October 5, 2004

Historical Research

These are the small group discussion notes for the
HISTORICAL RESEARCH SESSION

Table A:
- It´s still possible to trace the complete history of blogs! They are traceable back to 17th century pamphlets. So not everything on the Internet is new!
- Historical study of the Internet is not necessarily comparable with other technologies, and is also highly dependent on country - for example, how would the uptake of radio in the US compare with its uptake in (say) China?
- It would be interesting to compare Internet uptake with the uptake of mobile phone technology and text messaging. (The death of the mobile phone industry was predicted (once the market was saturated and we all had a cellphone) but it hasn’t happened; people now upgrade regularly.
- To what extent is the development of all technology driven by the underlying business model? How does this affect or frame the historical study of it?
- Transcription of SMS messages onto paper is a phenomenon among Finnish girls
- The Internet is not a global medium - this is a myth. The existence of local languages on the Internet means that a search for information is not universal.
- There is some debate about whether the Internet is a global communication phenomenon. Would the existence of a global translation mechanism change this in any way?
- Do we have to archive everything? Surely the increasing quantities of digital information are not universally linked to quality. What has happened to the photographic slides that your parents took all those years ago? Is the world any worse off for the fact that they are now in a landfill site?! Haven’t we always gotten along fine without needing to save everything?
- The “Way Back Machine” is one important archive, and another in Sweden with the aim of archiving it every (six?) months.
- The growing dependence of academics on electronically published documents makes it imperative that a way of solving the archiving issue is found, since there will be no going back to paper.
- Data loss can be liberating! (cue anecdotes ...)

Table B:
- Create policies and practices between mentors and students which support the printing of sources and not depend on their continued existence in cyberspace
- Create centralized or decentralized storehouses of printed information whether government centered or publisher centered
- We need descriptive and ethnographic studies which explain in vivid detail the content and processes of this period in history
- What do we do for purely digital entities, interactive objects, locked sites-e.g., .asp,.swf
- Need to increase the cultures and networks of preservation and knowledge --- our own awareness is the first step in taking care for the future ---- perhaps there will be a new digital serendipity?
- Are we now confused by the ability to save massive amounts of data in a small space?

Table C:
- Who should decide what would be archived, Private sector ... the Internet archive project? Government?
- Archiving it is not enough... what do we need to do with changing media?
- Are we just applying old issues to new media? After all, web sources are dynamic by nature... Wikipidia.
- Between online and offline versions = when we study newspapers via Lexis Nexis, do we actually study the print version? Which versions should be archived? Which of the article versions, that can be changed every minute, should be archived?
- In the past only the rich and important people created data, so history is written based on the “rich and brave”. Today more people than ever are creating documents, but it is not in archives. Who does our history will look like?
- Should we go back to paper?

Table D:
- All data corrupts, and absolute data corrupts absolutely.
- Might not miss out on serendipity, because someone might find an old disk sometime and be able to read it.
- The inventors of the Internet didn’t take archiving into consideration... that doesn´t mean this can’t be changed.
- In the U.S., there is a National Archive... why can´t it also archive the Web, funded by taxes? Homeland Security Dept. archiving? Echelon System that monitors all communications? The good news is that data gets corrupted.
- Even Google can´t capture all of the Web pages.... similar situation with Brewster Kahle´s Way Back Machine, which has Web archives going back to about 1998. There are certain links and certain databases that spider technology is not able to follow.
- The only answer is constant vigilance, and migrating to new formats.
- Hacker mentality of information might work in favor of preservation of information. But there is no guarantee that information will remain on the Internet.
- Who decides what happens to what we publish?
- What about data for our research... aren’t we supposed to get rid of it after a year?
- What about information that you want to remove from the Web? What’s up with that? The good news is that data gets corrupted
- Hacking also can pose another danger for data.
- When citing Web sites in research articles.... should the researchers be required to send in a copy of the Web page to the journal publisher?

Table E:
- Times have never been better than today in terms of access to information, complete availability. The Internet is encouraging serendipity, absolutely. Distribution is not the problem, preservation is the problem.
- Citations: how could you manage to mention those materials that are not like e-books or e-journals with an ISSN or ISBN? If it is the reproduction of an original document, it is a different problem.
- Authorship and institutional affiliation. Authenticity is another important question.
- 3D and non-sequential material: trying to archive it in a different way is not always easy.
- Who will take on the task of organizing the archives and putting them together?
- A problem for libraries: publishers do not have the obligation of sending a hard copy of the digital material they put on the Net. Does the hard copy have more prestige than the digital file (you select, e.g., a photograph to be printed amongst all the pictures you take with a digital camera)?
- Internet and democracy, and freedom.

Table F:
Past (Patrice) vs. Future (Don)
• Can we learn from experience with other media?
• For how long do we need to preserve data?
• WE look at OUR data vs. OTHERS wanting to look at OUR data
• Idiosyncratic methods of data recording and storing -- how to cope with this?
• Remote storage systems and how to control and treat them?
• Our main concern is with researchers; but what about lay persons? Should they be worried about this too?
• What will be the social and political powers that will have access to the data and control it -- the gatekeeper question?

Posted by npaul at October 5, 2004 4:26 PM