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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Friday, January 24, 2014

From Paper to Pixels

John Fea’s blog alerted me to an excerpt from Nicholas A. Basbanes’s On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History describing a visit to the Massachusetts Historical Society and a look at the documents it preserves. Among the paper treasures that Basbanes highlights are the Adams Family Papers, which the society is gradually digitizing and putting on the web.

Speaking of digitization, the Massachusetts State Library now offers P.D.F. files of Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolution, seventeen volumes that transcribed all the state’s surviving records about men serving in the Revolutionary War. A lot of those records come from scraps that happen to have been preserved—a pay record for one month, a clothing allowance for another, and so on. You often have to seek the same man under different spellings, and men with similar names can be combined into one entry. But I think it’s the most comprehensive record of individual service in that war from any state. The text is already available for subscribers at Ancestry.com; now you can download your own digital set.

And in Worcester, the American Antiquarian Society has honored its founder Isaiah Thomas by offering a digital look at the typeface catalogue he received from the London manufacturer Thomas Cottrell (d. 1785) in 1774. Graphic design histories credit Cottrell with popularizing oversized display type in the British Empire.

Ironically, all those links are about written and printed records, and yet we can now read all the information without a scrap of paper.

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