With the advent of digital media, the field of history has made powerful advances in the methods used and the efficiency of research and documentation of the past, in ways previously unimaginable. Such benefits to the field come at a cost, however. One of the ongoing challenges of historical research has always been to find written documentation to clarify events of the past. But now, at the same time that written records in digital form can reach a wider audience, the form of these record raises new questions of storage, permanence, volume and coherence. Given the volume and generally short-term nature of material, creation of lasting records in modern times has diminished, and the existence of official documents, personal correspondence, photographs, architectural drawings, etc. all face an uncertain future.
With issues of file type compatibility, where and how to store digital material, and how to ultimately access it, comes the question: what material will there be for historians of the future to study the present? Will those generations to come be able to synthesize our history? Will there be too much documentation or will the precarious availability of this knowledge lead to its premature demise?
This issue certainly engages the fields of archivists and librarians, but resonates with preservationists as well. Will we be able to access the images, records, and documents about today’s buildings the same way and as effectively as we can for those tangible documents of centuries past? For this reason, Maine Preservation brings attention to the threats to the study of history that have yet to be resolved. Commonly shared protocols for sorting and preserving digital materials need to be developed.
Now, within the era of digital documentation, will the records of today still exist for future generations to interpret the history of our time and provide for the preservation of its vestiges in the built environment? How can we ensure effective stewardship and long-term growth for the legacies of local, statewide, and national identity around us?