Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Tourist's Guide to the Foreign Country Called the Past

Part of the way my perspective on history has been shaped by my background in English literature is that I've developed a real love for primary sources. My anti-authoritarian streak also compels me to go straight to the sources instead of relying on the judgements of historians more professional than I. The internet is actually a wealth of primary-source historical information, all digitised for easy access. (It's like a giant library that just appears at your house! How cool is that?)

Here, presented for your at-home history study pleasure, is a small annotated linkography of primary-source information on the web.

  1. The Internet Archive, which is probably the biggest single collection of primary-source information. (It's not just the "Wayback Machine.") Particularly noteworthy and useful in my estimation are:

        The Prelinger Archives, a collection of digitised films that spans roughly the period between 1920 and 1960, and features a lot of ephemera, such as commercials and public-service films

       The 78 RPM Collection, a library of over 2000 digitised 78 RPM disc and cylinder recordings (I spotted both recordings from both wax and celluloid cylinders). Highlights include some classic Delta blues sides dating from between 1920 and 1940, and a recording of the last living (and only recorded) castrato singer, Alessandro Moreschi.

       The Conet Project, a compilation of recordings of numbers stations.

  2. The World War I Primary Document Archive (thanks to J. Plotke for making me aware of its existence). This resource contains HTML-transcribed versions of documents from the First World War.

  3. The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record recreated online. These are photographs from pre-Revolution Russia, most of them dating to around 1900, that were produced using a unique glass plate negative process that allowed colour images.

  4. The Yad Vashem Museum (you can access their central database of names from the main page) and the Nizkor Project, two of the best Holocaust research sites online.

  5. The Mudcat Cafe, an online collection of information about, lyrics, and music for folk, traditional, and blues, with an emphasis on North American music forms.

  6. Early Recorded Sounds and Wax Cylinders, an archive of early recordings, usually in cylinder format.

  7. The World's Earliest Television Recordings -- Don McLean's site on early British 30-line analogue television disc recordings made in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The site includes Real format video for viewing.

Of course, there are lots more historical resources out there, but being someone who specialises in ephemera and media in a small way, I enjoy these ones the best.


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