Virtual Shul

I have often heard people say that historians fall into one of two categories: 1) those who know a little about a lot; and 2) those who know a lot about a little (post hole knowledge). Well, in my department we have a retired faculty member, Dr. Irwin Marcus who fits into a third category – historians who know a lot about a lot. He is always passing on articles and bibliography to other members of the department (even though he is retired, Dr. Marcus is in the department offices more than any other faculty member). Today when I walked by, he handed me a newspaper article entitled "Virtual Shul." The ironic thing is that Dr. Marcus really uses very, very little technology – yet he knows that I have an interest in it and grabbed the article for me when he ran across it. Since I visited a Greek Orthodox Church in SL yesterday, it seems appropriate to check out the Virtual Shul and in very short order, I found a copy of the article on-line.

In 1994, a group of architecture professors and their students at Darmstadt University of Technology began using CAD programs to virtually recreate synagogues destroyed by the Nazis. An exhibit of 14 of these recreations was recently shown at the Rosenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. To view some of the reconstructions visit the exhibitions page I located. The on-line exhibit is quite informative and well-done and emphasizes how technology can be used to preserve the past.

I am encouraged to see projects like this one since I often feel that some historians frown on technology other than word-processing and email. This short-sided view always ticks me off since I feel that this outlook helps reinforce the stereotype that academics are ensconced in an ivory tower writing articles for other other academics, ignoring the public. Or, that reaching the public is the job of public historians who are not real academics. Aren’t all historians "public historians?" Or, shouldn’t we be? Technology, certainly makes it easier for historians to be public historians and in its many forms, offers historians and archaeologists the opportunity to reach many different audiences that they never reached before.

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