11/19/12 Blog Post

This week’s readings focused on the issue of preserving historical information in a digital age.  The article by Roy Rosenzweig touched on this subject in great detail.  The main issue Rosenzweig wanted to emphasize was the growing need to find an effective way to store digital information, as this type of data is easy to lose over time.  An example he brought up was the site Bert is Evil.  This site had a large impact in world affairs, as it included a picture with Osama bin Laden which became used in anti-American ads.  This angered the owners of “Sesame Street,” who threatened to take legal actions against Bert is Evil.  Dino Ignacio, the site’s creator, then took down the site to prevent any trouble.  The problem is, once the site was deleted, there was no way of finding any documents from Bert is Evil, preventing future research or analysis of the situation from occurring.  This is the main problem with internet data: it can be lost very easily.  In fact, digital media generally lasts only about ten to thirty years before it vanishes, whereas our current forms of preservation (paper, microfilm) last anywhere from 100 to 500 years before it is no longer usable.  The reason it is important to store digital media is because, in today’s age, it is increasingly becoming the main form in which information is expressed.  The internet is home to an unimaginable amount of useful historical information, which will be vital to future research, as old methods of documenting information are dying out.  One solution to the issue of storing digital information was the creation of the Internet Archive (IA).  The IA is a private organization that began archiving the web in 1996.  Still though, there is too much for the IA to archive on its own.  Unfortunately, the government still does not want to take the lead in the effort to preserve digital information, although they have worked with IA on several occasions.  Rosenzweig believes that the government needs to take a more active role in this effort, as it is critical to future historical research.  He believes historians should make an effort to do the same.  One positive step towards this is the fact that the National Archives and Library of Congress are beginning to take a more aggressive approach towards digital preservation.

The websites we had to explore this week were digital archives of various tragic events in recent American history.  They included: hurricane Katrina, 9/11, and the Virginia Tech shootings.  The websites included personal testimonies by those who experienced these events, pictures and video from the events, and other documents related to the events.  It was interesting because it allowed one to get a taste of what the first hand experience was like for those who lived through these catastrophes.  These types of digital archives will prove to be useful in the future, as there is no other place where one will be able to find so many primary sources regarding events like September 11, Virginia Tech or Katrina.  As Rosenzweig pointed out, though ,  in order for these websites to remain significant for research, a better way of preserving them needs to be implemented.  The other website we explored was from the Library of Congress.  This website was advocating digital preservation, and it provided information on how to effectively preserve one’s digital materials.  It demonstrated the Library of Congress’ growing interest in the importance of preserving digital materials, and will hopefully help to better educate people on how and why they should do so.

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