Sunday, July 31, 2016

Today’s Organizational Websites Foretell a Revolution in the Configuration of Local History? (259)

In studying Davis history, I have sometimes puzzled over what the detailed stories of various organizations actually were, including those of even the best known and longest existing entities, such as the Community Church, the Masons and the Davis Enterprise, as well as shorter-lived but key institutions such as the Buena Vista Hotel, the original Varsity Theater, the Davis Joint Grammar School, and Harby’s Meat Market--among a great many others.
There is, of course, at least some information available on these and other organizations. For a few, there are even fairly detailed accounts. But, overall, the record is sparse. The consequence is that our picture of ordinary Davis life fifty, a hundred, or more years ago is fuzzy and faded.

The simple fact is that no one kept detailed records on organizations, or, if they did, those materials have long since been thrown away for want of storage space or for other reasons.

But, in recent years, all that has begun to change. We are living at the start of a new era of compact and detailed organizational record keeping. We see this in two forms.

The first is the one that initially caught my eye and brought the history-writing revolution now underway to my attention. Organizations of virtually all kinds are now often devoting at least one section of their website to the history of that organization.  Below, I roster five Davis examples of this that are selected only by happening to have come to my attention:

The second is that the larger organization websites containing these little histories are themselves extremely detailed raw historical records when read for the materials they publish over the history of each organization.

Looked at from the perspective of fifty to a hundred years or more from now, there will be myriad of compact records at enormously detailed levels of complexity. What we know about the Davis of fifty or a hundred years ago is already--and will be even more so--extremely pale by comparison.

As is obvious, records now being created are inherently richer and more informative because they are often audio and visual and pictures in color that are moving. Soon, many will even be three-dimensional.  

And we need to add to these records created by the “new media,” such as, in Davis, the Davis Vanguard.  We have been dependent on the Davis Enterprise for much of what we know of Davis history. A comparison of issues of the Enterprise in 1916 with issues of the Vanguard in 2016--or even of the Enterprise-- itself is startling, especially as regards the number and range of voices that are part of the public record.

In addition, individuals are creating records of these rich sorts.

Consider further: the easily available past of the future might be so vivid and present that there may be no “history” of the sort we now know. Every person will be able almost instantly to access historical records and to combine and consume them in whatever way they like.

If everyone can “do history” in the sense of easily access and compile versions of the past, history as a special kind of production done by “historians” may cease to exist. Everybody will be his or her own historian. 

In that sense, it could be the end of history. There might be no presentation of the past as such, only a multitude of multi-perspective “narratives” told by whoever cares to do the telling.

But, of course, that emergent ocean of history-like productions will likely itself become an object of attention among people who will attempt to fashion a new form of history from that new arena of babble. Efforts of those sorts might be guided by techniques of data search and ordering not yet invented and that are beyond our capacity even to imagine.

And I wonder if even the distinction between the past and the present will begin to blur and to fade away.

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Five Examples of Davis Organization Websites with Organizational Histories