Friday, July 13, 2007

Moments with the Mandelbaum Collection

As I enjoy my "Summer of Reading II" in North Carolina, I'm pursuing my usual form of paid employment -- physical processing for the massive manuscript collection of Kenan Professor of Humanities Allen Mandelbaum.

As discussions about history, futurism, time and Lindow Man raise questions over at In the Middle, I was struck to find this beauty in the folders I was sorting through today:

At first, I found this appropriate -- Professor Mandelbaum writes everything by hand, of course there would be a floppy disk! Of course, then the obvious flaw in that statement became apparent: this was technology back in the day, in fact, these were once the height of technology. Now all our technological present is built on the "floppy" disks of yore. In a way, though distinctly not human, this technology carries with it a literal message from the past (the afterword to Professor Mandelbaum's book) but also a more figurative one -- sometimes information (data, narratives of data) can become inaccessible, even in this day and age. I suppose there's a way to get at the writing on this disk -- but who wants to go that far out of their way. It's in the book -- isn't it? I've made several summers now of scouring various versions of Professor Mandelbaum's manuscripts -- but when I come across a disk, it's a kind of blank space. I'll believe the label.

I wonder what someone from 1000 years hence would think of an accidentally preserved floppy disk.