Archiving the history of history on-line

Archiving the history of history on-line
Archiving websites about history lets us preserve the new ways history is being researched and recorded.
4 December 2012

In the minds of most people the Internet isn’t associated with history. The Internet is the place most people look for the latest information on what is happening around the world right now. Information on-line would seem to revolve around current events and a twenty-four hour news cycle. However the on-line environment provides a great way for amateur and professional historians to connect with each other and share information. History on-line is created and disseminated within a multimedia environment that facilitates collaboration, ongoing aggregation of information in a variety of formats and the presentation of highly contextualised content. Archiving on-line history sites provides the opportunity to preserve the new way in which history is being researched and recorded. Institutions, professionals and amateurs are able to contribute collaboratively to documenting history on-line. Some sites document a very personal view of history. The interest in social history; the personal perspective and experiences of people in the past, has become increasing popular to historians and the public. The internet offers an easy way to gather documentation of the past while it is still part of living memory. A lovely example of this is the Australian Dress Register; a collaborative on-line project about dress in New South Wales pre 1945. This site allows museums and private collectors to document and share their collections with a world-wide audience. Transmission lines 1955-1974 blog is another example of the gathering of personal histories. Linda Carroli started the project to document her father’s working life as a rigger and linesman with the Electric Power Transmission but the blog grew to include photographs, messages and documents that she received from former EPT workers and their families.

Screenshot of the Australian Dress Register

  The Internet offers a new multimedia format for presenting information in a highly accessible way that also allows for the continual aggregation of new content. The Australian railway songs site has so far collected together 136 Australian Railway Songs and Poems. Archiving the web site not only keeps a record of all the songs and poems collated but also records how the internet was used to assist collation.  The Australian Colonial Dance blog presents not only the dance steps, the musical notation of the dances and their history but also a recording of the dance music. History sites on-line can also highlight and contextualise resources contained in archives and libraries while explaining the process of historical research and the application of new technologies to historical records. The tiger’s mouth: thoughts on the history and heritage of Chinese Australia is a blog by Kate Bagnall whose principal interest is Australia’s historical connections to China. The blog posts tell the stories of Chinese Australians interspersed with Bagnall’s methods of piecing together the stories using resources held in libraries and archives. Invisible Australians: living under the White Australia Policy by Bagnall and Tim Sheratt also has posts that deal directly with the process of researching the bureaucracy of the White Australia Policy and its effect on individuals. In particular, this project harnesses new digital technologies for historical research such as facial detection technology and explains to the blog reader how and why these technologies are used.

Screenshot of Invisible Australians

  Web archivists are interested in historical sites because they contain unique Australian content that is not found in print but also because they are examples of the advantages of the on-line environment. These sites show how the Internet enables ongoing collaboration and the creation of content enhanced by the use of multiple formats by creators that are geographically isolated from each other. Archiving historical sites enables both the preservation of the unique writings on history and the preservation of a change in the way historical research is conducted and presented.