The Future of the Past

- by Bruce E. McKinney

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The Future of the Past from the French perspective 100 years ago

History matters, if not so much these days.  Knowing less about history does not much concern those who know less but those who know more are concerned because they believe past experience is determinative.  For them, history helps to frame present and predict future behaviors.  Eliminate or reduce historical perspective and individuals and society generally lapse into less responsible conduct, and this matters.

 

In Ulster County where I grew up, the collecting of history has been an ongoing effort for more than three hundred years.  This history has come down to us as notes and receipts, documents, letters, newspapers, the occasional printed broadside, maps, both hand-drawn and printed, ephemera, books and objects that, in every generation, there have been earnest citizens to gather, save and secure these materials and relics.  In this way these materials have come down to us, if not on databases or even on display, mostly in envelopes and boxes filed away against that day when such material might emerge to dance upon the electronic page to be seen in time by the many millions who will find their histories and connections rooted in Ulster County’s complex past.

 

In time, history will be seen from the bottom up and we will know our history in a more personal way.

 

To encourage this in Ulster County I’ll be building a free database centered on, but not exclusively about, the county.  It will contain many of the mainstream reference materials such as the county histories in the public domain as well as all forms of useful information that can be identified and confirmed.

 

Data and image entry for most databases have a single entry/exit.  This one will permit access from a large number of sources, they the various historical societies and associations who have the documents and for whom possession means so much.  This database will not intrude on ownership but will share the knowledge of what their archives include.

 

It will be an open-ended project intended to be self-financing by generating enough advertising both to pay its daily expenses and periodic and sometimes expensive upgrades to stay au currant with the changing software and computer standards.

 

This project is intended as a test.  The world has not figured out to deal with the billions of ephemera that will eventually find their way into searchable form.  Let’s move the needle.