My answer to question #1 of "Questions Provided"

I believe that Janet Murray's four characteristics of digital environments do help us to imagine an "expressive" form of digital history, particularly in relation to the characteristics of space and encyclopedic content. The "expressive" digital history will use all of the characteristics that Murray uses to define digital environments to form a unitary whole that will seem to flow naturally and yet present a different experience with each visit to the site due to richness of the resources and the number of possible navigational approaches to the material - this is not to say that the information would change as different links are chosen, but that the emphasis would change. An example would be the DoHistory website which is large enough to have several different approaches to its primary documents; whichever avenue you choose gives a different perspective on the material, either through the author's interpretation or your own, depending on where you go. This is possible due to the availability of both transcribed and original versions of the primary source materials along with tools and teaching aids with which to interpret them - something impractical, if not impossible to do in other media. It is the combination, regardless of the relative proportions of each, of the characteristics identified by Murray that enables New Media to be "expressive," it is for us now to work out the techniques to realize that potential.

Lev Manovich's five principles of New Media are a little more problematic. His first four principles (numerical representation, modularity, and automation, and variability), by his description, only allow for additive digital history, as these are not unique to new media. Only in the fifth principle (cultural transcription), as he explains it, could a new "expressive" digital history be imagined. This digital history would partake of the structures and language of computer programming to interpret history in a process of "conceptual transfer" (Manovich, p. 47). I have not been able to find an illustrative example on the web.

I find Manovich's schema to be unhelpful in imagining "expressive" digital history, mainly because I disagree with his preconceptions and many of the background arguments for his principles. One of Manovich's major preconceptions is the principle of need precedes innovation or invention. Thus he speaks of the absolute necessity for "media machines and computing machines" in order for modern mass societies to exist (Manovich, p 22). I believe this is a debatable topic, especially when followed up with the statement that the "ability to disseminate the same texts, images, and sounds to millions of citizens - thus assuring the same ideological beliefs- was as essential as the ability to keep track of their birth records, employment records, medical records, and police records." How did disseminating the same information to millions of people assure the same ideological beliefs? Were they automatons? It may have given them a shared set of cultural icons, but certainly did not assure belief. For that matter, why is keeping track of birth records, etc. essential for modern societies? Tax records could be argued, but many modern countries did not keep these records in a form usable by a "mass society" until very recently.

I would argue that Manovich has discounted the additive effect of his Principles of New Media and altogether neglected a major effect of the computer on media of all types - speed. I suspect that Manovich has not spent a lot of time producing New Media as opposed to theoretically analyzing it. The result is his tendency overuse of analogies to film, understandable because of his background. The computer has revolutionized film editing due to the ease (relative to the pre-computer methods) and speed that film images and sound can be edited. In practical terms this means that editing techniques are much cheaper and vastly more accessible to nonprofessionals than ever before - thus we have the appearance of major hit movies not produced by the establishment in Hollywood, producing fresh ideas and pushing the bounds of Hollywood conventions for successful movies while operating on shoe-string budgets. The same is true for print media, gaming (as a field of endeavor), and, to some extent art. The opening up of these areas, access to which was traditionally restricted by issues of cost of production and highly specialized skill sets, to larger pools of potential authors and artists is, in my mind, "expressive" if only due to the resultant diversity of views and techniques made possible by computer technology. This is also true for New Media in the form of digital history. The ease of publishing on the web has encouraged huge numbers of people to produce web pages, many of them on history.