Googling the 19th Century

Google and all the open source material from historical authors available online has made sure that people my age have rediscovered the 19th century, argues history professor Paula Findlen in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Particularly, we have found the 19th century and Victorian B-list thinker. People who were next to greatness, but had some interesting things to teach us nonetheless. This is exactly what happened to me, and how I ended up skimming a lot of great 19th century literature, social sciences and philosophy with people whose names I’d never heard of:

Thanks to Google, 21st-century scholars are becoming far more accustomed to reading 19th-century books, simply because, being out of copyright, they are online. I am not referring to the classics—Jacob Burckhardt’s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy(1860), Karl Marx’s Das Capital (1867-94), or Thorstein Veblen’sThe Theory of the Leisure Class (1899)—that we keep at the center of various disciplines. Yet we now read them in a landscape filled with the obscure work of their less-well-known contemporaries. The digitization of the long 19th century (materials published between the late 18th and early 20th centuries) has made accessible and searchable scholarly work that has been neglected because it was considered too dated and too unreliable.  It was the last thing many of us looked for in the library.

This rediscovery of the 19th century as an open-source reading experience is accompanied by a subtle appreciation of the era’s intellectual merits. Consider the quantity of material—obscure novels, local histories, antique catalogs, minor journals, a sea of biographies, and those vast and terrifyingly erudite bibliographies that were a specialty of that age of scholarship …

Speaking of Marx, you should check out the great library of online leftist source material in politics, theory, economics and social science over at Marxists.org.

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