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Abundance is Overwhelming to Me

Posted by osiern on October 26, 2008

This post is in response to Roy Rosenzweig’s article, Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era.

When we discuss the possiblities of the web and all the information that is out there, could be out there, will be out there, I become overwhelmed.  As a historian it’s great to find information, sometimes hard to acquire, piece it together with other information and create a narrative or answer a historical question.  However, with all of this information out there and all that is out there possibly being saved it seems mind boggling to me.  On one hand I think it is great to have this on the other I am nervous.  I think “what if i miss something that is so obvious because it’s right there on the web for everyone to see” or “holy cow, how will I ever be able to look at everything.”  Thanks to this article I know I am not alone in these thoughts. 

A significant amount of historians are concerned, worried, nervous and rightly so.  Until recently historians could piece together information using various mediums which were generally finite and easy to see/touch/recognize.  A book, a letter, a piece of music, a film, an object; these are items a historian is used to dealing with.  Once these are created they pretty much stay the way they are, the items are usually tangible in some fashion, there may be copies but the number is pretty much within a conceivable range, if altered it is usually noticeable, not everyone has access to the item being studied.  Historians have been working with these types of mediums for a long time.  Over time hIstorians have established ways to use these items to study history.  Now with new media and the digital world a whole new way of using this medium is going to have to be esablished. 

HIstorians are going to have to figure out how to best use the information they are given as well as how to use the technology to find the information they are looking for.  Historians may have to take on a role similar to that of an archivist, pulling out and saving what is truly the most important while leaving other resources behind. A lot has just been added to the historian’s plate, there are some who do not want to deal with it and there are some who have become historians because of it. In the article Rosenzweig states:

historians should take steps individually and within their professional organizations to embrace the culture of abundance made possible by digital media and expand the public space of scholarship. Rosenzweig pg. 26

Expanding the public space of scholarship is something I agree with, it just freaks me out how much is out there.  The best and probably only way I have found to handle it so far is to jump in and ask for help from those who jumped before me.

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One Response to “Abundance is Overwhelming to Me”

  1. Mike Harding said

    The term I like to use is trying to sip from a fire hose. Each new job is like that; trying to come up to speed as quickly as possible while assimilating what I can in a deliberate, and measured, way. I think that historians, us, find ourselves in that position. We have been schooled in time-tested methods, and yet we find ourselves on the cusp of this New Media thing, whose methodologies are very different and still evolving.

    I think at one time or another all of us have felt a bit overwhelmed.

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