Ann Blair in Salon: “The history of information has developed especially in the last 10 years. It is a subset of intellectual and cultural history, which is a subset of general history. “Information” today typically refers to all the stuff we find on the web and there is so much of it that we have become especially aware of the need to select and manage information. But information management has been practiced for a very long time, even if it wasn’t called that. Looking back in the past to ancient Rome, the Middle Ages or the emergence of printing in the early modern period, historians have started to ask new questions about how earlier periods accumulated and managed information. Information took many forms in the past, as it does today, but the forms that have survived down to us are mostly textual – descriptions, examples, anecdotes written down and transmitted through copying or the survival of the original texts.
The history of information offers a new way of looking at texts that intellectual historians have often studied before, by emphasizing how a text was consulted, read and used in the past. For example, back in the first century of the Common Era, the Roman naturalist Pliny boasted that he had collected 20,000 facts from 2,000 authors in his 38-volume “Natural History.” That text became a key source of information for medieval encyclopedias and all kinds of texts about the natural world up to the 18th century. Historians of information look at the forms in which the text circulated and was presented, to see how the information was made accessible in different times, through alphabetical indexing or adding marginal keywords or through the way the text was laid out on the page.”