Antique roads-show: Google Book Search edition

Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 2:20 PM

Who would have thought that Google Book Search would be so useful to researchers of international roads? Hot on the heels of our series of videos from Book Search innovators comes this story from Gerald Cummins, author and proprietor of the website Old Roads of Scotland. His research calls to mind the story of Jo Guldi, another road expert who we’ve highlighted on this blog before.

We invite you to have a look at our new User Stories page, which collects all of the interesting uses of Book Search we've found so far, and to let us know if you've had a special experience yourself. As for Gerald, he's found Google Book Search useful for his work, and we asked him to highlight a few of his interesting finds for Inside Google Book Search:

Having written a book on the history of roads and tracks of Ayrshire, a county in the west of Scotland, I decided to include it in my website on the old roads of Scotland. I’ve found Google Book Search really useful for making it possible to link to original source material, as well as general research. In my own case, I’ve been able to link to the Old and New Statistical Accounts of Scotland, which provide a description of each parish in Scotland in the 1790's and 1830's. I've found various other works, some of which are very difficult to find otherwise.

One fascinating example comes from Charles Bertram, who in the early 1800s forged a document, The Description of Britain, which was allegedly written by a medieval monk named Richard of Cirencester. The document supposedly chronicled the time of the Romans in Britain, giving details of non-existent Roman roads. This work wreaked havoc amongst antiquarians 200 years ago, and is now almost forgotten, but there it was in Google Book Search.

I recently came across references to the Girthgate, an old route that led from Melrose Abbey to the medieval hospital of Soutra, in the hills south of Edinburgh. Apart from books on Melrose Abbey, Google Book Search had a superb illustration of a medieval bridge on this route that has long disappeared.

Dare we dub these interstate intellectuals "roads scholars"? Could we really stoop so low as to recycle a second-rate pun for the third time? Apparently so. I guess when it comes to inane wordplay, we're pretty sure never to take the road less travelled.


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