Category Archives: History

Google (Re)Discovers the 19th Century

An article over at the Chronicle of Higher Education looks at an interesting effect of Google's book digitization program:

Google Books is a kind of Victorian portal that takes me into a mare magnum of out-of-print authors, many of whom helped launch disciplines. Or who wrote essays, novels, and histories that did not transcend their time. Or who anonymously produced the paperwork of emerging bureaucracies, organizations, and businesses that, because printed, has been scanned and, because scanned, is now available.

I am not a scholar of the 19th century but have found its digitization to be one of the most fascinating new resource for understanding the centuries that precede it.

It is not by chance that the 19th century gave birth to projects such as the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED is the tip of an iceberg of genteel scholars, male and female, who had the time and resources to dig through vast mounds of material and make something of it. Those researchers lived in closer chronological proximity to their subjects than we do; they often worked amid the dimly lit bookshelves and attics of private homes. As a result, their experience of a historical subject captures a sense of intimacy that might otherwise be lost.


Historical Marker Database

I use Google Reader to follow the Google alerts I've set up for various topics and a few of those topics are things like "Lewisville + North Carolina", "Foryth County + North Carolina", "Winston-Salem + North Carolina", etc. Over the weekend I noticed a lot of headlines like West Salem Historic District Marker showing up and decided I needed to take a look. That's when I found what promises to be a huge timesuck, the Historical Markers Database, an online database of historical markers from around the country that provides a separate page for each marker that contains the GPS location, inscription, a list of other nearby markers and a map. Way cool.

Will I Ever Outgrow the Wonder?

I've been an enthusiastic online traveler for about 15 years, maybe a little longer, and I've always wondered when the wonder of it would wear off.  As long as I keep stumbling across things like this blog post about triangular letters used by Soviet soldiers to send news back home from the front in World War II I doubt it ever will. An excerpt:

Folding had one more advantage: that the content of the letter was easy to check. Therefore, it was forbidden to seal them in any way. The censors working at the front did not primarily search for letters reviling the system – according to the analysis of the surviving front letters, almost none of them includes any political reference or Stalin’s name –, but whether they include any indication from which military movements and plans could be deduced. These were erased with black ink, but the mail was still transmitted.