Yes, Rebecca, I remember it! I was a little tyke at the time, but my parents woke me up and put me in front of the TV to see Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. They knew it was historic, Armstrong knew it was historic, the TV broadcasters knew it was historic. So you would think someone at NASA would have thought to put a sticky note or “Don’t erase this” in red marker on that moon landing videotape, right? But, apparently…not. So the original video of the moon landing, according to NASA, was probably taped over in the 1970s. Fast forward to the 40-year anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and sure enough, NASA has spent over $200,000 restoring and “enhancing” television video copies of the moon landing with the help of a Hollywood film company. On the plus side, apparently the picture quality is better than the TV. You can compare them on the NASA web site. I’ve been thinking about the whole cost-benefit of preservation in the context of our Archives and Special Collections department, which is preserving and digitizing NU’s history and local Boston history, too, hopefully more diligently than NASA! After all, does anyone here have 200 grand to spend restoring our stuff?
I was fascinated to read in this morning’s Boston Globe that a new and compelling image of Phineas Gage has recently been uncovered. Gage is the famous 19th century Vermonter who was shot through the head with a piece of iron in an industrial accident, and survived–but with his personality completely changed. He became the subject of one of the most famous medical cases in history, illustrating the functions of different parts of the human brain. The photo was identified because the owner scanned it and posted it on Flickr. What a great example of how content on the open web takes on a life of its own, and becomes something entirely different from what we thought, something that no longer belongs to us alone. In this case, the owner of the photo (it’s actually a daguerreotype) originally thought it depicted a 19th century sailor with a harpoon. But a Flickr viewer recognized it as something else. High resolution scanning and zooming confirmed that the man is indeed Gage Now the daguerreotype is no longer just a curio belonging to a collector, but an cultural artifact that belongs all of us. I wonder what our viewers will uncover from the images published in the NU library’s Archives and Special Collections. Are there Phineas Gages in our digital collections, waiting for you to discover them?