Against the Grain: Countering “Internet Ideology” with Historical Thinking

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 1:50 PM
Empire Ballroom East (Sheraton New York)
William Knight, Ship's Company Living History
Behind social media sites' mask of neutrality, the users of social media platforms often share ideological features. This common worldview of text-based platforms like Twitter and reddit is technologically and ideologically deterministic, 'western' centric, STEM-focused and profoundly teleological. It is presentist, essentialist, and culturally chauvinistic - in a word, it is ahistorical.

This worldview forms the groundwork of many questions our users bring to AskHistorians. Some of our most frequently recurring questions include why didn’t Africa develop like Europe? Why didn’t medieval Native North Americans build cities exactly like medieval Europeans? Did ancient soldiers develop PTSD?

AskHistorians challenges the ahistoricity of Internet discourse by laying bare the theoretical foundations of doing history. Our “Monday Methods” series presents accessible overviews of important historical methodologies, as well as debunking flawed ones. Our panel of contributors often presents multiple scholarly viewpoints in their answers. And our Q&A format allows us to confront example of deterministic and presentist thought directly, unveiling the flaws with ahistorical thinking through concrete, easy-to-digest case studies on memorable topics.

By challenging ahistorical thought on an intellectual, bigotry-free Internet platform, we give our readers the tools to identify and discard the universalist, teleological, and essentialist ways of thinking that politicians and far-right extremists exploit to manipulate and even radicalize social media users and their offline political constituencies alike.