I can’t believe that I ever functioned without Internet email, social media, and especially without the benefit of search engines and databases. As someone who can no longer drive (or even walk for that matter) I can access more information from my desk at home in an hour than I could have in weeks when I was actively employed as a college history instructor researching local history. And for the cost of an Internet provider and some subscriptions it is much faster and cheaper.
However, as I have discovered lately many of those subscriber search engines also come with the capacity to connect with other alert researchers and aficionados often leading to exponentially greater and more fascinating discoveries.
As I research for short writing projects related to the Sedalia Ragtime Archive I’m curating right now, I click and clip through old newspapers and articles, or I bid on an on-line auction site or make entries on our genealogical tree and to social media accounts. Something many of us do every day.
But then magical things happen. A message about an article I just clipped from an on-line paper lands in my email,
“I see you clipped an article on Minniola Jackson of Sedalia Missouri. May I inquire about your interest. I am writing….”
Or, “You just purchased a photograph from the 1974 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. I was there and wonder….”
Or, “I found your family tree on line and I think we are related. My great grandfather was Jedidiah Talltree…”
The next thing I know I have a fascinating new friend or even relative and a whole wealth of new information to enhance what I’ve been doing. Communication via the Internet often extends the simple intent of messaging and inquiry. Oh yes, I’m well aware of the negatives but this is about the sheer exhilaration of an unexpected contact from a Joe Lamb specialist in New York, or a Knocky Parker interviewer from the 1950s or a W.C. Handy biographer finishing up a dissertation or a Kansas relative now in Switzerland who has an amazing “Positive Living” consultancy.
Archive work isn’t just about dusting off old books and documents today. Archiving is about a kind of digital dumpster diving. A lot of garbage pops up but finding a new musical genius or little-known composition or an unknown recording makes it worth the stench.
Mastering the fundamentals of cyber activity is still a challenge for me—I’m still far too tactile (give me a hard copy book or newspaper first). But these serendipitous experiences keep occurring and I’m inspired to keep clicking. By the way who would have dreamed the volume of material that is available on the year 1917? I thought researching Joplin’s death would be simple enough until I remembered what happened five days later….TMI.
Larry Melton can be reached at lcmelton67 @gmail.com
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