Several years ago, our late colleague Roy Rosenzweig wrote a very important article for the American Historical Review on what is happening and what may happen to the digital record of our days. In his direct and clear way, Roy called on governments, historians, archivists, and others to take seriously the notion that we have to find ways to preserve and make available the hundreds of thousands of terabytes of information being generated weekly (if not daily) in the digital present.
One of the places that Roy’s charge has been taken up is the Centre for Media History at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. A mutli-disciplinary research and teaching center, the CMH brings together a number of scholars active in digital humanities, media research, filmmakers, and researchers interested in issues of access. As a recent news item pointed out, the CHM will not only be producing resources for the general public, encouraging innovative teaching, and fostering research, its members will also be advocating for more systematic preservation of digital records in both the public and private sectors.
Across the United States (and around the world) there are many universities that could bring together interested faculty and others around similar purposes. But it’s really up to those of us in the academy interested in these issues to take the lead. For so many people in government or the private sector, preserving the mushrooming volume of email, text messages, digital video, blog postings, and just plain digitalized documents is just a headache rather than an imperative. The more we can do to provide guidance on the development of infrastructure for the preservation of these born-digital or digitalized materials, the more our students and their students will have to work with when they begin to address the history of the early 21st century.
Centers like the CHM in Sydney provide a useful model for how we might proceed.