The internet is notorious for its capacity to spread falsehoods. Though this reputation is justified, it is important to remember that the mass-communicated errors have existed long before internet, television, or even telephones. Since time immemorial, people have been spreading misleading information -and mindlessly adhering to said information- through newspapers, pamphlets, legislation, word of mouth, tradition, and a multitude of other mediums. “Information technology” has not created a new issue, but it has increased the scale and compounded the reach of a very old one.
Of course, it’s hard to deny that modern technology has some benefits as well. Historians, perhaps, reap the most advantage from electronic devices and the World Wide Web. Recently, I had the pleasure to speak with a guest speaker to the History Department here at UMW. Though he has been a respected historian for decades, the speaker mentioned that he had long had an idea for a book on a famous 18th Century general, but had only recently been able to bring the project to fruition due to the 21st Century online publication of that individual’s personal papers, which are stored in the UK.1 Previously, travel abroad to conduct his research was prohibitively expensive, but the mere increased accessibility of materials online enabled the writer, as it has so many other practitioners of history, to do what would otherwise be impossible.
The internet has also allowed state-funded public educational institutions like UMW to better fulfill their purpose in the Commonwealth. Research and transcription ventures, such as the online papers of James Monroe2, allow public universities to truly make their projects public.
In short, while IT has compounded many old problems, it has also positively expanded the reach of resources.
1.Anonymous, Personal Communication with author, November 14, 2019.
2. University of Mary Washington, “Papers of James Monroe.” Accessed November 25, 2019. \https://academics.umw.edu/jamesmonroepapers/.