History geeks have a new online home with Footnote

Annotation and discussion of public-domain documents.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read

Before I start talking about Footnote, a new service that lets users annotate and enrich digital public-domain documents with notes, links, and discussions, I should emphasize that the phrase "history geeks" in the title of this post is not intended to be derogatory in any way. I was a history major in college (history of science, to be more exact) and I'm really excited to explore Footnote, which I read about in a Smart Mobs post by Howard Rheingold. The site has inked a deal with the National Archives to make all 4.5 million of its documents available online, and get this--users are encouraged to upload their own documents, too, like those weird diaries from the 19th century that sometimes turn up in basements of old houses. There also appear to be some social networking functions built in. User-generated historical archives? You sure can't do that with Google Book Search.

Footnote is kind of similar to the "deep-tagging" that we have recently seen emerging on sites like Veotag and Gotuit's SceneMaker, except on Footnote, you're annotating documents instead of videos. I think it's cool, and as I said, I can't wait to spend a few hours tonight testing it out.

However, I can see academic concerns arising with Footnote similar to those that have surfaced over the past few years with Wikipedia. It's probably safe to say that just about any professor who teaches a large, entry-level class in the humanities or sciences has had to remind the students that no, Wikipedia is not an acceptable source to cite in papers or projects. Optimally, panicked students won't turn to Footnote to obtain "ideas" for their papers. It'd be a shame to see a site this cool getting intellectual abuse like that.

P.S.: Also of note to history geeks: Historic passenger lists of ships go online.