Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Downside of Search and Scroll

University of Wisconsin historian and AHA president William Cronon dives deep into the meaning of technology -- from physical scrolls to printed books to Google and Amazon -- in an amazing and unsettling essay in the new issue of Perspectives on History. He is no armchair critic hiding in a moldy library, and we will be hearing more about his "20-year effort to build digital libraries on handheld devices, and how frequently I've had to reformat public-domain e-books from .txt to .lit to .html to .doc to .pdf to .mobi to .epub, with no hope of retaining my own annotations in the process."

Another angle:

Can physical books come close to competing with computers when it comes to search? Of course not. But when one wants to relocate a piece of information in a particular context, and when one remembers that context better than the information itself, then it can be surprisingly difficult for search alone to recover what one wants.
How do disciplines the depend not just on details but on context reap the advantages of new hardware and software while minimizing the problems they create? Cronon doesn't have the answer but he knows there's a question.

William Cronon, "Recollecting My Library...and My Self," Perspectives on History, vol. 50, no. 8 (November 2012), http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2012/1211/Recollecting-My-Library-and-My-Self.cfm : accessed 19 November 2012.

Harold Henderson, "The Downside of Search and Scroll," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 20 November 2012 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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