Waterloo Stories: Preserving our Digital History

Kaitlin O’Brien with the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Arts wrote a nice write-up of our research for the University of Waterloo’s homepage (proof can be seen in the screenshot above!). I wanted to make sure others had a chance to read it, as it is a great distillation of our work. It is part of a collection of Waterloo Stories, which are a wonderful way to learn about the top-notch research being done across Waterloo.

Special shoutout to Sarah McTavish, who is finishing her PhD with me this year. Her masterful Three-Minute Thesis video is within the story (or here on YouTube), and well worth watching.

Here’s the lede to the story:

The internet’s cultural record has been growing at an unprecedented rate, accumulating hundreds of billions of webpages. Unless we have a way to retrieve those pages, that history could be lost. Enter Ian Milligan, a professor in the Department of History and an advocate of web archiving. He is exploring petabytes of cultural heritage data and making it accessible to the public.

“Data is rapidly becoming the building blocks of our histories — more specifically the histories of the 1990s and 2000s. We need to establish ways to work with that information,” Milligan says.

With the shift to remote learning and working amidst the COVID-19 crisis, most of our interactions are taking place in online environments, mediated through computer screens, and this includes news websites, social media websites like Twitter and Reddit and university webpages. Milligan presses, “The COVID-19 pandemic underscores just how important the web and web archives will be for historians trying to piece together this global event.”

[Continue reading…]

Ian Milligan
Associate Professor of History

Exploring how technology is transforming historical research.