Letter: Public can participate in history by preserving it

As a closet Historian, I read the article "Founding Fathers go digital" with great interest.  However, the expected timeline for completing the digitization of our Founding Fathers' works is discouraging.  According to the article,Kathleen Williams of [the National Archives and Records Administration] states, "Historians normally prefer to wait until documents have been fully transcribed, annotated and reviewed before making them public." The sidebar suggests that the last of these documents will not be ready until the year 2043!

It appears that those in charge of this effort at NARA are not up on their history. I recommend Ms. Williams take a lesson from the book "The Professor and the Madman", which gives an excellent and interesting account of how the Oxford English Dictionary came to be. After the OED writers realized that they could never write as fast as a living (moving) language, they turned to to the public for help in completing the dictionary. In effect, the OED was the first (paper-based) wiki, written in the 19th century. If our Founding Fathers' papers are truly property of the citizens of the United States, it may be a far easier effort if NARA were to apply Web 2.0 technology to solve this problem. Why not scan the documents and post them in a wiki site for all to see and transpose?

While a final review by expert scholars will bring value to determining a most accurate interpretation of John Adams' handwriting, the collective efforts of the American public will certainly push this project forward much faster, and certainly cheaper, than the timeline expressed in this article. Please, leverage the tools of the 21st century instead of harboring the information for decades.

Richard Tucker
Ashburn, Va.


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