Friday, May 7, 2010

Collective cultural histories: an archive merging the past, present and future

As a concept, history is a record of past events. So what happens when history merges with the present? When we begin to publicly record our daily thoughts and activities with public status updates, we are actively recording our (global) culture’s history. It may seem trivial in the moment, but think how meaningful these candid broadcasts will be to society a century from now? Imagine what an archive of conversation will reveal about our social structure, interaction, and communication. What will be the overall themes of global thought?

These are the questions that a group of historians with the Library of Congress are hoping to answer. As this New York Times article explains, Twitter has given its archive of public messages to the Library of Congress for a historical archival project. These historians are now faced with an enormous collection of personal anecdotes that will only continue to grow. This project has an incredible amount of potential. As one source stated, “Twitter is tens of millions of active users. There is no archive with tens of millions of diaries.”

I am fascinated by this project. As a history buff, I am captivated by the lessons we can learn by turning to our collective past. What bothers me most about the historical field, is how there is often a disconnect between the academic study and a consciousness of the present moment – pop-culture, technology, and all.

I think the relationship Twitter has formed with the Library of Congress is a step in the direction we will be moving as a culture. More and more people are recognizing the potential power clutched by social media, interactive media, and whatever social communication channels the future will offer.


  1. Fascinating thought Nicole & NYT could this be the beginning of a truly detailed history about the life of ordinary people? So much of what we know of the past is based on the macro-history of the famous/infamous. Knowing the micro-history on a broad scale will become a great cause for those who find a way to look at the enormous mountains of information. The great breakthrough will be the ability to find the flutter of butterfly wings that move to create hurricanes within civilization.

  2. I had the same thought! At least the first part. I know in my research it can be pretty frustrating that almost all of our knowledge comes from the elite who ... had more stuff to leave behind for us to find. While the Twitter population is still only a fragment of our society, it is still a pretty diverse group to understand.