4 Digital Authority

In allowing my interviewees to speak around the impact of sound, I am sharing authority.1 My project shares much methodological similarity with Stacey Zembrzycki's work interviewing Sudbury Ukranians with her grandmother, Baba. Zembrzycki comments on how difficult it was to share authority with her interlocutors to democratize the interview process and generate open dialogue.2 Sharing authority means allowing our interviewees to speak outside of our planned questions and project objectives. Nana did not comment much on the industrial sounds of Pembroke because they were relatively insignificant to her experience, but my project's general focus on sound prompted her to discuss her childhood memories of the siren during the war reminding them to return home. My interlocutors often approached me as resources to help me fill in the historical gaps, not test subjects for the Proust Effect. Most Pembroke residents were often just excited that someone wanted to learn about their past. The stakeholders of the Ottawa Valley Historical Society and Champlain Trails Museum were excited about my project because local interest in Pembroke's history is low.

The most effective impact of social media on this project has been through the community-run Pembroke Facebook group "I'm from Pembroke Ontario and I'm not Ashamed to Admit it on Facebook." The group has over 4000 likes and has become more of a historical community that enjoys a nostalgia for old Pembroke than an advertising space for local events. The most active members of the group are typically older people nostalgic for Pembroke's past. When I interviewed Sarah, the young Pembroke resident, she noted how she knew little about Pembroke's history other than the mural downtown (that portrays Pembroke from Samuel de Champlain to the early 2000s) and the museum. She was surprised by the rich history of Pembroke's industry, stating that she "never knew Pembroke was that important." This is the mindset the museum wants to change. Sarah noted, however, that she knew some history through stories from her grandparents. Shared memories are important to one's historical imagination and museums are not the only sites for historical information. Shared authority, then, involves listening to these individual stories and incorporating them into Pembroke's history. Sarah's comments show the importance of community driven history taking place in sites like the Pembroke Facebook group. The group members were excited when I announced my project and asked for their help because I could use my position as a historian to share their stories.

I created a Facebook community page called the Pembroke Soundscapes Project to advertise and share updates on my project, create a forum to localize discussion, and to allow users to share photos, stories, and memories. I wanted to use Facebook as a medium for my historical community. I followed the work of my colleague, Sara Nixon, with her Grimsby Timescapes project, an iPhone app that explores the town of Grimsby, Ontario through historical photographs. Sara facilitated the public side of her project through a successful community page on Facebook with over 300 likes, the Grimsby Timescapes App Page. Sara told me how community shaped the life of her social media.

I set up the Grimsby Timescapes page to originally gather participants to test the app. It's life kind of evolved and is now more of a community for sharing Grimsby's history and other local heritage projects/events more generally... However, the people who go to the page are mostly interested in sharing photographs and stories of Grimsby's history more generally. What I found most striking about the page was how easily it was accepted into the large Grimsby Facebook community. I share statuses, links, photos from other pages and they share what I post.

Sara and I discussed why my Facebook page had failed to become a community page. At its peak, my page had a total of six likes and no explicit interaction. Maybe I did not promote it well enough. But that was not a sufficient answer. I explained to Sara that "I keep finding a trend that it's the 'community-up' groups that are so active. It's almost as if [those communities are] more salient ground to share photos, stories, etc. than a museum page, or a more academic one." As successful as her project was, Sara also noticed that there are much more popular Facebook communities around Grimsby's history such as the Vintage Grimsby Facebook page with over 2000 likes. She theorized that this could be an issue of authority since "[c]ommunity members might feel like they share an equal voice on a community-run page and thus are more inclined to share and contribute to the page." Social media changes the location of historical work. My project now exists through my interactions on social media. The history becomes mapped out to a variety of online sites. As such, we must be aware of the ethical impact in these online interactions.

At a fundamental level, the goal of collaboration is to widen the historical playing field to represent more experiences. But sharing authority in any setting should acknowledge the different identities of all involved. Graham et al. argue that "[h]istorians who crowdsource the writing of historical narratives may be able to empower members of a given community who may not have the same institutionalized or professional authority conceded to 'experts' in the discipline."3 On Facebook, people expect a certain authority from me as a historian. I began sharing my own research with them because there was an understanding that I would use my authority to create a historical project on their town. We should not, Lisa Ndejuru argues, mistake authority as "'having power over'."4 Rather, shared authority is a relationship where "everyone is allowed to come to the table as they are and share their concerns and their motivations."5 Historians should use their interpretive positions in academia to create a narrative from community resources collected in a collaborative project. Issues can arise when our interlocutors do not share authority in the way we may expect. Graham et al. recall being approached by a community activist "with a body of materials that she had collected as part of a continuing negotiation with a local city council in Quebec over the development of a neighborhood."6 Being a university funded, 'professional' project, she sought to legitimize the history she had collected. I did not experience this with the Pembroke Community. But Graham et al. provide caution when sharing authority of the potential to legitimize certain histories.

Historians should play a pivotal role of influencing the historical imagination of online communities only if we remain sensitive of the publics involved. Because online we often have never established relationships with our interloctuors. Zembrzycki notes that since many of her interviewees were Baba's friends, she already had established relationships of trust.7 When I interviewed the stakeholders of the Champlain Trails Museum and Ottawa Valley Historical Society, I had already established a relationship with them. I had introduced myself and my project and they wanted to help me. They shared resources and allowed me to view the museum and their local archives. My interactions with the museum involved an understanding that I am helping them create local interest in Pembroke History. Historians must be aware of their impact, then, because depending on the scope of the project, online and physical communities can intersect. Most of the museum stakeholders were active on the Pembroke Facebook group and noticed that I was actively sharing on the group. The museum archivist noted how the Facebook group remains an important community aid for their own historical research.

Historians using social media must be aware that people pay attention to our online interactions. We cannot just use these community groups for information or historical analysis. We have to give back to them too. As Steven High notes, "collaboration need not end when the audio or video recorder is turned off, but that it is an ongoing process of dialogue and sharing."8 In many ways, of all the work I did online, sharing photos and archival material in the Pembroke Facebook community had the most visible impact. This, for High, is how historians build trust in sharing authority. In fact, most of the shared authority of this project involved my ongoing relationship with different stakeholders. The interviews were a relatively small aspect of the whole process. In the Pembroke Facebook group, I only knew a few people so I was careful to be transparent about my process and justify the project through my familial connections to Pembroke. I introduced myself and explained the project and often posted photos with questions or just images alone to share with the community. Zembrzycki notes how hard it was for her, Baba, and her interlocutors to share authority in their interviews.9 Authority in an interview setting is much different than online. In many ways, online interactions can be more democratizing because my interlocutors can take their time to think about my questions and fashion a response. But these responses are open for others to view. Like Schiller's father shows, people deliberately choose how they share memories. On social media, if I ask a question there is no expectation to respond like there is in an interview. You allow people to come to you with stories and resources.

It is easy to dismiss social media as a non-serious platform for academic history. The quality of comments in online communities can easily turn someone off from social media as a serious place for historical discussion.10 But social media creates new avenues for open access projects through sharing and community engagement.11 The Pembroke Facebook group is a serious community around which people organize their lives and shape their memory. I should not take the community engagement of their group away from them by forcing communication into a new group or different platform. Open access and social media allow us to critically engage public history in digital environments. Open access should be more than a democratizing buzzword we throw around. Instead, it can be a terminological paradigm for a much deeper discussion about digital publics and how historians collaborate online. While collaboration does not inherently make a project better, we have to hope that others can use our ideas, resources, and source code to develop and contest our narratives. Our digital methods require an ethics to public history since we impact the way people remember. The historian's ethic extends beyond a clearance form to conduct interviews. By sharing this history in a digital format, I am influencing the nature of memory and providing access to memories for people who otherwise would have known nothing of Pembroke's industrial past.


1 While Michael Frisch popularized the term shared authority in A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History, Steven High writes more on the subject in “Sharing Authority: An Introduction,” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue D’études Canadiennes 43, no. 1 (2009): 12–34.

2 Stacey Zembrzycki, “Sudbury Ukrainians,” http://www.sudburyukrainians.ca/project.html.

3 Shawn Graham, Guy Massie, and Nadine Feuerherm, "The HeritageCrowd Project: A Case Study in Crowdsourcing Public History," in Writing History in the Digital Age (University of Michigan Press, 2013). http://quod.lib.umich.edu/d/dh/12230987.0001.001/1:9/--writing-history-in-the-digital-age?g=dculture;rgn=div1;view=fulltext;xc=1#9.3.

4 Lisa Ndejuru, “Sharing Authority as Deep Listening and Sharing the Load,” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue D’études Canadiennes 43, no. 1 (2009): 10.

5 Ibid.

6 Shawn Graham, Guy Massie, and Nadine Feuerherm, "The HeritageCrowd Project: A Case Study in Crowdsourcing Public History," in Writing History in the Digital Age (University of Michigan Press, 2013). http://quod.lib.umich.edu/d/dh/12230987.0001.001/1:9/--writing-history-in-the-digital-age?g=dculture;rgn=div1;view=fulltext;xc=1#9.3.

7 Stacey Zembrzycki, “Sharing Authority with Baba,” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue D’études Canadiennes 43, no. 1 (2009): 224.

8 High, “Sharing Authority: An Introduction,” 13.

9 Zembrzycki, “Sharing Authority with Baba,” 224.

10 Take, for instance, the recent case of Genius, a browser tool that allows users to annotate web pages and for other users to see those annotations (http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/7318643/genius-adds-one-button-abuse-reporting-criticism-news-genius-tool). Some bloggers reported online harrassement by users of the tool. Genius runs in the background and other users must have the tool to read annotations. Sharing thoughts and memories online comes with potential risks and historians must recognize how this concern over sharing shapes the democratizing aspect of the internet.

11 See Adrian Petry, "The Value of Heritage in Canada: The Social Media Historian," October 20, 2013, http://notsoprivatehistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/the-value-of-heritage-in-canada-the-social-media-historian/; The Transcribe Bentham project crowdsourced community engagement. See Tim Causer and Valerie Wallace, “Building A Volunteer Community: Results and Findings from Transcribe Bentham,” Digital Humanities Quarterly 6, no. 2 (2012). http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/6/2/000125/000125.html.