- Sport History in the Digital Era ed. by Gary Osmond, Murray G. Phillips
This is a book about the impact of a technological innovation on scholarship. Before any consideration of this innovation, it might first be useful to consider the following basic questions: (1) What is the function of scholars? (2) How do they choose research topics? (3) Having once decided on a topic, how should they conduct research? The answers are as follows: (1) to make sense and provide explanations of the chaotic fog that is the real world, (2) curiosity, and (3) examine any and all data pertaining to the topic chosen and acquire skills necessary for such a task. These have been givens since the beginning of thinking. Scholars, and they do not just hide in universities (think of Charles Darwin), in reaching conclusions need to make decisions about the relative usefulness of the data they examine and what to include/exclude in their musings. Scholarship is at its most interesting when data do not fit with a previous explanation (theory). Resolving such inconsistencies is the source of scholastic innovation, or knowledge. This is when scholars are most creative.
The Internet is the major technological innovation of the last two or three decades. This book, edited by Gary Osmond and Murray Phillips, examines various dimensions of its impact for sports historians. There is no reason, however, that the issues raised could not be generalized to other disciplines. Conceptually, the Internet has changed the lot of scholars in the provision of and availability of more data and enhances communication/exchanges and the speed of delivery of both of the above. The question is whether these changes have any impact on the fundamental issues associated with scholarship identified above. Other than for speeding things up, the answer is no. Scholars will continue to seek to make sense of the real world, will be drawn to topics as a result of curiosity, will examine data/information in reaching conclusions and constructing theories, and will be stuck with the problem of weighing the usefulness of data and knowing what to include/exclude in whatever and on what platform they deliver their conclusions. The Internet will never blunt Occam’s razor; if anything it will make it sharper due to the avalanche of so much data and the expansion in perspectives it has unleashed.
This book provides an examination of the various ways and issues associated with the use of the Internet in conducting research in sports history. After a comprehensive introduction, Osmond and Phillips organize the book into three sections. The first is titled “Digital History and the Archive.” It contains a chapter that examines how librarians are responding to the digital era and issues associated with the construction of digital archives, such things as who determines the inclusion (exclusion) of data and monitors/polices additions. [End Page 131]
The second and longest section, “Digital History as History,” explores different ways in which the Internet can be employed by scholars and in the classroom. Websites and blogs provide new data sources to be examined and can provide scholars with a means to interact and collaborate with each other and nonscholars. One of the more interesting observations is that social media sites will become regulated and monitored in much the same way as happened with oral history. The Internet, it should be remembered, is something utilized by the police and national security personnel (not to leave out the corporate world) in monitoring our activities (and spending patterns). Scholars need to be wary of creating problems for “transgressing” collaborators in interactive social media sites.
The final section, “Digital History Is History,” comprises two chapters where it is claimed that the Internet provides alternatives to traditional history. Such claims fall flat in that alternative analyses are not a function of technique but thought. Traditional history is always under attack; this is what drives innovation, new ways of thinking, the development of that which is called knowledge. Both the Internet and other places in which data...