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the magic of the interweb

Anyone with a blog or an online journal knows how much the internet has changed our lives. There's the social element, of course, and there's the fact that so much information is so easily available. But what sometimes I forget is how quickly this has all happened. I wrote my Master's thesis in 1998, and at the time, the internet simply wasn't a viable method of research for my subject (Revolution for Fun: Counterculture and the Underground Press in England, 1959-1974. Fascinating stuff! Actually, it kind of was). There literally wasn't anything online about it - not very surprising, really, and as I had come through my BA degree in the days when the world wide web was in its early infancy and simply wasn't considered as a research tool for an arts degree, I didn't care. I was used to doing my academic research the old school way, and didn't expect anything else. But just a few minutes ago I googled Spare Rib (the Spare Rib Reader was one of my second hand purchases yesterday), and up came a bunch of articles on the subject. Stuff that I had to dig around to find and call up from stacks is now at my fingertips. I know this makes me sound a million years old, but it's really kind of odd how quickly this has changed.

And it's not just academic research. Last week I was listening to a very interesting play of Radio 4 about two aristocratic English cousins in the 18th century, one of whom was white and one of whom was mixed race. The latter was the acknowledged daughter of an English aristocrat and a former slave who was brought up with her white cousins. The play was centered on the two cousins sitting for a portraitby Zoffany, so I assumed this portrait really existed. A quick google later, and there they were - the real people from 200 years ago whose story I'd just been hearing. It's times like this that make the internet seem like a miracle.


Feb. 24th, 2005 01:36 pm (UTC)
When I was doing national-level debating, in the early 90s, there was no internet at all; all our research time was spent in libraries cross-referencing from the card files, and slogging our way through the big, clunky computer search programs which covered about twenty per cent of the collection.

We read hard copy Hansards in the library rather than searching a pdf, spent hours scanning bibliographies for sources, and spent embarrassingly long hours cursing our crap research skills and getting sidetracked by some obscure, interesting, yet completely irrelevant story.

By the time I started coaching national and international level kids, you could just send them off to do a major report on international policy overnight. Much easier, although I don't know if the quality of the final product has changed very much.

I still like to sit in the library once in a while and delve into the hard copy international relations journals, and hang out at the Archives doing searches and going through pages of hundred-year-old documents wearing gloves. It feels more like research, even though it's vastly more inefficient and no more valid.


fat pony like thunder
The Monkey Princess

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