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Citizen Journalists & Citizen Historians: Scenes from the Tamil Canadian Protest

I am in Ottawa, Ontario, this week working with the Canadian War Museum. It’s been an interesting first twelve hours, as I have been engaged non-stop since my arrival.

After leading a workshop with the staff from the War Museum, I caught a taxi to my hotel down from Parliament Hill. Blocking my path was a large protest of Tamil Canadians who have converged to demand action by the Canadian government to establish a cease-fire in the war between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers.

Between checking into my hotel and meeting friends for dinner, I walked up the hill and mingled with the protesters. It’s a peaceful demonstration with police redirecting traffic around the melange of ages, gender, and economic standing. With my iPhone camera and my Flip MinoHD, I captured sights and sounds of the daytime activities. After dinner, I returned for more and this time interviewed one of the student leaders involved.

Using the footage I took, I’ve pulled together this video to approximate my experience inside the protest:

In talking with the protesters, I was given the following website addresses. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information contained on them. In fact, I cannot even vouch for the facts and events the protesters shared with me about the current situation inside Sri Lanka.  I can just share what was shared with me, including these websites they wanted the world to visit:
UK Guardian News Article

As I burn the midnight oil to write this post, I am preparing my final thoughts for the lunch keynote I’m presenting in about 11 hours. It’s entitled “The Battle for the Human Mind: Hosting the Great Debates of History Online” and will be part of a day long historical conference. As the only non-professional historian presenting, I get to explore digital and social media’s role in historical understanding.

A major issue I will be exploring is the tension between Experts and Amateurs. Now that we walk around with mobile devices, cameras, and video cameras in our pocket, we all can become citizen journalists and can use the bright, shiny light of the Internet to bring awareness to specific events and causes.

This has great implications. As I prepare for the historical conference, I wonder about many things. Specifically, I wonder where is the line between reporting on news events and interpreting that news as history? How will this affect our perceptions of history? Can everyone become historians?

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