A Whimsical Tour of Distributed Proofreaders

October 1, 2022

Distributed Proofreaders is 22 years old today, and we’re celebrating our anniversary with a bit of poetry. Congratulations to all the volunteers who have helped in “preserving history one page at a time” all these years!

DP = Distributed Proofreaders
PM = Project Manager
PP = Post-Processor
PG = Project Gutenberg

Calliope by Meynier

Welcome to DP; please step right on in.
The tour I shall give is about to begin.

The goal of DP is to save the old books
Where some have sat gathered in dusty ole nooks.

We find them and scan them to bring back to life;
So you can view free on your electric device.

Now let’s take a tour to observe what goes on
And capture the secrets of change undergone.

The PMs are wise folks who manage our projects.
They keep the work tidy for steps that come up next.

The next step is proofing to check for mistakes
That optical scanners leave lying in wait.

Our Proofers have keen eyes that don’t miss a beat.
Our books are proofed three times; it’s really a feat!

The Formatters labor to put things in line
So reading is easy and feels so refined.

They use special coding to line up the text.
This work is what keeps their big brain muscles flexed.

Some covers are damaged and look really ratty,
But DP has Wizards to make them look natty.

These Wizards are clever with mysterious notions
Who wave their wands deftly in all sorts of motions.

When all of the proofing and formatting’s done,
The job of the PP has only begun.

They gather and sort and they move things about
Till it’s pretty and perfect and ready, no doubt.

But wait, one more step comes before a book’s ready;
Our Smooth Readers check with their eyes fixed and steady.

Some issues crop up that we’ve not seen before,
But there’s always a Mentor with guidance galore.

The talent in all teams just boggles the mind,
Plus count on support from a Mentor who’s kind.

Believe it or not we have Squirrels running ‘round,
But they aren’t the same type in the woods to be found.

Our Squirrels are equipped with knowledge all-round,
Technicians who keep this place all safe and sound.

When DP transforms these old writings anew,
They’re sent to PG as enjoyment for you.

I think you will probably all quite agree
What a gift these books are to be offered for free!

At DP you know you will always be welcome–
Whatever your interests; wherever you’re from.

This tour is concluded but not without wishing
That you will come back, and not just go fishing.

And, if you come back, you might volunteer;
You’ll be welcomed with sentiments truly sincere.

By Susan E., a DP volunteer, with special thanks to all the DP volunteers for their inspiration.


A Trivia Quiz

September 1, 2022
Welcome to Hot off the Press’s first Trivia Quiz! How much do you know about the history of Project Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders? Find out, and learn more as you go!
  1. When Michael Hart began Project Gutenberg (PG) in 1971, his goal was to create a digital library of how many titles?
  2. Using a handout he got while grocery shopping on July 4, 1971, what was the first project Michael added to PG?
  3. Which university was Michael attending when he started PG?
  4. The Old and New Testaments of the Bible took about 10 years to prepare for PG and were posted in 1989. What method of data input was used to prepare them?
  5. All early projects were immediately put on the PG website for worldwide distribution. True or false?
  6. What did Pietro Di Miceli create for PG in 1994?
  7. When were languages other than English first included in PG offerings?
  8. Only public domain books are available on PG. True or False?
  9. PG has two entries in The Guinness Book of World Records. What are they for?
  10. What organization did Charles Franks found in October 2000 in order to help PG with digitizing public domain books?
  11. Who was Charles Franks’s “help/advice/guidance” partner and the second registered user on the first Distributed Proofreaders (DP) site?
  12. What was the first title produced by DP volunteers for posting to PG?
  13. How many titles has DP posted to PG since October 2000?
  14. What volunteer reward system did Charles Franks propose in 2003 in order to inspire quality work on DP?
  15. How many “sister sites” do PG and DP have?
Scroll down for answers

Answers

  1. Michael Hart’s first goal was to digitize 10,000 books. As of this writing, there are well over 60,000 free e-books on PG, far exceeding his original goal. As reported in Hot off the Press, DP contributed PG’s 50,000th and 60,000th e-books. [See A Short History of Project Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Earth Edition website. For more about this and Michael’s other hopes and dreams, see Michael Hart’s Online Writings.]
  2. The U.S. Declaration of Independence. Finding the printed handout as he unpacked his bag of groceries, Michael keyed in the Declaration that night in ALL CAPS because lower case was not available. Six users downloaded the file. [Get the whole story in Project Gutenberg 4 July 1971 – 4 July 2011: Album, by Marie Lebert; Hot off the Press, 50 Years at Project Gutenberg.]
  3. The University of Illinois. At the time, Michael was a freshman working toward a Bachelor of Science degree. Both Michael’s parents were professors there; his father taught Shakespeare and his mother Mathematics. [See Michael’s obituary in the New York Times and the Encyclopedia Britannica article on PG for more.]
  4. Typing on a computer keyboard. It took almost a decade to enter both Testaments. Each book of the Bible had to be saved as a separate file due to hardware size restrictions – there was no hard drive when the project began. [See Project Gutenberg 4 July 1971 – 4 July 2011: Album, by Marie Lebert.]
  5. False. The World Wide Web did not exist until the end of 1990, when Tim Berners-Lee got his first browser and server running at CERN. [See A Short History of the Web and Distributed Proofreaders Just Celebrated Its 10th Anniversary, by Marie Lebert.]
  6. Pietro Di Miceli created the first website for PG in 1994. An Italian volunteer, Pietro developed and administered PG’s website between 1994 and 2004, winning a number of awards for his efforts. [See the New World Encyclopedia article on PG for more information.]
  7. The first non-English title was posted to PG in 1997: Dante Alighieri’s La Divina Commedia in the original Italian. It was PG’s 1,000th title. [See Project Gutenberg 4 July 1971 – 4 July 2011: Album, by Marie Lebert; and Hot off the Press, 50 Years at Project Gutenberg.]
  8. False. Michael estimated (in 2007) that about 2% of PG titles are copyrighted and posted with the permission of the author. Two examples are Michael’s co-authored titles, A Brief History of the Internet and Poems and Tales from Romania. [See Michael’s blog post, The Most Common Misconceptions about Project Gutenberg.]
  9. PG holds the Guinness World Records for first digital library and first e-book (the U.S. Declaration of Independence).
  10. Charles Franks founded DP, which officially went online October 1, 2000. He first suggested the idea on a PG volunteer discussion board beginning in April, 2000. [See DP Timeline and Distributed Proofreaders Just Celebrated Its 10th Anniversary, by Marie Lebert.]
  11. Jim Tinsley registered as the #2 user in September 2000 and did much to help Charles get DP up and running smoothly. [See DP Timeline.]
  12. The Iliad of Homer, translated by Andrew Lang, Walter Leaf, and Ernest Meyers, was the first project completed by DP, believed to have been posted to PG in November 2000. [See DP Timeline; Hot off the Press, Happy 15th Anniversary! (Part I).]
  13. As of this writing, DP has posted over 44,000 unique titles to PG. [See Hot off the Press, Celebrating 44,000 Titles; DP Timeline.]
  14. The “Whuffie” system. Based on Cory Doctorow’s sci-fi novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, the Whuffie system would award points for excellence in proofreading and take them away for poorly done work. Charles envisioned volunteers being able to collect and redeem Whuffie points for real merchandise like a DP t-shirt or mousepad. The system was ultimately not implemented. [Read more details in A Roadmap for Distributed Proofreaders, by Charles Franks.]
  15. PG currently has several independent “sister sites” worldwide: Gutenberg Canada, Project Gutenberg Australia, Projekt Gutenberg-DE (German literature), and Project Runeberg (Nordic literature). DP’s independent sister site is currently Distributed Proofreaders Canada.

How Did You Do?

12-15 CORRECT: Gutenberg Pro – congratulations!
Wow! Have you been around here awhile? You sure know your stuff!

7-11 CORRECT: Gutenberg Proficient – you’re on an upward trend!
Not bad! You know over half your stuff. Brush up by reading more about the other half.

1-6 CORRECT: Gutenberg Newbie – enjoy exploring more!
It’s a big world out there just waiting to be discovered. Follow the links in the Answers above to start your adventure.

0 and SKIPPERS: Gutenberg Fan – curious and hungry for knowledge!
Rushed ahead to the good stuff, huh? You’ve just begun a very interesting journey. Have fun!

DISCOVER MORE EVERY MONTH – READ HOT OFF THE PRESS

This post was contributed by Scrutineyes, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer. Graphics by Unruly Pencil. Photos of Michael Hart from https://www.pglaf.org/hart/.


Celebrating 44,000 Titles

July 19, 2022

This post celebrates the 44,000th title Distributed Proofreaders has posted to Project Gutenberg: The Trial of Emile Zola. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it!

The Trial of Emile Zola is a first-hand account of a crucial stage in one of the most important events of French history: the Dreyfus Affair. In September of 1894, an operative of French counterintelligence found, in a wastebasket at the German embassy in Paris, an unsigned note (generally referred to as the “bordereau”) that proved that French military secrets were being delivered to foreign powers. Immediately an investigation was launched, and before long the military authorities had settled on Captain Alfred Dreyfus as the culprit: because he was taciturn and unpopular, because his handwriting bore a vague resemblance to that on the bordereau, and, most of all, because he was Jewish. Dreyfus was convicted in a closed military trial on the basis of tenuous evidence such as his handwriting, and other evidence that was wholly fabricated, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the awful conditions of the penal colony of Devil’s Island in the Caribbean. Before his deportation, he was stripped of his rank in a ceremony wherein his marks of rank were torn off his uniform, his sword was taken from him and broken, and he was made to parade around a square in front of his former comrades and a huge crowd of civilians shouting, among other things, “Death to the Jew.”

Dreyfus’s family believed his claims of innocence, and campaigned for his release to what was, initially, an overwhelmingly hostile public, influenced by extreme anti-Semites for whom Dreyfus’s supposed guilt was a vindication of their beliefs about the Jewish race. Gradually, evidence emerged that pointed to a Catholic French officer, Ferdinand Esterhazy – a heavily indebted drunkard – as the bordereau’s likely author. His handwriting matched it perfectly. French society became split between the Dreyfusards, who believed in Dreyfus’s innocence, and the anti-Dreyfusards, who believed in his guilt. Both camps felt themselves to be defending their own vision of French society – the Dreyfusards defending the liberal Republic against a reactionary, anti-Semitic political Catholicism, and the anti-Dreyfusards defending Catholic France against a conspiracy of liberal intellectuals, Jews, and foreign agents. By January of 1898, the Dreyfusards had sufficient support to compel the military to place Esterhazy on trial for the same crimes of which it had convicted Dreyfus, but this trial was another closed military tribunal, and Esterhazy was acquitted.

Contemporary postcard of Zola - from Wikimedia

It was at this point that Émile Zola, already a notable novelist, entered the controversy. He had published in L’Aurore, a liberal newspaper edited by future French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, an open letter addressed to President Félix Faure, with the now-famous title “J’Accuse…!” The letter, which is reprinted in full in this volume, accused the leadership of the French military of a conspiracy to condemn an innocent man, because of an initial incompetent and prejudiced investigation, and the subsequent necessity to defend the false verdict it reached because, otherwise, “the war offices would fall under the weight of public contempt.” He directly accused the trials of both Dreyfus and Esterhazy of illegality, and of having convicted Dreyfus and acquitted Esterhazy according to orders, asserting: “It is my duty to speak; I will not be an accomplice. My nights would be haunted by the spectre of the innocent man who is atoning, in a far-away country, by the most frightful of tortures, for a crime that he did not commit.” Unable to ignore Zola’s accusations – which would have been a tacit admission of their truth – the government sued Zola, as well as the legally-responsible editor of the article, Alexandre Perrenx, for libel, and thus on February 7, 1898, the trial of Zola, which is recorded in this book, began.

Zola’s trial lasted fifteen days in total, with each day the courtroom’s public gallery packed with anti-Dreyfusards, and Zola obliged to pass through hostile crowds to enter the courthouse. From the first day, the difficulties which the defence would face became apparent – after each side had set out their case initially, the day was taken up by the reading of refusals to appear on the part of most of the high-ranking military witnesses, including Esterhazy himself, whom the defence had called. On the second day, the defence called its first witness, Alfred Dreyfus’s wife, and began to question her regarding her husband’s innocence in order to establish Zola’s good faith in making his accusations. Immediately, the judge cut him off, establishing another pattern for the trial, as the judge, prejudiced against Zola and unwilling to have embarrassing details of the Dreyfus trials publicly revealed, repeatedly prevented the defence from justifying those allegations for which Zola was on trial. Similar restrictions were not placed upon the prosecution, nor upon those witnesses hostile to Zola. At the end of this first exchange, Zola’s lawyer, Fernand Labori, asked the judge, given these restrictions, “what practical means you see by which we may ascertain the truth?”

“That does not concern me,” came the reply.

In the days that followed, a long sequence of witnesses spoke of the inconsistencies of the trial of Esterhazy; various generals made evasive or obstructive answers without reproach from the judge. More than once, witnesses were called by the defence, and then prevented by the judge from taking the stand, on the grounds that their testimony would relate to the Dreyfus case. On the sixth day, the Socialist Jean Jaurès recounted a remark from a right-wing editor which perhaps sums up the anti-Dreyfusard position, loyalties and prejudices superceding truth: “I believe profoundly in the guilt of Dreyfus. I believe it, because it seems to me impossible that French officers, having to judge another French officer, should have condemned him in the absence of overwhelming evidence. I believe it, because the power of the Jews, very great four years ago, as it is today, would have torn Dreyfus from the hands of justice, if there had been in his favor the slightest possibility of salvation.”

On the eleventh day, Major Esterhazy himself was called to the stand, protesting that “during the last eighteen months, in the shadow, there has been woven against me the most frightful conspiracy ever woven against any man. During that time I have suffered more than anyone of my contemporaries has suffered in the whole of his life.” He then refused to answer any questions that would be put by the defence, and for some time, Clemenceau, who had been present throughout the trial, proffered dozens of questions, all met with silence. Finally, as the judge attempted to prevent him from speaking, Clemenceau asked “how is it that one cannot speak of justice in a court?”

The judge replied: “Because there is something above that,—the honor and safety of the country.”

“I note,” finished Clemenceau, “that the honor of the country permits these things to be done, but does not permit them to be said.”

Finally, after fifteen days, the summing-ups were concluded and the jury retired to deliberate on their verdict. Just thirty-five minutes later, they returned, and declared both Zola and Perrenx guilty of libel. Minutes after that, the judge handed Zola the maximum sentence: a fine of 3,000 francs and a year’s imprisonment. The court was filled with the shouts of the audience: “Long live the army! Long live France! Down with the insulters! To the door with Jews! Death to Zola!” Zola appealed, but was defeated again, and fled to England to avoid jail.

On the face of it, Zola and the Dreyfusards had suffered a massive defeat – the law was brought down against Dreyfus’s highest-profile supporter, and Dreyfus himself was still suffering on Devil’s Island. However, where both Dreyfus’s and Esterhazy’s trials were conducted in the secrecy of a closed military tribunal, Zola’s took place in a public court. Every day, the newspapers of France summarised the trial’s proceedings, and this 1898 edition shows that the full text of the court records had been translated into English and published in New York not long after it took place. Thus, a great deal of new information had been made available to the public, and while it did not convince the jury, it did, over time, convince an increasingly large proportion of the French population. Civil unrest increased, and a new left-wing government was formed in response to the crisis. In September 1899, the new president, Émile Loubet, pardoned Dreyfus, who was released after almost five years of imprisonment for a crime he had not committed. Finally, in July 1906, a civilian court of appeals formally cleared Dreyfus of all charges; he was reinstated as a captain and made a knight of the Legion of Honour. The Radical governments which emerged from the Dreyfus Affair would inaugurate a strict policy of secularism in the French government, which has survived to the present day – realising, ironically, some of the deepest fears of the anti-Dreyfusards.

Among many other things, the Dreyfus Affair illustrates the importance of public access to information, and conversely the danger of its restriction, without which the French military could not have conducted its closed, unfair trial of Dreyfus in the first place. It was only when the truth became public property, through the Zola trial and subsequent revelations, that justice could be done. It is a wonderful thing, therefore, to have been able to contribute to the free, maximally-accessible publication of these records through Project Gutenberg. I hope that, if you read them, they remind you of the value of the work that Distributed Proofreaders does in bringing such texts to light. As Zola wrote in “J’Accuse!”, the letter that triggered his trial, “when truth is buried in the earth, it accumulates there, and assumes so mighty an explosive power that, on the day when it bursts forth, it hurls everything into the air.”

This post was contributed by Thomas Frost, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer who post-processed The Trial of Emile Zola.


Teamwork

July 1, 2022

Which major league contains these teams: United States, Poland, Texas, Yorkshire, Midnight Crew, P3 Archers, Procrastination, and more? Why, Distributed Proofreaders (DP), of course, a “major league” producer of e-books for Project Gutenberg.

Teams? Yes, DP volunteers have the chance to join any of over 400 Teams and “talk” online to other DP users with similar interests in the Team forums.

Let’s look at the range of topics the Teams focus on; the experience of being a Team member; and which Teams have stayed the course and flourished over nearly twenty years.

Types of Teams

We can broadly classify Teams as either “social” or “technical.”

Social Teams bring together those DP users who live in a particular part of the world, use a certain language, or share an interest outside DP.

Technical Teams are linked to some part of the DP process, such as proofreading, formatting, smooth reading, etc.; or to a special skill that may be needed in some of the books we work on, such as processing illustrations. There’s even a Team for DP Bloggers!

How Teams Work

Anyone registered with DP may join up to six Teams. They’re listed in the Team list, which gives a link for you to join any that interest you, or even enables you to start a new Team if you think you’ve identified a topic likely to support one.

Your Team memberships are listed on your profile for other users to see.

Each Team has a page with a mission statement and a link to the Team discussion thread, which appears in the Team Talk area of the DP Forums. You can take part in active Team discussions – which you can do even if you’re not a formal member of a Team – or see if you can revive an old Team with a peppy new post.

DP Teams: Facts

  • Oldest Teams:
    The first batch of Teams, established in February 2003, included Nederlands, Northern Virginia, Michigan, Florida, Aussies, Canada, Graduate Students, Finland, and the ironic Team Non-Competitive (“for people who hate the concept of teams and all the competition that goes with it”).
  • Newest Teams:
    The Teams to have got off the ground in 2022 are Vancouver and P2+1 (for volunteers who work in the second proofreading round and want to qualify for the third round). The next most recent Team to get started was launched in 2020: Cookbook Lovers.
  • Team with most members: UK, with 855 members.
  • Team with most posts: Keep Your Chin Up (“for those who proofread despite having some physical difficulty”), with 29412 posts.
  • Teams with the wackiest names:
    • Sgt. Proofers Lonely Hearts Club Team (“For every lonely heart feeling lonely and lost in this E-niversum”).
    • Distributed Avoirdupois Team (“for people who love proofing but don’t love the pounds that mysteriously attach themselves to a figure seated at a computer”).
    • No, really, I am not goofing off (“for those who should be doing their real work instead of proofing”).

Teams Then and Now

Teams became a feature of DP in 2003, not long after DP itself was born in October 2000. Since then, 413 Teams have been launched. Naturally not all of these have remained highly active, but those that are still active provide a lively environment for discussion.

Among “social” Teams, most of the active ones have a national or language focus: Western Europe makes the running with Team Germany, en français, Team Italia, Spanish, and Nederlands especially busy. There are also a few other “social” ones that have long been well attended, including Keep Your Chin Up, Proofing with Cats, and Knitters Who Read.

Active “technical” Teams, more closely focussed on DP work, include some centered on stages in the DP process: for instance, Smoooth [sic] Readers; the new P2+1 team described above; and F2 Fanatics, for volunteers working in the second formatting round. Some popular Teams offer specialist advice and assistance to other proofers, such as Music, Illustrators, Index, Turn the Tables, We’ve Got You Covered (designing custom covers for books without an original cover image), and Ad Addicts (some of our books were published with pages of adverts that present complex design issues).

The P3 round – the third stage of proofreading in which volunteers closely check each draft e-book to ensure that it matches the original – has two Teams with posts every day. One is the P3 Archers, who target projects calling for a quick finish. Then there are the P3 Diehards, who in recent months have made remarkable progress in “pushing along those P3 projects that are languishing in the list” – Diehards now usher even the largest and most challenging projects out of P3 within just a couple of months.

So, what place do Teams have within DP now? Do people still want to interact online in this way? After all, since Teams were first thought of, the rise of social media has provided many other opportunities for online socializing. The people who started the first DP Teams back in 2003 might not have predicted the proliferation of Teams and which Teams would be active now. But Teams have evolved to occupy several niches where people do find it satisfying and useful to take part, and the example of the P3 Diehards has shown how Teams can still do a lot for DP’s productivity. DP’s Teams provide both a sense of community and mutual aid in DP’s mission to “preserve history one page at a time.”

This post was contributed by Neil M., a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Behind the Camera

June 1, 2022

Film historians disagree on who invented the first movie camera – Louis Le Prince, who made a short film in 1888 and then disappeared before he could exhibit his new invention? Thomas Edison, who allegedly stole credit for an employee’s invention in 1892? But one thing is certain: “moving pictures” radically changed the face of entertainment worldwide. By 1914, technical developments had brought movies from short clips of only a few minutes to compelling narratives lasting an hour or more. Audiences flocked to “dream palaces” to be immersed in romance, comedy, suspense, and adventure on the silver screen. But few understood how exactly these “dreams” got there.

In Moving Pictures: How They Are Made and Worked (1914), author Frederick A. Talbot explains to a general audience the technical aspects of film-making as then known. Talbot wrote a number of similar books on railways, lighthouses, airplanes, and “waste reclamation” (an early term for recycling). He also followed his Moving Pictures book with one on cinematography for amateurs.

Moving Pictures begins with a lengthy history of “animated photography” that, not surprisingly, omits the vanished Le Prince and mainly focuses on Edison, who was not just a talented inventor but also a very shrewd businessman. The book also duly credits the Lumière Brothers, Robert Paul, George Eastman, and others with important advances in camera, film, and projection processes.

Talbot’s book is chock full of photos of devices, laboratories, studios, and film sets. We learn how celluloid – the old, flammable, perishable medium for film – was made from a chemical soup known as “dope.” There are chapters on how perforated film was developed to move film through the camera quickly, how film cameras worked, how film was developed, and how moving images were projected onto a screen. He explores the technical aspects of filming major events and natural processes, the creation of what were later called newsreels, and even the possibility of home movies.

We also learn how films were staged in the studio. Talbot tells us that Edison’s tiny “Black Maria,” built in 1892 and believed to be the world’s first film studio, had become a gigantic glass building by 1914, with a 2,400-square-foot stage and a 130,000-gallon water tank for “aquatic spectacles.” But film producers without such resources also knew how to answer when opportunity knocked. Talbot recounts how one producer, hearing of a huge fire in a Los Angeles department store, sped a film crew to the scene. They somehow persuaded the fire department to let the lead actor, costumed as a fireman, rush into the still-burning building to “rescue” an actress who was set in an upper window screaming for help. “The players ran great risks,” says Talbot, “but the film producer was satisfied.”

Talbot also pointed out the special problems presented by narrative films. We may find the exaggerated expressions and gestures of silent movies laughably quaint today, but the primitive medium of the time made them vitally necessary, as Talbot explains:

The stage management of a play before the celluloid film is far more exacting than the staging of a play behind the footlights. . . . The picture play is essentially pantomime and the camera is a searching, unequivocal critic. It produces a stern, matter-of-fact representation of what is enacted before it. There is no dialogue to conceal blemishes, or mitigate the deficiencies of the actors and actresses. Words have to be converted into action and gestures.

Although “talking pictures” were still 13 years in the future, Talbot has a chapter on early attempts to make sound films. But he didn’t think much of them. “[U]ntil the peculiar nasal sound is eliminated from the talking machine it will not prove popular. . . . [T]he majority of picture-theatre lovers, after the first wave of excitement and curiosity, will patronise those establishments where they can see movement alone.” One wonders what he would have made of today’s ultra-realistic Dolby sound systems. Talbot also bemoans the failure of attempts to make true-color films, which had begun as early as the 19th Century.

The six chapters on trick cinematography are especially fascinating, showing how early filmmakers thought outside the box to enthrall audiences with special effects – all created without the aid of a computer. Stop-motion photography, double-exposure, miniature models, invisible wires, and other devices, some still in use today, were all invented at this period. Camera tricks to make people look gigantic or tiny – in the 21st Century used to very great effect in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films – also dated from this time. One interesting, if sad, example of a film trick known as “stop and substitution” involved a real-life “legless cripple,” as Talbot calls him, who was paid to be a stunt-double in a French film about a car accident. A character played by the lead actor gets his legs severed by a car. The legless double, with fake severed legs, substitutes for the actor. The legs are then miraculously reattached by a passing doctor, the actor now substituting for the double. Talbot surmised, “Probably the unfortunate had never before found his misfortune so profitable to him.”

Film preservation was of great concern to Talbot, but he was fatalistic about it because of

the perishable character of the celluloid film, and also of the photographic image upon the emulsion. Both would deteriorate, even if preserved in hermetically sealed cases, with the flight of time, and the chances are if a film were held for one hundred years that it would be found useless when opened at the end of that period.

He also feared that, because celluloid was so flammable, “The end is tragic: the film slips from sight in flame and smoke.” His fears were not unfounded. The Library of Congress estimates that some 75% of American silent films have been “completely lost to time and neglect.”

Talbot stays entirely on-topic in his discussion of the technical side of movie-making. You won’t find gossipy references to the top movie stars of the day, like Mary Pickford. But you will marvel at how early filmmakers developed the very equipment and techniques that still keep us entertained over a century later.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Children’s Book Week 2022

May 1, 2022

Tomorrow kicks off the first of two Children’s Book Weeks for 2022 – May 2 to 8 and November 7 to 13. Established in 1919, Children’s Book Week has engaged children with books through events at schools, libraries, bookstores, and, in recent years, online. Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg have been proud to be part of this online initiative by making available to everyone, for free, a wide variety of public-domain children’s books. And over the past year, DP has contributed some fun and interesting children’s books to Project Gutenberg in celebration of Children’s Book Week.

Animals are always a popular category in the juvenile genre. Elizabeth Stafford Fry’s Bully Bull Frog and His Home in Rainbow Valley (1921) is a series of gentle stories about various animals in idyllic Rainbow Valley, with pretty color illustrations by Frances Beem. Published the same year, The Woodcutter’s Dog is a translation of 19th-Century French author Charles Nodier‘s short story about a heroic canine. It features charming color illustrations by English artist Claud Lovat Fraser. And from the previous century is Eliza Grey’s The Adventures of a Marmotte (1831), the whimsical “memoir” of a large ground squirrel. This book is unusual in that it was “sold for the distressed Irish,” apparently a reference to the 1830 potato crop failure and subsequent food riots in Ireland (not to be confused with the later, and far worse, Great Famine).

Children have always loved book series with engaging heroes and heroines. In 1842, educator and clergyman Jacob Abbott followed up his successful educational “Rollo” series (many of which are at Project Gutenberg) with one for girls featuring Rollo’s Cousin Lucy. Cousin Lucy at Play and Cousin Lucy at Study are both interesting slices of a child’s life in pre-Civil War America, with an emphasis on good conduct and kindness to others.

Good conduct for children is meticulously laid out in the 1856 guide, Etiquette for Little Folks, by an anonymous author. Given how highly class-conscious that era was, it’s not surprising to find advice such as, “Be meek, courteous, and affable to your inferiors; not proud nor scornful. To be courteous, even to the lowest, is a true index of a great and generous mind.” And in The School-Girls in Number 40, published in 1859 by the American Sunday-School Union, the boarding-school heroines learn about sharing, tolerance, penitence, and forgiveness.

The antebellum period in America is also represented by Fanny Fern‘s story collection The Play-Day Book, published in 1857. Fern was the most highly paid newspaper columnist of her day and is said to have coined the saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” The Play-Day Book followed on the success of her first children’s book, Little Ferns for Fanny’s Little Friends (1853). Fern’s conversational style made both her newspaper columns and her breezy little stories highly readable.

The author of Alice and Beatrice, published in 1881, is listed simply as “Grandmamma,” who is also the character who tells young Alice and Beatrice the stories in the book. Each story has an educational component, on such diverse subjects as lacemaking, life in Russia, rainbows, bees, and more.

Before writing the immortal Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne wrote a lovely collection of fantasy stories, appropriately entitled A Gallery of Children. The book, published in 1925, features exquisite color illustrations by Dutch illustrator Henriette Willebeek le Mair, also known as “Saida.”

Poetry is a perennial childhood favorite. Miriam Clark Potter’s Rhymes of a Child’s World (1920) has delightful line drawings and decorations by Ruth Fuller Stevens. Its dedication reads:

TO MY MOTHER AND FATHER
WHO ALWAYS HAD TIME
TO WAIVE GROWN-UP MATTERS
AND READ A SMALL RHYME:

WHOSE HEARTS EVER HELD
THROUGH THE FLIGHT OF THE YEARS
A SOFT UNDERSTANDING
OF SMALL JOYS AND TEARS.

A much earlier little volume of children’s poetry, Simple Poems for Infant Minds (1856), anonymously written and illustrated, contains just what the title says, with a blend of whimsy and moral instruction.

Dime novels were wildly popular in the 19th Century and beyond. The Boy Ranger; or, The Heiress of the Golden Horn, by Oll Coomes, published in 1874, is a good example of the kind of Western adventure much loved by children back then. This one is a bit unusual for the time in that it portrays a Native American tribal chief and his warriors in a heroic light.

Lastly, music makes an appearance with The Pinafore Picture Book (1908), a delightful children’s version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s popular operetta H.M.S. Pinafore. It was written by W.S. Gilbert himself and beautifully illustrated by Alice B. Woodward. The e-book version contains audio files so you can listen to the musical excerpts from the operetta that were printed in the original book.

We hope these selections will delight your inner child this Children’s Book Week!

This article was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Creating E-Book Covers

April 1, 2022

Distributed Proofreaders volunteers work hard to make the e-books they contribute to Project Gutenberg as user-friendly as possible. Among the things we do to that end is creating e-book cover images to make it easy for readers to find e-books of interest to them.

The role and requirements

Book covers in the digital age have taken a different role. Where in the past covers and dust jackets served to protect and later also advertise the book, they now mainly serve to advertise the book and make it easy to quickly locate it on a computer or e-reader screen. With that changed role, the requirements for book covers have also changed.

In short, the role of a book cover in the digital age is to

  • Invite a potential reader to give it some attention.
  • Provide an easy-to-locate icon in e-book readers or computer screens, so it can be found quickly.
  • Provide a reasonably sized, readable short title and the author’s name, so people can ascertain they have selected the book they want.
  • Give some impression of the type of content to expect.

All the while considering that a digital cover is now often just the size of a postage stamp.

A short history

Historically, decorated book covers are a relatively new invention. Books started to be sold in neatly designed covers only by the end of the 19th Century, and in some countries even later. Book buyers were expected to provide their own cover and binding, as desired and fitting for their personal library. So the publisher just sold the book as a bound stack of pages with a nondescript paper cover. That is why old libraries often look very uniform, with all those similarly and often richly bound and decorated volumes. (Our 34,000th title contributed to Project Gutenberg was a manual of artistic bookbinding published in 1878.)

Since books are stored in bookcases or cabinets with only their spine visible, the publisher needed only to put identifying information, such as the title, on the spine. The cover could remain boringly neutral, or, as with some ancient bibles, heavily decorated, but there was no need to put a title on them.

Fortunately, many of the originals we work from at Project Gutenberg are late 19th- and early 20th-Century titles, which often do have nice book covers. However, even when the book we are digitizing does have a cover, it is the part of a book (after the spine) that is most likely to suffer from wear and tear, stained with ink and coffee, mutilated by repeated unprofessional repairs, and defaced by libraries who like to put stickers with shelf locations and bar-codes on them. They are also most exposed to sunlight and so end up discolored.

Even then, such covers were designed to be attractive when placed in the book shop’s window, on a table, or when pulled from a shelf by a prospective buyer, so the requirements for large-size titles and author names are quite different from those you’ll need on a postage-stamp-sized digital image.

Challenges

When dealing with book covers, we at Distributed Proofreaders face a number of challenges. It is our intention to reproduce the original book in its full glory, “the book, the whole book, and nothing but the book.” Of course, with the transition to a digital format, we will lose some of the artifacts of the paper medium, such as page headers and page numbers, although we often retain the latter as small notes in the margin. Similarly, book covers will have to be reinvented for our books reincarnated in their digital form.

When preparing a book for Project Gutenberg, we will address these challenges in different ways.

Locating a good quality cover

First of all, we prefer to use an image of the original cover, so if we have one, we can use that as a starting point. In that case, it often requires some digital restoration. But before we invest in the labor-intensive process of restoration, we’ll seek out alternatives. If we don’t have a good quality cover, but have some idea of what it looks like, our first step is an internet search. Surprisingly often, better-quality scans of the same cover can be found, and sometimes those can be used. We need to be sure to pick only scans of a truly matching cover (i.e., same edition and printing), both to avoid a copyright violation, and to maintain the integrity of the e-book edition we’re making. Covers tend to appear in far more variations than the book itself, even within a single print-run.

Digitally restoring a damaged cover

If our search fails to unearth a good-enough cover, we will fire up our photo-editing software to restore what we do have. My personal guidelines in digital restoration is not to try to reconstruct an as-new cover (it would be nice if such a cover is still available), but only to remove mutilations like bar-codes and disfiguring damage, such as scratches and stains. Smaller aspects of wear and tear I will leave as is: it is not a shame to be old and look it. What I will also try to do is brighten up the colors, and restore color balance. Of course this involves a lot of guesswork, but again, if we can find alternative images on-line, even if tiny photographs, they can give us an indication of the original colors if our copy is particularly discolored.

Removing disfiguring stains from the cover of Van de Noordpool naar den Aequator
Improving the cover colors for Belgian Fairy Tales
Removing the bar code from the cover of The Mason Wasps

Adding titles and authors to original covers

As explained above, the original cover will often not mention the title or author at all. In such cases, to make it easier to recognize a book, we can decide to digitally add the title to the front, — that is, if the original design leaves space for it, which it often does. When adding the title and author, it makes sense to use a typeface matching that of the spine (if known), or the title page. Sometimes we can also use the title from the title page directly, manipulating the color and appearance to blend in with the original cover design.

Adding the title and author to the cover of Myths of the Cherokee

Designing our own cover

Then we come to the point where we have no cover to start with at all. The book at hand is in a generic, unmarked cover, or we have none at all, for example when we work from a set of scans produced elsewhere. In that case, we will design a new cover. From here onward I will concentrate mostly on the way I do this, as other volunteers may have different procedures. It may be tempting to go all overboard and design something really fancy, but here I normally try to restrict myself and keep it functional.

One starting point I often use is the scanned cloth pattern of a book’s back to serve as a generic background. I derived a range of color variants from it. I will pick one color, depending on my mood and gut feeling of what would be appropriate for the book, and will add the original title, author, and year of original publication in a centered design. If the book itself includes a suitable illustration, often the frontispiece, I will use that. If not, I will slightly emboss a generic “PGDP” design on it, but won’t use artwork not present in the source, because of the copyright implications that might have. Balancing out the letters takes some puzzling with font-sizes, splitting lines, and letter-spacing, but normally, I am able to produce a reasonable new cover in some 15 to 30 minutes. Not perfect, probably not to everybody’s taste, but better than auto-generated.

DP-created covers for Narrative of a Five Years’ Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, Serbian Fairy Tales, and De Hogerveldt’s Oorspronkelijk Tooneelspel in 3 Bedrijven

I normally use serif typefaces, capital letters, and symmetrical design, because that was the standard in the era most of our books where produced. Asymmetric designs only started to come into vogue after the 1920’s, and thus are inconsistent with most books’ age. I still don’t feel the need to fully emulate an old style cover: I typically use somewhat brighter and larger letters, and prominently place the year of the original copy at the bottom of my design. This should immediately signal to the reader they are dealing with an old book in a new digital cover.

Some things that work less well

An alternative I regularly see is to use the title page as a replacement for a cover. I am not a big fan of that, because title pages are far more similar to each other and often black-and-white, so they lack distinctiveness. Besides that, they often include more detailed information, like the publisher’s name, author credentials, and such, given in a much smaller type. Imagine what it does with your ability to spot the book you’re looking for on a screen filled with postage stamp sized title pages in an e-reader.

Not all books in Project Gutenberg have book covers, so as a gap-stop measure, PG has a system to generate generic covers automatically. The results are not always satisfactory, because the software we use isn’t smart enough to understand what part of the title is most significant and to tweak letter sizes and spacing accordingly to obtain a pleasing result.

Finally, a little searching on some large commercial e-book platforms will reveal a range of newly designed covers for public domain books (the texts for which are often harvested from Project Gutenberg’s offerings in bulk), which range from boring to utterly hilarious: using inappropriate photographs on designs that make serious literary classics, even non-fiction, look worse than cliché Harlequin romances. Such things should not happen at Project Gutenberg, except when we keep the original pulp magazine cover that happens to be equally cringe-worthy, such as this:

Cover of the Dutch pulp magazine Lord Lister No. 8

This post was contributed by Jeroen Hellingman, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


In Memoriam Stephen Hutcheson

March 1, 2022

With heavy but grateful hearts, the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders bid farewell to our Beloved Emeritus Stephen Hutcheson (1956-2021), who uploaded his final book to Project Gutenberg on September 27, 2021, one day before he passed away.

Stephen joined DP in July 2004 under the user name “hutcheson” and ultimately became one of our most prolific contributors. Although he proofread and formatted over 75,000 pages, his primary roles were as a Content Provider, Project Manager, and Post-Processor for numerous projects that he shepherded from the beginning steps (copyright clearances, image scanning) to final upload to PG. He also graciously processed items from the collections of other volunteers, with a “kid in the candy store” glee over the latest find. (Anything pertaining to his beloved home state of Tennessee would get top priority!) He completed over 1,000 projects and was also active with Distributed Proofreaders Canada, completing around 200 titles in the Canadian public domain. One of his projects, French Painting of the 19th Century in the National Gallery of Art, was selected as Distributed Proofreaders’ 37,000th title posted to PG and was celebrated in this Hot off the Press blog post.

Stephen was the oldest and only boy of six children reared on a farm in Murfreesboro. His sister, Libby Smelser, recalls that his hay fever kept him indoors, reading voraciously, listening to classical music, playing solo chess. “He was very cerebral, very focused, with wide-ranging interests … his mind had so many tendrils. We sisters thought he was just terribly smart!” Stephen followed in his father’s footsteps, graduating from Middle Tennessee State University and becoming a computer programmer. He and wife Ruth were married for over twenty years, and had two children, Laura and David. Although separated, he and Ruth remained dear friends; she enjoyed accompanying him on his book scouting forays to secondhand shops.

Stephen spent years developing his own tools for post-processing DP projects, requiring a special set of proofreading and formatting methods. Volunteers who braved the learning curve of his “Hutcheson Wiki” guidelines were rewarded with a rich variety of topics that reflected his own eclectic interests: old buildings, “interesting places” (as he phrased it), anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, history of inventions and technology, arts and crafts, cookbooks, botany, U.S. history and geography/geology, mining/minerals, religious history and hymnology, classical music, ornithology and zoology, juvenile mystery/adventure series, and science fiction. He loved coming upon cross-references between books at Project Gutenberg, saying, “That’s the thing about a library: the bigger it gets, the more the books start talking to each other.”

Stephen processed many field guides for U.S. National and State Parks, monuments, nature parks, museums, and locations with historical importance, with a view to having an eBook guide available to any traveler with a smartphone. These were his favorite projects to work on, and he had a penchant for maps and atlases. He inherited a love of birding from his family, and contributed many books about flora and fauna.

Stephen participated in DP’s “Project Not Quite Nancy Drew,” featuring various juvenile series in which young people ran around “unsupervised and unchecked,” solving mysteries and having adventures. His contributions helped expand and even complete PG’s collection of series such as the Camp Fire Girls, Jean Craig, Judy Bolton, Motor Girls, Dorothy Dale, Go Ahead Boys, The Airship Boys, and many more. His sardonic sense of humor was evident in his project comments: “What to expect: Ghosts. Cemeteries. Midnight vigils. Ominous telegrams. Disguises. Trafficking in illegitimate rubber products. City kids lost in the woods on a snowy night. Most frightening of all, efficiency experts in the newsroom. Amnesiacs. And … I forget. But I’m sure our blundering but persistent detective figured it all out, and her father published everything in a special edition of the Star.”

Soon after being diagnosed with leukemia, he was hospitalized in December 2020 until his passing in September 2021, but he continued diligently working on DP projects from his hospital room. He often remarked that DP was what kept him sane, and he worked every day except when the chemotherapy affected his vision. Even when he was in the ICU on a breathing machine, he made the effort to connect to DP. He was determined to reach a personal milestone of 1,000 projects uploaded to PG, which he achieved with about 80 to spare in his final weeks. Ruth recalled,

“Stephen loved his work and his friendships at Distributed Proofreaders. This spilled over into his contacts with the hospital staff as they learned about DP. His ability to continue with DP kept him going throughout his long hospitalization…. I was so thankful he could continue his passion project until almost the last day. It brought him joy, fed his thirst for knowledge, and gave him goals to work toward even on the most difficult days. The hospital staff encouraged him, inquired daily about his projects, kept track of his book count on his patient whiteboard, and celebrated each book completed. After he reached 200 books [posted to PG] while in hospital, staff gave him a celebration party.”

The DP community can certainly relate to Ruth’s phrase “passion project.” Stephen’s passion and dedication is an inspiration. DP offered Stephen the perfect venue for his love of books, his insatiable curiosity, and desire to stay productive until his very last day of life. In turn, he has left an enduring legacy of preserving lovely books across many genres for all the world to have at their fingertips – a treasure indeed. Rest in peace, Stephen. You were one of a kind.

This post was contributed by Lisa Corcoran (Leebot), a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer. Many thanks to Ruth Hutcheson and Libby Hutcheson Smelser for their valuable insight. Photos of Stephen courtesy of Ruth Hutcheson.


Celebrating 43,000 Titles

February 1, 2022

This post – in English and German – celebrates the 43,000th title Distributed Proofreaders has posted to Project Gutenberg: Die Sitten der Völker, Zweiter Band (The Customs of Peoples, Volume II). Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it! This post was contributed by salmonofdoubt, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.

‘… much of the material possession of the tribes on their way to extinction, their weapons, tools, clothes, and many other everyday objects could just be preserved and included in the ethnographical museums. This is much less the case with the spiritual and intellectual heritage of the peoples in question, such as customs, practices, religious views, and so forth, even though some of the explorers attach importance particularly to this area of interest; but, unfortunately, an enormous amount of time and effort is needed to penetrate deeply into the inner life of the primitive peoples, which is quite different to how it is with us civilised people, and on the other hand, their perceptions have been subject to change in earlier times, as a result of European influences, which wound their way to them, sometimes in a roundabout way that one might never had expected.’

G. Buschan, The Customs of Peoples, Vol. I.

Georg Buschan, in his time, was a quite well-known and prolific author who devoted himself to anthropological, ethnological, and ethnographical questions, thereby reaching a large audience. His works counted among the most eminent and most comprehensive depictions in this range of subjects. Without doubt, Buschan still belongs to the older branch of ethnographers, classifying the cultures of peoples into ‘uncivilised’ and ‘civilised,’ even though the sense of mission and the narrow-mindedness of social scientists of the 18th and 19th Centuries can be found in Buschan’s works merely in a somewhat reduced form. At the same time, he was well aware that the original and unaltered cultural practices were already a thing of the past.

After serving as a military surgeon, Buschan travelled to Eastern Asia and to the Balkan Peninsula, but he was especially interested in the former German colony of Cameroon. Most of the chapters in The Customs of Peoples concerning this region of Africa can be ascribed to his authorship. Many of the book chapters from other regions of the world were written by well-known and renowned explorers, such as Sven Hedin, the Swedish explorer of Asia, and the Australian biologist and ethnologist Sir Baldwin Spencer.

‘Ethnography can be considered a fundamental methodology of the social sciences. Over the past century, ethnographic methodology has led to the discovery of some of the most valuable concepts, theory and data produced in the social sciences.’

Faye Allard and Elijah Anderson, Encyclopedia of Social Measurement, 2005.

The past decades have brought a substantial change to ethnography, particularly after the heyday of colonialism gradually came to an end after the First World War. Up to that time the depiction of foreign peoples had always been compared to the paradigm of the own culture. The ‘alien’ was considered to be the less developed, with a need for development; the colonial powers’ culture, on the other hand, was made out to be the shining example. This perspective also provided a pretext for the colonial powers to actively interfere in the affairs of foreign peoples.

Today, ethnography rarely depicts entire groups of peoples but rather addresses smaller social groups, even units as small as a football team or a work group. One important reason for this reorientation might be found in the intense mixing of cultures. Probably, an environment unaffected by the outside world no longer exists anywhere.

Even by the time Buschan published his three-volume The Customs of Peoples in 1914-1916, this was more or less true. The contributors to the work keep encountering outside influences of European culture wherever they go. Sometimes the influences manifest themselves very plainly, as seen in the omnipresent Christian symbolism in some colonies, for example, in Central and South America. Objects of European production can be seen in some of the illustrations, sometimes subtly hidden, but they are still there; for example, articles of clothing or tools that found their way into the everyday life of the observed peoples, having thus changed their traditional practices.

Without doubt, The Customs of Peoples can be considered one of Buschan’s most important works. In the first volume, Buschan focused on the peoples of Australia, Oceania, and the southern and eastern parts of Asia. In the second volume he delved into the civilisations of the remaining parts of Asia, as well as Northern, Eastern, and Southern Africa. The third volume, in progress at Distributed Proofreaders, concludes the series with the description of the peoples of Western Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Each of the three volumes contains about 500 illustrations, mostly photos and colour drawings. In fact, the books create the impression of being picture books, probably to appeal to a wider audience. Today the choice of the subjects might not be classed as ‘politically correct.’ A disproportionately high number of illustrations show scantily dressed women and young girls, which might be intended to get the predominantly male readers interested in the contents of the books.

Yet, it would not be right to impose today’s standards on yesterday’s ways of thinking. Our variety of different cultures is continually changing. A great number of things are changing almost daily, and in a hundred years’ time our view of the world may well be just greeted with smiles.


Dieser Blog-Artikel auf Englisch und Deutsch würdigt das 43.000ste Projekt, das Distributed Proofreaders bei Project Gutenberg veröffentlicht hat: den Die Sitten der Völker, Zweiter Band. Herzlichen Glückwunsch und vielen Dank an alle Freiwilligen bei Distributed Proofreaders, die an diesem Projekt gearbeitet haben! Dieser Blog-Beitrag auf Deutsch wurde von salmonofdoubt, einer Freiwilligen für Distributed Proofreaders, verfasst.

„… vieles von dem materiellen Besitz der im Aussterben begriffenen Stämme, also von ihren Waffen, Werkzeugen, Kleidung und vielen anderen Gegenständen des täglichen Lebens konnte noch gerettet und den ethnographischen Museen einverleibt werden. Weniger trifft dies aber für den geistigen Kulturbesitz der fraglichen Völker, wie Sitten, Gebräuche, religiöse Ansichten und dergleichen zu, obwohl manche der Forschungsreisenden gerade auch auf dieses Gebiet bei ihren Forschungen Gewicht legten; aber leider gehört, um in das Innenleben der primitiven Völker einzudringen, das ein ganz anderes als bei uns Kulturmenschen ist, viel Zeitaufwand und Mühe, und zum anderen haben ihre Vorstellungen verschiedentlich durch europäischen Einfluß, der manchmal auf Umwegen, auf denen man es gar nicht vermuten würde, schon in früheren Zeiten zu ihnen gelangte, eine Abänderung erfahren.“

(G. Buschan, „Die Sitten der Völker“, Erster Band)

Georg Buschan war in seiner Zeit ein ziemlich bekannter und produktiver Autor, der sich mit anthropologischen, ethnologischen und ethnographischen Fragen beschäftigte und damit ein großes Publikum erreichte. Seine Werke zählten zu den bedeutendsten und umfassendsten Darstellungen dieser Themengebiete. Buschan selbst muss zweifellos noch dem älteren Zweig der Ethnographie zugerechnet werden, der die Kulturen der Völker wertend in „primitiv“ und „entwickelt“ einordnet, wenngleich sich das Sendungsbewusstsein und die Engstirnigkeit der Sozialwissenschaftler des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts sich bei ihm nur noch in abgeschwächter Form findet. Ihm selbst war dabei sehr wohl bewusst, dass die Inhalte der ursprünglichen und unverfälschten Kulturen bereits der Vergangenheit angehörten.

Nach seinem Dienst als Militärarzt reiste Buschan nach Ostasien und auf die Balkanhalbinsel, vor allem aber galt sein Interesse der damaligen deutschen Kolonie Kamerun; die meisten seiner Buchbeiträge, die sich mit dieser Region Afrikas beschäftigen, stammen daher aus seiner eigenen Feder. Die Beiträge für seine Bücher, die aus anderen Weltgegenden stammen, wurden oft von berühmten und angesehenen Forschern, wie beispielsweise dem schwedischen Asienreisenden Sven Hedin und dem australischen Biologen und Ethnologen Sir Baldwin Spencer verfasst.

„Ethnographie kann als eine fundamentale Methodik der Sozialwissenschaften begriffen werden. Im Laufe des vergangenen Jahrhunderts hat die ethnographische Methodik zur Entdeckung einiger der wertvollsten Konzepte, Theorien und Fakten geführt, die in den Sozialwissenschaften hervorgebracht wurden.“

(Faye Allard, Elijah Anderson, Encyclopedia of Social Measurement, 2005)

Die vergangenen Jahrzehnte haben der Ethnographie einen beträchtlichen Wandel beschert, insbesondere nachdem die Blütezeit des Kolonialismus mit dem ersten Weltkrieg allmählich zu Ende ging. Bis dahin wurde die Beschreibung fremder Völker ausschließlich am Paradigma der eigenen Kultur gemessen. Das „Fremde“ wurde stets als das weniger Entwickelte, Entwicklungsbedürftige, angesehen, die eigene Kultur dagegen als leuchtendes Vorbild dargestellt. Diese Sichtweise lieferte dann auch einen Vorwand der Kolonialmächte, als selbsternannte Weltverbesserer in die Geschicke anderer Völker eingreifen zu dürfen.

Die moderne Ethnographie beschreibt heute nur noch selten ganze Völkergruppen, sondern widmet sich vielmehr kleineren sozialen Einheiten, sogar bis hinunter zu Fußballmannschaften oder Arbeitsteams. Ein wichtiger Grund für diese Umorientierung dürfte unter anderem in der starken Durchmischung der Kulturen zu finden sein. Eine von der Außenwelt unbeeinflusstes Umfeld kann heute nirgendwo mehr bestehen.

Bereits zur Entstehungszeit der „Sitten der Völker“, von 1914–1916, lagen die Dinge schon ganz ähnlich. Wo immer sie hinkommen, treffen die Beitragenden der Bücher in den jeweiligen Gegenden der Welt auf die Einflüsse europäischer Kultur. Manchmal treten diese Einflüsse so deutlich zutage wie bei der allgegenwärtigen christlichen Symbolik in einigen Kolonien, beispielsweise in Mittel- und Südamerika. Bei vielen Gelegenheiten erkennt man in den Abbildungen Gegenstände aus europäischer Produktion, manchmal subtil versteckt, und dennoch sind sie vorhanden; zum Beispiel Kleidungsstücke oder Werkzeuge, die schon längst in das Alltagsleben der betrachteten Völker Einzug gehalten, und somit die althergebrachten Gebräuche verändert hatten.

Zweifelsohne können „Die Sitten der Völker“ als eines der wichtigsten Werke des Autors betrachtet werden. Im ersten Teil widmet sich Buschan den Völkern Australiens und Ozeaniens sowie dem südlichen und östlichen Teil Asiens. Im zweiten Band befasst sich der Autor mit den Kulturen aus den restlichen Teilen Asiens sowie dem nördlichen, östlichen und südlichen Afrika. Der dritte Teil beschließt die Reihe mit der Beschreibung der Völker Westafrikas, Amerikas und Europas. (Der dritte Band ist bei Distributed Proofreaders in Arbeit.) Jeder der drei Bände enthält etwa 500 Abbildungen, meist Fotos und farbige Zeichnungen. Tatsächlich erwecken die Bücher manchmal den Eindruck eines Bildbandes, sicher auch um ein breiteres Publikum anzusprechen. Die Wahl der Motive würde man heute wohl kaum als „politisch korrekt“ einstufen. Überdurchschnittlich viele Abbildungen zeigen spärlich bekleidete Frauen und junge Mädchen, was möglicherweise die überwiegend männliche Leserschaft für den Inhalt der Bücher interessieren sollte.

Es wäre jedoch nicht richtig, die heutigen Maßstäbe an die Denkweisen von gestern anzulegen. Auch unsere heutige Vielfalt an verschiedenen Kulturen ist in immerwährendem Wandel. Viele Dinge ändern sich beinahe täglich, und in hundert Jahren wird man für unsere Sicht auf die Welt wohl nur noch ein mildes Lächeln übrig haben.


Freud’s Dreams

January 1, 2022
The Nightmare, by Henry Fuseli (1781). Freud reportedly had a copy of it hanging in his apartment.

I am very incompletely dressed, and I go from a dwelling on the ground floor up a flight of stairs to an upper story. In doing this I jump over three steps at a time, and I am glad to find I can mount the steps so quickly. Suddenly I see that a servant girl is coming down the stairs, that is, towards me. I am ashamed and try to hurry away, and now there appears that sensation of being impeded; I am glued to the steps and cannot move from the spot.

Who among us hasn’t had that dismaying dream of being in a state of undress in front of others? Or of desperately wanting to get away but being frozen to the spot? Even Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, had this classic anxiety dream, as he recounts in Chapter V of his groundbreaking work, The Interpretation of Dreams, first published in 1899. Thanks to Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg volunteers, you can read the 1914 fourth edition in German, Die Traumdeutung, or the 1913 English translation of the third edition by A.A. Brill, the first psychoanalyst to practice in the United States.

Humans have been trying to make sense of their dreams for thousands of years. The ancient Sumerians treated them as prophecy. In the Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 1800 BCE), one of the earliest surviving pieces of human literature, the hero dreams of a falling star; his mother interprets the dream to mean that he will soon have a new friend. Shortly thereafter, he meets Enkidu, his boon companion through many adventures, and both of them have significant dreams that are portents of things to come.

This view of dreaming as an aid to divination persisted for many centuries in many cultures. But, as Freud points out in Chapter I of The Interpretation of Dreams, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was probably the first to recognize a psychological component to dreams. Unlike his contemporaries, Aristotle did not believe that dreams were prophetic. Rather, he believed that they were sleep-altered forms of impressions the dreamer received during his waking life. And that’s exactly how Freud interpreted his staircase dream:

The situation of the dream is taken from everyday reality…. When I have finished my work downstairs late at night, I go up the steps into my bedroom. On the evening before the dream I had actually gone this short distance in a somewhat disorderly attire—that is to say, I had taken off my collar, cravat, and cuffs; but in the dream this has changed into a somewhat more advanced degree of undress, which as usual is indefinite. Jumping over the steps is my usual method of mounting stairs; moreover it is the fulfilment of a wish that has been recognised in the dream, for I have reassured myself about the condition of my heart action by the ease of this accomplishment.

The impetus for the dream arises from events in Freud’s daily life, consistent with Aristotle’s view. But Freud goes further. The meaning he assigns the dream is the cornerstone of his dream theory: wish fulfillment. The unconscious mind forms a wish; the wish is expressed in a dream, but in a disguised form due to an internal “censor” in one’s mind. Freud believed that the wish fulfillment in this particular dream revolved around his health – his concerns about his heart were assuaged by his being able to easily jump three steps at a time in the dream. As for the rest, he felt he “must postpone the further interpretation of this dream until I can give an account of the origin of the typical dream of incomplete dress.” Although his appearing before the servant partially dressed was “undoubtedly of a sexual character,” it puzzled him because the servant involved was an unattractive older woman.

Freud interprets several of his own dreams, as well as his patients’ dreams, along the same lines. In discussing some of them, he introduces his famous theory of the Oedipus complex – the unconscious wish to kill one parent and have sexual relations with the other. Freud argued that all children have such wishes to some extent, although most don’t have them in an intense form. He noted that “parents play a leading part in the infantile psychology of all later neurotics, and falling in love with one member of the parental couple and hatred of the other help to make up that fateful sum of material furnished by the psychic impulses, which has been formed during the infantile period, and which is of such great importance for the symptoms appearing in the later neurosis.” These “psychic impulses” are sometimes expressed in violent and/or erotic dreams about one’s parents. Indeed, Freud points out, such dreams are even referred to in Sophocles’s play Oedipus Rex, when Jocasta tells her husband Oedipus (who does not yet know that he has murdered his father and married his mother) that “it hath already been the lot of many men in dreams to think themselves partners of their mother’s bed. But he passes most easily through life to whom these circumstances are trifles.” This “trifle,” however, inevitably leads to tragedy for Oedipus and Jocasta. In Freud’s view, it could lead to neurosis.

Freud acknowledges that the ancient belief in dreams as prophecy is “not entirely devoid of truth. By representing to us a wish as fulfilled the dream certainly leads us into the future; but this future, taken by the dreamer as present, has been formed into the likeness of that past by the indestructible wish.” And to Freud, this method of interpreting a patient’s dreams is a critical tool in psychoanalysis, as it is “the via regia to a knowledge of the unconscious in the psychic life.” He considered it so crucial that in 1901 he published an abridged version of The Interpretation of Dreams, entitled On Dreams, to make it more accessible to those interested in this new method of psychoanalysis. Another abridgement, Dream Psychology: Psycholanalysis for Beginners, was published in 1920 in an authorized English translation by British psychoanalyst M.D. Eder.

Freud later adjusted some of his theories, and later psychoanalysts have refined or taken issue with some of his interpretations, but The Interpretation of Dreams remains a seminal work in the development of psychoanalysis.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer. Hot off the Press wishes all its readers a happy and healthy New Year – and hopes those wishes are fulfilled.


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