Historical Narrative

Modernity –

In The Birth of the Modern World, C.A. Bayly creates a thematic world history covering 1780-1914. One of the most important questions, then, is what he means by modernity. Bayly lays out a brief historiography of the term, using traditional academic conventions in form and tone. He then lays out his own usage of the term with examples to illustrate his meanings. While the format of Bayly’s writing gives it an authority, it is very difficult to dig deeper into his meanings or quickly find any of his sources for yourself. The footnotes give only traditional bibliographic details, and even an excellent library may not contain all of the works cited. This is situated very much in a reader position, where any further engagement with the text would require action on the part of the reader to find other readers for discussion or other works to place it in dialogue with.

The wikipedia article for modernity is relatively sparce. Although scholarly in tone, the knowledge that anyone can edit this information takes away from the authority of source. However, it also encourages you to engage with the material more actively, and to think very critically about the information being presented. Also, the knowledge that you could edit the article also encourages moer active engagment. The article cites only one source, which, while recent, does not seem to have a great deal to do with the topic. The article spends as much time discussing characteristics or paradoxes of modernity as it does the actual meaning of the term. WHile it contains only 2 footnotes, the text does contain a large number of hyperlinks to other wikipedia article, and in parts strongly encourages the reader to follow them. In this way, the text feels more tightly connected to other pieces of information and a broader number of concepts. It allows you to focus on one particular aspect of the topic very easily, and obtain more specialized responses very quickly, which makes it easier to place the ideas into a number of different contexts. Unlike many other wikipedia articles, this one contained no visuals, and did not take advantage of the graphic elements of the web in any way.

An Encyclopedia Britannica search for modernity turned up 155 hits. I read in depth through the 23 page article on modernization, which in many ways seemed to bridge the gap betwee the first two examples. It contained the authority of a scholarly source, while providing some hyperlinks to other texts, allowing the reader to easily follow up on unfamiliar terms or investigate other areas of the debate. THe Encyclopedia also offers links for additional reading on related topics, and also provided a way to give feedback. Ussing the “Comments or Suggestions” link, the reader is given a form to make changes directly to the text, explain their changes, categorize them, and submit it for approval. This easy to find link encourages the reader to think more critically about what they are reading, with the knowledge that any suggestions made are reviewed by staffers for accuracy and relevance. The article did not contain any images. The Encyclopedia chose to include in-depth many elements of a modern society such as urban lifestyle and the modern family. THese elements were expanded on in various chapters of the book in more detail, and links off of the wikipedia article. However, the sidebar does allow you to select a section of the article in much the same way that a traditional book does.

A google search for “Modernity” turned up 10,500,000 hits, an almost unfathomable number (and one that suggests the search cut itself off at a certain point leading to that nice round number). Clicking on the definition link provided by google took me to Ask.com which gave me a brief one sentence definition from two different sources and provided the same wikipedia article from before. Wikipedia was also the top suggestion in the google search engine. Clicking through the links on the first page sent me to university sites, Project Muse, discussions of art and architecture, and a business offering 20th century Scandinavian design. While Google offers no guidance to get throught his overwhleming litany of answers, it does provide a number of different meanings for the term, which an encourage the reader to think about the different ways it might be used. However, this could also be discouraging for a reader who was unfamiliar with the term. It encourages engaging with the ideas in a different way. A google image search returns 28,600 works with titles or keywords about modernity, which again encourages thinking about other dimensions of the idea. Google Video returns 66 hits, mostly lectures by different academics.

Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica both impose a type of narrative structure on modernity, giving to information in the terms of beginnings and endings. These entries contained the same scholarly tone of the book. However, through the use of hyperlinks, they did encourage the reader to think about elements of modernity in different ways, by allowing easier focus on specific parts and providing forums for feedback and continued engagement with the material. They could have gone even further with forums, images, or other ways to foster discussion. The Google search allows a reader to get a sense of the many different meanings that could be attached to modernity, and come across new ideas which could spark their own thinking. However, without some idea of what the concept already was and which parts interested them, they would have a difficult time getting anything useful from their search. Google provides a number of slices of information, without any structure imposed on them.


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