A friend who is a more careful and meticulous researcher than I am (I tend to click around and spend hours getting sidetracked on other interesting topics) pointed me to an internet resource I hadn’t known of before called Internet Archive. Of course, we all love real archives, where we walk in, shed all our baggage, request our archival material, sit and wait for a while before it comes, then put on gloves and handle it very delicately, looking up surreptitiously to make sure the archivist isn’t giving us the evil eye. The Internet Archive has a long way to go before it takes the place of that experience (which is good for our character anyway and presents us with original material, which is important), but it’s working to make archival material that we might otherwise not have access to available in a free digital format:
The Internet Archive is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that was founded to build an Internet library, with the purpose of offering permanent access for researchers, historians, and scholars to historical collections that exist in digital format. Founded in 1996 and located in the Presidio of San Francisco, the Archive has been receiving data donations from Alexa Internet and others. In late 1999, the organization started to grow to include more well-rounded collections. Now the Internet Archive includes texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived web pages in our collections.
These are resources that you might (or might not) be able to find at the state archives or a good university archives, but you wouldn’t be able to get such great copies of them as you can here. I have to say, I’ve been very frustrated by the quality of copying machines at most archives, especially the microfilm copiers–they might be fine for historians who are looking at text, but they’re not so great for those of us whose work is almost all about photographs. For us the reproduction quality is extremely important because we have to rely on these images in our architectural analysis, and we can’t afford to pay $7 for a good-quality digital scan. The Internet Archive materials are all high-quality scans, so the quality of the printout depends entirely on your printer, which is good because printers do a better job with photos than copiers tend to.
The Internet Archive has lots of cool stuff, but of course, we’re always and only focused on Mississippi and its architecture, right? Here are a few of the IA resources I found that are very helpful in studying Mississippi and its architecture. When you click on the links provided, you’ll see off to the left side of the screen that you can either read the document online or download it as a pdf. Click on “Read online” and you’ll see the document displayed in a cool Kindle-like interface that allows you to turn the page just like a real book but without the archivist watching you to make sure you’re not ripping anything:
- Mississippi Scenes, Or, Sketches of Southern and Western Life and Adventure, Humorous, Satirical and Descriptive, by Joseph B. Cobb, 1851. Here’s a humorous and somewhat satirical description of the picturesque styles of Columbus, MS buildings in 1851:
On its summits you may see the smoke curling gracefully up from many a cottage chimney; and beyond, the eye is greeted with a beautiful plain widening gradually out, and covered with handsome residences, which wealth and taste have united to adorn, smiling in all the cherished luxury of domestic comfort and happiness. From yonder eminence on the Tuscaloosa road, the traveler beholds with delight, not unmixed with some wonder, the miniature panorama of a Mahometan city, rising suddenly to the vision in the interior of a country not famed for its improvements, with domes, and spires, and cupolas, looming in the distance, to gigantic proportions, and dazzling the eye with their glittering summits! No town of its size in the Union can boast of a like imposing and showy array in this respect; and if we are driven to admit that taste is not so generally diffused as some might desire, we may at least challenge emulation in the way of architectural improvement (26-27).
- A pamphlet called “Mississippi” apparently published around 1919, with facts about agriculture and education, peppered with photos.
- Industrial Mississippi, published in 1904 to show potential investors along the Gulf & Ship Island Railroad how great southern Mississippi was. I’m always interested in what these boosterish booklets had to say about summers in Mississippi–here’s a classic: “The summer heat is more prolonged than it is farther north, but less oppressive, owing to the breezes that come from the Gulf.” Hmm, I guess that’s true as long as you’re within, say a few hundred yards from the Gulf, but once you’re a few blocks north, oppression starts to creep up on you. Oh well, you gotta give them a star for trying. Anyway, this booklet has really crisp photographs and interesting information about the industrial economy in a state that we sometimes forget has an industrial past.
So check out the Internet Archive–there’s lot more about Mississippi including audio and video clips, maps, etc–but don’t get sidetracked like I always do.
Note to my archivist friends: It’s all good clean fun–we’re still friends right? right? :-)