J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Exploring a New Medium—as Soon as We Find the Right Plugs

One highlight of my 2009 was participating in a panel discussion at the Organization of American Historians meeting in Seattle on “Blogging History: Explorations in a New Medium.”

I took notes for a posting soon after that event in March, but waited to see if the video that panel moderator J. William T. Youngs had prepared would appear online. And then important matters like Kezia Hincher’s child seized my attention.

But the end of the year offers a fine time to look back and consider the lessons I had a chance to pick up along the way. And right away I can confirm two rules of life:

  • The more time someone has spent creating a multimedia presentation, the less likely it is that the multimedia system in the assigned venue is working.
  • The more that an event depends on technology for its very existence, the less likely that technology is to work.
In our case, Bill Youngs had prepared a video introduction to each panelist’s history blog, with images and music, on his Macintosh. But the LCD projectors at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center had trouble reading any signals from that computer. Problems with Macs that close to Microsoft headquarters—who would have thought?

That left us not only without a snazzy introduction, but also without a computer for a session in which we were to show off and discuss our blogs. Which is hard to do with whiteboards.

Our projected image was still a blank blue rectangle about five minutes after the session’s scheduled start. I leaned into a microphone and asked if anyone in the audience could loan us a Windows PC. One woman graciously offered hers, and soon we were off and rolling.

TOMORROW: Lessons from my fellow panelists.

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