J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, December 20, 2020

Digital Databases to Stay Home For

Here are four digital resources that caught my attention over the past few months.

The British Library has digitized George III’s Topographical Library and put the scans on Flickr, each linked back to its own catalogue for full information. There are 17,908 images in this album, many appearing to come from Germany. As I clicked through, I saw maps, landscape prints, pages from books, gravestone rubbings, printed maps, elevations of fortifications and other buildings, garden plans, bird’s-eye views of towns, architectural drawings, harbor charts, elevation of canals, hand-drawn maps, maps, and maps. Finding specific items may mean starting from the British Library catalogue and then running a search for a title on Flickr.

The American Philosophical Society transcribed three ledgers from Benjamin and Deborah Franklin’s Philadelphia print shop in Philadelphia in the 1730s and ’40s. Alongside images of those financial records, researchers can now find the data in spreadsheets totaling over 15,000 rows, ready to download and study. The transcribers also handled the task of linking people entered into the books with different spellings of their names. These transcriptions expand an earlier project on Franklin’s post office records. Learn more here.

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson at Princeton University and the Center for Digital Editing at the University of Virginia announced the publication of the Jefferson Weather & Climate Records. For nearly fifty years, starting when he was in the exotic city of Philadelphia at the Continental Congress, Jefferson recorded observations about the weather. These included temperature and general conditions, sometimes barometric pressure, moisture, wind direction and force, and precipitation. Occasionally he mentioned the appearance of particular birds or the first harvest of peas. Visitors to the website can view images of Jefferson’s meteorological manuscripts, drawn from the collections of five different repositories, alongside the transcriptions.

Finally, if you’re frustrated that the Leventhal Center’s handsome Atlascope site overlaying maps of Boston goes back only to 1868, check out Bill Warner’s Mapjunction. Its images go back to 1769, plus more recent renderings of the town as far back at 1630. Of course, some of those have to be stretched a bit as cartography has become more exact. Atlascope works like Superman’s X-ray vision while MapJunction has a nifty slider interface.

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