Tales from the Victorian Press
July 5, 2014 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Dial 'I' For Irony
posted by thelonius at 10:26 AM on July 5, 2014

I'll admit that re-enacting the second link is tempting.
posted by michaelh at 10:54 AM on July 5, 2014

I love this sort of thing. I don't know how Jeremy Clay finds his stories -- maybe through the tried-and-true method of just flipping through old newspapers.

But I've been amazed at the world that has opened up since people started to digitize newspapers and put them online. I am very fortunate that two of Omaha's largest papers, the World-Herald and the Bee, have large portions of their run available online in a way that is searchable. I work in the historical society here as a researcher, and it used to be that we would have to go through the World-Herald's clipping files, which start well into the 20th century and are woefully incomplete. Or we would find the date of an event and then go through the papers around that date, looking for articles. It was time consuming and you always missed things. Now, with the use of a few smart search terms, it is possible to track down a fairly comprehensive collection of stories in a few minutes.

For a while, I thought there was a bit of a downside, in that you start losing the opportunity for serendipity, where searching for something causes the discovery of something unrelated and wonderful. But I haven't found this to be the case. A targeted search term still brings up an entire page of newsprint, and I am always discovering something on those pages completely unexpected. It helps that I spend hours a day pouring through these digital files, and that, when bored, I type in random search terms just to see what comes up.

I am writing a history of early Omaha theater now, with special focus on where it interested with vice (answer: seemingly almost everywhere). This would have been enormously difficult just a few years ago. Omaha doesn't have a very good institutional memory for this sort of thing, and so it might have taken years of chasing down one lead, then another, and never finding stories because they are printed in unexpected pages of the paper, or in evening editions but not morning editions. Now it has become possible, and pleasurable.

I mean, there are risks at looking at history this way. Newspapers tend to focus on crime and violence, and so relying on them overmuch can give a skewed look at the past. But these are risks you take with any approach to history. It always shows the world in a particular way, and it helps to be aware of the sort of story you're going to wind up with, and it's value and failings. But the world of the past has cracked open thanks to these online archives, and it is amazing that, with a click of a few buttons, I can follow somebody's life over years or decades, and it might have been inaccessable to us otherwise.
posted by maxsparber at 11:12 AM on July 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

I'll admit that re-enacting the second link is tempting.
I can understand if perhaps you don't get along so well with your brother-in-law, but this is neither the time nor the place.
posted by chelant at 11:40 AM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Half of these sound like Doctor Who plots from the Tom Baker era.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:43 AM on July 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

That pamphlet seller would fit right in on the Internet these days.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:48 AM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

A bit of a tangent, but after poking around on Clay's blog, I ran across an account of somebody in Vilna reacting to losing a lawsuit by inviting the other litigant to a dinner party, then serving a stick of dynamite as the final course.

"Oh really?", I thought to myself, so I went and Googled the name of the bomber, and ran across a scan of the original newspaper article on the National Library of Australia's Trove site -- and made a nice discovery. Trove is crowdsourcing correcting typos of the OCR text, and unlike other services I've seen, you don't need to jump through a lot of hoops to do it -- one captcha is enough.
posted by metaquarry at 12:57 PM on July 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

automation killed the automaton
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 1:41 PM on July 5, 2014

A young woman, incensed at the title of the book, inflicted a sound slap on the hawker’s face; other members of the so-called tender sex joined their champion, and gave the unfortunate wretch a severe drubbing, scattering the offending pamphlets in the mud of the pavement.

yes excellent
posted by elizardbits at 1:50 PM on July 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

I am generally against violence, but that sounded warranted. Also I love the word "drubbing".
posted by Jon Mitchell at 2:25 PM on July 5, 2014

I love these little stories when they show up on the BBC's news feeds, so I'm delighted there's a whole book of them. I wish they'd give me a separate RSS feed of historical stories.
posted by immlass at 6:10 PM on July 5, 2014

Re: the Swans: and I thought it was bad enough trying to tell myself apart from all of the other Jennifer's. Thank Gawd my last name is relatively rare IRL, if not on the Internet.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:02 PM on July 5, 2014

A bit of a tangent, but after poking around on Clay's blog, I ran across an account of somebody in Vilna reacting to losing a lawsuit by inviting the other litigant to a dinner party, then serving a stick of dynamite as the final course.

"Vilna" is the modern Vilnius in Lithuania, but I confess myself surprised that the bomber's name was neither Wint nor Kidd.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 12:40 PM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I once spent a while transcribing news stories from very old editions of local newspapers for a history project my mum was working on.
They were from...ooh a few hundred years ago, maybe 1700s, when my home town was a popular coaching stop on the road from London to the east coast.

I'm still haunted by the appeal for information after a spaniel called Phyllis was seen to be lifted up into a coach by a strange man and whisked away, never to be seen again.

Poor little Phyllis. I wonder where she ended up?
posted by penguin pie at 4:16 PM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

« Older killing them with kindness   |   Walter Tull, on the new UK £5 coin Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments