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Joseph Kaminski

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August 21, 2017

Professionalizing History 9: Archiving Contemporary History and Interviews


One terrible mentality that historians cannot fall into is the thought that the society that they reside in is such a modernized and such an advanced one that it will never change. As I’ve discussed in my 2015 project The Endless Flow of Society, our world is in a constant change of ‘revolution’. Any ‘Old’ way of life will eventually go through a transitional period to become a ‘New’, and because of that…anything we perceive as a way of life or a standard of living could easily change right before our eyes. Within the past two decades, our world has changed in ways that the rest of humankind’s history could have never even thought of! Personal computers, email addresses, smart phones, smart watches, smart TVs, the possibilities of Smart Cars in the very near future! The developed world has drastically changed from what it was ten years ago; and it’s set to constantly change – just like it has since the dawn of civilization.

changing-channel

Early this year, I went to a history colloquium that had the soul purpose of identifying everyday features of society that could change in a moment’s notice. One example that stuck with me was the old-fashioned televisions. The professor in charge mentioned how “back in her day” she had to get up from the couch and turn a dial on the actual television to change the channel from one to the next. Nowadays, we have remote controls. The task of “getting up” to change the channel has been made obsolete. It’s non-existent. To someone who was born in 1998, this isn’t common knowledge. Many people don’t think about the small things in life as history. Progression comes and those small things basically…aren’t important anymore.

But think about this! Will “texting” always be a part of our society? Or will technology come along that allows us to ‘text’ in a different and possibly more effective way? Many people scoff at this idea. How could texting ever be replaced? How could texting ever change when it’s so reliable and so “part of society”? The answer is simple: we’re conditioned to believe that what exists now is the peak of human civilization and nothing could possibly beat it. Even though we get a new iPhone every year, we basically see our technology as more superior than the barbaric non-internet days of 19anything let alone the literal prehistoric era.

The truth is that “texting” could be made obsolete just as quickly as “getting up to change the channel” was. Way back when, a remote control wasn’t really thought of. Nobody could conceive life without it because nobody had ever had one. Now that we have the remote control, we can’t picture life without it; and kids that grow up in a world that already has it don’t even know that the world existed without it unless they are told so.

That brings me to the major point of Part 9 of this series: it is important, crucial even, the identify how our contemporary world functions. History just isn’t the study of the past; it is the preservation of the past so that the future can understand it. In order to make sure there are plenty of valuable sources on how life is today (or even fifty years ago), any professional historian should think of every waking moment as history in the making; and what’s the best way to do that? Through interviews!

during-interview

Interviewing can be a pain-staking process, but it allows for an archive of information that could benefit the future in a plethora of different ways. From understanding how life was during a specific point in history to hearing the stories that someone may have from their personal experiences, interviews can be a literal record of our entire species. Think of interviews conducted with military veterans, specifically. Documentaries on all historical levels use them as actual sources. Countless academic papers quote interviews in order to relay information about the time their thesis is based upon.

One problem that history has is that, with such an extensive period of time to cover and so little personal everyday stories recorded, every man, woman, and child seems to fall into an abyss of statistics. In a battle, it becomes easier to just label victims not by name but by number. Casualties fail to be recognized by name or by merit in countless textbooks and memorials; instead, we resort to focusing on how many people died rather than who died. That’s the problem with desiring to be remembered, although some people do get lucky. It’s not necessarily a way to solve the crisis, but interviewing creates a digital record that gives anyone and everyone chance to at least be seen by historians in the future.

So, to end this part of Professionalizing History, I’d like to encourage everyone to take note of their surroundings and record some of their daily experiences – whether it be through an interview process, some sort of video blog, or even through the pages of a diary. Society changes on a constant basis, and eventually your perspective of life may be used by future generations to understand exactly what life – even the small things you might not think of or take for granted now – was like during our time. Your iPhone might be on the cover of a history textbook in two hundred years, but unless you record more about yourself and others, valuable personal thoughts unfortunately won’t be recalled at all.

Oh, and if you do get to interview someone…try not to do this:

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