Interactivity is the heart of what the web has to offer, both in general and for digital historians. This, however, is not without its difficulties, as illustrated by the Lost Museum website and Josh Brown’s article. I’d seen the website before in CLIO I, and thought it a bit clunky and dated (it first went live in 2000. Yet Brown brings up an even more important issues than the somewhat AOL-like feel…in trying to create an interactive historical mystery, the creators of the Lost Museum had actually limited, rather than broadened user’s options. By limiting users to the options within the website, a lot of historical context was removed. The end result was somewhat like exposing a user to the woodcut’s from Leslie’s Illustrated while not allowing them access to the text…or for that matter any other of the contextual sources that abound for the period.
This is an serious concern, one which hadn’t really occurred to me when I first viewed the Lost Museum website, or, to be honest when I first thought about interactivity and digital history. My main concern originally, as a historian, was how I could demonstrate my argument in an interactive format, where a user could pick and choose where to go, and in what order. The idea that interactivity was actually shaping (limiting?) users had not seemed that big an issue.
Yet clearly it is. The web’s main attraction for historians is that it opens up the ability to do stuff on a scale not possible in the non-digital world…if instead of opening up accessibility and data we are instead limiting a user’s options we’re kind of missing the point.