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.
You can watch my full talk here. Recently I re-watched the talk and was struck by two things. First, nothing I said had become obsolete – in fact, I feel even more strongly today about the urgent need to preserve history than I did six years ago. Second, one sentence really stood out to me given the events of the past six years:
“Without this information, people in the future could simply make up whatever they wished to be true about the past.”
Within two years of my talk, then-presidential-candidate Donald J. Trump had popularized the term “fake news,” and in subsequent years we have increasingly seen how quickly and easily disinformation (whether intentional or accidental) spreads online, to the extent that fact-checkers can no longer keep up.
Without the ability to go straight to the original source for information, people must rely on summaries and interpretations written by others.
That’s why we at HistoryIT believe so strongly in the urgent importance of digitally preserving as many archival materials as possible. Not only digitizing them, but categorizing and tagging them in a way that makes them searchable and therefore accessible to the full range of interested parties.
Instead of having to rely on what historians have written about the Spanish flu pandemic, for example, students could also read diaries and/or medical reports written during that period. As opposed to simply believing what their favorite YouTube star says about a candidate’s earlier speeches, people could access those speeches directly and see for themselves exactly what the candidate had said…and in what context he or she had done so.
As I say at the conclusion of my TEDx talk, through digitization of archive materials we can create a true democracy of information – information available to everybody, regardless of status or resources.