Everything Changes, part III


Everything changes, nothing perishes: or so we hope.

Historians and other humanists who work with historical documents: Run, don’t amble, over to WNYC’s On the Media and listen to this week’s program, which is on the “Digital Dark Age” that may await us if we don’t come to terms with reliable means of saving and retrieving our digitally-stored data.

Remember that two-part series I did back in March, Everything Changes part I and part II, in which I mused on the predilection of some medieval and early modernist scholars to get textual tattoos, and their connection to the world’s most stable and secure form of document storage, vellum? Well, listen to On the Media now to hear about 1) digital vellum and bit rot, 2) solar flares, 3) Margaret Atwood, and even 4) the importance of whale oil to NASA’s early history, believe it or not, among other possible futures with and without a large part of our collective past.

This program suggests that while it’s certain that everything changes, it’s not necessarily true that nothing will perish.

3 thoughts on “Everything Changes, part III

  1. Thanks for sharing that, I forget how great Margaret Atwood is. She is one of the greatest writers of the twentieth and possibly twenty first century.

    The show also made me sad, because it reminded me how I lost a hard drive with ten years worth of digital pictures. Some of them were pretty great and I do not think I have actual prints of the images.

    It reminded me of two things about photography. First that I need to make prints of all the digital pictures I have of my family and stuff them in an archive box or printed album. The prints will last a lot longer than the digital files. Second, I should go back to taking pictures with my film camera. The negatives are actually pretty durable and I can always scan the good ones to share on-line.


    • Wow–what a drag on the dig. pix, Matt.

      A fellow Long-Term Fellow last year at the Huntington had a baby last winter, and was immediately haunted by the possibility of the Digital Dark Age that could claim all of his baby’s early photos. Then again, he’s a medievalist and is writing about a massive archive fire in the 17th C now, so he’s someone esp. attuned to the fragility of our documentary record and the whims of fate to which it is subjected. In any case, he promised me he’d get his baby photos printed up so as to keep a physical copy, too!


      • Good for the long term fellow! Our baby pictures were Ok because I had backed them up elsewhere but there were some other pictures of friends I had made and places I visited while traveling and working abroad that I won’t get back.

        I bet medievalists have a great sense of the fragility of the archive. I’ve had a small taste of it as a modernist. The farther we go back the more the survival of the historical record is a function of luck and the clearheadedness of a few librarians and archivists.


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