Historian Offers Tips on Saving and Organizing Digital Photos

Posted: December 14, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Do you have hundreds of digital photos on your computer that you’re hoping to organize one day into albums? Are you worried about your digital family videos taking up too much space on your hard drive?

Mason digital historians Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, in their new book, “Digital History,” note the dozens of digital storage media that have disappeared over the years and how difficult it is to keep digital photos, videos and other documents for the long term.

“But one technology that hasn’t gone away and isn’t likely to soon is the hard drive,” says Cohen. “Luckily, hard drive prices continue to plummet while their capacity has increased dramatically, so they are perfect for backing up photos and video.”

Cohen also recommends backing up precious memories to CDs or DVDs as a secondary form of storage – and a form easy to store in a filing cabinet. Cohen points to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which has guidelines for consumers on how to handle CDs and DVDs for them to be readable many years from now.

Most important, disks should be stored vertically in plastic “jewel” cases, in a cool, dark and dry place. “And be sure to check any backup every six months or so to make sure it’s still working,” says Cohen. “I keep external hard drive backups of photos and videos of my kids at home and at work, and burn DVDs once a year that I store in a safe deposit box.”

Cohen, a digital historian at the Center for History and New Media at Mason, says that the digital era we are living in is ushering in a renaissance in personal and general documentation – a phenomenon that is bringing “information overload” to society.

“At the beginning of the last century, cameras were incredibly rare and expensive, and a family photographic portrait was an unusual occurrence,” says Cohen. “Digital cameras –not only the cameras that have replaced the film ones, but also cameras on our phones, computers and other digital devices – have completely done away with those restrictions. This proliferation has completely altered the ability to assemble a historical record.”

However, despite issues with authenticity and archiving, Cohen says the proliferation of information is a good thing, at least for historians. “As the earliest historian, Herodotus, pointed out, it’s hard to know what we will consider to be important in the future, so it’s probably best to save it all.”

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