War is Peace.
Freedom is Slavery.
Ignorance is Strength.


  • “Public sphere” at a turning point
  • Transformation by automated agents and encoded text

Plan for the day

  • Lecture
  • Discussion: how do you respond to information abundance?
  • post-class period ONLY for students who failed the tests, or did not receive a mark

History in the age of scarcity

The members of prehistoric societies did not think they lived in prehistoric times. They merely lacked a good preservation medium. (Auerbach, quoted in Rosenzweig)


  • Historically, very little recorded
  • Even less preserved
  • historian’s task was to locate rare sources in faraway places


  • History skewed to those whose records appeared worth saving
  • record always fragmentary
    • Historian free to fill in gaps
  • BUT: often possible to read large percentage of relevant sources

Age of Abundance

Tentative efforts are afoot to preserve our digital cultural heritage. If they succeed, historians will face a second, profound challenge–what would it be like to write history when faced by an essentially complete historical record? (Rosenzweig)


  • much more recorded than in the past
  • vastly more preserved, at least for now
  • increasing percentage of historical works as well

Mechanical Speech

  • auto-preservation
  • but by and for whom?

Problems of Preservation

  • physical media
  • software turnover & bitrot
  • capturing dynamic/interactive media

What big data means for old documents

digitization does provide scale (or quantity) but does so at the price of rich, largely manual encoding. Visualization, customization, personalization, and similar analytical services increasingly familiar to us depend upon born-digital objects in which a great deal of structural and semantic knowledge has been encoded. The information captured on page images is, by contrast, implicit and often not directly accessible to the machines that will be always their first, often their only, and arguably their most important readers. (CILR)

Can we tell stories? Can we do research?

  • no longer possible to read everything!
    • who will read it for us? How will we be experts? Can we automate our reading?
  • Narrative form ill-suited to massive quantities of data
    • can we develop new types of narratives?
  • Big questions may be answerable!
    • What used to be pure speculation, can perhaps now be made more concrete and compelling
      • How does role of religion in public discourse change over time?
      • how do railroads impact social and economic development?
      • others?

The Preservation Challenge


and this


and this too


Remind you of anything?

The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed -if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. ’Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ’controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ’Reality control’, they called it: in Newspeak, ’doublethink’.

Remind you of anything?

Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ’doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.


  • Archive Everything
  • Write the query tools
  • “genome project” for government data


…ideas that were more-or-less serviceable in the world before networked computers… are now up for debate. The emergence of new rights regimes (such as open access, open content and open source) and the explosion of new information are manifestations of these changing costs. (Turkel)

Ideals of openness

  • rooted in Enlightenment
  • at the foundation of scholarship
  • yet, not manifest in our scholarly journals & publishing regimes

Jefferson on Freedom of Information

It would be curious then, if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property. If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

the web as open space

  • Origins of Web wrapped up in ideologies of Freedom

“Information wants to be free - because it is now so easy to copy and distribute casually - and information wants to be expensive - because in an Information Age, nothing is so valuable as the right information at the right time. (Brand, ca. 1984)

When information is generally useful, redistributing it makes humanity wealthier no matter who is distributing and no matter who is receiving. (Stallman, ~1990, quoted by Dening)

  • but different freedoms compete
  • “walled gardens” vs open access
  • Struggles only intensifying, with battle lines not quite stable
    • net neutrality
    • the Facebook problem
    • Digital Public Library of America
    • archive.org


  • Information Abundance comes with many challenges
  • Preservation
  • Interpretation
  • Access

Future of the web and of historical scholarship depends on continued struggle over these contested values.