Jenny Reeder

Patchwork Quilts and Digital History
October 3, 2006, 3:53 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Friendship Quilt   I love to quilt. Piecing together fabrics, colors, textures, shapes; cutting, piecing, connecting; creating a larger textile by cutting up smaller pieces. It’s quite a bit like doing history, as both Kelly and Bill pointed out, and it’s a very visual and time-old example of remixing.

In bridging the worlds of domestic textile, scholarly history, and new media, I have a couple of questions. I agree with Raymond Yee’s citation of Lawrence Lessig: our society values derivitive works. The mashing and meshing of ideas and voices lends itself to a very postmodern perspective. I believe that the open access and sharing of so many authors proves to be the living example of multiplicity and dimensionality. With the advent and progression of digital technology, we become immersed in a rich world.

The quilt pictured here was created by the Salt Lake City 20th Ward LDS Relief Society. Each square was made individually by a member of this female religious group. Each square is designed differently and created from different materials. While each square could be examined separately in several different historical perspectives, much of their value occurs collectively. Information can be culled regarding religious, social, and even economic implications from such a remix of individual voices.

The plethora of information and databases available digitally requires additional scrutiny and accountability, both on the side of the user and the creator. We must make databases accessible and usable. As users, we must recognize the constraints of such accessible information.

Dan Cohen raises an important question about the separation between tech and humanities with the lack of API advances in humanities databases. He is right and his statement begs that the issue be discussed. I wonder, however, about the greater divide between technology and history. Perhaps I am a pessimist in thinking that not everything will go digital. Certainly some branches of history will readily transfer digitally, but the future of history, in my opinion, is not entirely and only digital. Cohen is right on in stating that we as historians and public historians and professionals must find a way to bridge the gap, to maintain the personable, intimate connection in history.

Just as I mix my quilt pieces, or my diaries, correspondence, and newspaper articles, the advent of digital history adds another dimension. It is vital that pieces fit together evenly, or, as with my first quilt, the shapes wrinkle and pucker and pull. We must correlate between users and sources.


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