The 20th century historian

Like many so called 'communicators' of my age I have yet to feel a friend of the internet. At EsoDoc <> we teach New Media, or Trans Media as it is more usually called, and our young documentary film makers finance their films by 'crowd-funding' (Kickstart and Indigogo), transfer them on-line, publicise them via FaceBook, Vimeo and U Tube, and enlist Twitter to put the word around. It seems to work and sometimes leads to a paid commission from a broadcaster. I confess I find this difficult. Yet as a part-time historian I am amazed how easy research has become on-line. The Sussex Academic Press has commissioned a revised edition of my book The Last English Revolutionary because so much more information has become available about it's subject, the revolutionary Tom Wintringham.  Enter now the Grimsby librarian Phyll Smith. He is such an authority on Wintringham that no-one, including me, could write difficult enough questions should he enter for the BBC Mastermind. Through the internet we have accessed at the National Archive Wintringham's World War One military record (simple of course), Cabinet Papers and MI5 reports referring to his time as a near founder member of the Communist Party, later the divorce proceedings where he was mentioned as the third party. Its not that the records are on-line but the means of finding the right files are. Using the internet we have found at the British Library correspondence between Wintringham and George Orwell as well, of course, as every book where he is mentioned in the index. There are scores of these as Tom Wintringham's impact on public life in the 30s and 40s was like a stone dropped into a pond which sends ripples in all directions. The Liddell Hart Library at King's College London has the complete catalogue of the Wintringham archive on-line. The University of Sydney in Australia, the University of Middlesex  and, of course, the Imperial War Museum  yield sound tapes as well as written material, all identified on-line. Amazon or Bookfinder, accessed on-line, deliver long forgotten books within days or ordering.

This easily accessed abundance of knowledge about a life is scary, and it causes difficulties. It's now not a question of what to put in, but what to leave out. As we say in the film world 'more means worse'. How many pages is a biography worth for the general reader? These days he/she can forsake a book for the internet and surf, addictively,  over mixed media packages. For the writer, the lap-top is a threat as well as a friend.