Friday, January 13, 2012

Google eBookstore

I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of Google’s eBookstore. If you move past the first page of bestsellers and serial fiction, you’ll find a ton of digitized magazines from the past. My friend Meg Onli is doing a project based on Black World / Negro Digest magazine, but if you go back a hundred years earlier you’ll find a wealth of ladies’ journals from the 1800s. My favorite are Godey’s Lady’s BookAmerican Cookery: The Boston Cooking School Magazine (of Fannie Farmer fame), and my favorite, The Delineator.
    The Delineator is the magazine produced by the Butterick company from 1873 to 1937. If the name Butterick sounds familiar, it might be because they’ve been making sewing patterns since the mid-1800s. You can still buy them today. In fact, The Delineator’s main purpose was to introduce current fashions and then show you how you might reproduce the same at home with the aid of a hand dandy Butterick pattern. If you ask me, the clothes look so complicated I couldn’t imagine getting dressed by myself. Making those clothes seems impossible! The ongoing discussion of fasteners and safety pins is fascinating, and there is always a section on at-home millinery in case you want to make your own hats.
    The other thing that’s so interesting about The Delineator is that it is also the acorn from which spring the tree of the Culinary Arts Institute. Every issue of The Delineator contained recipes as well as general tips on cooking and housekeeping. The articles are fun as well.
    One of the great things about Google ebooks is that they are full scans of the magazines. This means you get all the amazing ads as well. It’s through this ephemera that I can see into the past. History books never meant much to me, but to be able to read what women of the time were reading, is fascinating. Today I saw a young women reading a crappy entertainment magazine about the Oscars and wondered if Google were to digitize that, what would readers a hundred years from now think.
    Although it’s great fun to read these magazines, don’t look for them to be easy academic research. The metadata is sucky, magazines are called by different titles depending on what source digitized them. Most of the ones I have run across are scanned in volumes, which on the surface seems easy, but really makes it hard to find things again, especially because the pagination of the journal does not match the pagination of the scan.

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