Saturday, January 26, 2008

Losing History

Please forgive a brief rant on a heart-felt issue.

I wrote a history book years ago. One of the many benefits of that exercise was a keen appreciation of how rapidly the past can be lost.

One of the individuals interviewed for the project had handled the publicity portion of a very contentious political campaign almost 30 years earlier. When we sat down for the interview, he remarked, "It's a shame you didn't call me a few weeks earlier. I cleaned out my garage and threw away several boxes of material."

You can imagine how that made me feel.

The Arizona Historical Society is holding an Historical Photographs Fair today in Tempe, Arizona. Members of the public have submitted various photos so they can be scanned into the historical museum's archives and preserved. Some marvelous items have surfaced and they'll be shown at the Fair. It is difficult to avoid wondering how many of them would have been lost if the event had not been held.

The historical items that are currently tucked away in attics and basements will far too often wind up in trash dumpsters as heirs try to lighten the load of dividing their parent's and grandparent's memorabilia.

That common practice is a nightmare for historians.


GeekChic said...

That pains librarians and archivists as well! The library at which I work holds "scanning parties" at which the patrons are invited to bring in old photographs of the area (and their family if they wish) for us to scan into our computers.

In exchange for giving us a digital copy of the images, we provide them with a CD or DVD backup of their pictures. These events are very successful and we have lots of photos of the area.

Michael Wade said...


That scanning party idea is great. I'll pass that on to the curator.

The Arizona Historical Photographs Fair had a pretty limited amount of time for submissions and yet easily got over 80 photographs. Adding some scanning parties on to that could make a big difference.



GeekChic said...

You're most welcome. Good luck to your curator friend.