History and Social Networking

Okay, this is just plain cool. Someone has started up a photo account that features pictures from the Normandy invasion. These seem to be period pictures, I’m guessing from press photographers who landed on the beaches and with the invasion force during Operation Overlord.

The entire photoset can be seen here, but be warned, there are some pretty graphic shots. The account has a number of other photosets, with thousands of pictures.

I find this interesting on a couple of levels. The first, as a history geek – these are pictures that seem to me to be pretty candid of the invasion – I’m guessing that most of these weren’t staged – as some Civil War photographs have been – and show a side of the Normandy invasion that really looks past the invasion component. We see the civilians caught in the path of war here, a lot of the devastation that the war left behind, and some of the very brutal elements as well.

The second thing that makes me interested here is that this helps to illustrate how the internet is potentially changing things. I came across these pictures via random search, something that I might not have come across otherwise. Social Networking sites such as Flickr have the potential to really link up some historical content together. Imagine an interactive historical site that allows for uploads of various events, written historical content and user comments about the event. This could really bring about some interesting changes in the way that historical events are studied, researched and interpreted, especially with events that are currently happening.

I’ve posted pictures up on flickr as well – when I was working on my Normandy Project back in 2007, I uploaded my shots of the Norwich students who fought at Normandy. I’ve since taken them down because they were only up there because I had forgotten a thumb drive, but I can see the benefit of having content such as this online.

What would be facinating would be a way to look over the entire Iraq war from its beginning, and watching how opinions change over time, but also to get first hand comments from people who were there. First-hand accounts, from the moment, are extremely handy, especially without the use of hindsight and interpretation from people at the scene.

There are some obvious problems with something like this, and other user-generated content sources, such as Wikipedia, as items can be updated, but they can be updated incorrectly at the same time. At the Society for Military History conference that I attended earlier this year, this seems like it has become, and will be a very contentious issue. Thus, items such as this can only be trusted so far, as incorrect information is a really bad thing to have when doing research.

I suspect that as the internet gains even more prominance when it comes to research in the near future, this will become more of an issue, but we will also see more historical content being published via sites such as this. It should be very interesting.

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