Saturday, December 20, 2008

Do You Have Blackbeard in a Can?

Cathy Davidson of HASTAC points out a clever hoax perpetuated by a class at George Mason University in "Edward Owens, Pirate and Hoax: Shiver Me Timbers!" Apparently some bloggers were taken in by the story of "The Last American Pirate," particularly when students were playing along with stories of "finds" like the last will and testament of Owens. I particularly like the earnest peer reviewer who expressed the following disingenuous statements about the will:

This is AMAZING!! I wish I had found something like this for my paper. Most of my information for my paper is coming from interviews from people in the area. Which I think would be something helpful for your paper. If you need more help talk to the people in the area.

In addition to spreading the Owens narrative through blogs and person-to-person social media contacts, the group also concocted a Wikipedia entry about the fictional Edward Owens, which has now been corrected to reveal the hoax.

Of course, given how real-life classes are using blogs and wikis in collective intelligence projects that showcase the work of student historians, such as the Keywords for American Cultural Studies project, this hoax could be read in a number of ways, not all of them flattering to Web 2.0 teaching. The course had one of my favorite catalog titles,"Lying about the Past," taught by T. Mills Kelly, author of edwired.

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