Archives, the historical record and freedom

If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’ve read lots of brief histories of people, events and places in Davenport and Scott County.  Have you ever thought “that doesn’t sound accurate to me”  or wondered “just how do they know that?”  The answer is that we’ve found the information documented in the resources we have available to us here in the Special Collections Center at the Library. 

Now while we’d be the first to say that history is important and knowing what’s come before gives an important perspective when dealing with the present, the brief accounts presented in this blog don’t have any particular significance in terms of intellectual freedom issues.

But wait, maybe they do!  Intellectual freedom means more than being able to read books that others find objectionable for whatever reason.  It means that accurate historical documentation exists so that you can read and research and draw your own conclusions rather than having to rely on someone else to do that for you.  It means that if someone tells you, for example, that the Holocaust never happened that you can research and find documentation to refute that claim.  Whether it’s a small issue or a large one, having the original documents (what archivists and historians term primary sources) preserved and accessible for the public is a critical part of intellectual freedom.  Otherwise, how do we ever decide what is true and what isn’t?  And sometimes just as signicantly, how do we really know why or how a decision was made?

Educators are beginning to realize that teaching the next generation to question and carefully evaluate the resources they find online is critically  important to having a true understanding of an issue.  Think about it, anyone can post anything on the internet.  But are the scanned documents you are viewing complete?  Or did someone just pick the items that support their point of view?  National History Day is one program that teaches students to do research using primary source materials – original documents, newspaper accounts, photographs, etc.

So, in honor of the September Project and Intellectual Freedom, the next time you read something or hear a news account on the radio or TV, take a minute to stop and wonder “how do they know that?”  And  then do some research of your own to satisfy yourself as to whether the account is accurate.  You’ll be taking an important step to preserve not only your freedom to read, but your freedom to know. 

And when you’re done, thank an archivist for their work in preserving the historical record for future generations.

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One Response to Archives, the historical record and freedom

  1. Jamie says:

    Hear, Hear! With so many documents readily accessible on the web, and often bereft of context, it’s more important than ever for people to be critical consumers of information. We all have to do our part to educate our users.

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