Face it…every now and then you’re going to want to know about something that happened a long time ago.
Not the big events. Anyone can Google the Gettysburg Address, and come up with a ton or two of historical information
But what about the wee details? That small town where your dad was born…what was it like back in the 1920’s? What were schoolkids reading 100 years ago? When did the word ‘popsicle’ first make an appearance? What did his contemporaries think about Tom Paine
The internet is a mixed bag when it comes to researching historical questions like these. After, say, 1994, you can find just about everything online. But anything earlier than that, and you’re more or less at the whims of the digitizers — those who have made the effort (Herculean, in many cases) of unearthing pre-internet materials, getting them into an electronic format, and making them available.
A surprising amount of historical information has been digitized in this way, and makes for a rich resource for anyone delving into questions like the ones above. But the bulk of it won’t show up in a routine Google search. You really need to dig. You need to head right to the sources themselves.
In the next few posts, I hope to offer some of the best places to turn to for historical research on the internet, starting with
Making of America (and associated archives)
I call this the Making of America site, but its formal name is the University of Michigan Digital Library Text Collections (sort of rolls off the tongue, eh). There’s all sorts of history here, from dentistry to poetry to 19th century American magazines, to the archives of (really!) American Jewess magazine.
It’s a huge gimish of collections, badly organized, and hard to wade through. It’s even hard to give you a link for it all! If you want to search all the collections at once, it doesn’t (at first) seem possible. It took me months to realize they have an all-collections search function buried deep within their site, at a URL so inconceivably-clumsy that if I try to paste it here, it @#%^&$*!’s up the whole works.
Searching itself is idiosyncratic, and the results are rather unfriendly in that you don’t get little snippets that give you an idea, in advance, of how on-target or off-target a particular search result may be
With all these negatives, why even bother with Making of America? Because it’s a great and unique and deep collection of materials that you won’t find anywhere else.
Where else could you possibly find a 19th century travel guide to New Orleans:
Jewell’s Crescent city, illustrated.
The commercial, social, political and general history of New Orleans, including biographical sketches of its distinguished citizens, together with a map and general strangers’ guide.
Jewell, Edwin Lewis
New Orleans, 1873.
MOA provides access to original documents in both text-only and full image format.
bottomline — clumsy, infuriating, slow and awkward, but free of charge, and a rich, rich resource for (mostly) US history
And before I forget…welcome to web-owls everyone!
Pafalafaga, a how-to-search sort of a guy.