Monday, January 21, 2013

A Model Conversation

Some of you may have also been following the conversation on this recent NPR piece: Why Does Jared Diamond Make Anthropologists So Mad?  While the piece itself is interesting to me as a historian, I was more fascinated by the comment section. 

In general, the comment section of a news article online can be a place that makes you weep for the future of humanity.  Online comments are often full of vitriol and name-calling, and sooner or later someone is compared to Hitler and it's all over.  But this NPR piece was different, and I think it encapsulates some of the possibilities that exist, even on heavily-trafficked sites, for real dialogue.  Like some of my favorite academic bloggers, the author of this piece engaged with her readers, and her readers actively sought her expertise, and the expertise of the community of scholars that appeared to take part in the conversation.  It wasn't simply scholars telling the general public How It Is, but rather a real conversation about how anthropologists think about and disagree on culture, and also how they communicate those thoughts - or fail to communicate them, as the case may be - to a broader public that is keenly interested. 

I don't know that we should immediately have "Why Does [Insert Name Here] Make Historians So Mad?"  But it did make me think about different ways of engaging with the public, and more importantly, what we can do to help make those conversations more productive.  In this piece and its comments, Barbara King moderated and engaged in a conversation that promoted learning among interested adults.  It seemed worth taking a minute to applaud that.  -Erin

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