I saw this on the American Historical Association blog today – the AHA is maintaining an archives wiki – a clearinghouse of information for researchers with everything they need to know before heading off to a new archive. I went there expecting to see the usual just-launched wiki with more promise than content and I was blown away by how much information is already there.
Here’s the entry for the archive where I researched a substantial part of my undergraduate honors thesis. What is not included there is any mention of the nice man who fed me soup on the day when I forgot to bring a lunch, and decided to skip eating because I only had one day that weekend to spend in the archive and I didn’t have the time to spare looking for food. But then, because I am very old and my undergraduate years were so long ago – he’s probably not there any more.
The idea of the AHA blog and the Archives wiki is kind of funny to me, given how much some of my professors used to insist that they didn’t ever want to use computers, especially not for email. On the other hand, it’s really not that surprising. Way back in the day, when you had to learn Unix commands and I still had a reference book for Archie and Veronica on my desk, the one killer app I could use to convince just about the most entrenched of old-school scholars that this Internet thing had some merit was — Hytelnet.
Does anyone remember Hytelnet? The thing it did was make it relatively easy to search other libraries’ catalogs. It would tell you where to go, and give you the login information you would need. If you want to see what it used to look like – this is pretty close. But it was about one thing — the one thing you don’t want to do when you have to go somewhere else to get the stuff, is waste your time. So this wiki just reminded me of that – and what a great use of a wiki it is.