Searchable database of AIDS-related obituaries

Screen shot 2009-12-02 at 10.34.17 PMI think this is really powerful: the GLBT History Society and the Bay Area Reporter‘s searchable database of all obituaries that have appeared in the Bay Area Reporter (a newspaper that serves the GLBT communtiy) since 1979. I realized this summer that my students, around 19 or 20 years old, talk about AIDS as though it’s something abstract. Can you imagine? I’m very glad they have that luxury, but it also reminds me of how easy it is to forget.

As film studies goes digital

Cans o Film, by Atomic Jeep
"Cans o Film," by Atomic Jeep

I don’t think it’s any secret (among those who care about such things) that the Film Studies program at Yale is at something of a crossroads. Film studies as a discipline has been increasingly turning into media studies, and Yale’s program, like a lot of programs, is having to decide how much it wants to participate in that shift. It’s been fascinating to be in the middle of this. There are strong opinions on both sides of the debate, but what I’ve really enjoyed is the fact that it hasn’t gotten personal, at least as far as I can tell; it’s a genuine intellectual debate about where film studies should go.

Where do I stand? Well, I’ll say this: film studies has given me a lot. Sometimes I’ll emerge from a discussion of Hitchcock or Truffaut marveling that I’ll never think about those filmmakers the same way again. And then I’ll go home and sit slack-jawed in front of my computer for hours on end, like I do every day. When I remember to come up for air, it’ll occur to me what a shame it is that we can’t turn that arsenal of analysis toward the technologies that define a large portion of my life.

I had to fill out an application recently that asked for a 600-word essay on how new technology has affected my discipline. Once I started writing, I was surprised by how much I had to say. So here’s what I wrote about film studies.

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The National Library of Medicine launches new image database

The National Library of Medicine has just launched a revamped Images from the History of Medicine online catalog, and it’s kind of blowing my mind. There’s a lot there, and a totally redesigned interface.

In theory (and mostly in practice), you can add images to a workspace and then create slideshows and “media groups.” You can then embed these creations in a blog or website, like so:

So that is very cool. My only thing is, the site is awfully slow, what with all the bells and whistles and JavaScript, and the interface could be slightly more intuitive. It’s a bit confusing to get from workspace to presentation or media group.

But, clearly, a lot of thought went into this site and it’s a really fantastic resource. They’ve even done research into the images’ copyright status, and you can download high-resolution versions of these images. I think it’s great that the NLM is treating their images as resources to be shared.

The World Digital Library shows off artifacts from around the world

UNESCO’s World Digital Library launches today. It’s a site where you can view artifacts from every UNESCO member country, or, in the words of the WDL, it “makes available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world.”

Screenshot of the World Digital Library homepage
Screenshot of the World Digital Library homepage

Right now, there’s a bit of a mismatch between the lofty mission statement and the actual site — there are only 1,170 artifacts as of now. But it’s growing, so it will be interesting to watch the site develop.

The layout is cool. It’s actually a pretty simple idea to lay artifacts out on a map of the globe, but it changes my experience of the artifacts. It makes me think about the objects each country chooses as repositories of its history, and about what values and expectations went into making these decisions. Plus, it’s so easy to use that everyone from elementary school students to grownups could benefit from it.

The deal with the Google Book Search settlement

google_logoGoogle Book Search has been in the news lately for a settlement it made with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over Google’s plan to scan books. You may have heard that  people are pretty worked up about the settlement.

It matters for academics because the settlement will in large part dictate the terms under which many books are available online.

If you’re confused about the settlement, you’re not alone. I’ve been wading through blog posts and news items trying to get my head around what’s in the agreement. Here’s my best effort at a description of what’s going on, for us non-insiders. I can’t promise all the details are 100% accurate, and please correct me if I’m mistaken, but this is my understanding.

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Resources for the sporting male

At the Providence Public Library a few days ago, I ran across a copy of The Flash Press: Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York. The book gives excerpts and essays from a cache of recently rediscovered newspapers for the “sporting male.”

Seeing the book reminded me of one of my favorite online resources, the digitized version of The National Police Gazette. Yale has the entire run (1845–1906) of this newspaper, keyword-searchable through ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Illustration from the National Police Gazette, October 5, 1901
Illustration from the National Police Gazette, October 5, 1901

The Police Gazette is really not a police gazette; it more often covers burlesque shows, boxing, violent crime, and other bawdiness. One particular specialty is engravings and photographs of burlesque performers.

I always find bawdy humor from bygone ages really entertaining. Plus, I actually did find the Police Gazette useful for a genuine academic purpose, a paper about boxing.

If your library doesn’t subscribe to the digital version of the National Police Gazette (outrageous!), you can still get a taste of it in a fun book, The Police Gazette, edited by Gene Smith and Jayne Barry Smith. Introduction by Tom Wolfe! And if your library doesn’t have that, well, what kind of library is it, anyway?

Blogging the Beinecke

Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities is a blog featuring amazing finds from Yale’s phenomenal Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. I like the lesbian pulp novels, the Revolutionary War-era lottery tickets, and the WPA textbooks from the 1940s. The blog is maintained by Tim Young (curator of the Modern Books and Manuscripts collection) and Nancy Kuhl (curator of poetry for the Yale Collection of American Literature).

Riding a moon bat to Saturn (obviously), from Voyage dans la Lune, a 1900 book about lunar travel in the Beineckes collection.
Riding a moon bat to Saturn (obviously), from Voyage dans la Lune, a 1900 book about lunar travel in the Beinecke's collection.

I think a blog is a great way of showcasing a collection, since it portions out awesome finds in manageable chunks. I often feel overwhelmed by the number of digital collections out there, and a blog helps me to process things at a reasonable pace.

Also awesome: the Beinecke produces podcasts about its events and exhibitions. To be honest, I’m not likely to listen to a podcast of an event (although maybe others are?), because an event is an event — designed for the people who are there in person, and not necessarily suited for recording. I’d really like to see them spotlight individual items in the collection, the way they do in the blog, and explore them from a bunch of different angles.

Wax cylinder recordings

Photograph by Scott Dierdorf.
Photograph by Scott Dierdorf.

(Via MetaFilter.) Syracuse University has started digitizing its Belfer collection of cylinder recordings. So far it has 293 online, but they’re hoping to get 6,000 recordings digitized by the end of the year. You can search the recordings by keyword or browse them by subject (e.g., “Elks (Fraternal Order)” and “Foot’s resolution, 1829”), and you can download the recordings as MP3s or WAV files.

My favorite, hands down, is the 1910 anti-daylight savings song “We Don’t Want More Daylight.” My one tiny criticism is that I wish there was a straightforward list of all the recordings.

Also see U.C. Santa Barbara’s Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project. (To their great credit, the two institutions are comparing notes to ensure they don’t duplicate their online offerings.)