Princeton Theological Seminary Religious Texts on Internet Archive

Holsinger s history of the Tunkers and the Bret

One summer, years ago, I got my first exposure to the work of digitizing archives when my son, something of a computer geek, spent a summer during high school digitizing old documents and photographs, learning how to handle and document this work. He wore gloves to protect old paper as he scanned documents. His work along with that of countless other volunteers is still online at Worthington Memory.

Digital archives are a profound boon of the internet era. I’ve accessed out of print books, census, geneology, and death records, old newspaper articles, plat and survey maps in the course of blogging. One of the biggest sources of digital archives is the Internet Archive. A recent article on Open Culture reports that Princeton Theological Seminary has digitized over 70,000 religious texts from all the great world religions. You can look at a first edition of J. G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough, a King James Bible from 1606 or an edition of Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection by E. A. Wallis Budge from 1912 (if I am reading the Roman numerals correctly).

When I visited the Princeton Theological Seminary archive, I was delighted to scroll down and find a history of our own small denomination, Holsinger’s History of the Tunkers and the Brethren ChurchIt is an amazing and eclectic collection with everything from Kathryn Kuhlman’s Victory in Jesus to an early edition of the MahabharataOne can find histories of particular congregations, mission society histories, hymnals, language studies, William Paley’s Natural Theologytheological monographs, and much more. These are not electronic texts but digital editions of works in the Princeton Seminary Library, with library stamps, signatures, damage and aging to the paper.

There is a search box, and you can filter by collections or individual texts, by year, by subject, by collection, by creator (denominations or individual authors), and by language. A few searches yielded everything from postcard images of Youngstown churches, to works of Charles and A. A. Hodge, and Benjamin Warfield.

Obviously, I had great fun just scrolling through the first few pages of texts. Some texts are simply early editions of books readily available. Some are works, like old Bible dictionaries, that have been superseded by recent scholarship. Yet I suspect there are scholars who find research-worthy studies in the comparison, or in tracking down earlier literature. Fine biblical and theological work has been done for centuries and to limit one’s study to the last ten years is limiting indeed.

This is just one archive within the Internet Archive. While browsing around I also came across the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) which advertises nearly 21 million images, texts, video and sound from across the United States. But that’s for another post!


Digital Archives

Internet Archive

One of the most fascinating things about the Internet from when I first started using it twenty years ago was this sense of having the world at your fingertips. I remember downloading Mosaic for the first time and discovering this thing they called a search engine, in this case, an early version of Yahoo. Organized by categories, you could search and drill down from topic to topic.

Eventually Google supplanted Yahoo, and then conceived the project back in 2004 of digitizing every known book. I’ve used this to track down quotes to their sources (and sometimes discovered that there was no source for the quote attributed to a particular author). I’ve downloaded 19th century sermon collections available for free. I understand that in recent years, Google has slowed down these efforts. Some would contend this reflects a shift in mission to use of search data in marketing, but it also reflects the fact that they’ve digitized over 20 million books! And they’ve been hampered by some lawsuits along the way.

Another outfit that has also been digitally archiving books and an incredible array of other materials is the Internet Archive. The Internet Archive is a non-profit effort launched in 1996 in San Francisco that includes text, audio, moving pictures, software, and, significantly, archived web pages. I discovered for example that you can look at a collection of archived campaign webpages from 1996. One of the challenges of the internet is its ephemerality. Have you ever come across a weblink that no longer works or a page that no longer exists? The Internet Archive may be the place that still has a record of this. From their homepage you can use their Wayback machine to enter an old URL to see if it is in their archives.

One of the other standout features of Internet Archive for the computer geek is old software from MS-DOS games to VisiCalc for the Apple II. They even have an emulator that allows you to play the games in your browser. Yes, you can play Oregon Trail again!

One writer described the Internet Archive as “a chaotic, beautiful mess”. Indeed, among other places you can go from their home page is a free audiobook collection, a Grateful Dead collection, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, The Iraq War Collection, The Portuguese Web archive, and that collection of MS-DOS software!

The question of course, is whether you can find what you are looking for. My sense is that Google’s search algorithms are better for getting you in the neighborhood of what you are looking for. But the Internet archive is just a fun place to snoop around, and you can do it from your own home.

It occurs to me that one of the big questions around the future of libraries and archives is both how to preserve materials in physical form and also to continue to preserve digitized materials including media that only ever had a digital format, especially because of the weird paradox that digital materials often degrade far faster than the printed page. It makes me wonder if a journal on my daily doings will last longer than my social media presence on Facebook’s servers–of course, who is going to want to study either?

At any rate, exploring all this reminded me that librarians and archivists to day face very different challenges in preserving not only printed primary source materials but the digital record of our society. It will be an interesting task to figure out what is important enough to safe and what is just ephemera!