Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in the Digital Era

Roy Rosenzweig begins his article with a discussion of the Bert is Evil website. He uses this story as an example of the changing landscape for preservation because of the expansion of the digital world. In this introduction he poses two quandaries to the reader; first, how are historians and archivists to deal with the fragility of born digital records and second, if all of these digital materials are preserved, how do historians interact with a complete historical record?

Rosenzweig weaves his discussion of these two issues together throughout the body of the article. One important discussion is that there is not a uniform way of archiving digital materials. Many of the examples he provides, such as the Internet Archive, are projects taken on by private individuals to maintain this media. This is a serious problem because the collection of these valuable resources are entirely dependent on one person. There is no back up system if they move on from the project. He adds that historians as a community need to take on the responsibility of this preservation. They need to adapt the way that they convey historical information to specific audiences in the light of the digital age.

Other issues addressed in this article revolve on the difficulty of preserving digital media. a major issue is that the rate of technological evolution makes many media forms obsolete in a short number of years. Where a piece of paper can last for a hundred years with proper preservation, born digital files are often saved on formats that are obsolete within five years. Rosenzweig points out that converting all of this information to new formats to keep up with hardware and software innovations is the equivalent in time and energy of photocopying an entire library every five years.

Beyond these logistical difficulties, born digital materials interact with each other in very different ways than other objects. In making physical copies of these records, one loses the ability to mine these connections for important contextual information. In a similar vein, the anonymity of digital media makes it difficult to ensure the authenticity and ownership of such documents.

Rosenzweig emphasizes that the inherent problems in preserving digital media are compounded by those who are most affected by its preservation. Historians and archivists have traditionally disagreed on what should be preserved. Digital resources are no exception. Further, historians typically do not take an active role in collecting resources for preservation. With the abundance of materials that are created each day, it is important for as many people as possible to take responsibility for preserving these document for future generations.

In this article, Rosenzweig raises a number of important points about preservation in the advent of digital media. What do you see as the most relevant issues for historians and archivists in this age? How do historians deal with the new challenges of interpreting digital media for the historical narrative? How will historical narratives be affected by the abundance of potential sources available?

Digital Project Proposal

Similar to my print project, the digital project I am considering pursuing is focused on the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.  As an intern at the House of the Temple, the headquarters for the Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction, I have come to learn a great deal about the brotherhood and its ties to Washington, D.C. over the last few months.  Like many visitors to the House of the Temple, when I first toured the building I was surprised to hear about how closely connected masons and freemasonry are to many of the popular tourist destinations within the city.  It is this initial surprise that inspired me to want to create an online exhibit of masonic related monuments and buildings in the DC area.

My hope is that this digital exhibit will be appealing not only to masons visiting the House of the Temple and D.C. but also to regular individuals who visit the House of the Temple and are interested in seeing more masonic sites in D.C.  I would also like it if the histories and stories presented in this exhibit help to spread the amazing history of Freemasonry and dispels some of the conspiracies that have risen lately against the brotherhood.

I am currently planning on using Viewshare to create this digital exhibit.  My plan is to use the platform in order to create a map showing the locations of the important sites, to make collections of the images of each site, and to attach some useful information about the masonic history, or even some simply interesting stories, to each site.  My hope is that the history and stories will entice individuals to explore some sites that they normally would not consider touring. I am also hoping that the map will be a helpful tool that can be used by people navigating the sites in D.C. or planning a tour of the city.

In order to spread the word about this site, I am hoping to find a way in which it can either be integrated or just simply mentioned on the House of the Temple and the Supreme Council’s main website.  Ideally, I would love for the site to be mentioned on the websites of some of the sites I am including in the project (however, this does not seem a likely avenue of marketing).

Overall, I am excited to begin working on this project and I hope that it will be of use to visitors of the House of the Temple.

Digital Project Proposal

Madeline Shattow

There is an incredible amount of false information on the internet. From fifth-graders researching book reports to curious adults have all come across a source of misinformation. With the larger amount of contributors to the field of history, the internet provides a forum for conspiracy theories and new takes on historical events. For my digital project, I want to explore the reinterpretation of history on the internet through a blog.

For this project I will use WordPress and create a blog themed around historical discussions on the internet, primarily those that are far-fetched and far from general consensus of truth. Over the course of the month, I would like to create 5-10 posts on different internet finds.

One of the topics I would like to explore is the “If historical events had facebook” trend. These very clever creations are a humorous and creative look at the events such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence and World War II. Beyond discussing the actual factual accuracy, I would also do an analysis of what these pieces communicate or clarify to a wider audience. How would a high school student view this differently than a historian?

I also would like to look at different conspiracy theories and the information and websites surrounding them on the World Wide Web. Being from Massachusetts, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has been the topic of every history class I have had since elementary school. Web sites, entirely devoted to what may have happened have broadened channels of information beyond those of the average history textbook.

One of the more entertaining Nicholas Cage films, National Treasure has also sparked the interest of the internet. Even the National Archives website answers the question “What is on the Back of the Declaration of Independence?” I want to explore how digital communications is used also to refute misinformation by historical sources.

While my interest resides primarily in United States history, I also want to explore other mass conspiracies that exist in popular culture. The Da Vinci Code and Opus Dei tells an entertaining story of a present day manifestation of an ancient conspiracy. I will explore the direction and topics of conversation prompted by a widely popularized conspiracy theory. While biblical history has an additional facet of “what is true,” I want to research the historical accuracy as displayed in digital sources.

In writing this blog, I will too join the world of web discussion on historical misinformation. I want to prompt a conversation with my comments. I think this blog will be a fun balance of humor and fact, paralleling historical truth with the entertaining narrative of the internet.

Colin Digital Proposal

Contrary to popular belief YouTube has had a much larger effect on society than being just a platform for people to post videos of keyboard’ing cats or reviews of Yankee Candles.  YouTube has become an integral part of our everyday lives.  What YouTube has done that is so remarkable actually involves little advancement in the actual process of recording/editing video.  The way YouTube has changed life as we know it is providing the ability to share videos in a radical new way.

All of a sudden videos that barely anyone would be able to see now has the potential to easily reach hundreds and possibly thousands in a short amount of time.  Videos from the past have become easily accessible & thousands of videos have been uploaded since you began reading this post.  But it doesn’t stop there.  The ability to embed videos in any website and record/watch them on mobile devices has expanded the capacity for sharing beyond a point that is very hard to conceptualize.  What has been achieved is very easy to look over and most likely because of the speed at which this all happened.  From it’s first video in April 2005 (Me at the zoo) to user-submitted questions being integrated into the GOP debates- YouTube has solidified itself in life as we know it.

YouTube being used at the CNN GOP debate

One of the most affected parts of our our culture that YouTube has changed forever is obviously music.  With my digital project I propose to curate a web exhibit that focuses on the different aspect of the music industry that has been changed forever because of YouTube.  My project would likely take form of a blog like to host a series of posts focused on specific topics that include video examples & commentary (both my own & outside) to help put the affects in a more historical context.

I’ve decided on four subtopics to curate my posts around- many have different layers under them and some may change.  They are…

  1. Copyright
    1. Loss of ownership
    2. Embrace of remix – Pogo
    3. Lenz v. UMG
    4. Birth of Vevo
  1. Discovery of Music
    1. How people discover music – embeding, blogs, etc.
    2. How bands/artists can be discovered
      1. Shortcut to celebrity – Justin Bieber
    3. Creation of the Pseudo video
  1. Affect on Past Music
    1. Ability to access a large amount of music at will
    2. See old concerts & interviews that were once extremely rare
  1. Affect on Live Music
    1. How people ‘view’ concerts
    2. Ability to see the show from last night

I’ve accumulated a healthy amount of articles to reference that hit on my subtopics from established publications like Wired to personal blogs.


Digital Project Proposal

I live in the community of Silver Spring, Maryland. It is a community that has a unique history, from its founding as an estate of the Blair family in the 1820s, growing as part of the explosion of suburban development in the early to mid twentieth century, to more recently experiencing the demographic and economic changes that are becoming more common in an increasingly diversifying United States. While Silver Spring has a local historical society (Silver Spring Historical Society), it has yet to present much of its collection in a digital format. For my digital project, I would like to create a platform for presenting some of Silver Spring’s history online.

I am interested in presenting the history of Silver Spring in a geographic format such as a virtual tour of Silver Spring. I would strive to make my project as interactive as possible; I like the approach of allowing the public to manipulate the digital content. I am interested in potentially using two tools. I think Viewshare would be suitable to creating a collection of what will likely be mostly photographs and placing them on a map. I like how Viewshare has the capability of integrating a variety of historical materials into a collection.  I am also interested in using the site Historypin. I like how this website uses the Google Street Views to overlay historical photographs with what is currently there. Also, Historypin has a mobile app component which I believe would help increase the visibility and dissemination of the project. While creating a virtual tour of a community has been done before, I think the history of Silver Spring could offer unique opportunities. I envision including this project in my U.S. History high school class I teach when we study suburbanization as a way of making our local history relevant.  

I hope my project could be publicized through the historical society if up to standard. Hopefully if the public is aware, more people could contribute any historical materials they may possess to the site or collection so it could continue to grow. I would like the audience for the project to be as broad as possible, from local historians in the Washington D.C. area to potentially tourists who visit our region. I would evaluate the project from the feedback I receive from users and the level of interest it produces. Ultimately, I feel getting historical material online is always positive, and I hope that presenting the local history of Silver Spring, Maryland digitally will have broad appeal.