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April 18, 2006

the blackout project: a networked history text


Jim Sparrow, from the University of Chicago who also recently attended our next \ text history meeting, has created an intriguing project on the New York Metropolitan area Blackouts of 1965 and 1977. The Blackout History Project is an ethnographic history repository for the collected experiences of people who lived through either blackouts. A key strength to the site is the depth of layers of information. In addition to personal anecdotes, the Blackout site offers a historical context for these events through timelines and articles written by both historians and experts on the electric utilities. Covering everything from audio clips of interviews of survivors who witnessed the event to technical reports, people can explore the factors that led up to historic moment and its aftermath. The site shows how, what was basically a failure of technology, reveals aspects of modern society as well. Issues that arise range from a city's dependence on electricity to a spectrum of reactions across the city from looting to impromptus street fairs.


Because the blackout are historical events that were directly experienced by millions of people there is a huge pool of potential sources to document. The project capitalizes on its location in the network by displaying information as well as collection survey and interviews via the site. Survivors were able to leave testimonials and then some where contacted for in depth interviews. Therefore, the site embodies not only a vehicle of the research, but the research results as well. This diversity of information reveals new ways this text can be used in the classroom.

As a teaching resource, students from many disciplines can explore and learn from the primary and secondary sources provided. Science and engineering students can gain insight on the technology they build has direct influence on people. For the history student, they have to opportunity to see the impact of technology on history, and how historical events evolve. In the promotion of inquiry based learning of history, students can also gain insight on how ethnography studies of this kind are implemented. Therefore, the Blackout Project makes explicit the processes that historians use. There are many opportunities to have students use these first hand accounts to construct their own ideas concerning the blackouts. (It would be nice if the site is search engine to assist exploration for students and other users.) Also, students can see how history is an ongoing, dynamic phenomena, rather than a static event. In 2003, three years after the launch of the site, the East Coast including New York experienced another blackout. After the Blackout of 2003, the project members built an additional space to share further accounts of this third historic event. Students who lived through the Blackout can now enter their own experiences. In showing how the networked historic document continuously grows over time, it creates new visions of what the born digital textbook can be.

Posted by ray cha at April 18, 2006 7:18 PM