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Climate Change Could Erase Human History. These Archivists Are Trying to Save It

Motherboard – Climate change making the word hotter, more humid, and more stormy—all conditions that put sensitive paper archives at risk. This problem is forcing us to ask, which histories will we choose to remember?

“This problem prompted archivists Eira Tansey, Ben Goldman, and Whitney Ray to complete the Repository Data Project, a growing database that currently catalogs more than 25,000 archives in the United States, including major university libraries, small museums, corporate archives, and art facilities. The reason for making this database, Tansey told Motherboard, is to figure out which facilities are at risk of sea level rise and worsened storm surges over the next 100 years. If we know what’s at risk, theoretically, we can plan and prepare for the worst. Or alternatively, we can at least know which facilities need help when the next disaster strikes. The study brought up an uncomfortable question. What happens if we abandon culturally rich areas? What will happen to the archives in these areas, to the history stored in them? “As there will be inevitable migration and abandonment of certain areas, the only traces that will be left of some places is in the archives,” Tansey said. “And so, we have a large amount of responsibility for what it looks like to do our work in the context of climate change.” But of course, the Repository Data Project isn’t just about archivists taking cultural stock. The project, at its core, forces us to ask difficult questions. In a changing world, one where climate change will change the way coastlines look and likely the way governments function in upcoming decades, who and what will we choose to remember?…”

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