When you think about history, you probably think about sepia-toned photos of hardy pioneers. Or maybe you think of generals or presidents; stalwart pillars of civilization who are enshrined in textbooks and the names of streets. What you may not think of is pictures of you. But you are a historical figure. Or, at least, you will be.
Once upon a time, archives relied on the contents of grandma’s attic finding their way to us. Photo albums, scrap books, diaries and greeting cards would tell the stories of generations who had gone ahead of us. Now all these things live in the cloud. That feels permanent, but it isn’t. Storage services come and go and social media companies rise and fall. When digital cameras and home computers became commonplace in the 1990s, a new age of “born digital” documents began. People stopped making scrapbooks because they weren’t developing prints from film anymore. Diaries became blogs and then posts. The history of everyday people, and everyday life, no longer left behind materials that could be cared for and kept for future generations.
As an archivist, I care about future generations as much as I care about past generations, and I have some ideas for how we can help them to know us. Here are some simple things you can do to preserve your own history:
1. Think like grandma and make photo albums. Choose your very best photos and keep them together. Be sure to describe what is happening, where it is happening, and name the people in the photo. You may be doing this for social media already. Copy those same photos and descriptions onto a drive you can hold in your hand, whether it is a USB stick or something fancier.
2. Save everything important in more than one place. Your pictures are probably already on your phone and backed up to a cloud, which is a great start. Save them one more place, just to be sure. Consider sending copies to your family, perhaps with your holiday card? It is important that they have a separate copy, and not just a link to a shared copy.
3. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but nothing can replace the stories you can share about yourself. If you keep some sort of diary or journal, don’t forget to back that up as well. Most social media platforms will allow you to export your posts. Make a habit of doing that every once in a while.
4. Remember your local history organizations. Your city or county likely has a historical society, who would love to receive your digital photo albums and diaries. (Be aware that if you give them every photo you have ever taken, or every email you have ever written, they may not have the resources to work with that much material. This is a time when less is more.) History organizations like historical societies and archives have the expertise to maintain your materials and to make them available for others to use, now and in the future.
If you have photos, letters, diaries or anything else about your time at the University of Idaho, our Special Collections and Archives would love to see them. Every time there is an anniversary or a reunion, people love to look back. When the recent pandemic hit, we were able to create learning materials about life in Moscow during the 1912 influenza pandemic. During Homecoming, we can greet our returning Vandals with memories of their times on campus. Idaho history is important, and you are an important part of Idaho history. Your donations allow future researchers to know you.
Perret is the university archivist at the University of Idaho.