Digital historians capture War of 1812 online
Peter Konieczny and Sandra Alvarez, future-minded historians whose websites have attracted audiences from 170 countries and a social media following of more than 50,000, have launched www.thewarof1812.net to spread the word about a conflict many Canadians know virtually nothing about.
“Dissatisﬁed with stagnant sites that sat untouched for months, we wanted something that was vibrant, changed every day and engaged people with the past. We decided to create websites and post articles, news and video from all over the world,” says Alvarez, who co-founded their most prominent site, www.medievalists.net, in 2008. “We wanted to share our love of history and show people why history matters.”
Since then, the duo has made a mark on Ancient History, The American Civil War, and Early Modern England with their fresh take on the past. Their approach is unique because they not only pull content from other sources on the web, but they also review books, TV shows and movies, interview researchers, authors, and entertainment personalities and report live from conferences, re-enactments and other events via Twitter and Facebook.
Their latest website already boasts features on Fort York, the historical site in Toronto and on historian Pierre Berton, who wrote a two-volume account of the War of 1812. There’s also a quiz where Canadians can test their knowledge of a conflict that many consider to be Canada’s war of independence.
“By being historical journalists, we see ourselves as part of the effort to preserve our past by sharing it with a whole new audience. Being able to use social media like Facebook and Twitter really allows us to connect with tens of thousands of people for whom history matters,” says Konieczny. “It’s been a great tool not just to share our history but to learn what is going on out there too.”
Their latest launch comes at a time when preserving history is becoming more and more challenging. With government funding being cut, universities scaling down programs, and historical sites disappearing, www.thewarof1812.net offers an important part of Canada’s past a whole new home.
“As we move into the future, we have only the past to go on. We must preserve it at all costs,” says broadcaster, War of 1812 documentarian and historian Dan Snow. “Sites like www.thewarof1812.net allow us to connect with history in the digital age, bringing a new generation to history and allowing all of us to explore the greatest stories from our past.”
With a social reach potential of almost 15 million – equivalent to close to half the population of Canada – the duo hopes to use their online clout, digital reporting, and passion for the past to build a content-rich site that’s as dynamic as the war that inspired it.