Monday, November 23, 2009

Books in the Digital Realm: Blog Assignment

Our latest Digital History blog assignment involves searching the Eaton's Fall and Winter catalogue from 1913-1914, picking a selection of book titles, and searching the Internet for complete, digitized versions of these old books. Kinda fun! I definitely got a hoot out of some of these old titles, notably the Encyclopedia of Etiquette and What A Young Wife Ought To Know.

I had the most success tracking down complete digital copies of children or juvenile literature. For example, author Martha Finley wrote a series of books about the adventures of a character named Elsie, and they can be easily found (for example, Mildred and Elsie or Elsie`s Girlhood). A similar series of Henty Books by Henry Fitzroy is available, featuring titles like The Young Midshipman.

As far as adult literature is concerned, I was not able to find all of the titles under the heading High Class Recent Fiction, although I did find Sewell Ford`s Torchy. Setting out on this assignment, I expect to find fiction fairly easily, although it is still striking how many of these very old books are readily available online (whether in full version or with substantial previews).

Non-fiction works are harder to track down online. I found The White House Cook Book by F.L. Gillette and Hugo Ziemann (to my horror, a quick glance at the book revealed a recipe for squirrel soup!) I also found Manners and Rules of Good Society, amusing attributed to "a Member of the Aristocracy." As far as the Eaton Catalogue`s large collections go (for example, the Collected Works of Dickens or Scott), those books can easily be found in full versions online, since they remain extremely popular and out of the copyright zone: Great Expectations is right at our fingertips.

There were a variety of titles that were not easy to track down, or only offered partial previews online as opposed to the entire text. The engineering books (for example, Locomotive Engineer`s Guide) are not available online. Books with such a scientific nature become out-dated so quickly that I assume individuals see little point in having them digitized, since anyone wanting to learn about how locomotives function would look for a recent book, not a work from the early twentieth-century. However, these books still have value for the historian who wants to learn about the history of manufacturing, and perhaps eventually they will be incorporated into the Internet library.

Some of the books that were untrackable are fairly obvious, such as children`s painting books or old Presbyterian hymnals. The painting books would be scribbled and used, while the old hymnals are merely different representations of the same hymns (which I am certain are available online, even if a particular hymnal is not).

I suppose the aspect of this project that surprised me the most was the sheer volume of books that are becoming part of the vast Internet archive. Fiction was much easier to locate than non-fiction. Another surprising aspect of my search was the fact that many books not available in full still provide previews or snippets of the text, and links to where they can be purchased or found in libraries.

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