Three days ago, the Washington Postreported the results of an investigation into a large collection of files provided by Edward Snowden. Reviewing 160,000 intercepted electronic conversations and 8,000 other documents, which Snowden apparently accessed on NSA servers after that agency collected them, the Post’s reporters found that nearly half of them contained information pertaining to U.S. citizens. Overall, the article says, the sample showed that the government scooped up information on nine bystanders (as it were) for every “targeted” individual under electronic surveillance. On that basis, the reporters speculate that the NSA may have collected information on as many as 800,000 non-target individuals in 2013.
I don’t intend to comment here on the legality, ethics, or wisdom of the NSA’s programs or the Snowden leaks. But I do think this report is fascinating and important. And I think it’s worth considering from the standpoint of digital history.
Spring is in the air in Southern California! Well, to be fair, this isn’t usual: it always smells like flowers in Los Angeles (when it doesn’t smell like poisonous smog or wildfire smoke), but recent much needed rain has definitely made the city seem more verdant. My students are sunken-eyed and groggy from midterms, but spring break is just around the corner. What better time to take stock of how a new course is going?
How did eighteenth-century print networks really operate? This week, The Junto asked Jordan Goffin, Special Collections Librarian at the Providence Public Library, how mapping Rhode Island’s early book trade led to the creation of a new digital atlas.
Four years ago, Robert Darnton, historian and librarian at Harvard, wrote in the New York Review that “we [had] missed a great opportunity.” Instead of digitizing America’s print heritage in a public project, perhaps managed by “a grand alliance of research libraries,” the United States had allowed a private corporation to control the scanning and storing of books. Depending on the outcome of federal lawsuits, Google Books would enjoy a virtual monopoly on books still in copyright.
“We could have created a National Digital Library—the twenty-first-century equivalent of the Library of Alexandria,” Darnton wrote. “It is too late now. Not only have we failed to realize that possibility, but, even worse, we are allowing a question of public policy—the control of access to information—to be determined by private lawsuit.”
This week, we talk to University of Nebraska-Lincoln historians William Thomas and Patrick Jones, co-directors of History Harvest, a community-based approach to creating a new people’s history of America online using the real “stuff” of our past.
JUNTO: How did you get the idea (and support) for History Harvest? What are the goals of “community-based history,” and how is it a model for the profession?
THOMAS: The original idea for me goes all the way back to my work on The Valley of the Shadow Project in the mid-1990s with Ed Ayers and Anne Rubin. We ran a small community history harvest in that project, but neither the public awareness of digitization nor the technical infrastructure to do large scale digitization on site were available. Still ever since then, I have been interested in expanding the idea. And we have seen in every digital history project that the community often comes forward with materials to contribute. So in 2010 we started The History Harvest Project here at the University of Nebraska. Continue reading →
It seems to have become a tradition to open this post with a weather report for New England. This morning we’re looking at a slushy Sunday, which while annoying is quite an improvement over the snowpocalypse of a few weeks ago. In any case, a little sleet/snow won’t stand any longer between you and your weekly supply of links. On we go!