Six years ago, in October 2014, I was focused on preparing for my first-ever TEDx talk. Titled “The Future of History,” my talk focused on what I like to call “Generation Click,” the group of people who grew up accessing information exclusively digitally and who have no personal memory of using non-digital tools such as card catalogs or encyclopedias.
Looking to the past is more critical than ever as you build your organization’s future.
With no end in sight for the pandemic, organizations that rely heavily on recruitment must pivot from face-to-face interactions to online ones. How can your organization make the shift and thrive?
Belonging to an organization involves feeling like you are part of something greater than yourself. This notion develops not only through interactions with other members, but also through what you learn about the organization’s history, traditions, and values. As groups transition to virtual recruitment, they must find ways to mimic both of those pathways to belonging.
Individuals and organizations all have things from their past that they wish hadn’t happened or had been handled differently. This can be as minor as that eighth-grade haircut or as serious as middle school bullying. It can be as horrifying as knowing your ancestors owned slaves. It can be as shameful as learning about racist policies and procedures implemented in your organization’s past.
The Jackie Robinson Scrapbook, recently digitized by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and HistoryIT, is a collection of photographs, newspaper clippings, and even baseball cards compiled by a fan, Jack Donovan, during Robinson’s career. Among the many illustrations is a photograph that is perhaps the most famous photos ever from a minor league game.
I read the April 2nd Washington Post article about the discovery of the missing patent documents for the Wright brothers’ “flying machine” with mixed emotions. As an historian, I am thrilled that determined archivists were able to track down what is universally regarded as a national treasure, missing – likely due to being misfiled – for more than thirty years. As a digital innovator, I see another example of celebrating “history saved” obfuscating the serious reality that our history is in danger, and I am frustrated.
Our historical information is stuck in the past. For the most part, cultural heritage organizations are failing to connect the modern online population with our historical resources. I believe that the public needs to interact with evidence and stories from our past in order to build a thoughtful, informed society. And in order to interact with it, they need access to it – digital access. It’s not our technology – or lack thereof – that is relegating our meaningful evidence of the past to a small pool of elite researchers who are charged with finding and interpreting its meaning once they have located it in a remote physical archive, or even in a digital archive. At the root, the persisting problem is a cultural one or, perhaps more accurately put, a behavioral one. Our cultural heritage organizations are still utilizing analog practices, even within the digital world.
At HistoryIT, we build, support, and enhance digital archives. We are committed to developing creative approaches, through which archives become powerful, engaging tools, accessible and meaningful to diverse audiences beyond the traditional researcher. Why do we do this? And why is it so critical to get this work done NOW? What’s the rush? I answer these questions in my TEDx Dirigo Talk about The Future of History.