Participants Allen Ballard
EssaysEssay by Allen Ballard
Guest EssayEssay by Thomas Mallon
Writing samplesMoses Rose
by William Rainbolt
Man Under Authority
The Heavenly Kingdom
a virtual conference session
In light of advances in technology, we of the History Department at the University at Albany, SUNY believe that historians need to rethink how historians communicate our ideas. We must go beyond traditional academic publications and conference presentations. So, we launched this experiment in form to explore one way historians can use new technologies.
Our outreach to historians, not yet as enthralled as we are with the possibilities of new medias, began by asking scholars to participate in an electronic conference session on a topic of shared interest: writing history and writing fiction. All of the participants in this session write both. We proposed that they participate in a virtual conference while carrying on their usual scholarly duties -- which all of them did, except Reid Mitchell who was a Fulbright scholar abroad during this time.
We designed our electronic conference with two basic assumptions. First, most historians are familiar with email. While our participants have varying levels of expertise with electronic communication -- all were users of email. Second, most historians communicate their scholarly ideas through writing. From those foundations we began our experiment in form.
We asked each participant to write a short essay on writing fiction and history. Then we sent all the papers (as email) to each panelist and asked them to react via email. We preserved their email as a permanent "discussion." In essence it is the equivalent of a thread from a small list serve.
The papers and the exchange they spawned while the core of this site really only are a virtual version of a conference session. If left alone on the web, they would just be another example of "text on the web." Aware that past forms have always exercised a strong and limiting hold on new technologies (the first published books resembled the handwritten manuscripts they replaced and early movies tended to be stage plays recorded on film) the History and Media Committee resolved to do more to use the potential of the new medium of the WWW.
Because the web facilitates the easy storage and retrieval of material, we included additional material to enrich and enliven the discussion. We included background information: each participant is identified through a c.v. and each author has allowed us to place a short excerpt of their fiction on the site. In addition, the Virtual Conference features a guest essay by noted historical novelist, Thomas Mallon, author of "Henry and Clara" and "Dewey Defeats Truman."
Finally because this is an experiment in form, we seek your comments and
suggestions. We have constructed two live discussion rooms for this
site. One is devoted to comments concerning the topic: writing
history/writing fiction; and the other is devoted to comments concerning
the form. Please let us know what you think.