We live in a time when change seems to surround us. Global lines of communication mean that information travels more quickly than ever and allow us to share ideas, hopes and more and more unite us in a common history that surpasses cultural or national boundaries.
So, it begs the question: What will historical research look like in the future? I tried to answer the question, but it should be noted that what I came up with is based solely on my observations and is done in a spirit of fun rather than any kind of authoritative insight I have on the topic.
There was an article this Summer on the Fast Co. Exist blog that discussed jobs that might appear by the year 2030. Among these was one titled "Nostalgist" which is described to be like an interior designer, but who focuses on creating a decorative scheme reminiscent of another time. As historians turn toward less traditional career trajectories in consulting and business, this seems like all to real a possibility.
In fact, not just interior design, but other decidedly kitschy and commercialized facets for history could appear.
Just as the automobile forever changed business in America, replacing catalog retail with shopping malls and facilitating the appearance of fancifully shaped rest stops. So, too, has the computer and internet changed the face of historical research. Unfortunately, just as the world never reverted to its pre-automobile condition, it is equally unlikely that the closing libraries, historical and genealogical societies will stop.
I think that the future will bring the close of many more than we have already seen, and I am no happier about it than I'm certain any of you are, but I don't believe they will all close. Some will survive, those who learn to harness the power of marketing and begin to look at their facility as a business with a service to provide as opposed to an organization with inherent value. With the internet providing a more convenient, often less expensive means for getting information, it will be harder for the public at large to perceive the inherent value, rather, it will have to be clearly communicated.
The societies and museums that will do it best will be those which aren't afraid of change, as we've seen recently, some genealogical societies have began to merge with historical societies. These mergers could prove useful providing a greater audience for one united society, but combining collections and archives could be an infrastructural nightmare without the proper facility and manpower in place.
Meanwhile, catalogs and collections will have to become more digitized and I think we will begin to see more online exhibitions. I think that this could lead to an online research library where a research librarian will be available by chat or e-mail to answer questions and help locate or send along resources. Maybe these resources will be available for check out like an ebook from a library with a paid membership to an online repository.
Of course, my humble book-loving, paper-touching, opinion is that the digital experience could never ever measure up to the sensory experience of being in a library. So, I hope that these innovations wouldn't make it impossible to do research in person, but the reality is, it might.
All the more reason to dive in and start researching now!
What are your predictions for the future of historical research? What do you think is likely to change? What do you think will stay the same? Let us know in the comments below!