"The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there."
So begins an article by Paul Ford that appeared in the Feb 2014 issue of Wired magazine. The quote is from L.P. Hartley who wrote it in 1953. The article itself is called "The End of Then" and subtitled "Past? Present? Online, It All Runs Together" and it has got me wondering about the past and the present and maybe the future. As is often the case, I think about these things through a local Bethlehem history lens.
Ford points out that in our digital era "the past is now present and all around us." If you doubt that, take yourself over to Archive.org or Google books and take a look around.
One local history reference is Howell & Tenney's History of Albany County. Deep in the boxes of the town's archive is a fragile looking edition of this essential local history book. But, low and behold, it is available digitally on both of the above sites. On line looking for Bethlehem Civil War veterans I found a digital copy of The
Heroes of Albany* which I can easily search for Bethlehem names. Census records? Browse them on line. High school year books? Browse Bethlehem Centrals from 1929 to 1986 at the Bethlehem Public Library's website. Check out the Albany group at Flickr for lots and lots of old Albany photos with quite a few Bethlehem ones mixed in.
You can drown in all the history floating around the internet. As Ford notes "suddenly we find ourselves living in an online realm where the old is just as easy to consume as the new."
In the interest of not drowning in digital history, I suggest dipping your toes in actual physical history.
Engage all of your senses. How can you touch, smell, hear, see and taste history?
In the ultimate irony - I had a hard time finding a digital copy of the entire article even at wired.com. So, here's a jpeg copy.
*In that foreign country of 1866 Albany, they really knew how to write a book title: The
Heroes of Albany. A memorial of the patriot-martyrs of the city and county of
Albany, who sacrificed their lives during the late war in defense of our nation
1861-1865, with a view of what was done in the county to sustain the United
States government; and also brief histories o the Albany regiments.