Google Books and Ruined Cities

2009 October 3
by David Platt

An extremely brief note to draw people’s attention to the some new (or old) material relevant to Where London Stood.

Les ruines de Paris en 4875, documents officiels et inédits  By Alfred Franklin

Les ruines de Paris en 4875, documents officiels et inédits, By Alfred Franklin (1875) and hosted by Google Books.

On the blog for Joel Segal Books, Ray Girvan has posted some invaluable links from Google Books for anyone interested in representations of the “ruins of London.” All are out-of-copyright materials from nineteenth century books and serials that Google have scanned and put online.

I’ve been in touch with Ray for several years now about WLS and this is not the first time that he’s drawn my attention to images or representations of contemporary cities as ruins — a quick trawl through the wiki will show numerous mentions of his name. However, I think that he’s really struck gold this time, for two reasons:

  1. Ray highlights the ubiquity of “The Zealander” in Victorian writing. I’d seen the occasional comment to this effect but I don’t think that I had had any real sense of how common an image the Zealander was, until I saw the number of times that he (or his near relations) appear as hits in the Google Books search.
  2. Ray’s also made me see Google Books in a completely new light. As Ray points out, finding the more obscure mentions of ruins of London in a traditional library search would have been a heroic undertaking. One would have relied upon subject and title searches in library catalogues, the painstaking bibliographic work of previous scholars, and sheer luck. All of these, of course, will continue to play a part in research — especially as (as Ray points out here and in another post) Google’s work is not without its problems. However, the thorough indexing of the contents of these books by Google has opened up yet another way of rounding up evidence.

I’ll be putting at least some of the material that Ray’s post draws together on the wiki in the next few weeks but both the original post and the rest of the blog are well worth your time.

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