In 1948, the Library of Congress purchased a collection of colour images taken by Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944). Taken during a series of surveys of the Russian Empire on behalf of the Tsar prior to World War I, these photos were produced by taking a series of black-and-white photos through red, green and blue colour filters; Prokudin-Gorskii created colour images by combining the images with a special projector using the same filters. (This method is still used by astrophotographers, who use specialized monochrome CCDs to take a series of images through special filters.) The result, when processed with modern-day tools (hello, Photoshop), is a series of stunningly vibrant colour photos from a period otherwise remembered in sepia, and from a part of the world not often seen in the West, even at the time. A total of 2,607 images are available in the LOC’s Prokudin-Gorskii Collection; an online exhibition from the LOC and The Big Picture offer some of the more stunning examples. Above: a portrait of the Emir of Bukhara.
Charlie Stross posits that we’re rapidly approaching a future where data storage is so cheap that everything — everything — will be recorded for posterity: “The storage requirement for a video stream and two audio streams, plus GPS location, is only about 10,000 Gb per year — which will cost about £10 by 2017.” Such recordings, he argues, will be “a gold mine for historians” who will “be able to see the ephemera of public life and understand the minutiae of domestic life; information that is usually omitted from the historical record because the recorders at the time deemed it insignificant, but which may be of vital interest in centuries to come.”
In response, Cory Doctorow asks: “Once everyone and everything is recorded forever, what will historians do for a living?”
My answer is: the same thing they’ve always done.
Critics will no doubt say I am accusing the Bush administration of being Hitler. I’m not. There is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007. What I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn’t-somehow-torture — “enhanced interrogation techniques” — is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.