Ok… the acronym was an absolute accident, but hey, I’m with the Government, I am a card-carrying official acronym producer. I guess it is natural… or a gift…
This week’s reading really obviates the need for my project in some ways and really opens the curtain to the real issues surrounding digital tool sets. At the root, I am working a Text Encoding Initiative where I do a basic text capture, presentation, preservation, encoding and then some investigation into the power of metadata and the presentation of the text as data. But the problem is… and I suppose this is a legitimate concern across academia… why is my idea any better or different than anyone else’s?
Amidst the concerns of Rosenzweig’s excellent synopsis of the digital challenges and opportunities, how are professional historians supposed to move forward? I think the answer to both questions may be captured by Rosenzweig’s conclusion: “What is often said of military strategy seems to apply to digital preservation: ‘the greatest enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan.’ We have never preserved everything; we need to start preserving something.” As my efforts are targeted at low-budget, standards-based efforts this seems to fall into line with both the NINCH and Rosenzweig articles.
We must train ourselves in basic standards of historical method using the new tools so we can have any hope for effectively digging through the mountains of data that are emerging for historical analysis. Simultaneously, as the mountain of data is growing efforts must continue to ensure archivists and historians preserve the right documents and data. For historians studying governments, this can be a little easier, but still very challenging. NARA is one example of how little is actually being saved. Costs, legislation, and technology all impact how and what we save. But the historian wants to have the opportunity to look at it all.
The digital realm is covered in opportunities for success and dangerous mines ready to blow up the unsuspecting historian. These issues include technology, ownership, distribution, accuracy, preservation, cost, as well as myriad other dangers. Now is the time that these issues have to be solved. Rosenzweig points out that schools have to train their graduate students to grapple with the issues and even master them. George Mason University’s attempts at digital history are a great start, but leave many specific and highly particular issues at bay.
To paraphrase Rosenzweig, we have to start something digital.