SAVING OUR HISTORY
Our history is at risk as it has always been but it is ironic that at a time when we are more interested in history than sometimes ever before we are destroying it faster than ever. We have never had such power to destroy – places seem to change with the blink of an eye. One day a building is there and the next it is gone. Whole landscapes can change. It is the same with documents. We can have them in our hands and decide to shred them, burn them or just put them into the bin. Nature alone will destroy our history fast enough. Towns and villages disappear with coastal erosion and extreme weather conditions. On a small scale weathering makes gravestones unreadable and unsafe.
The question is, “Are we doing enough to record what is here now?”
Historians all over the world are beavering away doing their bit – transcribing documents, finding artifacts, researching their family history, taking photographs, reading gravestones, listening to people tell their story etc. But saving history is only part of what we need to do, we also need to make it accessible. The internet is the perfect place to do both, to keep data safe and at the same time make it available to as many people as possible.
What does the internet offer which physical repositories such as archives or the real thing do not?
1. It offers a place where you can search for exactly what you want. Internet search techniques are improving all the time.
2. It offers a database which can be added to by people all over the world
3. It is not constrained by “we only hold records relating to this area.”
4. It is not limited by the type of document or type of history.
5. It is available in your own home without trekking to a library to view the data.
Historians analyze material that has been preserved which someone has safeguarded. Inevitably our history has been skewed towards major political events and people of higher status. Everyone could probably say something about Winston Churchill, Hitler or Peter the Great. But what of the ordinary man, woman or child who was alive at the same time. One of my grandfathers was born in the same decade as Churchill but who has heard of Joseph Kirkland? The internet offers an opportunity for everyone's story to be told and I say “Hurrah for that!”
The internet is the perfect place to build up the history of Everyman. The information is there, in private hands, in attics, in organizations. But it is not safe, it is at risk of being destroyed. A company closes and valuable data may be thrown away. Someone dies and family documents are lost. Once it has gone that part of our history is lost forever.