Digital Archive Collects and Preserves Memories of 9/11
David Darlington, April 2002
As the attacks of September 11, 2001 slip slowly into America's past, it becomes the task of historians to collect and preserve the many memories of that fateful day. The September 11 Digital Archive (http://911digitalarchive.org) was recently created to serve that purpose. Funded by a major grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and organized by the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning at the City University of New York Graduate Center and the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, the Digital Archive was designed to create a permanent digital record of the events of 9/11 and the responses to those events. The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History Behring Center, as well as many other organizations throughout the country are collaborating on the project.
The Digital Archive confronts the massive task of recording and preserving the record of 9/11 from many different sides, such as collecting first-hand accounts of the 9/11 attacks and the aftermath (especially voices currently under-represented on the web), collecting and archiving e-mail messages and digital images growing out of these events, organizing and annotating the most important web-based resources on the subject, and developing materials to contextualize and teach about the events. The Digital Archive will also use its resources to assess how history is being recorded and preserved in the 21st-century and to develop free software tools to help historians do a better job of collecting, preserving, and writing history.
To assist in the development of its project, the September 11 Digital Archive has requested the help of members of organizations like the AHA, as well as members' friends, families, neighbors, and coworkers, to make the project a reality. Among other things, the archive is soliciting contributions of personal accounts and recollections of experiences of 9/11 and the days immediately following. Those experiences, individual and collective, need not have been at or near the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, and may be submitted anonymously. In addition to personal recollections, the Digital Archives is also creating a repository of digital images, where personal photographs taken of the 9/11 events will be stored. Eventually, all submissions will be made available on the Digital Archive web site, where future historians can access them for research purposes.
The stated goal of the September 11 Digital Archive is to create a permanent record of the events of September 11, 2001. Furthermore, the project's organizers hope "to foster some positive legacies of those terrible events by allowing people to tell their stories, making those stories available to a wide audience, providing historical context for understanding those events and their consequences, and helping historians and archivists improve their practices based on the lessons" provided by the project. Further information is available by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting the archive's web site at http://911digitalarchive.org.
The Digital Archive is not the only web-based historical or archival project launched in response to the events of September 11. Flux Factory, a not-for-profit arts organization based in Brooklyn, New York, has developed http://www.documentnewyork.com as an online documentary project incorporating photographic portraits and words. The site seeks to archive "people's feelings about the events in New York on 9.11.01." Three students—two 19-year olds and an 18-year old—have established http://www.wherewereyou.org to collect comments and testimonies about September 11. The collection will remain open until September 11, 2002, when the site will become read-only, but the testimonies will remain accessible "for years to come." Finally, there is the September 11 Web Archive (http://september11.archive.org), a collaboration between the Library of Congress, the Internet Archive, and WebArchivist.org. This project collects web sites and other web materials to be preserved, and generates data about such materials.
—David M. Darlington is assistant editor of Perspectives.