Monday, November 20, 2006

Legalities and disappearing history

Well, the readings this week are swimming in legal jargin. I was not aware of the immense amount of copyright laws passed in the last few decades, but it is somewhat disconcerting that most either do not apply or are questionable as regards to digital history. But, there are a few specific issues I would like to raise in my good ol' Blog.

First, I do not remember if we talked about it earlier in the semester, but I thought of another advantage of online books vs. physical books: in the chapter from Digital History, the 2nd footnote referenced Lessig's book Free Culture and that it came out after Digital History was written. But, obviously, they were able to cite it because it is much easier to alter/update a book if it is online. To do the same thing with a physical book, you would have to put out another edition.

Another interesting aside that I thought I would share came when I was reading in Roy's article "The Road to Xanadu," about the large number of Civil War websites that have sprung up on the Web. When talking about the passion of those Civil War enthusiasts, Roy compared that enthusiasm to Civil War reenactments. I have been to 2 reenactments and both times, knowing the history as I do, I was amazed at how far they strayed from the actual history. At the Battle of Raymond reenactment a few miles from Jackson, Miss., the Confederates (who in the real battle numbered about 1/10th of Grant's Union army but in the reenactment they were about equal) retreated very orderly from a 3 hour stand. In the real battle, the outnumbered Rebels fought valiantly and held off Grant for about an hour and a half, but when they broke, they threw down their weapons and ran for Jackson.

The other reenactment was even worse historically. At Port Hudson (La), there was a reenactment although I have not found ANY evidence of a battle the day the reenactment was held. I am unsure what exactly they were reenacting that day. This worries me, because if I was confused, what would someone think if they had never read a book on the Civil War? I figured I would share this real-life example of the misinformation often contained in websites of amateur historians.

Lastly, I was thinking about the restricted nature of history on the Web via pay websites and other restricted sites that can only be reached by libraries or universities. We have often talked about the idea of "access" in Clio, but usually it had been in the context of limiting academic history to only fellow historians and not granting access to amateurs and non-historians. Now, we see another side of this "access" issue. But this time, the access restricts us!


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