The URL is a Radical Act

Aaron Straup Cope writes:

One of the reasons I think these considerations are so important to the cultural heritage sector is that the act of revisiting is the bedrock underlying the whole idea of cultural heritage itself. The act of re-reading a book, or re-listening to a piece of music or of going to see the same painting or sculpture again and again and of celebrating the evolution of an understanding about those works is what separates cultural heritage from entertainment. Entertainment, born of the moment, can and does become cultural heritage but it is precisely through the act of revisiting that one becomes the other.

The web simply makes those acts of revisiting possible for more people, in more ways, than ever before. When I say these things are possible I mean that the economics of participating in this global network of documents are within the reach of, if not everyone, then more people than ever before. These things become possible because technologies underlying the web are simple enough to meaningfully lower the barrier to participation and unburdened by licensing in a way which allows people to share their work and for others still to extend that work to meet their needs.

Spot on. One of the things I’ve long considered a key strength of digital history is our ability to reach wider audiences than our more traditional avenues of communication (books, articles) tend to reach. It’s also one of the reasons I was so excited to join RRCHNM, where our core mission is the democratization of history. By and large, we do this work on the web—which is also one reason I worry so much about the web itself.1


  1. I’ll also say, thinking back just a few years, there was some debate about whether mobile apps or the web would be the way forward. I’m not sure that debate is fully settled, but I’m glad the web seems to be winning it even if the health of the web itself is a bit shakey.