Add to bookbag
Author: Deborah Lines Andersen
Title: Benchmarks: Historical Narratives and Diversity
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
August 2007

This work is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Permission must be received for subsequent distribution in print or electronically. Please contact for more information.

Source: Benchmarks: Historical Narratives and Diversity
Deborah Lines Andersen

vol. 10, no. 2, August 2007
Article Type: Benchmark

Benchmarks: Historical Narratives and Diversity

Deborah Lines Andersen

Benchmark: a standard by which something can be measured or judged.  [1]


With advances in technology and speed of delivery, today"s world is much smaller than it was even in the time of racial unrest in the American South"even 50 years ago. The photographs of the humiliation of other human beings at Abu Ghraib were quickly available to individuals around the world through the Internet. We know of unrest in Israel and Palestine, or Darfur almost as soon as it happens. We are aware of the conflicts, the players, and the events that take place on the other side of the world. History is not always about pleasant images of faraway lands. It can be about unpleasant situations in our own back yard, or about how individuals treat others half way around the world. History is not always easy.

This issue juxtaposes two articles that are both about teaching history. In one case that history is in Central America, a region that has gone through a myriad of political upheavals and government unrest. Political change is often not peaceful. Through the use of a bilingual database the authors of this article allow students and scholars alike to be aware of the changes in governments and leaders of these countries since they were separated from Spain in 1821. There are many other papers to be written about this region before 1821, and about the Spanish takeover of this region. History is often about diverse groups of individuals with differing points of view and differing agendas.

The second article in this issue examines many issues of diversity, of resistance and of the way one group of individuals interacts with another. Again, this article presents hard realities about historic events. Again, this article is about teaching history to others, in this case not through print but through images of events. The images are not pleasant, and remind us that human beings are sometimes far from kind to each other.

JAHC presents both these papers to its readers to illustrate new ways that history can be made available to students, whatever their age. It is my hope that these articles also are exemplars about how we should or could or should not behave globally toward each other in a world that is becoming increasingly smaller, increasingly diverse, and increasingly in need of compassion and understanding about other human beings and their cultures.

Articles in this Issue

The Journal of the Association for History and Computing always presents diverse issues for its readers. The journal has dealt with geographic information systems, databases, and use of web materials for teaching, to name a few, aiming in all cases to look at the interplay between history and historians" use of technology. This time however, the term 'diversity' specifically deals with issues of cultural diversity"using this sense of the word that looks at race, gender, cultural and social differences.

In "Developing an Online Searchable Bilingual Database for Learning about Central American Political History," Wu He, M"hammed Abdous, and Robert H. Holden address the issue of materials that are in one language (Spanish) and will potentially be used by others in a second language (English). Quoting their abstract,

"This paper describes the design and development process that has resulted in a web-based bilingual historical database to assist university faculty in enhancing Central American Political History Education. This database is the only database of its type and provides an advanced search environment to identify essential biographical information about the heads of states and members of governing juntas of six Central American countries. This database is available in Spanish and English. The primary benefit of this unique database is to increase accessibility to this information and thus improve knowledge of this region."

Their paper serves to increase our readers" knowledge of issues in other countries and in other languages. It is also a wonderful exemplar of how historians can work together to create materials that are highly accessible to all through the power of the Internet. Finally, it discusses how history faculty can use the Internet to better teach their students.

The second featured paper of this issue of JAHC also focuses on teaching and on using images from the World Wide Web to allow students to do their own historical research and creation of historical narrative. In "Power Point and Privileging the Visual in Teaching American History: Lynching, Racist Collectibles, and Abu Ghraib Prison Photos" Bruce Fehn discusses his use of a series of photographs to allow his students (and other viewers of this PowerPoint show) to create their own historical narratives about some rather unsavory aspects of history"those that include lynching, torture, embarrassment of other individuals, and racism. He also discusses and shows images of the oppressed fighting back"through the images that they created. Fehn discusses audience response to his images, exploring how it could be that horrific events and images could at one point in time be printed on postcards or reproduced for mass distribution after an event that today we would find unthinkable. "While harvesting the images and placing them side by side I asked: Why, in both cases, did Americans engage in such brutalities? How could the perpetrators apparently feel comfortable, even happy, with their awful crimes? Were Abu Ghraib photos part of a narrative of white supremacy and black resistance?" He presents us with a hard look at events in the history of the United States.

And Columns

In this issue there are a variety of columns that explore aspects of history and computing. In "Print Resources in History and Computing" Julie Holcomb presents new monographs from the MIT Press including materials on georeferencing, women and information technology, and the human relationship of tools and technology.

Lynn C. Westney's "E-Journals-Inside and Out" again looks at a wealth of ejournal information, and this time includes journals produced by graduate students as well as webliographies that expand the kinds of resources historians will find useful on the web.

Finally, in "Web 2.0 for Historians: An Introduction," Jeremy Boggs again looks at cutting edge technologies that are changing the way that historians do business. He introduces such topics as social bookmarking, blogging, image and video sharing, and wikis in the contest of Web 2.0.

The journal continues to be interested in article submissions, both long and short, that present materials juxtaposing history and computing. We welcome queries about the suitability of topics and about works in progress. Finally, because we are an online journal with the ability to link to other materials on the Internet, we welcome papers that use a variety of images and source materials, presenting diverse points of view, historic interpretations, and historic narratives of events throughout the world.


1. "Benchmark," American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed., 2000.