I have recently begun to take a part in a project at the British Library, the ‘Researchers and the UK Web Archive’ project. A group of scholars, including sociologists and experts in the built environment, politics and the visual arts have embarked on a year-long project using the UK Web Archive as a source. Topics include sport, gender, elections and religious architecture, amongst others. More details are available on the project blog.
The project should provide the BL with valuable feedback on the archive itself; in addition, several of us will be helping to create new collections of previously unarchived material relating to our particular research projects. My own is on the politics of religion in Britain in the last five years, paying particular attention to events such as reactions to the recent visit of the Pope, and to Rowan Williams’ lecture on the place of sharia law in England. I’m particularly interested in the ways in which the communication of religious ideas has been affected by the web, and by social media in particular.
Of particular interest is how perennial themes in the church/state/law relationship are transmuted in a new information environment. Part of the endeavour is to suggest that contemporary historians are in a unique position to anticipate which present-day websites will be of interest to future historians, by virtue of understanding something about the pedigree of an issue, and the significance of a forthcoming event.