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donderdag 13 september 2007

There’s a war going on outside no man is safe from ... (9/11)

A bit late perhaps, but since everybody is talking bout it, I might as well throw my 2 cents in. I’ll keep it short though. The why’s, the how’s and the how-could-they’s (or alternatively the right-ons, the they-had-it-comings and the the-Bush-administration-did-its) aren’t really spent on me. What is interesting though, is something I saw on the blog of Eric Hennekam, a Dutch archivist who runs the Archiefforum and is actively involved in digital archiving methods. He talks about the September 11 Digital Archive. This is a project by the Center for History and New Media[1] and the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning.[2] The object of the site is to collect, preserve, and present the history of September 11, 2001 and its aftermath, with the use of electronic media. Not only is it interesting because it encourages research about the first major event of the 21st century, it’s also important for digital archiving as such. The importance of digital born material is implicitly accepted through the acquisition of this collection by the Library of Congress. In a lot of cases people don’t recognize digital materials as records, or as relevant for posterity or in the context of knowledge management for that matter. The more projects like these get a footing in the area of preservation of heritage, the more information can be saved for the long term. In Holland they call the phenomenon of disappearing records and obsolete formats within the government, the government going demented (dementerende overheid). That says it all really. There is some movement though. The UN published its Charter on the Preservation of Digital Heritage (adopted on October 17, 2003), with accompanying Guidelines. The object, finally, is to change the general mentality, so that the work that has been done by institutions and organisations, such as the Monash University, JISC, OCLC, the archives of Antwerp, the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems, and others, are implemented.

For accounts of the aftermath of the plane attacks that are not propaganda by either side there are two possibilities. For an American view you can check the so-called milblogs (military blogs) or warblogs. Blogs written by soldiers in the field. They provide an inside view of the wars that are being fought right now. They firsft appeared during the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan. They represent a unique historical account of wartime experiences. As such, they should be preserved for posterity, which in the volatile world of the internet is not always easy. Luckily there are some archivists who are thinking about this problem (I forgot where I read about it), so, hopefully, a solution will be found in the near future. For an Iraqi version of the war, the now defunct blog by Saad Eskander is an interesting read. Mr. Eskander is the head of the National Gallery of Iraq. During about 6 months or so he published his day to day activities as an archivist in a war zone. He talked about the daily problems he and his personnel encountered, and how he tried (and probably tries) to keep the documents, the building, and, more importantly, his staff intact. Finally he stopped posting out of ethical considerations. When reading his stories you have to wonder where these people still get the courage to get out of their beds every morning and manage to get some work done amidst violence, bureaucracy, sectarianism, political rivalries and a lack of basic services.

[1] “Since 1994, the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University has used digital media and computer technology to democratize history—to incorporate multiple voices, reach diverse audiences, and encourage popular participation in presenting and preserving the past. We sponsor more than two dozen digital history projects and offer free tools and resources for historians.”
[2] The American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning aims to revitalize interest in history by challenging the traditional ways that people learn about the past.”

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