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'Breaking Through Boundaries'
RAHS Conference with Affiliated Societies
Bathurst, Sunday 6th November 2005
Web publishing or blogging


The right of Bruce Baskerville to be identified as the moral rights author of this work is hereby asserted in accordance with the Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000 of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Introduction Here we are at Bathurst - the other side of the Blue Mountains - a physical boundary that the colonists broke through nearly 200 years ago.

Then the boundaries of the Nineteen Counties were meant to contain the colonists - but did they ever do that?

How we as societies communicate with our members and beyond our membership with the wider community is often bounded - by technology, by skills, by what we consider appropriate, by whether we even want to communicate beyond our usual bounds.

The Internet offers chances to break through some boundaries to communication.

Societies and websites: the picture
Some societies have begun the move to computer-based communications - creating a website is perhaps the commonest - but how widespread?
[RAHS slide]
Based upon the affiliated societies listings on the RAHS website (www.rahs.org.au/list.html ) , of the c360 affiliated societies, 81 have a website (22%) - or about one quarter of all affiliates.

These are predominantly in Sydney, the Central Coast/Hunter and North Coast regions; of the specialist 'topic' societies, the family historians seem to make much more use of the internet than any other group.

This may reflect earlier and better access to internet facilities in more urbanised areas?; while I would think that the family historians have been attracted to the early availability of searchable records and contacts:

[genuki, Cyndi, bdm, familysearch slides] For example, Genuki went on line in 1994 (www.genuki.org.uk ), Cyndi's List in 1996 (with 1000 links) (now has just under 250,000 links, 42.6 million hits since launched) (www.cyndislist.com ), NSW BDM Indexes in 1998 (www.bdm.nsw.gov.au ), the Mormon's Familysearch in 1999 (www.familysearch.org) (Your iMac).

The internet: a tiny history
To give some context for this picture it is useful to have some understanding of the history of the internet. The earliest version of the internet was established in 1969 to connect several university computers in California. It began in Australia in the mid-1970s with a similar connection between Melbourne and Wollongong universities. Australian internets were connected to the US internet in the early 1980s, and Top Level Domain '.au' was first assigned in 1984. A Pacific Rim internet was established in 1989 by a consortium of American universities and NASA. Sydney Uni was linked to this in August 1989. In 1994 the World Wide Web (www) came into operation, accessible by PC, Mac and Unix platforms. In May 1994 the first Australian Internet Service Provider (ISP) was launched - 'connect.com.au.' In this way the internet evolved, unplanned, over about 25 years. The web address for the more detailed history is in your conference pack. (http://www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke/II/OzIHist.html )

Thus for most people internet access has only become available since about 1995 - only ten years ago.
[CapeBanks slide]
Only 8 of the 20 Sydney websites contain a date for their publication: the first being Cape Banks Family History Society's website (www.capebanks.org.au), online since 5th May 1997.

In just 10 years of internet accessibility, about a quarter of affiliated societies have developed a website
[old pictures slide]
It is interesting to speculate how many societies would have had a telephone, a typewriter, a duplicating machine, a computer within a decade of their invention - I suspect that the take-up of the internet has been far more rapid?

Apart from websites, the internet offers opportunities for several other forms of communication that could be easily used by a society. I would like to share with you some of my experiences with building and maintaining a website, and with using two other internet creations: blogs and wikis. While I use the internet for research purposes, I also use it for presenting my work, and that is what I will focus on now.

[old computers slide]
I am not an expert
It is important that I say now that I am no expert in this. I first learnt to use a computer while a uni student in 1991, and bought my first computer, a Mac Classic, in 1992 (which replaced my trusty old Imperial portable typewriter, which was a birthday present in 1973). I discovered the internet sometime in the mid-90s. My Mac Classic finally died in 2001, after which I leased one of the new coloured iMacs, then an even newer iMac with flat screen 2 years ago, which I still have and love!
[old HO website slide]
I probably became interested in how websites work in the later 1990s. My workplace launched its website in 1997: www.heritage.nsw.gov.au., and I was involved in writing the 'history' pages.

In 2000 I was a judge for a history prize that included a category for 'audio-visual', and several websites were entered. They seemed to be either good on content but poor on presentation, or vice versa, but combining content and presentation seemed to be a problem at the time.

Three things I observed, however, were that a website, as a medium for presenting history, seemed to have many possibilities for writing that history in new ways; that the visual presentation of a history had a critical role in internet writing; and that many new audiences can be reached in this way.

[nightclasses slide]
I needed to learn the right skills to be able to write history for this medium. So I attended night classes, one night per week over eight weeks in early 2004, at the community college in Katoomba to learn how to build a website, and finally launched my own website in August last year.

[my website slide]
My website ( www.brucehassan.id.au)
This is a general, personal website (note the 'id' domain) of the sort that many people might maintain in some way. Most people would probably use an existing template layout that can be personalised, but I liked to write in the html code and so created my own layout. Then I signed up with an ISP (Ozehosting), and away I went - costs $33/month.

What have I been able to convey?

  • Family history (mine and partners) - all over Australia and SE Asia - made this available to much wider audience than otherwise could have - biographies, photos, stories about associated places, photo-essays of family events.
  • Own historical writings, back as far as early '90s (e-archive or e-journal) -
  • A 'shopfront' for myself as a professional historian, including CV
  • Short story/fiction/counter factual histories published as being written
  • Would like to develop a heraldry page in the future.

Good points

  • reach wider audience than could otherwise have done
  • share own family research and events with far-away family members
  • makes research and analyses available to anyone probably no other way that I could do this

Bad points

  • quality control - all of own work seems so wonderful, so it all gets published!
  • voracious appetite - the more I upload, the bigger the gaps seem, and the more that I need to upload. need to include plenty of good images - the medium demands more than just text, which can be difficult for people trained to paint pictures with words.
  • Constant maintenance - links need to be checked every now and then, 'good ideas' to make just one little change in a format or layout need to be resisted otherwise you can find yourself rebuilding the whole site before you know it.

reflections

  • It is addictive
  • I could spend whole working week just maintaining and operating website, and researching and preparing further materials to add to it need to develop some sort of content control guidance.
  • Probably better not to learn how to use any new software that could make the site's functions more sophisticated - will need more time to maintain it.

My blogsites
A blog (from web-log) is like an on-line diary, in which you write entries that are then available for anyone to read (and in some case respond to). This was the first blog site I developed - used a 'template' layout, easily available on the internet - experimental more than anything else - no financial cost.

[chookyard slide]
(www.chookyard.blogspot.com)

What have I been able to convey?

  • My poor attempts at writing satire

Good points

  • Fun to explore satirical writing as a writing style - it is harder than I thought.

Bad points

  • This was my first blogsite, and it took me a little while to work out the mechanics of it - but in the end that has been interesting rather than bad

reflections

  • No-one has left any feedback to these entries, and so I haven't written any since March - satirical writing clearly requires feedback from an audience to keep such a blog active.
  • There is an issue of how to reach an audience - how to get other people to make links to my blog when they don't know it exists.
  • Should I have followed a more structured approach - should have planned more?

[konigsberg slide]
(www.ladyofkonigsberg.myblogsite.com)

Instead of a planned approach, I decided to be more instinctive, and let the medium work for me. The second blog site I developed, a 'template' layout again, many other Australian blogs are hosted on this site - explored my interest in the history of the city of Königsberg that was destroyed during WW2 - no financial cost.

What have I been able to convey?

  • [Target slide]
    Some sense of the enormous historical disaster that befell a city - it was the target of two RAF firestorm air raids in August 1944 which destroyed much of the city and killed over 4000.
  • [Airmen slide]
    There were heavy losses of RAF aircraft and men, including 48 Australian airmen. I have identified all (I think) of the Australians killed in that particular air battle, indicating the great losses suffered by all sides in the air war.
  • [houses slide]
    then identify the places they came from, then actually visit some of those places, then include photos and biographical info in the blog - it is a powerful evocation of the 'real life' aspect of the war
  • [pilots eye slide]
    Some sense that a war involves the 'other side' as well as your 'own side', and that the 'other side' is also made up of ordinary human beings often caught up in grand events way beyond their control - they too live in ordinary houses, do ordinary things, have hopes and expectations - what are the awful pressures on a warrior/pilot to suspend that knowledge, what happens after it is all over?
  • [Germany slide]
    I have now begun to develop some pages on my website on the subject, and have some good links to other people who are working towards positive and healing ways of understanding the catastrophe that followed the fire storms - ways that could also be applicable to some situations we must confront here in Australia.

Good points

  • I have identified all of the Australian airmen killed, and made a memorial to them in the form of the blog page that records their names and the battles they died in.
  • Published new 'diary entries' on the days that commemorated events of 60 years ago (Anzac Day, VE Day) - a personal contribution to those commemorations.
  • Provided possibly one of the more detailed accounts in the English-language of the Battle for Königsberg which came 8 months after the air raids and ended with fall of the city to the Red Army (which I have put it together from a wide variety of scattered sources).
  • The use of photo albums as part of the blog site provides the medium for using a lot of pictures to tell the stories.

Bad points

  • The addictiveness of writing, and then seeing it published on a shiny screen, should not be the main motivation (I don't think it is!).

reflections

  • A blogsite has limitations in dealing with history writing such as this, but its format does force the writer to be focus on discrete issues and keep striving to 'get to the point'.
  • A blogsite can be a good complement to a website - it can have an independent life but have a specific, complementary role to a website. a blogsite can be used to publish writing on subjects that may only have a small audience, but which would otherwise not be available even to them - but it still has value whether the audience is large or small.

[wikipedia slide]
My wikipedia entries (www.wikipedia.com)
Wikipedia is a free-content, on-line encyclopedia. It is written collaboratively by people all over the world. The site uses Wiki - anyone can write and edit articles in the encyclopedia. Only recently discovered, a registered contributor, no financial cost.

What have I been able to convey?
I have used Wikipedia in two different ways: as a source of links to provide supplementary information to my own website articles, and to write articles for.

[wiki Bathursts slide]
Searching for an article on 'Bathurst' will show a 'disambiguation' page, or a page of categories to select from. This one includes Bathurst, Canada; Bathurst, Australia; Bathurst, South Africa; Lake Bathurst; other geographical features; people named Bathurst.

[wiki Bathurst NSW slide]
You can them select the relevant article - each of the words or phrases written in blue text is a link to an article on that subject; those in red are subjects that need to have an article written for them, and the author of the article is inviting others to write such articles. Useful, for example, to explain words such as 'acre' and 'bushel' for readers who no longer know what these measurements are, without breaking up the flow of the article.

Articles are meant to be in the style of an encyclopedia entry, but a single author does not need to write the article - you may be able to see the little [edit] tag in the upper right-hand corner of each section of the page - you can click on this, and then add to or revise the existing text. Notice also that the page contains links to other sites associated with this entry.

[Gdansk slide]
In Wikipedia, each article has a discussion page, where other writers can suggest changes and discuss the article to try and get agreement upon changes. Sometimes there is vigorous debate - as in the example of whether or when the place names Gdansk and Danzig should be used (for the same place but in different historical periods).

Crikey.com discussion on value of wikipedia
Recent discussions on line amongst readers of Crikey.com about valkue of Wikipedia - issues of reliability, referencing, peer review - but general agreement that it is a good source, but shouldn't be only source used in research - use of hyper-linking makes it ideal for internet users - it has widespread use among students and journalists.

Good points

  • Another writing style, that again needs to be concise and accurate.
  • Multi-authoring allows either other people you have never met or know to also contribute to your article - or for a group of society members to contribute different aspects - e.g. the Bathurst article could also include a section of the geology of the district, and a section listing well-known people of the district (each being a link to a biographical entry), and so on.
  • This is not as anarchic as it may seem - there are accepted protocols and formulae for writing wikipedia articles, and other writers are not shy about pointing out mistakes!.

Bad points

  • The validity/veracity of wiki approaches is still not completely accepted - but that emphasises the need for your articles to be well researched and written with verifiable sources

reflections

  • Your work is instantly available on-line - and instantly available to your critics and peers - opinionated discussions, obvious mistakes, obscure references you can expect them to be challenged by the site editors: it is exciting, and not always for the faint-hearted!.
  • Wikipedia, and wikis generally, can be useful for referencing from your own website, especially for more obscure references, such as archaic measurements

[Conclusions slide]
Conclusions

  • Much, much less expensive than paper publication - save the paper for high quality things that need an enduring presence - you can always print out your web/blog/wiki pages with archival quality paper and inks to retain a permanent record, while allowing the electronic site to be for the everyday use.
  • They all offer the potential for reaching new audiences, on a far larger scale than you could otherwise reach.
  • Mistakes or new information can be quickly corrected or included - a mistake in a paper publication is much more difficult to deal with.
  • Need to develop some sort of content control guidance for website.
  • There is an issue of how to advertise your website, blogsite, etc to an audience.
  • A blogsite has limitations in dealing with history writing, but can enable you to reach small audiences - the format forces the writer to be concise and it can be used as an adjunct to, or developed as complementary to, a website.
  • A wiki can be complementary to your website, and Wikipedia is widely used by students and journalists.
  • Your work is instantly available on-line - and instantly available to your critics and peers - opinionated discussions, obvious mistakes, obscure references - you can expect them to be challenged by the your readers - but issues can be resolved fairly quickly.
  • the financial cost of maintaining a website + 2 blog sites + Wikipedia registration is very cheap compared to a single paper-based publication.
  • YOU CAN DO IT!

[Recommendations slide]
Recommendations

  • RAHS could include a category in conference awards and prizes for website development
  • RAHS could produce a 'model website' for society use
  • RAHS could start a local societies blogsite
  • RAHS could prepare a 'NSW Historical Wikipedia' on wiki method, which societies and individuals can contribute too.
  • Societies should include the original publication date on their home page, with date of most recent updating
  • Societies could actively take part in writing and editing Wikipedia articles for places and historical persons in their area of interest
  • Societies with an interest in these matters could form a sub-committee of the Affiliated Societies Committee to progress these and other ideas.

References (other than the in-text references)

'Trace Your Family Tree: use your iMac to trace ancestry', Your iMac, Future Publishing, London Spring 2003: 128-145. - www.futurenet.co.uk