Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Digitisation is necessary

The Internet is a powerful and essential resource for historians in the modern world. Hundreds of museums and universities have used the Internet to display their collections, including objects or documents that would have been hidden away in storage. In the current climate, digitisation of such resources requires time, effort, and money, something that is not available or affordable for some museums. However, digitisation is necessary to ensure the survival of these collections. While it should not be used as a substitute for the real thing, digitising material and placing it on the Internet removes it from the archive and into the public eye. Furthermore, material from a past exhibit can be preserved on the Internet, for those who wish to see the particular object again or for those who did not see it in the first place. From my own experience as a student, the Internet has been an invaluable resource. I wrote my dissertation on African American women in domestic service during the American Progressive Era, a rather obscure topic, and it could not have been completed without access to digitised content from university libraries or museum collections. There were hundreds of primary sources, a chance to view objects displaying the “mammy” caricature from museums across the United States, as well as the ability to read slave narratives, articles by domestics themselves and even listen to a 1920’s jazz song about the hard life of a domestic. The content has the potential to reach across the globe. An audience for history often depends on its availability and accessibility. The Internet is crucial for this, and more than anything it brings history back to the majority. It can no longer be claimed history is purely about the elites. Letters, diaries, memoirs, all can be accessed within a click of a button. This illustrates that all history is public history. 

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