Alex Wright

Gone West

May 29, 2004

For the past few months, I've been working with the California Digital Library on "Documenting the American West," a new online collection of primary source materials (like photos, letters and manuscripts) drawn from disparate locations in California, Colorado, the Library of Congress, Harvard and about ten other institutions.

On a recent research trip out to Colorado, I came across two fascinating collections that are already available online:

  • Western History Photography Collection, Denver Public Library
    Over 100,000 photos of Old West settlers, towns and railroads (lots of railroads), all fully cataloged in MARC format by a team of able catalogers including Myron Vallier, who was kind enough to give me a demo.

  • Colorado Historic Newspapers, Colorado State Library
    44 old Colorado newspapers, dating back to 1859, all fully OCR'd. Uses ActivePaper, a new search tool that populates search results with original manuscript images; it feels clunky at first - due mostly to the unwieldy appearance of the source images - but gives you the valuable context of original typesetting, layout and page composition. How else would you find out, for example, that in 1865 one Colorado newspaper chose to run President Lincoln's assassination on page two?
My favorite artifact so far has to be this picture of the Cherrelyn Street Car, whose proprietors, operating as they were in the age before horseless carriages, devised this novel solution to the problem of downhill travel:

Cherrelyn Street Car

Home on the range, presumably before Michael Landon came to town:

And, courtesy of Pueblo's Colorado Daily Chieftain, this Zane Grey story waiting to happen:

File under: User Experience

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