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.

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