AHA 2002

Rick Dodgson
Abstract: The reach and relative accessibility of the web has added a new dimension to my research into the activities of 1960s' counterculture progenitors Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. Most of the existing literature about this history is told from the perspective of the main actors involved. Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, for example, is based almost exclusively on interviews with Kesey and the Pranksters themselves; we rarely, if ever, hear from the thousands of people who attended or participated in the various public celebrations, performances and, "happenings" for which Kesey et al are best remembered. My site -- www.pranksterweb.org -- is intended as a vehicle to locate these people and document their experiences. It is hoped that it will serve as an archive for the personal testimonies and images of primary documents that people submit to the site, as well as a directory of valuable primary sources.

The Internet potentially offers historians an exciting and powerful new research tool that might be used to facilitate historical research and generate otherwise "hidden" primary sources. Using my own work as a case study, the paper will discuss the possibilities that this technology offers and explore how its promise might best be realized. Attention shall also be given to assessing the limitations of this medium and to evaluating the methodological problems that these limitations pose for historians. The conclusion will explore the relationship between electronic research methods and traditional approaches, emphasizing the continuing need for the latter in order to make the best of the former.