Archiving All of This?

An interesting question flew across my radar today, nearly lost in the haze of all-that-must-be-done: how on earth is all that we’re creating now being archived?

As someone involved on a daily basis with history and the historic in a very tangible way, the idea of preserving the detritus of normal life is very appealing; after all, nothing is more fun that finding a scrap of newspaper under wall-to-wall carpeting or an old shoe behind a staircase.  Photos behind the

paleography handwriting family history genealogy lifelines

Sure looks prettier than a fail whale. Photo: flikr creative commons/martin kingsley

mantle? even more fun!  A century-old diary is a remarkable and fragile thing to hold… so what will become of my twitter feed? (Pithy though it is, I’m not entirely sure it deserves archiving.)  Regardless, there are people with the forethought to consider how future generations will research and access all that is created now.

It leads me to wonder: of our built environment, how do we start planning on preservation now?  Is the green movement, theoretically concerned with the full life-cycle of buildings, taking into consideration how we can maintain and preserve those buildings for generations to come? or are they instead planning for when they’re obsolete and need to be recycled into new carpet tiles and metal roofs?

Further, if the end of the McMansion is indeed here (already under discussion back in 2005) and those neighborhoods of giants become the next slums, then how and when will we get around to preserving those?  and heaven help me when I head out to do that fieldwork…

I firmly believe that one reason why historic preservation is so appealing to people now is that most of the ingredients in this modern life are meant to be transient, to flit across our brains and out the other side, to slide across our table and into the trash.  Buildings that express a permanence and temporal stability give us something to ground ourselves with, an anchor to hold onto.  So perhaps those archivists struggling to collect all the waves of information and words created today will provide some of that steadiness for the future… or at least an ‘oh, fun!’ moment of the postcard behind the built-in.

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One response to “Archiving All of This?

  1. great post… I’ve had similar wonderments lately especially since so much communication gets pushed into an electronic inbox or hard drive that may or may not be accessible in 30 (much less 300 years) . “Please consider the environment before your print this”…..hmm. I don’t know too many folks pretentious enough to end their emails with “please consider the archivist before you delete this.” But I kind of wish there was a more tangible way of filling our cultural attic for future historians. God bless’em

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