In “Down the Rabbit Hole,” Scott Weingart (Carnegie Mellon University) links his search for the source behind a map he’d seen in a tweet (and the resulting difficulties and dead-ends) to the work of the Viral Texts project. Weingart draws similarities between 19th century newspaper citations and (the failures of) modern-day citation practice online.
A single snippet of text could wind its way all across the country, sometimes changing a bit like a game of telephone, rarely-if-ever naming the original author.
Isn’t that a neat little slice of journalistic history? Different copyright laws, different technologies of text, different constraints of the medium, they all led to an interesting moment of textual virality in 19th-century America. If I weren’t a historian who knew better, I’d call it something like “quaint” or “charming”.
You know what isn’t quaint or charming? Living in the so-called “information age“, where everything is intertwingled, with hyperlinks and text costing pretty much zilch, and seeing the same gorram practices.
Weingart’s many-layered citation chase, and the results of his findings, provide an argument for the importance of examining the data behind a publication and the need to design systems–and reinforce practices– that enable sharing with attribution.