Comments on "Electronic Resources and the Education of History Professionals"

Presentation by William H. Mulligan, Jr.

AHA '99 January 8, 1999, Washington, D.C.

"Preparing History Graduate Students for the Digital Age: Research and Teaching in the Twenty-First Century"

Wendy Plotkin

8 January 1999

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In his paper, William Mulligan of Murray State College discusses the importance of the Internet in the practice of public history, and the need to integrate its use into graduate study in public history so that students will be able to use it effectively as professionals.

Mulligan describes the use of computers for cataloguing and administration in historical museums and societies. However, his emphasis in his paper is on the communication and access to scholarly sources that is enhanced by the Internet. Scholarly communication is facilitated by individual e-mail and by participation in Listservs. Mulligan asks his students to lurk on, and evaluate, Listservs, so as to be able to identify their usefulness in their professional work.

I am assuming here that Mulligan has evaluated the Listservs themselves and considers them worthy of the time invested in them. Is it true, in his experience, that at least some Listservs are superior to written communications from scholarly and professional organizations? And, if we limit our discussion to the on-line environment, is a Listserv, superior to a WWW version of a periodic newsletter?

Also, how does he contrast the class of professional listservs from scholarly ones? One might hypothesize that the interactions allowed by listservs are more conducive to professional communications, in which practical and organizational issues are discussed, than to scholarly ones, in which the written, researched, and footnoted essay is the traditional means of communicating one's work. Can scholarly listservs improve upon the newsletters of scholarly organizations, and, if so, how?

In the second part of his presentation, Mulligan describes the WWW resources available to graduate students in public history, including syllabi for each of his courses and links to the WWW sites of organizations with which they have to deal as public historians. Anyone looking at these on-line will see their value both to the students taking the class, and to other students and established scholars seeking sources on this topic.

Indeed, in his paper, Mulligan has not only shown us how public historians can benefit from the Internet, but has shared with all of us a vast network of resources available on public history and historical preservation.

I have a final question that is meant more to stimulate future discussion than to obtain a comprehensive resonse at this session, now. This is the role of the Internet as a public history resource itself -- that is, the potential for the Internet itself serving as a source of employment for historians in improving scholarly communications. Is there a viable professional future for history graduate students who'd like to design historical WWW sites, digitize primary documents, and moderate H-Net lists? And should training for these types of rules be included in professional education?

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