Less a highway, more a raging torrent

February 5, 1999

The History Highway: A Guide to Internet Resources. By Dennis A. Trinkle, Dorothy Auchter, Scott A. Merriman and Todd E. Larson. M. E. Sharpe, 264pp, Pounds 12.45. ISBN 0 7656 0011 0

History and Electronic Artefacts. Edited by Edward Higgs. Oxford University Press, 373pp, Pounds 47.50 and Pounds 16.99. ISBN 0 19 8236336 and 0 19 8236344

The papers in History and Electronic Artefacts were first published in 1994 and are reissued now in response to public interest. The central issue of this collection is how archivists and historians will deal with the challenges of preserving and using electronic records.

The work exceeds the normal Gallic specification by coming in four parts dealing with the challenges electronic artefacts pose for historians, how electronic records are created in organisations, how archivists might meet the problems posed by electronic records and, last, a series of case studies from countries in Europe, east and west.

Several themes recur through the collection. The vast quantity of electronic records created daily offers the promise of an incredible wealth of sources for historians in the future - all our emails, however trivial, all our credit card records, every detail of every day in our lives now creates some form of electronic footprint.

There are two problems, though: how do we choose which records are worth keeping, and how do we do so before the records are lost? One major credit card company destroys its records after only 18 months, while many records created in the past 20 years are stored on media that are no longer accessible because the hardware and software used to create them becomes obsolete and is consigned to the junk heap.

The pace of change in computing is nowhere more obvious than on the internet, and this is a major obstacle in the path of anyone who would try to produce a guide to internet resources for historians. This is what the authors of The History Highway have set out to do, and although the book is a very useful indicator of the type of resources that can be found on the internet, publishing lists of internet sites is almost as difficult as stepping into the same river twice.

In more than 200 pages, the authors list a huge range of internet resources of interest to historians. The listing is broken down by geographical region and topic, with a short review of each site. Some of the reviews are only a single sentence, but in many the reviewers try to give some indication of the extent of the materials on each site.

However, resources on the internet can and do come and go from day to day, and though the authors have a website where they list changes to the material in the book, even that is not enough to keep up with the pace of change in this fluid medium.

A number of interesting sites listed in the book seem to have disappeared or moved without leaving any pointer to their new location, while others worthy of inclusion in the online update have not been added to the listings. However useful The History Highway is as a guide to the type of material to be found on the internet, there is no substitute for intelligent use of search tools and discerning reading to determine which sites are useful.

In a way, both of these books touch on the same problem - the transience of materials in our electronic age. The History Highway is in places a victim of this, while History and Electronic Artefacts makes a very useful contribution to the discussion of how to meet this problem.

Mike Cosgrave is a lecturer in history, University College Cork.

Nonibs4xii_xy Cannes do The MA design for interactive media course at the University of Middlesex has won four places - more than any other course in the world - at MILIA, the international multimedia festival in Cannes. The work will be exhibited in the New Talent pavilion from next Tuesday to Friday. The works use latest techniques to illuminate the nature of friendship, death, new "organic" approaches to interactivity and the work of pop poet John Giorno. The 15 students responsible for the four multimedia creations, Near Death Experience, BEO, Esfore Entropy and Burn to Shine will be at the festival with the joint course leader, Stephen Boyd Davis. Details: www.cea.mdx. ac.uk/success and www.milia.com/milia.htm Buy-out secured Microsoft has amended its Campus Agreement software rental scheme to satisfy some of the Combined Higher Education Software Team's demands. Institutions now have the right to buy out of the scheme after three years, but there are still no special discounts for smaller institutions. In a joint statement Chest lists six points that institutions should consider before accepting the revised deal. Details: www.chest.ac.uk

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