About this Site
What is the History Commons website?
The History Commons website is run by the Center for Grassroots Oversight ("CGO"), an organization that is fiscally sponsored by The
Global Center, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. CGO was incorporated as a public benefit corporation in late 2006, and is currently applying for its own 501(c)3 status.
Can you briefly describe the website?
The website is a tool for open-content participatory journalism. It allows people to investigate important issues by providing a space where people can collaborate on the documentation of past and current events, as well as the entities associated with those events. The
website can be used to investigate topics at the local, regional, or global level. The data is displayed on the website in the
form of dynamic timelines and entity profiles, and is exportable into XML so it can be shared with others for non-commercial purposes.
What kind of information is available on this website?
- Information about specific events. There are
currently 20,946 events profiled in our database. Visitors can view these
events by searching the database, or by browsing through timelines.
- Information about specific entities. More than 5,000 entities are currently in the database. They include
individuals, organizations, businesses, etc. For each entity there is an entity profile page which includes (1) information about the entity; (2) links to
related entities; and (3) a chronology of all events in which the entity was an active participant. Visitors can view entity profiles by searching the database,
or by clicking on one of the entity links at the bottom of an event.
Who creates the content?
Anyone who registers on the website and becomes a member of a timeline project can submit content. Membership is
free. Once a user becomes a member, s/he can edit existing event summaries by clicking the edit link that is next to that event (the user must be logged in
to see the edit link). In addition to editing existing events, users can also add new ones to the database. Registered users who add content
are called “contributors.” Since the project is still beta, and since we do not have enough editors at this time, membership is restricted to
a relatively small group of users.
Who edits the content?
Any qualified individual—an experienced
contributor, professional editor, academic, journalist, graduate student, etc.—can
become a content editor. Content editors, like all users, are volunteers. They verify the accuracy of entries submitted by contributors. Content
editors may reject, approve, or edit and approve, submissions. After approving an entry, the entry is then copy edited.
Who copy edits?
What is the purpose and significance of this website?
- To provide a means for members of civil society to monitor the activities of powerful entities, such as governments,
large corporations, and wealthy and influential individuals. In this capacity,
the website should be regarded as an IT toolset that enables members of the public to operate as a sort of people’s intelligence agency. To initiate
an investigation of a certain issue, entity, or event, a user first creates a timeline project. The user then becomes the project
manager of that project and begins adding events, entities, and relationships. The data is displayed as a chronology. Project managers
can define an unlimited number of category sets and categories that s/he can use to classify the events. This gives the data some structure and
makes it more readable for visitors.
- To further blur the line between readers
and journalists. This website, like blogs and other applications that allow self-publishing, allows Big Media’s former audience to assume the
roles of content creators, editors, and publishers.
- To increase the efficiency of information
production. This project is premised on the notion that collaboration in a networked “open-content” environment can greatly improve the
efficiency and quality of information production in the public sphere as it allows contributors to build upon and improve the work of others in real time
as part of a global community. This arrangement allows the production of information
to take place at a level of efficiency comparable—if not superior—to that of the capital-intensive efforts of hierarchically structured private
enterprises. The Center believes this improved efficiency is socially significant
because products resulting from this system of production are inherently more democratic than those of the private sector since they are created by a much
broader spectrum of interests and perspectives.
- To increase the efficiency of information
acquisition. Another objective of the Center is to increase the efficiency of research by reducing the tendency for researchers to duplicate the efforts
of others. All too often, researchers—largely because of a fragmented historical record—needlessly spend a significant amount of time and energy
bringing material together and identifying relationships, even though this work may have already been done by someone else. By collecting a mass of extensively cited
data, this website should reduce the frequency of duplicated efforts.
- To reduce the fragmentation of the historical
record. This project seeks to help reduce the fragmentation of the historical
record by connecting events whose temporal and spatial relationships are often obscured by a mass of contradicting and disconnected literature, the biases
of the media, and the tendency for important past events to be relegated to the annals of forgotten history. By reducing the fragmentation of the historical
record, this project hopes to reduce the amount of time it takes for the public to acquire a full and coherent picture of an event or issue.
- To create a “history commons.” All the data in the History Commons database will be exportable into XML
so it can be used by other individuals and groups for non-commercial purposes. As such the historical data collected by contributors and stored in the Cooperative
Research database will serve as a sort of commons for historical data.
I would like to learn more about open-content civic journalism. Can you refer
me to any other sites?
Wikipedia is a copyleft encyclopedia that is collaboratively developed using wiki software. Wikipedia is managed and operated by the non-profit Wikimedia
Foundation. In addition to standard encyclopedic knowledge, Wikipedia includes information more often associated with almanacs and gazetteers, as well as
coverage of current events. The content of Wikipedia is entirely created by its users. No single person owns the content; no article is ever finished.
The license known as the GFDL is intended to ensure that everyone who can accept that license has the right to use and improve the article.
OhmyNews is a South Korean collaborative media outlet run by professional journalists with the help of 26,000 citizen journalists.It has a readership
of over 2 million people and publishes about 200 stories a day. Its impact has been profound, being credited by many with helping to elect South Korea's
new progressive president, Roh Moo-hyun.
- BackFence: “Backfence.com is a new way to find out what's going on in the world closest and most important to you: Your neighborhood. And the information is written by the people who know your neighborhood best: You and your neighbors.”
for the Public Domain: The Center for the Public Domain is a philanthropic foundation based in Durham, North Carolina, that seeks to call
attention to the importance of the public domain and spur effective, practical solutions and responses. Its work is animated by the conviction that new
legal regimes, social institutions and transparent technologies must be created to fortify the information commons. The Center for the Public Domain is enthusiastically
committed to this mission—and to the use of innovative philanthropy and catalytic leadership to secure the future of the public domain.
Commons: Creative Commons uses private rights to create public goods: creative works set free for certain uses. Like the free software and
open-source movements, Creative Commons' goals are cooperative and community-minded,
but our means are voluntary and libertarian. The organization works to offer creators a best-of-both-worlds way to protect their works while encouraging
certain uses of them—or declare “some rights reserved.” Thus, a single goal unites Creative Commons' current and future projects:
to build a layer of reasonable, flexible copyright in the face of increasingly restrictive default rules.
and Politics: TruthAndPolitics.org is envisioned as a clearinghouse for knowledge, an attempt to achieve economies of scale in the dissemination
and organization of information, both current and historical, relevant to politics and public policy. The project’s primary long-term goal is
to help individuals access the current sphere of knowledge more efficiently and avoid needless duplication of effort.
Where can I read more about civic journalism?
What people are saying about the History Commons project
“Absolutely amazing site. Genius. The mind boggles at the amount of work you must have put into it.” - Dean Cavanagh, UK
“This site is so brilliant. Thank you for doing it!” - Suzanne DeBolt
“I'd just like to say thank you. I kept myself quite late one night dreaming of a grand project like this, and you've done it. Brilliant. I'm
glad there are people like yourselves out there.” - Will Swanson
“Your organization and your Web site truly realize the potential of
the Internet for collaborative study, research, and understanding. This is one of the best, if not the best, resource on the Web for detailed, unbiased,
and unfiltered analysis of recent events.” - Peter Orvetti
“… absolutely brilliant website, of great value to all! Splendid
work.” - Nigel
“I just want to let all of you know what an absolutely amazing website
History Commons is. It has been the most informative site I have come across and I tell EVERYONE about it. I can not even begin to imagine
the time and effort put into making this site what it is, and it amazes me how much it has grown over the past year (after finding it while doing research
for an English paper for college.) Keep up the outstanding work, I can speak for many people when I say it is appreciated and making a difference.”
- Amanda Rae
“You've done a yeoman's job and your research is important history.
Really important. REALLY important. … You are verifying sources and events in a way that none of the majors have done, and which The Grey Lady
(NYT) heretofore prides itself as the sole source of. Your work puts the NYT to shame.” - Janie Angus
“…yours is the very best site I have found. And you gave me hope when it was hard to come by.” - Kathryn Welch, Blacksburg,
“I consider your project as one of the most important web-based projects
aimed at combating what I call political amnesia.” - Morten Nielsen
“I have to tell you that your information is devastating in its completeness
and I have already in about the first 15 minutes of reading the time line learned about Joe T. I didn't know a damn thing about this character and the
role he played in the propaganda of wmd. In short I want to applaud all that you've created .” - Debs Bleicher
“Your site is an incomparable resource tool on an important array of contemporary US policies. It is unique, irreplaceable, and of inestimable
value.” - Michael B. Green, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist, Qualified Medical Examiner, Former Professor of Philosophy UT Austin.
“... reports prepared by [the History Commons] team were helpful in my work as
a freelance political writer. I am an author of two published books and hundreds of articles in the best of Polish language political magazines.” - Henryk
“I spend most of all of my available time researching material from
the [History Commons website]. ... I have found that the detailed and accurate information from the [website] can allow
a user to build a comprehensive overview of things. There are no quick sensational
propaganda write-ups, such as found on some ... websites. The [website] is a long hard slog to the real truth.” - Malcolm