Meticulously researched and referenced books, like Martin Black’s G.L. Watson – The Art and Science of Yacht Design, depend on the availability of accessible archived records. This in turn depends on a culture of creating and preserving them for posterity. Up to a quarter of a century ago that required only the will to do it – and space. But what now in this digital age? How will the researchers of the near and distant future fare in a world where even the web site could be old hat, and everything is “archived” in the ether?
According to Jim Champ of the International [Sailing] Canoe Class, the problem is already upon us.
Writing as Guest Commentator in today’s 3966th edition of Sailing Scuttlebutt’s essential daily breakfast-munching email newsletter (archived here back to #194 of October 5, 1998 – where are issues 1-193?), Jim says:
‘ As you stated in Scuttlebutt 3965, “The internet has dramatically improved how event information can be shared. However, what needs to improve further is how this information is preserved.”
‘Amen to that in spades…
‘The trouble with digital information is that when it’s gone it’s gone. If it’s not on the Wayback Machine (http://archive.org/web) it will be gone forever, and you won’t get it back because there won’t be any old bits of paper in dusty corners.
‘I’ve recently been putting together the competition history of the International Canoe class (http://www.intcanoe.org) on the web (and we have a lot of it, with our oldest International trophy dating back to the 1880s) and people have been digging out old magazines from their lofts and so on to help me get some of the results published and its quite a task…
‘Former Canoe Sailors – or their children, grand-children, great-grandchildren or whatever – who can help fill in some of the gaps for past NYCCC Trophy, European or Worlds events in the following pages are positively begged to contact me via the link on the website pages:
We trust that Jim and the editors at Sailing Scuttlebutt will excuse us for reproducing this extract whole, in the interests of spreading the word. All power to his research.
[Update December 17, 2013: Ian Milligan, Assistant Professor of digital, Canadian and youth history at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, presented a three-minute “lightning talk” on Historians and Web Archives at the “(Digital) Humanities Revisited – Challenges and Opportunities in the Digital Age” conference in Hannover, Germany recently. Read it and more at his fascinating blog here.]
Appendix D of Martin Black’s masterwork, G.L. Watson – The Art and Science of Yacht Design, is an examination, by championship divisions, of yacht racing records during G.L. Watson’s working life. Needless to say they make good reading about our hero! This beautiful book – the perfect gift – can be purchased online here.
And finally, a little personal oar-in. If designers of sailing event web sites could place a big, red “push for results” button – similar to this one used by Sailing Scuttlebutt – right at the start, we might be less grumpy sometimes. It’s hard enough nowadays to understand the scoring system used in Olympic style events, but rather more difficult if one can’t find the results in the first place.
~ Iain McAllister ~