Alexis Madrigal, "Inventing Green," and "New" History

This definitely falls into the category of "cool stuff":

Alexis Madrigal, a science blogger for, is writing a history of "green" technologies.

So why is that so cool? Because of what he's doing while he's writing it. He's using his website to keep a running log of where his research takes him; sharing his work "process" with anyone who stops by.

Thanks to digital technology, he's able to post photos and excerpts from primary documents, comment on them, and ask for input.(*1)

Yes, you say. Yawn. So what?

The "so what" part is that until recently, historians (and other scholars) could not do this kind of thing. What's normal now has only been "normal" for a few years and sometimes seems nearly science-fictionish to people my age.

For this old historian (I'm 55; Alexis is much younger), Alexis's approach to his work is amazing.

Back when I started working as a historian, wasn't nobody sharin' nuthin' with no one -- certainly not in such a public fashion. Sure, historians working on similar topics shared notes and commiserated at conferences, but otherwise, isolation was the name of the game, and we only finally shared the results of our research when we had completed that research and written a book or article.

Obviously some isolation is still necessary. Neither Alexis, myself, nor any other scholar can accomplish the kind of work we do without long hours of isolation, concentration, and "aloneness."

But it's so. damn. cool. to watch what digital natives are doing with the historical profession. (*2)

So if you have time, take a look at his website, add it to your rss feed, or bookmark it so you can follow along, too. You'll be watching the history of doing history unfolding before your eyes.


*1: For more on a historian's work and the difference between primary and secondary sources, see any of the posts here at my blog under the category "A Historian At Work," and especially the two entries about the "basics."

*1: I'm assuming Alexis is young enough to be a digital native or close to it, meaning he grew up with the internet and email and the whole nine yards. People my age are digital pioneers: We started using computers back in the 1980s, but by the time the internet and the wired world arrived, we were already in our 40s. Our tools for and approach to our work were shaped during and by a non-wired world.