One of the more interesting recent entries into the business of collecting history online is the MemoryWiki project which has the slogan “Everyone has a story. Make yours history.” Started by the Russian historian, now writer for The Atlantic Monthly, Marshall Poe, this new project takes advantage of the popularity of the Wikipedia and aspires to create a massive database of personal narratives and memoirs. Already, with almost no publicity, the MemoryWiki contains 434 memoirs, ranging from a college student’s confrontation with the Secret Service to a “Where were you when JFK was shot?” memory.
Much like NPR’s StoryCorps project, the MemoryWiki has the advantage of being an open archive of memories. Even better than StoryCorps, which is only available if you happen to be in the location of the recording equipment, MemoryWiki is available anywhere, anytime. All you need is the Internet. These open archives make it possible for the average person to record their own stories which historians can sift through later (or ignore) if they choose. Unlike the traditional archive, there are no barriers to this collection, which opens up many vistas for research in the future. No longer will historians be beholden to the acquisition regimes of particular archives…if digital archives take hold (as they seem to be doing) then the future archive is truly vast–and keyword searchable.
I expect that we’ll see more and more projects like MemoryWiki in the months and years ahead. What remains to be seen is whether they can pull off interoperability.