This one goes to 0

by Eric on February 2, 2015

For my new book, I spent long hours trawling through the many, many reels of the microfilmed diaries of Henry Morgenthau, Jr. We didn’t have them at my university, so I had to order a few at a time from Interlibrary Loan, wait, and then seize upon them and go through them before they were due back at their home institution. Working through them at that speed, and on the microfilm reader whose lens & screen combination wasn’t quite right to show a full page, invariably gave me motion sickness.

Then they showed up, digitized, free to download. The joke was on me.

Except, for some reason, the digitized edition seems to begin with Book 1. Which you would think was okay – except the first book is actually Book 00. And that’s the book that covers the beginning of the Roosevelt administration, which was a critical period during which decisions were made about monetary policy that lasted for the duration of Roosevelt’s terms in office.

A peril, perhaps, of the digital archives.



Jason Weidner 02.02.15 at 6:21 pm

Eric, could you tell us a little more about the book and your research project? Sounds interesting.


Eric 02.02.15 at 6:42 pm

Yes, but … maybe in another post?

Briefly: a history of the Roosevelt administration’s use of monetary policy from 1933-1945, looking specifically at the ways in which Roosevelt adapted and implemented Keynesian monetary ideas. For both of them the dollar was a tool for recovery, for uniting the nations against fascism, and for planning a prosperous peace.

As I say, more would have to wait for a proper post, I think.


bob 02.02.15 at 6:47 pm

I just emailed the Archives of the Roosevelt Library to ask when they expect to add the digitized volumes “00” and “0” to the Franklin web site (perhaps you did as well). If I get a response I will post here to let people know.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 02.02.15 at 6:57 pm

As I understand it from noted economist* Amity Shlaes, it was all a big failure.

* joking


Eric 02.02.15 at 7:15 pm

Are you tryna angry up my blood?


Rich Puchalsky 02.02.15 at 7:15 pm

Between 1999-2002 I took pictures of 1000 murals in Los Angeles and put them up in an archive. But recently I used Google Street Maps and realized that all of this early, by-hand digitization is probably useless: people are going to do it mechanically and all-encompassingly — within a decade, there will probably be some kind of Google Street Maps search engine that will let you pull out pictures of all of the murals that there are. The existing Street Maps digitization doesn’t cover the back alleys and so on, but I expect self-guided drones or something like that to digitize those too within a couple of decades.


Eric 02.02.15 at 7:16 pm

bob, that was of course the responsible and proper thing to do. Please do say if you hear back.


andrew 02.02.15 at 10:02 pm

As an archivist, sometimes a “digital” one, I encourage people to contact the relevant institution when they see anomalies like these. This was probably just an oversight and the sooner it’s brought to their attention the better. Also, it shows people want to use the collection.


maidhc 02.03.15 at 12:53 am

Rich Puchalsky: Your photos of murals are a lot better than what you see on Google Street View though. Street View can be useful for locating things, but a well-composed photo tells you a lot more about the subject.


Rich Puchalsky 02.03.15 at 1:24 am

I’m glad that you thought they were better, maidhc. But I think that Google Street View is itself going to get better, and at some point will digitize all outside art as a byproduct of digitizing everything outside. At that point, people will be able to take well-composed “pictures” of images from Google Street View (something which has started happening already) if additional composition is wanted.

I can hardly complain about this from a preservationist standpoint, but it’s the first time that contemporary surveillance / digitization technologies have really affected what kinds of projects I think are worthwhile. Taking pictures of all of those murals involved a whole lot of driving-and-walking around the city, interacting with people, and now its possible to do it all remotely. All media develop skills even if you dislike them — the microfilm reader that gives you a headache also takes a certain kind of knowledge to use quickly — and this is an era rich with Dead Media moments.

For that reason I think that there is generally a secret happiness in these bad digitization stories. The Little Professor has written lots of them — the excitement as some obscure 19th century journal vital to one’s research is digitized by Google, the disappointment as the metadata are found to be missing or random pages in it turn out to be unreadable. As with this post, I think, “the joke’s on you” for toiling through in the older way, but the punchline is always that some defect means that the joke isn’t on you after all.


Barry Freed 02.03.15 at 7:14 am

Rich, you might be interested in this:

BTW, NYPL labs has been doing incredible work in the digital humanities.


Trivial 02.04.15 at 6:28 am

My students may research in, and cite sources from, select digital archives only after instructor approval. Posts such as the one above facilitate assessments of these digital archives. Thank you.

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