chain allowed very quick initial preparation of class lists for at least two classes, with preliminary names in others. This is the acceleration principle at work.

The second level is the writing of history.

New England historians Alan Atkinson and Norma Townsend, among others, popularised the role of family reconstruction in the writing of history. John Ferry drew from this approach in his outstanding history of Colonial Armidale. Don Aitkin used a variant in his social history, What was it all for?

Central to the use of family reconstruction is an examination of cohorts or family lines over time to see what they tell us about the history of the world around them. This is a bottom up approach that then combines with the broader top down approach to yield new insights.

A few weeks of emails has generated so much material on individual family experiences that it is potentially a book in its own right.     


tikno said...

I thought one of small post office in my city has closed maybe because of electronic mail technology. No doubt, email is far more fast.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Tikno. A lot of post offices have closed, now. Yet the old mail service at its peak was really very good with several daily deliveries.