Personal History and the Future

We can never predict who may eventually see the product of a life story project and how it may influence those who view or read it. Impacts might be large or small in scale. No one can say what seeds for future research might be planted, or what questions might be answered. A personal history can be both an analysis of events and artifacts as well as an artifact to be discovered in the future. The initial rationale for funding a personal history project may be to share the subject’s life with grandchildren or great-grandchildren. When planning the project, try to think past the short term goals and look to the possibility of important future significance of the work. Even that which may appear on the surface to be small in importance may have tremendous future impact in understanding an event. This is an opportunity for the subject to share advice to future generations, advice that may have profound effects on the life of a future descendant.

Time Horizons

When looking to the future we should give some consideration to the time horizon involved. We tend to think of time in terms of hours, days, months, and years, but mostly the shorter of these. In terms of personal history we should be starting to think in terms of decades and centuries when we are hoping to preserve a personal history project far into the future. A time horizon may be thought of as a span of time. In considering the long term preservation of materials, there are implications inherent in a given time span, and we cannot assume anything we take as granted will be true far into the future. Modernist thought tends to place great reliance on the idea that society and science progresses to greater achievements. In reality that progress occurs slowly so we should be as proactive as possible when preserving personal history work products and not assume anything with respect to the capabilities and resources of those who later acquire the results.

Time Capsules

One means of delivering a project to the future is by way of a time capsule. A time capsule is a collection of items characteristic of a time and place that are placed together in a sealed container. Historically, they were often placed in the cornerstone of a building. Some have a specific date that they are scheduled to be opened, such as a 50 or 100 year anniversary. You can purchase a ready-made time capsule or build your own. If you build your own, choose materials that you can reliably expect to last past the time horizon and construct the time capsule in a manner which permits it to be well sealed against moisture. The materials should also be resistant to damage by insects and rodents. The capsule can be filled with an inert gas such as argon in order to protect the materials contained in the capsule from oxidation and moisture, provided the capsule is well sealed.

The Value of Personal History

– By J Michael

When we think of personal history we may tend to focus mainly on the historical aspects rather than the ontological and anthropological. History may be conceptualized as the temporal sequence of events as well as the analysis of events as causal factors on this temporal sequence. Events are agents of change. During any period of time one may start with an initial plan or expectation for what is to transpire. However, an event may occur that will alter that plan. Events, and therefore history, may be considered external to both ontological and anthropological perspectives, although events that occur and your reaction to those events is clearly driven or influenced by both. Personal history might be described as an interpretation of the life of a single individual. There are events, cultural influences, and other factors that have a direct impact to varying degrees on one’s life and how that life unfolds.
What is the value of a single personal history? Like the small contributions of scientists to the greater body of scientific knowledge, each personal history is a contribution to human progress and toward the betterment of mankind. It is never known in advance what profound effect some fact, recollection, or other contribution might have far into the future. Knowing this, how can one not preserve one’s own personal history?

On the Shoulders of Giants

– By J Michael

In 1676 Isaac Newton wrote in a letter, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Newton was referring to his contributions to the progression of science, where each new discovery comes as a result of the progress made by those before. Each small discovery contributes in some way to later breakthroughs. All of human progress occurs through individual effort, even when such progress occurs through the action of many individuals. Each person does his part, overcomes his limitations, and contributes to the end result. Human progress has been marked by great cultural progress, scientific achievements, and humanitarian triumphs. It has also seen serious regression through the loss of great bodies of knowledge, failures of civilizations, and great tragedies. The future is equally at risk from both natural and man-made disasters. In our day-to-day lives we give little thought to the long term impact our lives have on the world. However, just like those incremental discoveries in science, subtle inputs can have profound effects on the future and on those who follow.

Anthropologists tell us that Man has roamed the Earth for some four million years. Only in the last few thousand has a written record existed. Petroglyphs, cave paintings, and other imagery preceded writing by a significant period. What we know about prehistoric cultures is largely due to the painstaking analysis of artifacts and art left by those cultures. Much better understanding of cultures occurred once writing was invented, when records of historians’ own or other cultures began to be documented. Cultures in modern times may be observed directly. The written word is now supplemented by photographs as well as audio and video recordings. Analytical tools enable tremendous insight that was inaccessible only a few years ago. Social media is beginning to facilitate group efforts in analysis and classification. We can examine our own lives from an anthropological perspective. We often think of anthropology as the study of other cultures but place little value in studying our own. Those who look back from the future to analyze the customs, rituals, beliefs, and other cultural attributes will rely on artifacts, writings, and other media in order to gain insight. We can help by being cognizant of the many facets of our culture and writing about those, as well as preserving and documenting the interesting artifacts of our time.