Working Together to Preserve and Interpret the Past in a Sustainable, Virtual Environment

Edward C. Papenfuse,  Maryland State Archivist, retired

The Lynx, a Baltimore Privateer captured by the British: a reconstruction that visited Baltimore with the rest of the Tall Ships

Recently, I was asked to speak on the future of historical research and writing, especially as it related to helping teachers access and make use of the rich resources that are currently being placed on line in the virtual world.  My words were in the form of a challenge to all cultural institutions with regard to their placing digital versions of their holdings on line.  A reporter present headlined his blog with

We need a ‘Wayback Machine’ for all cultural archives … During a Baltimore Innovation Week event hosted by edtech startup Alchemy Learning, the retired Maryland State Archivist called on cultural groups to get collaborative in sharing and hosting online archives           

alchemy edtech baltimore innovation week

Alchemy Learning cofounders Henry Blue (left) and Win Smith address attendees at their Baltimore Innovation Week event. (Photo by Christopher Wink)

The sponsor of the session was Alchemy Learning which is a new and innovative start up company devoted to linking teachers to the resources of cultural institutions through meaningful and easy to use lesson plans.  It was my task to remind all present that for that to become a dynamic and viable reality, attention also needs to be paid to the means of access through a permanent and sustainable electronic archives as well as the need for a related digital sandbox in which teachers and researchers of any interest can assemble and write their narrratives at minimal, if any cost to themselves. 

This website is an effort to demonstrate how the goal of  managing  vitual resources and writing about them from the perspective of the researcher, need not be either expensive nor difficult to perpetuate if attention is paid to economy of means directed towards a sustainable virtual archive of historical writing and documentation.

It is divided into searchable and  interrelated environments rooted in simple html web pages encompassing source management, the layered analysis of place and time encapsulated in .kmz files, and historical analysis based upon an open source wiki.

It is intended to be a publicly accessible  website and on line research center devoted to the history of Baltimore's current and lost neighborhoods

The objective is to provide an interactive website and repository for research and writing about the history of Baltimore City from the perspective of time and place, utilizing current and historical mapping to create time and space layers of cityscapes that can be viewed in Google Earth and Google Maps and are linked to the life stories of the owners and occupants of the built city at specific points in time.  For example, the first major undertaking  is the reconstruction of the city and its residents in 1814, the year of repulsing an attack of British naval and land forces, and the emergence of a strong sense of National pride that transcended deep political differences.

The main purpose of the website is to provide an interactive, perpetual home for the scholarship and electronic files of all those industrious individuals who are documenting and telling the stories of their neighborhoods, assuring their permanence and providing them in a searchable context to which new material can be added and past work can be improved upon. 

Comments are welcome at my blog,