Friday, March 16, 2007


Between work, a midterm, a term paper, and activity with a volunteer group, I’ve had precious little time for writing prose or poetry, beyond a handful of haiku. I’ve been reading Peter Barnes’ latest book during stolen moments on my train ride. Yesterday, I was suddenly struck by the words of Emerson (from his essay on history) vis-à-vis this notion of common wealth:

I am owner of the sphere,
Of the seven stars and the solar year,
Of Caesar's hand, and Plato's brain,
Of Lord Christ's heart, and Shakespeare's strain.

This was one of those quiet epiphanies that, for me, braided a pile of semi-disparate pursuits into a single simple strand. I’ve been skimming some of the literature on natural resource economics as a potential source of guidance on assessing the value of archival information. The parallel I’m trying to understand is that of the net present value of ecosystem services versus the NPV of an archives. Both resources have indeterminate valuable lifespans and contain some elements with a clear “practical” value and other elements that are “useless”.
What I hadn’t fully considered until reading Barnes was that these two value streams, nature and culture, are more deeply linked as “common wealth”. Just as rivers, oceans, and the atmosphere are not owned by any individual, company, or consortium, neither are the tools of government and history. These commodities, on some level, belong to the public.
Now all I have to do is solve a value equation full of so many zeros and undefined variables.

1 comment:

jez said...

"Now all I have to do is solve a value equation full of so many zeros and undefined variables."

Love this. Very profound.