Take a second to time travel with me; it’s the year 1960, and you ask your history teacher about Civil Rights Movement. Most likely, they would point you in the direction of the nearest library if you wanted to learn more. Let’s continue our journey; it’s the year 2010; fifty years later, you ask your history teacher the same question. This time your teacher hands you a few books, but also points you towards a Civil Rights Movement based online archive or website.

As advancements in the digital world continuously sprout each day, we are all given a chance to consume historical records. These opportunities arise with the constant developments of web archives. With the existence of this digital information, we start to move farther away from documenting data on paper.

Ian Milligan argues in his book, “History in the Age of Abundance?: How the Web Is Transforming Historical Research” that our historical record is being profoundly affected by these massive web archives, and this will continue to have an effect in the future.

These web archives give everyday internet consumers the ability to obtain numerous historical records. Milligan questions that with these advancements in digital technology, can there be a change of the future for historians and their profession?

This worry that Milligan presents exists for more than just historian’s profession. As a journalism major, I have learned that this is also a worry of journalists. With internet and web archives at the hands of anyone with a stable connection, anyone can consume this information.

Things were not always this simple, but now there is a grey area between many professions and their consumers. Journalists have seen this first hand in the media world.

With “news” at the fingertips of most media consumers, why would you get your news from someone else? People are starting to rely heavily on their own personal research as opposed to the analysis of journalists. I feel this translates over to the concern Milligan expressed for historians. If you can obtain your own historical archives from the comfort of your sofa, why would have someone else do it?

Digital archives allow us to grasp various periods of time and save that data. Milligan believes that this information is essential now and will hold significant value to historians in the future.

With more people “plugging in,” there has been a reshaping of how we can understand and diffuse historical records. Milligan argues that this is due to the advancement of web archives. Milligan proposes that historians will always be the masters of close reading; however, historians need new skills to consider better and acknowledge digital material.

If we think about it, most of our current history will be documented through digital archives or digital interactions in the future. Milligan gives the example of Trump when discussing this idea. It would be impractical to try and retrace the history of Trump without various websites and social media archives. This is why Milligans stresses the importance of knowing what digital archives are and knowing how to use them.

As we reach an end to our time travel journey today, we can use Milligan’s insight to prepare ourselves for the technological advances that await us in the near future.

SOURCE:

Milligan, Ian. “History in the Age of Abundance?: How the Web Is Transforming Historical Research”. 2019.

Word Count: 540

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