Tuesday, May 29, 2007

E-Mail as History

As a biographer and historian, I often wonder how future chroniclers are going to make sense of the lives of people living in the 21st Century. When looking at the life of my great great grandfather, Isaias Hellman, I reviewed at least 80,000 pages of documents, including letters, diary entries, shopping receipts, telegrams, and newspaper clippings. The historians of the future won’t have a paper trail to follow to glean insight into people’s lives.

That’s why I was happy to see this article, which talks about the British Library’s attempt to document modern day life by collecting thousands of emails. The library has asked ordinary citizens to submit emails that show both monumental and innocuous occasions. The response has been overwhelming: the library has collected close to 14,000 emails for its “electronic time capsule,” including messages about wedding proposals and lousy food at a neighborhood restaurant.

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