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Socially reconstructing history: the Social History Timestream application

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalContinuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies
Issue numberJune
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2015

Abstract

For centuries, print media controlled by powerful gatekeepers have played a dominant part in the recording and construction of history. Digital media open up new opportunities for the social construction of historical narratives that reveal personal and situated viewpoints. In January 2012, work began at the University of Edinburgh on the design, development and distribution of a web-based Social History Timestream application for social history research projects across a range of disciplines. The application enables researchers to establish dynamically-generated timelines (divided into days, months, years, decades, etc.), to which researchers and members of the public can post photographs, textual descriptions and other media. With the addition of meta-data such as tags and locations, the resulting timelines provide a way to compare thematically-related events across time. A primary aim of the application is to provide opportunities for researchers to discover serendipitous time-based connections between topics and events that might not previously have been considered. Key to the project’s success will be an engaging interface that allows visitors to see public imagery (e.g. items from the news) alongside personal imagery (e.g. what a given person was doing on that day), organised by themes (e.g. geography, health, politics or media). Among other things, the interface will allow comparison of mainstream versions of particular themed histories with the personal accounts of those who experienced them, or to visualise the development of ideas, technologies, and social categorisations over time. At the time of writing, the Timestream application is still in development and is being piloted with three research projects. This paper will focus on one of these – a history of photography practices – to describe emerging theoretical and methodological design considerations, demonstrate the interface and offer insights into the process of using the Timestream application.

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