Sources, sources, everywhere

For the traditional historian concerned with big picture political and general history, the internet poses no real threat for research.  Most government and official documents of political leaders and people in power are still saved in physical form and usually digitally.  And born-digital sources are usually always saved somehow.  If anything, digitalization will only make the traditional historians’ craft a little easier.

Yet, what about those studying social history; how will the internet impact how they find their sources?  It’s never been easy to find good sources for social history, specifically with first-hand accounts.  Letters, photos, and interviews are sometimes hard to find or are locked away in family attics.  To get the view and perspective of average people through history, as opposed to the big players, is always difficult, especially the farther back in time you look.

With the internet and its emails, tweets, face book pages, instant messages, personal web pages, blogs, photos, etc, one might think that primary source research for social historians of the future will be exponentially easier, as there will be so many sources.  But this is deceiving, since all of these born-digital sources are fleeting.  Most people, by far, make no effort to save these sources, and even if they do, technical failure or updates may cause them to disappear.

It’s an ironic paradox- so many sources, yet they’ll never be saved.  Many archivists are obviously trying to make an effort to save these born-digital sources, as the September 11 project demonstrates, but the public at large needs to be better educated on the benefits of saving their emails, tweets (well maybe not tweets), and other sources.  Ironically, the generation that has arguably created the largest number of written (or typed) records in the history of the world, may actually leave the least behind!


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