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

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

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Learns That Breaking Up a Country Is Hard to Do

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 12:09 PM How Accelerators Have Changed Startup Funding
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Never Remember Anything
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Movies
Sept. 19 2014 2:06 PM The Guest and Fort Bliss How do we tell the stories of soldiers returning home from war?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.