Time passages

Tuesday, August 01, 2006 at 8:49 AM

I'm brand new at Google, so I've been digging around on our site, exploring everything I can click on. Yesterday, I was talking with a few colleagues about the parallel universe hidden inside Google Book Search. Okay, okay -- so it's not really a parallel universe. But it struck me that by making so many older books discoverable online, we're building a sort of lens to the past.

In this 1841 book, for instance, you can see how the author, Roswell Park, envisioned organizing all human knowledge, through a system classifying "all of its branches, and illustrating their history, relations, uses and objects." (Interestingly, Park gives an estimate of the number of books in the world by 1816: two million total, with the number printed per year in America estimated at only 500.)

Skipping ahead to 1915, you can find a book about how to write for the movies -- back when the movie industry was so new, the word "movie" still merited quotation marks. The advice -- penned by none other than Louella Parsons, who was on her way toward becoming one of the first influential Hollywood gossip columnists -- is remarkably fresh:
Nearly everyone who goes to the picture shows night after night has some plot stored in his mind that he thinks would make a good photoplay, if he only knew how to properly construct the story! Ah, there's the rub! If only he knew how to put his story into a motion picture scenario! You may have a dozen clever, unique plots, but if you are ignorant of scenario construction your ideas are practically valueless.

If you're a history buff, student or just plain curious about the past, give Advanced Book Search a try, limiting your search to books published in a particular time period. You may be surprised by what you find.


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