Facebook and You
The discipline of history is the study of the past. Yet societies and cultures undergoing rapid technological change are constantly looking at the present and the future. One form of that change is the digital social media platforms that are revolutionizing how we interact with each other, how we spend our time, the way we receive information, and even what we view as reality. Under these conditions, what is the continuing purpose of the study of the past? While many have predicted “the end of history,” it may come as a surprise that the practice of history seems to be gaining increasing relevance. Take for example the phenomenon of “fake news.” Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have the ability to decentralize authoritative information, amplify unverified and personalized voices, and disseminate such points of view far and wide. And yet information exists in a continuum of time, and it references the past or creates histories that are the natural purview of historians. Historians, grounded in background knowledge, method, analysis, and interpretation have the ability to process and digest those sources for the sake of society and of posterity. Indeed, it is our responsibility to curate such information and distinguish the “fake” from the fact. At the same time, how do technological changes affect what is or will be considered “history” in the future? Returning to the example of social media, how are these platforms shaping politics (one of the classic topics of history), society, and human-to-human relations that are the natural realms of history? This course studies the relationship between historians and media (e.g. information) in today’s digital landscape. Through case studies, we analyze the way historians engage with information, our responsibility towards the public and the future, the methods we use to construct and disseminate knowledge, and current affairs that are taking place right now affecting the nature of information.