On the internet, where digital communities and subcultures thrive, those interested in history find each other. The knowledge produced in these digital spaces, far from the academic world, is being studied in a new research project.

Funded by the Crafoord foundation, the project focuses on the ways in which history is formed within Facebook groups.

“I simply want to explore how history is used in a completely new context,” Robin Ekelund explains.

He will investigate what kind of historical knowledge is created in these digital spaces, and how this historical knowledge is produced.

I want to explore what kind of historic knowledge is created and embodied in these digital spaces.

Robin Ekelund

“There is an interesting, on-going, discussion about history’s role in present time and people becoming more and more retrospective,” Ekelund says. “Just look at Trump’s vision to make America great again and all the discussions regarding historic monuments. This research project touches upon these questions, but mainly concerns how historic knowledge is produced and matters on a more existential and personal level.

“The groups create their own conditions for how history is created via Facebook. The internet facilitates the sharing of pictures, memories, experiences and ideas in a new and interesting way. This has, to the extent of my knowledge, previously not been studied by historians,” Ekelund says. “Ultimately, I want to explore what kind of historic knowledge is created and embodied in these digital spaces through everything from texts, pictures and videos to podcasts.”

“The internet is also interesting because it, unfortunately, is exploited to spread alternative facts and disinformation. One can state that our view on knowledge has been destabilised by digital channels and platforms. But I want to get at how historic knowledge is established and discussed, to be able to understand the role history plays in our time, not to point out what is right and wrong.”

There is, according to Ekelund, large numbers of Facebook groups with an interest in everything from local history, objects and styles from different decades, historical persons and locations to more general historical perspectives on, for instance, European history. These digital forums can have everything from 300 to 70 000 members. The aspiration is to gain access to, and study, up to ten of these forums.

Ekelund emphasises that the project’s specific subject has not previously been of interest to historians. Accordingly, he faces intriguing methodological challenges. He views this project as interdisciplinary and therefore gathers inspiration and information from nethnography as well as media and memory research.