I just want to share a blog that I recently started reading and, in particular, its most recent entry.
The blog is called Letters of Note and is edited by a freelance writer and a “self-styled ‘curator of correspondence'” (this is in and of itself interesting, in light of recent discussions about the web and new forms of history / historians that it enables – and, to clarify, I don’t mean that in a negative way).
Letters of Note essentially finds and shares interesting archival material – whether in the form of personal letters, faxes, post-cards, etc. It doesn’t seem to have any intentional boundaries in subject matter and includes letters from Frederick Banting (!), Mark Chapman, Conan O’Brien and one from the creators of the South Park movie to the Motion Picture Association of America regarding the rating of the movie (that one I’m not going to link – you can guess why).
The most recent entry, was called In the Event of a Moon Disaster and was a contingency speech written for President Nixon to be read should the Apollo 11 astronauts be stranded on the moon. It is a very eerie look into what could have easily been a very different (and sad) version of this event.
This letter, to me, demonstrates the value and power of archival material. As historians, we know that we are dealing with at least two versions of history: what we think happened and what actually happened. This letter forces us to think of history differently – it terms of what almost happened and what people thought might happen. If you consider what people were thinking (and have evidence of such, like this letter), then you would likely evaluate their actions, motivations and decisions in a different light.
Also, to tie this into Digital History – I just want to point out the way the editor has been able to organize his past posts. Using tags, he is able to categorize his material in several (6) ways, including by author, by correspondence type, and chronologically. Tagging his entries likely took little time and provided his readers with many ways to search, browse and consider the posts. Also, by using a “category” tag, it also creates new relationships between the materials that would perhaps not be obvious before.