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The Way We Write History Has Changed

Archives and the digitization of knowledge

Unlike libraries, archives have generally resisted the digitization of knowledge. They are still mostly paper where you might spend weeks to months working through all the boxes of interest.

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IDEA EXTRACTED FROM:

The Way We Write History Has Changed

The Way We Write History Has Changed

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/01/smartphone-archives-history-photography/605284/

theatlantic.com

5

Key Ideas

Difference between libraries and archives

History comes out of an archive, not a library.

  • Libraries spread knowledge that's been collected and compressed into books and other media.
  • Archives are where collections of papers are stored. Archives contain materials from the people and institutions near it. For example, the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford contain everything from Atari's business plans to HP co-founder William Hewlett's correspondence.

Archives and the digitization of knowledge

Unlike libraries, archives have generally resisted the digitization of knowledge. They are still mostly paper where you might spend weeks to months working through all the boxes of interest.

The tools are changing

With the use of smartphones, instead of reading papers during an archival visit, historians take digital photos of the documents to look at them later.

The practice might seem insignificant, but the ways that information is collected and managed is changing what historians can learn from it. As a result, different histories will be written.

Archives for the modern mind

With digitization, archives are now accessed through many mediums by more than just the historian. 

Different types of people outside the professionalized historical tradition could do history, which will lead to more diverse authors, and ultimately a different account of events.

How history could change

With the ability to capture more documents, the depth of archival work will increase. At the same time, because you are able to find relevant information beyond your project, you may lose what's going on locally.

When you digitize more, you may overestimate your knowledge and believe that your record is complete.

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