The Journal for MultiMediaHistory
Volume 1 Number 1 ~ Fall 1998

About The Journal
for MultiMedia History

'virtual' journal in an academic world that has already rendered itself virtual? How appropriate!" That was how one colleague described our project—to publish a journal of history that uses hypertext and multimedia technologies to merge audio, video, graphics, and text into a form that can only be communicated on the World Wide Web (WWW) or on CD-ROM/DVD mediums. She missed the point. It was precisely because so much of what we were doing as professional historians seemed so isolating that we wanted to "get out on the Web," to reach not only academicians, but an entire universe of interested readers. We wanted to bring serious historical scholarship and pedagogy under the scrutiny of amateurs and professionals alike, to utilize the promise of digital technologies to expand history's boundaries, merge its forms, and promote and legitimate innovations in teaching and research that we saw emerging all around us. So it was gratifying to find our skeptics in the minority and many lauding our efforts. A number of administrators at the University at Albany generously supported our venture, providing us with critically needed start-up funds, and thus helping to give birth to The Journal for MultiMedia History (JMMH). Our own History Department was equally munificent. So we are here, and as difficult as it was to get this first issue out, we intend to stay.

We intend to stay—assuming, of course, that more members of our profession, and related disciplines, join the initiative and begin expanding and re-conceptualizing the craft and art of historical research and pedagogy. The Journal for MultiMedia History is not a paper journal migrating onto the WWW; that was not and is not our intention. Neither is our goal to compete with the many superb virtual history museums and multimedia Web sites that are already scattered about on the Internet. Before the arrival of this journal, the idea of presenting and disseminating historical multimedia projects as discrete electronic journal articles had yet to be fully explored. Nor had there been one centralized forum where scholars, students, and the public could read, view, and hear distinguished multimedia research in all fields of history, or enjoy reviews that offered audio and video samples from the works reviewed. To do these, and more, is our challenge.

In recent years, developments in computing and information technologies have dramatically transformed the way we preserve historical documents, as well as research and write about the past. Paper-based, two dimensional manuscripts and texts—the staples of traditional history and archival research—now coexist with dynamic, multiform, digitally coded sources. Material previously available to only a few, in relatively obscure or inaccessible archives, is now widely available to a large and ever-expanding public. We can conduct some forms of research electronically, teach via phone, cable, and satellite, and share audio and video resources across the world as easily (sometimes more easily) as we can across our academic campuses. At the same time, traditional media—radio, television, and film—have been increasingly utilized by historians to communicate compelling historical narratives to a wide audience; programming derived from these mediums has already begun gravitating onto the WWW. The implications of all these changes for research, pedagogy, and publishing are enormous and significant enough to motivate us to launch the JMMH.

By fully exploiting the almost magical potential of digital code, allowing us to bridge communication mediums, the JMMH represents a truly pioneering venture. It offers scholars opportunities to present and analyze materials impossible to incorporate into traditional text articles and monographs, and to deliver them to professional and lay audiences around the world. In its "pages," audio essays, audio recordings of conference sessions, and individual speeches can coexist with print and hypertext articles.Who among us has not occasionally enjoyed a lecture by an astute, humorous, or profoundly original historical thinker? Such addresses rarely make it to print, and even if they do, both the spontaneity and the style of delivery are missing from the text versions. Digital coding and media streaming and compression techniques permit scholars to compose essays with "imbedded" video clips or a large volume of photographs and slides that would be too costly to print. They provide opportunities to share rare video and audio primary sources with more than a handful of interested scholars. Extensively hyper-linked articles offer guidance and direction to navigate through hundreds of thousands of electronic sources. Flowing across millions of miles of wire or over satellite links, electronic representations of the visual richness of diverse human cultures help smash the physically restraining barriers of stone museums and archival vaults, and enrich the intellectual and aesthetic lives of scholars and grade school pupils alike. All of these possibilities define part of the mission of The Journal for MultiMedia History. But we have one other goal in mind: to foster an "intermedia" sensibility. As one member of our editorial board, Joshua Brown, emphasized: the JMMH invites us to go beyond supplementing traditional text documents with graphics, audio, and video, or adapting traditional scholarship to the WWW. It also provides us with an opportunity to experiment with innovative interactive media forms and explore new ways of creatively utilizing the WWW to conduct research and to teach. Thus, we hope the JMMH will also be a laboratory.

The JMMH is the first peer-reviewed electronic journal that presents, evaluates, and disseminates multimedia historical scholarship. We hope to make it the preeminent publication of its kind. Administrators, tenure-review committees, and other deliberative groups looking to evaluate electronic academic historical publication for hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions will no doubt find our reviews helpful. We look forward to helping establish the standards of academic electronic multimedia publishing, matching those that are found in leading print journals such as The American Historical Review or The Journal of Modern History. A distinguished editorial board—Steven Brier and Joshua Brown of the American Social History Project at the City University of New York, Carolyn Lougee of Stanford University, Mark Kornbluh of Michigan State University, Roy Rosenzweig of George Mason University, and our own Richard Hamm—provides guidance and oversight.

Based in the Department of History of The University at Albany, SUNY, the JMMH seeks a diverse readership, including academicians, teachers, archivists, museum curators, documentary film makers, and a curious general public. The journal is dedicated to presenting and reviewing historical scholarship focusing on all periods and all nations. In the months following the first announcement of the founding of the journal, we received encouragement from hundreds of scholars throughout the world—Asia, South America, the Middle East, Europe, Canada, and the U.S.—who expressed strong interest in the JMMH. Close to three hundred historians, social scientists, and members of related disciplines, moreover, volunteered to serve as reviewers for multimedia scholarship. While we recognize that many obstacles lie ahead, our biggest challenge involves production. Thus far, we have been able to find excellent pieces for the journal. But, since digital multimedia publication is a new medium, many scholars are still inexperienced in it, or hesitant to develop expertise. They should not be. We are willing to work with any scholar who has good material, but lacks knowledge of HTML code or expertise in digital audio, graphics, and video technologies to put an article together.

Except for downloading and installing free media streaming software plug-ins, for which we provide clear and simple directions, readers do not need any technical expertise to enjoy this journal. We have tried to make the media content as accessible as possible so that even the most inexperienced reader can make full use of the material. We encourage readers to contact us with new ideas, proposals, suggestions, and submissions. The journal will maintain an electronic bulletin board where we will post correspondence from readers and writers. The success of the JMMH depends on the active involvement of its readers.

This is the beginning of an exciting adventure; we welcome your participation in charting the landscape of a new digital frontier, one that is as intriguing, compelling, and unpredictable, as that first explored by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1450s. Help us extend the world of historical scholarship and publishing beyond the traditional monograph or scholarly article and the conventional classroom, into a realm that is serious and profound, but also filled with wonder, movement, sound, beauty, art and whimsy. Help us enliven our discipline, improve pedagogy, and expand interest in history among the general public. As readers, writers, researchers, composers, artists, and reviewers, you can help make The Journal for MultiMedia History a showcase of creative and lively historical discourse and research—a fixture in the historical profession and in the academic community for years to come.

Gerald Zahavi and Julian Zelizer, Founding Editors
Department of History, The University at Albany, State University of New York
November 11, 1998

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About the Journal for MultiMedia History
Copyright © 1998 by The Journal for MultiMedia History

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