This semester, Science and Society 102.23 first-year seminar students practiced using a variety of databases and digital collections to explore questions related to new technologies. One project was to delve into the past and investigate how society reacted to emerging technologies from approximately 100 years ago. Students chose a specific technology and used different databases and search terms to better understand and compare different historical perspectives on new inventions. The results were often fun and interesting, and students were able to present what they found in a final project. The students below gave permission for the library to share some of their findings.
The telephone, in a 1922 comic
In his final presentation, Sadiq Sada explored early reactions to the telephone. In the slide below, he explains what he thought was most interesting in a cartoon from the March 13, 1922 issue of the Tuscon Citizen (newspaper), which he found using a database called America’s Historical Newspapers, accessible through the SBU library website. The cartoon shows various comic scenes of how the telephone might cause potentially undesirable situations. The text in the image reads, “When Johnny’s home sick with the measles he can do his school lessons by wireless phone:”
The airplane, in a 1913 poem
Rikza Sohail explored early reactions to the airplane. She used the database Literature Online, also accessible through the SBU library website, and found a 1913 poem by Stephen Miller, called “The Aeroplane,” which decried the airplane’s assault on “the air,” a space Miller considered to still be within the domain of the “holier skies.” The first stanza is below:
Leave us the air! enough the jar
Of snorting engine, grinding car,
The very heavens ye now would mar;
Leave us the air!
Electric light, in a 1896 newspaper article and a 1894 orchestral recording
Mozammal Sarwar explored various reactions to the new invention of electric light by using the Library of Congress’ freely available digital collections, where he found an article in the June 1, 1896 issue of the NYC publication, The Journal. The article’s author quotes Thomas Edison (described as the “Wizard of Orange”) and his explanation of “his new white light”:
Sarwar also used UCSB’s freely available Cylinder Audio Archive, a digital collection of historic sound recordings digitized from their original format (wax cylinders), and found a popular piece of instrumental music called Electric Light Quadrille, performed by Issler’s Orchestra in 1894 or 1895. In the middle of the piece, the music stops and a speaker announces, “Ladies and gentleman, I have the pleasure of announcing that Issler’s Orchestra will give a free concert in Keystone Hall tomorrow evening — electric light will be used for the first time — tell all your neighbors! [cheers]” Listen below:
X-rays, in a c. 1920-1940 historic drawing
Another student, Anna, researched reactions to the new invention of the X-ray by looking in the Library of Congress’s digital collections. Anna found a striking drawing by Ivo Saliger, depicting a doctor and his X-ray machine as targeting death, which is personified by the grim reaper. Anna explains in her presentation:
In searching for information in online databases and digital collections, students had opportunities to better understand differences between information formats, think about the differences between searching for historic information and current information, and learn about the vast array of digital collections on the web, both subscription-based and open access. In the end, they were able to follow their own interests and feel proud of what they found.
Exploring online databases, in search of historical perspectives
Exploring online databases and digital archives can be a wonderful way not only to connect with the past, but also to find historical perspectives that help us better understand the present. Using tools that are freely available to the SBU community through the library’s paid subscriptions, or on the open web through digital archives can help us all develop research skills, discover the past, and reflect on the present. In my own exploring, for example, I came across this 1918 photograph, taken in Seattle during the influenza pandemic, when Seattleites were only allowed onto the street car if they were wearing a face mask:
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