On Thursday, December 14, the Humanities Without Walls Consortium announced the results of its latest research challenge initiative, “The Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate.” It awarded one of these grants—a multi-year investment of $138,360—to a team of humanists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Michigan State University, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The project, titled “The Classroom and the Future of the Historical Record,” will explore how higher education should respond to recent, profound shifts in the way the sources of our knowledge about the past are made. Students, faculty, and staff from SourceLab will participate in the project.
Mobile digital technologies have allowed documentation to become an ubiquitous practice that extends far beyond traditional memory institutions such as libraries and scholarly presses. The Internet is not an archive in a professional sense, but it is filled with a vast panoply of artifacts—images, sounds, films, texts, and data—digitized and shared by people around the world. Many of these sources can be difficult to interpret or cite, however. Digitization often results in radical de-contextualization, with provenance and proof of authenticity being lost along the way. Much of this new historical record is also being built on proprietary platforms provided by IT corporations (Facebook, Twitter). Their primary aim is to commercialize private data, rather than to preserve and sustain knowledge of the past as a common good.