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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Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Right Gentleman’s

The University of Otago in New Zealand has put up an online exhibit about The Gentleman’s Magazine, the magazine that helped to define the British upper class in the eighteenth century.

The images are slow to download, perhaps because the pixels have to come all the way around the world. Still, it’s useful to see an antipodean judgment of what’s interesting in the magazine. The “Battles” section doesn’t include the major North American battles, and the “Americas” section shows how little people knew.

A lot of the online exhibit focuses on the magazine’s pictures—which are often the best part of any magazine. The portrait of an armadilla comes with a helpful description, but other images speak for themselves, such as the conjoined twins, royal procession, and “Apparatus for conveying Heat to Bodies apparently dead”.

But some material is far too truncated. For example, there’s the introduction to a letter from a father to his fourteen-year-old daughter, but only a little of the letter itself. Fortunately, Google Books also has a lot, if not all, of The Gentlemen’s Magazine in its database, so we can read the rest there. The letter turns out to be all about grammar and commonly confused words (prebendary/prebend). Quite disappointing, really.

Another example is this “Plan of an American Country Town”, showing a carefully symmetric grid. When did that appear? Who created that plan? Was any town actually laid out along those lines? More context shows the answers are: 1770, it’s impossible to say, and almost definitely not.

The university’s exhibit is subtitled “the 18th Century Answer to Google,” but frankly Google is still the answer.

(Thanks to Jeremy Dibbell at PhiloBiblos for the pointer.)

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