Small Town Noir, and Four Other Astonishing Digital History Sites We Loved in 2013

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Dec. 27 2013 12:30 PM

Small Town Noir, and Four Other Astonishing Digital History Sites We Loved in 2013

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

Here are five of the most compulsively browse-able digital history sites I encountered this year. I’ll share five more on Monday.

KindredBritainFinal
Kindred Britain, created by Nicholas Jenkins, Elijah Meeks, and Scott Murray, and published by the Stanford University Libraries.

 The Kindred Britain project takes records of 30,000 notable people of British descent, living across 1,500 years of history, and lets you visualize how they’re related—by blood, by shared historical time, or by geography. You can search pairs you think of yourself, or explore some suggested connections (George Washington and George III; Charles I and Oliver Cromwell). This is the kind of historical project that could only be executed digitally, and it’s gorgeous.

OldMapsOnlineFinal
Old Maps Online, a collaboration between the Great Britain Historical GIS Project at the University of Portsmouth, UK and Klokan Technologies GmbH, Switzerland.
Advertisement

Old Maps Online indexes collections of historical maps from several institutions, and lets you search them by place. A search for “Philadelphia” reveals, in the right-hand rail, thumbnails of maps spanning 250 years and taking a variety of approaches to geographical data: city plans, railroads, a pictorial map of the grounds of the 1876 International Exposition. Clicking on a map will bring you to its page on its original archival site, where you can zoom in and see more detail.

SmallTownNoirFinal
Small Town Noir, by Diarmid Mogg.

Small Town Noir is built on a trove of discarded midcentury mugshots from New Castle, Penn. What differentiates this archive from the many other Tumblrs that catalog ephemeral historical photographs is the research that author Diarmid Mogg has put into each mug shot, tapping articles from the town’s local newspaper, the New Castle News. The entries tell tiny human histories, against the backdrop of an industrial town where industry was on the way out. Two entries, selected almost at random, show how rich those histories can be: Sidney Fell, arrested for sodomy in 1960; John Saul, nabbed for disorderly conduct in 1957.

DPLAfinal
Digital Public Library of America.

The Digital Public Library of America, which launched this year, is a platform that taps records from local and state-level digital repositories, allowing you to search many different databases at once. You can find items within the five and a half million records that make up the DPLA using simple keywords (here are more than 9,000 items related to Christmas); geographical search (here’s a search for items related to Philadelphia); or time period search (here’s the timeline of all DPLA items). DPLA searches often lead me to smaller digital archives I never knew existed, making the platform the ultimate historian’s rabbit-hole.

WunderkammerFinal
Hagströmerbiblioteket Wunderkammer, Hagströmer Medico-Historical Library.

The digital Wunderkammer (literally, “wonder cabinet,” or cabinet of curiosities) put together by the Hagströmer Medico-Historical Library in Stockholm allows you to search its archives of medical art by scientific area, year of publication, artistic technique, and the emotion that the image is likely to provoke. That last set of tags is the most fascinating. Depending on your tastes and purposes, you could look for images that are  “scary,” “strange,” “fascinating,” “instructive,” or six other kinds of feeling. This is a great way to approach this sort of sensitive historical material, which can sometimes turn stomachs if encountered without warning.

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 3:53 PM Smash and Grab Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 20 2014 3:40 PM Keeping It in the Family Why are so many of the world’s oldest companies in Japan?
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 5:03 PM Marcel the Shell Is Back and as Endearing as Ever
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.