No, I’m not talking about the guy who thinks the Rapture’s going to happen on May 21st (Matthew Paul Turner has written the best response to that particular situation, although the 21st isn’t looking good for Mississippi for other reasons), nor am I talking about the latest Superman storyline ‘Reign of the Doomsdays’ (Paul Cornell is one of my favourite writers but I can’t help thinking that Doomsday should have stayed a one-off villain back in 1992). My spelling isn’t that bad.
William the Conqueror did his conquering in 1066; twenty years later he ordered the compilation of the Domesday Book (so called because, like God’s book of the damned and the saved on the Day of Judgement, the contents of the Domesday Book would be unalterable). This was a survey of England and Wales, effectively a census to ascertain how much money William could make through taxes.
Skip forward 900 years and the BBC decided to commemorate Domesday’s anniversary by developing their own version. This consisted of maps, videos, photographs and information submitted by the public, and was stored on, gasp, laserdisc.
That lead to a bit of a problem, because one of the ironies of the Information Age is that is probably now easier to look at the data from the 900 year old Domesday Book than its eighties equivalent. A few versions were converted to more up-to-date formats, but… Would Domesday fall prey to the Digital Dark Age?
I’ve got personal memories of the eighties version. I was on a day trip somewhere, certainly a seaside town but don’t ask me which one, and I poked my head into a camper van hosting a demonstration of The project. It was fascinating watching pictures of Dudley and Gornal appear on the screen, so much so that I ran out and dragged my mom in. I guess it’s the same fascination I get with Google Earth and the Street View – familiar places look a little different when the unexpectedly appear on a computer screen.
Anyway, I was 9 then and I’m 34 now and the BBC has grasped the nettle; Domesday Reloaded has been launched online (there’s a nice article on the development of the project here). The idea is that, by going online, the modern Domesday will survive for at least as long as we’re internetting, and for an information junkie like me, that’s kinda cool – I’ll be contributing when I get the chance.