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Computer Programmers Keep History Alive

Unfortunately, the phrase "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it" has become nothing more than an overused cliche these days.

Students get told to pay attention to their history classes, but those same history classes often present so much out-of-context junk.

We praise history while denying historians and archeaologists the funding to keep studying, researching and analyzing the wealth of information it has to share with us. And every day, more and more historical artifacts and perspectives are lost to the ravages of time and upheaval.

Many people don't know that history is a massive subject, replete with often delicate artifacts and multiple interpretations.

We often can't even entirely analyze events that happened in our own century, much less events of centuries past.

For example, we're only now starting to get some historical perspective on World War II and an entire library has already been generated on it.

How is anyone supposed to get a reasonably balanced view on the war without becoming an exclusive full time scholar? It wasn't a simple matter of good versus evil, we had multiple enemies and multiple allies, some of which have hugely shifted since then.

During that war, Japan was a part of the Axis, whereas now they enjoy good relations with a great many Western nations including the United States.

We can't even say that the Japanese were entirely wrong for going to war against the Allies.

We know now that the Nazi regime was evil, but how many people know the ins and outs of the Italian government or war contributions at the time?

Now, take that overwhelming amount of information and multiply it by all of human history, and we start to get an idea of the information overload most historians face.

 

While it may not seem obvious on its face, we need the very people who manage the Information Age the best, namely computer programmers.

While many computer programmers aren't direct historians, they make huge undeniable contributions to the study of history as a whole through several different fields. From archaeology to anthropology to historical interest communities, you can find programmers at all levels and in all areas of history today.

The first area of history that computer programmers contribute to is research.

Archaeological and paleontological preservation and study efforts have improved to a considerable degree since computer programs were invented to help them.

Satellite imagery can show ancient human living sites completely mapped out in space long before an archaeologist sets foot on the site itself.

In fact, as recently as 1994 a computer satellite proved that there was an ancient riverbed running through northern India.

For centuries archaeologists believed that the Hindu Vedas, many of which are set on a riverbank, were referencing the Tigris or Euphrates rivers in Middle Asia.

Because of the work previously done in that area, historians dated the Vedas as no older than 5,000 to 6,000 years, even though the Vedas themselves stated that Hindu culture was far older.

When this satellite image of the dried up Sarasvati river came through, it instantly re-dated Hindu culture to between 15,000 and 17,000 years old.

That's a rather large mistake to finally be cleared up in the latter part of the twentieth century, and without satellite programming it wouldn't have been cleared up at all.

Smaller artifacts found on archaeological sites can be scanned, imaged and mapped in situ before being moved without error.

Remotely controlled robots can explore sites that don't have air suitable for humans, or in special artifact preservation atmospheres that humans can't breathe.

All of these would be impossible without computers.

 

Anthropological efforts are also aided by computer programs.

The island of Bali in the South Pacific has had a specific water allocation system for centuries that allows them to grow between four and five rice crops per year on very little land, with no need of additional fertilizer.

This water allocation system has been passed down from person to person in Bali's priest caste for all that time, dangerously close to being lost if the line of oral tradition were ever broken.

An anthropologist recently introduced computer software that allowed these people to accurately map and fully understand their water allocation system, preserving this incredible sustainable process and Bali's history and culture simultaneously.

Anthropologists use computers on a regular basis in order to record findings, do cross cultural comparison, and run statistics.

In fact, the largest database for cross-cultural comparison today is online, giving field anthropologists the power to access and cross reference over four hundred human cultures in mere minutes.

 

Computer programmers aren't just involved in the front end of historical research. They also create statistical programs to assist with historical record keeping and scholarly analysis as well.

While Wikipedia's democratic structure has caused problems in the past, it also allows scholars to do more detailed treatments and historical tracking than ever before available.

The continuity of noble European dynasties is fully detailed there for anyone interested enough to look, and lively discussion between historical scholars continues in Wikipedia's open "talk pages" associated with each and every article.

More private data analysis and collation goes on between the historical departments of many universities equally quickly due to computers and the communication programs developed for them.

 

Online history projects such as Project Gutenberg seek to make history available to anyone with a computer.

Project Gutenberg itself publishes books that are out of copyright free of charge to the public, and allows members to hand-proof old books to make them more accurate and more accessible to everyone.

If you can get to a computer, you can read quite a few classics of human literature and history free of charge.

Anyone can become a member and contribute to the preservation of our historical literature, as well.

The program that translates these old books into online books isn't simple, nor is the program that lets remote users proof the books, but a computer programmer is who made it possible.

Computer programmers have also created online history archives, such as England's archive and learning center.

They've also created online interactive museums, bringing the intertwined worlds of history and art out to be accessed by anyone.

 

The number of online history communities is vast.

When I recently went to Google and typed in "online history project", the search engine came back with over 19 million results.

These forums, websites, and ongoing projects are part of what keep people involved with and learning their own history.

Computer programmers have made this possible with the advent of easy to use, easy to install and easy to run software.

Anybody can create a decent looking website with attached discussion area these days.

In the early days of the Internet, you had to have a computer degree to even consider website creation on the Internet, and forum creation was right out for anyone but true geeks.

Now, even technically challenged history buffs can do it, and not a moment too soon.

 

On a related note, computer programmers have created interactive software that can help teach history classes.

Prior to the advent of computers in education, only people who learned by reading ever really got anywhere in the study of history.

Now it doesn't matter if you're a kinetic learner, an audial learner or some combination of the three, there's a computer program that can help you learn history.

This opens up the study of history to a huge interested population that would otherwise never know that they could even learn.

In addition, children can discover the wonders of history from an earlier age, as reading comprehension is no longer as vital as it once was.

Interactive education programs are opening up worlds to people and giving them motivation to preserve our history.

At the same time, the advent of the Internet as the main mode of entertainment and communication is motivating more young people to read and write more proficiently.

Youngsters are finding out there's an entire world out there beyond cable television, and they want more. The very number of online history communities, forums and projects proves that beyond the shadow of a doubt.

 

Computers have revolutionized the way we communicate, the way we learn, and even the way we live.

We can make friends with someone from around the world without leaving home for the first time in history.

The Internet allows us to explore the entire span of our history without having to come up with money for tuition, money for travel or years of time for intensive, exclusive study.

There will always be people who feel the intense need to devote their lives to the study of history, and we owe them a massive debt.

We will never come to a point where those scholars are not needed.

Computers and computer programmers have just made their work easier, and they've also made it possible for those scholars to share history with the rest of us.

The more people interested and involved with history, the more of our heritage and culture stays alive, relevant, and passed on whole to the next generations.

 

Major write by L Ice, rewrites by Donald Urquhart, 2008.


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