Discussion

von by participants of the symposium Original in German, angezeigt indisplayed in EnglischEnglish

Professor Wolfgang Schmale, Department of History, University of Vienna

We now move seamlessly to what will of course be the most interesting part of this afternoon. The multimediality of European History Online will now be subjected to close scrutiny. We must deal with this topic in at least two different respects. Firstly, there is the technological side – a digital project naturally makes things possible which a book for obvious reasons cannot, assuming that mulitmediality is more than just the incorporation of pictures, and in view of the fact that the paper – in quotation marks – which in future will be able to display video and audio streams has yet to be developed. Thus, the question of the printed book is still relevant to the discussion of a digital realization of an academic project. The second perspective is basically an internal perspective. How have the authors dealt with multimediality as an option, to understate it a little, in the context of writing their articles? And there are of course many other perspectives, which we will be able to filter out of the discussion.

A number of challenging points have been referred to. In the other two sections, we have examined EGO relatively critically, which is of course the point of the whole exercise. In particular, Mr Wilke's question, to what extent the articles were based on the principle of multimediality from the start or not, has shown the limits of transdisciplinarity. Because – you didn't put it like this, but I am simply extending your thoughts further – perhaps not all of the authors were clear about their own concept of media or because they were not really working with a well-thought-out media concept. Some of them should have done some reading in the area of communication studies. From the perspective of the internal structure of the project, a boundary of transdisciplinarity exists here which is rarely crossed. You have also described the boundaries of linking with multimedia elements in various directions: sometimes too few, often too many, rarely in the "correct" concentration. And if one connects this with the comments of Mr Badenoch, then the question arises, how useful are the links to the multimedia elements? Particularly the superfluity of portraits which both commentators referred to – does this really fulfil the principle of multimediality? And a third boundary, which Mr Wilke referred to, are the issues of copyright and costs. These issues are relevant to all internet projects. There is also a question, to what extent do academic standards suffer because copyright holders either don't grants any rights – which was a problem to an extent in the case of music, and even more so in the case of film excerpts – or the fees charged are far too high? In some cases, it is perhaps not possible for these reasons to fulfil the principle of multimediality. So I put the question back to you, is there any point? That is, do we have additional value compared to a printed European history which is written in accordance with the same principles but is not online?

Professor Jürgen Wilke, Institute of Media Studies and Communication, University of Mainz

My impression is that to a certain degree the internet – in contrast to books – exerts a compulsion to provide images. That is, as soon as one has images, there is somehow this pressure to include them. It seems very easy now to illustrate everything with pictures. Previously, it was very cumbersome to include images in books and it also ate up money, but now it is different, at least in the case of images that are available for free. My impression is that the authors usually do not know beforehand what will be illustrated or they provide no information in this regard. There are cases where authors try to actively influence this, but it is obvious if the text leads up to the pictures in some way, if the pictures are interpreted by the text, or if the importance of the picture in terms of its informative value is reflected in the text. This appears to be the exception.

Dr Alec Badenoch, Department of Media and Culture Studies, University of Utrecht

I completely agree with you, and with my contribution I actually wanted to give a small typology of the functions that a picture can perform. It should not be purely illustrative. It must be either part of the argumentation, it must be a primary source or it must actually refer to a collection, or the text must delve deeper into the representation, or the picture must be linked to an interpretation which demonstrates the character of the picture as an artefact and thereby creates a connection to something else. If there is a link to a video – there have been studies on this – it is always the first thing to be clicked on. But neither can images be completely dispensed with, that is the problem.

Professor Irene Dingel, IEG, Mainz

I find this discussion very interesting because it demonstrates that the perception from the outside is diametrically opposed to how the managing editors of EGO feel when dealing with an article. It is generally the case, or for the vast majority of articles the case, that the authors only provide us with very few, if any, pictures. We can only encourage all the authors – and some of them are among us today – to send us plenty of pictures because then they will really fit with the argumentation in the text. And they need not be only employed illustratively, but can also be used to develop the argumentation. However, this is rarely the case, and very often the EGO managing editors have to find the pictures to go with the articles. This is how those media bars with the links, which I find well-made, come into being. The second thing I wanted to say is that I have always viewed the advantage of an internet publication as lying in the fact that I don't just read text, that I don't just have words to look at, but there is also something else to please the eye, even if it is only illustrative.

Dr Thomas Weller, IEG, Mainz

In defence of the authors, perhaps I could point out that I work at the IEG, I'm an EGO author and user, and I selected all of the pictures for my article myself. I really enjoyed doing it. I don't know whether my choice of pictures would stand up to a media studies analysis, but I did try to use the pictures not just in an illustrative way. This brings me to the perspective of the user. On the one hand, I would entirely agree with Ms Dingel. It is perhaps more enjoyable to read these texts because they are illustrated. However, it can become a problem if the name of every ruler is linked to some contemporary portrait at the right-hand side of the screen. Perhaps it would be a good idea if the editors requested of the authors – perhaps not in the form of a deadline, but with a bit more pressure – that they utilize the options that one has when one is writing an article for EGO. This really represents a great opportunity, from the perspective of the author also. For every article that one submits for print publication, the issue of additional costs for illustrations arises. In this regard, the internet – in spite of legal issues – offers other options.

I would also like to say a word or two on media studies analysis. The two commentators are clearly applying different concepts of media. If I understood Mr Wilke correctly, medium and mass medium are practically synonymous for him, and mass reproduction is a part of the definition of media. Mr Badenoch, on the other hand, includes letters under media – and I assume he doesn't just mean published letter, but also handwritten ones. As a historian, I would argue in favour of a broader concept of media, and I think that would also be useful in the context of our EGO project, given that it covers the period from 1450 onward.

Jürgen Wilke

It won't be possible to remove these differences in the breadth of the concept of media now that they have been introduced. Nevertheless, one must always be clear about what one actually means when using the term. The letter does not appear in the thematic thread for which I am mainly responsible as an independent term – it is not a medium. The letter is to a degree a precursor of a medium to the extent that letters were printed as news. For me, a medium always implies dissemination to a multitude of people, specifically a technology which enables this. There is no technology involved in the letter which enables this, and I would therefore exclude it. In my view, when one uses the term "media" so broadly, one is grouping together thinks which aren't comparable. To describe a diplomat as a medium – I would view the diplomat as an intermediary. Why connect the diplomat with the very specific concept of media?

Dr Britta Müller-Schauenburg, Sankt Georgen, Frankfurt am Main

If I may give an author's perspective again, I researched both my specialist topic [Catholic theology] and the topic Hesychasm and Staretsdom. I found this setting for my EGO article incredibly inspiring. I had never structured this topic in this way before. The article required expertise, but it was also a challenge as regards the theoretical setting and the approach to media. So perhaps I could offer the suggestion again that, as an author, one may require even more instruction. I had never written this kind of an article before. I am among those authors who found their own pictures, produced their own audio clips, etc., but initially I had no idea how to do that. It was just the first time! I had a look at the work of the other authors – what's already there? Of course, this leads to the same practices being reinforced. I saw portraits, so I went and found portraits, too, and the VIAF personal name data, etc. If you want the spectrum of multimedia elements to be broad, then it would be helpful if the authors received more detailed technical instructions: examples, key words, which can give them ideas about how to incorporate media, and a bit of media theory. We received very good authors' guidelines. But in the area of media theory in particular, much of what I have just been listening to would have been very helpful to me when preparing my article.

Alexander Badenoch

If I may make a short comment on the process, I am very familiar with this from "Inventing Europe". We have actually invented an online genre. This is the case with many online projects. Forms are devised and the assumption is that people will be able to enter into them quickly. That is by no means the case. Difficulties arise repeatedly with establishing guidelines, and we took the approach that the pictures come first and then the story about them, and the narrative comes later. I just wanted to emphasize that these guidelines are very important.

Dr Marco Jorio, Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz, Bern

We have thousands of pictures and we have had the exact same experience as you. However, there are big differences between the disciplines. The specialist historians from historical studies often have great difficulty working with pictures and often ask, what did you want exactly? What is the purpose of the picture? And so on. For art historians and archaeologists, on the other hand, working with images is their stock-in-trade. They bring the picture and explain, "This picture has to be included because I talk about it." They have a completely different relationship to images compared with specialist historians. The historians still have an "iconographical late development" and have quite a bit to do to catch up.

Professor Andreas Gestrich, German Historical Institute London

I want to depart from images for a moment and come to the other types of sources, which don't just include historical sources in the narrower sense, but also secondary literature. In my view, another exciting thing about an online history – not an encyclopaedia – of this kind is that, in many cases, one can now gain very quick access to a considerable volume of digitized secondary literature. Thus, the reader can retrace the arguments on which the depiction is based. Should one not also stipulate that this digitized secondary literature also be even more comprehensively linked with the article, especially since EGO also has academic aims?

Irene Dingel

The contributions to the discussion actually confirm what Mr Jorio just referred to. It is very varied. Some of our authors provide their own images. But most of the authors are specialist historians, who don't work closely with images and don't provide any visual materials. Consequently, the EGO managing editors have to become heavily involved. However, this is always done in consultation and agreement with the authors. All of the images and other materials that are incorporated into EGO were agreed on by the editors with the authors.

Dr Joachim Berger, IEG, Mainz

One reason for the practice so far of mainly employing images illustratively may be that it has been difficult to engage art historians as authors for EGO thus far. I also suspect that an old resentment is at play here: an original aesthetic artwork loses its aura of authenticity if it can be reproduced without limit. This suspicion is as old as the mass reproduction of artwork by means of graphics and photography. But in the age of the internet, it may have become exacerbated. One thing that art historians don't like is when we in EGO take reproductions of copperplate engravings and other reproductions of valuable portraits and other paintings, which are available to us without copyright restriction, instead of paying hundreds of euros for three-year licences. This reinforces the impression that these reproductions of reproductions serve primarily as illustrations.

Wolfgang Schmale

One could of course say – and most of the authors that we have heard today come from historical studies – that none of this is particularly new. If one takes a look in Droysen's Grundriß der Historik from the 1860s, a vast array of the most diverse source artefacts is cited. I have to say I find it a bit surprising sometimes. If you take the modern concept of visual studies, which plays a large role in historical studies, it came on the scene in the early-90s, which is nearly 25 years ago. All this should not be so alien to us, but perhaps one can say on a positive note that EGO at least offers a large quantity of visual material, and what the reader and user do with it is ultimately up to them. Why must one always try to direct things, so that the free and spontaneous interaction with them is restricted? It is of course also an advantage of the internet that one can add material without embedding it so firmly in the text. This [embedding] also means that a particular interpretation is imposed which could restrict the free and spontaneous reaction of the reader. It can also be viewed in this way – positively.

Irene Dingel

Ladies and gentlemen, we have come to the end of an afternoon that has yielded many good suggestions and I wish to bring it to a close with some evaluations of my own. For us, the editors of European History Online, this symposium has been very important, not because we wanted to elicit your approval for everything that we have done, but because these three panels are for us in a way a window onto the external effect of European History Online, and we have received back from you an impression of European History Online from the outside. We were able to enter into an exchange on this, and this has brought many important suggestions for us. I think that critique was never voiced in so friendly a way as here. However, critique was never more important than in this context. The acknowledgement that we received for European History Online was also very gratifying, and I wish to thank you all very sincerely for that. Having said this, I wish to make a couple of closing remarks. European History Online – as it was designed by us and with the assistance of the editorial board – addresses you all as multipliers of historical knowledge, which you as members of the academic endeavour are, as are journalists and teachers. The articles which we have gathered together here are intended to benefit all of you. The technological realization of the project is also intended to benefit you. It will hopefully invite you not only to read the texts, but to use the integrated materials wherever possible, such as in schools and universities, so that all who use European History Online become multipliers of that which we have tried to depict. It has been repeatedly stressed that we did not want to produce an encyclopaedia. I wish to repeat our aims to finish. European History Online aims – this was the modest, but perhaps also very challenging goal – to research Europe as a communicative space, and under the aspect of cultural transfer, from the perspectives of transfer history, which we have, so to speak, imposed on all the disciplines that have worked with us. How successful our endeavour is will be made apparent by the many more hits which our website will hopefully register, as well as the use of the site by you in your research. I thank you all for your assistance, for contributing to the discussion and for playing your part in European History Online.

Translated by: Niall Williams
Copy Editor: Claudia Falk

Citation

N.N.: Discussion Section 3, in: Joachim Berger (ed.), EGO | European History Online – Aims and Implementation, Mainz 2013-12-15. URL: http://www.ieg-ego.eu/discussion3-2013-en URN: urn:nbn:de:0159-20140217197 [YYYY-MM-DD].

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