The future for WW2History.com
LAURENCE REES: After a career making history documentaries and writing history books, I am really interested in the possibilities of the web in this area. When you make a history documentary (or write a history book) you have to write it in one particular way, one that plays to the strength of that particular medium. For example, television, in my experience, is not terrific at conveying detailed historical argument. A book, obviously, doesn’t have the visual power of TV and so on. But here on the web you can create a site that offers a whole variety of experiences in one place – videos, audio and text. Someone visiting it can watch a video to get a brief overview of something, then read an expert interview to try and understand what’s happening in more depth – and it can all be connected together.
I want WW2History.com to be a place on the web where people come to find out about the war. I want schools and universities – all places of learning – to find it useful. But there’s ultimately little point in me saying what I want. It’s up to everyone else to decide whether they find the site useful.
QUESTION: You’re not suggesting, are you, that sites like this will take the place of books, for example?
LAURENCE REES: Of course not. Indeed, one purpose of the site is to try and direct people to excellent books which they can read on whatever aspect of the war that interests them.
But who knows what the future form of books will be over the next ten years or so – especially non-fiction books. I imagine more and more books over the years will appear in electronic form. Ultimately, and I know this view shocks some traditionalists; it makes no difference whether you are reading something on a screen or on a printed page.
I must confess I’m old enough to remember when mobile phones were just being introduced and I thought ‘who needs these?’ And yet of course now it’s hard to live without them. I also remember someone at a TV conference I went to some years ago saying ‘people will watch films on their mobile phones one day’ and I thought ‘nonsense’. But here I have my iPhone with feature films downloaded onto it. So I have learnt from experience the truth of that old Sufi saying that the only rule in history is that ‘Things Change’. And things are certainly changing profoundly in how we learn and interact with history.