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Let’s talk about the future of history

People have been asking me to blog for a couple of years now. Like many of us, I’ve found the concept both intriguing and daunting. Yes, I have a lot to say, particularly about the world of technology and history. No, I don’t think I have the time to cram one more thing into my already overcrowded day. What is it that finally unearths the realization that I must begin blogging and I must do so today? There are just too many exciting – and critical – issues to address that relate to our ability to access and make sense of our history.

Sure, it seems like history is pretty much a staid thing. It’s been around since, well, something historical occurred, and it isn’t going anywhere. Yet, few of us have seen behind the curtain into the world of historical records and understand that what exists back there is fundamental to our greater understanding of who we are.

I run a company called HistoryIT. We are a team of historians, archivists, technologists and innovators who see the world of historical information differently. HistoryIT works with institutional clients in various markets to help them develop and implement strategies to create truly accessible digital archives. We have a mission to democratize history. What does this mean? It means that we believe it is necessary to take every single hidden item locked away in an archive and make them available to diverse groups of people. People expect to find information and sources these days online through simple, Google-like interfaces. We make digital collections that meet that demand. We do this by tagging each item with meaningful subject tags that connect an item to the different topics it relates to.

Technology and information access continue to change at a blindingly rapid pace. Yet, the vast majority of institutions that hold the great body of information from which we draw stories about our past are failing to catch up, let alone keep up, with this change. This may have tremendous and drastic repercussions, not only for the current vitality of these organizations, but for future generations and their ability to draw meaning from history.

It’s time we start talking about how critical this dusty old world of history is to our understanding and how much we are in danger of losing. Moreover, it’s important that we talk about how we are in danger of losing it unnecessarily. There are innovative approaches and technologies out there that hold tremendous potential for broadening access and understanding. But we have to start talking. And acting. Let’s begin by elevating the conversation.

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