Terra Australis

June 1, 2019

One of the great cultural phenomena of the Victorian era was the rise of scholarly societies, which attracted the outstanding scientific and artistic minds of the day. Among these was the Hakluyt Society, founded in London in 1846 and still in existence today, whose aim was to further the study of world exploration. It counted Charles Darwin among its early members. The society was named after the Elizabethan-era geographer Richard Hakluyt, whose magnum opus was The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation.

One of the society’s purposes was to publish historical accounts of voyages in the spirit of Hakluyt’s work. Among these was geographer Richard Henry Major‘s 1859 study, Early Voyages to Terra Australis, Now Called Australia. Major, who served as secretary of the Hakluyt Society, was the curator of the map collection at the British Museum.

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Terra Australis is a book about the discovery of Australia, which I found very interesting. Many original documents, or their translations, are given. It was fascinating to read how many hardships those early explorers had to overcome. They must have been really good navigators, too, given how hard it was to find suitable and safe spots to anchor. In addition to their hard work on board, they also had to face the danger of shipwrecks, which happened all too frequently — but they often succeeded not only in surviving, but also in building another seaworthy vessel from the materials of the wreckage!

Another big challenge they faced was the search for drinkable water. This was always a problem, and the primary reason for seeking out a decent landing-place. If a spot was found where the ship could anchor without a great risk of running aground on shoals, some crew members went ashore and started digging for water. Often they found none on the small islands; when they were lucky, they found a spring or a pool, but the water from those pools was mostly brackish, and not good for drinking. However, they could use it to cook their oatmeal.

But the places where they found good water were often inhabited by aboriginals, or “savages,” as the explorers of the time called them. These people indeed lived very primitively, without houses or clothing most of the time. A certain island population  lived only on a few roots, as well as fish that they caught by placing some rocks around a small space near the sea that was dry at ebb tide but filled at flood tide. When the tide receded again, they gathered the fish that were left in the small space. Although they knew how to make fire, they didn’t use it for cooking. These fish and roots seemed to be their only diet. No wonder they were described as thin.

The aboriginals on many of these islands mostly fled when they saw that white people from the ships were coming ashore, but some were warlike, and threw wooden lances, wooden spears, or stones at the sailors. There were also tribes who were peaceful and who welcomed the visitors, although no verbal communication was possible. In one case, however, when leaving the island, the explorers said that they found that almost all of the natives became treacherous, trying to steal whatever they could, even though they had received many presents from the explorers already.

Another laborious task of these explorers was the mapping. Day and night, nearly every hour, they needed to check their compass and note the longitude and latitude they were on. They also checked the depth of the water constantly when land was in sight, and also noted of which substance the soil consisted, be it sand, rock, coral or anything else. In this way they mapped out not only the land, but also the coral reefs!

Of course, the explorers also described the fauna and flora of the lands they visited. Terra Australis quotes from Captain William Dampier‘s account of his 1699 voyage to Western Australia. There, he observed kangaroos and shinglebacks:

The land animals that we saw here were only a sort of raccoons, different from those of the West Indies, chiefly as to their legs; for these have very short fore legs, but go jumping upon them as the others do (and like them are very good meat); and a sort of guanos, of the same shape and size with other guanos, describ’d (vol. i, p. 57), but differing from them in three remarkable particulars: for these had a larger and uglier head, and had no tail, and at the rump, instead of the tail there, they had a stump of a tail, which appear’d like another head; but not really such, being without mouth or eyes: yet this creature seem’d by this means to have a head at each end, and, which may be reckon’d a fourth difference, the legs also seem’d all four of them to be fore-legs, being all alike in shape and length, and seeming by the joints and bending to be made as if they were to go indifferently either head or tail foremost. They were speckled black and yellow, like toads, and had scales or knobs on their backs like those of crocodiles, plated on to the skin, or stuck into it as part of the skin. They are very slow in motion, and when a man comes nigh them they will stand still and hiss, not endeavouring to get away. Their livers are also spotted black and yellow, and the body when opened hath a very unsavoury smell. I did never see such ugly creatures any where but here. The guanos I have observ’d to be very good meat, and I have often eaten of them with pleasure; but tho’ I have eaten of snakes, crocodiles, and allegators, and many creatures that look frightfully enough, and there are but few I should have been afraid to eat of if prest by hunger, yet I think my stomach would scarce have serv’d to venture upon these New Holland guanos, both the looks and the smell of them being so offensive.

In another interesting document, a Spanish cosmographer, Dr. Juan Luis Arias, tried to convince King Philip III of Spain to send an expedition to “the southern land.” His “memorial,” or petition, to the king, written in the early 17th Century, is remarkable. As is commonly known, Spain at that time was a very Roman Catholic nation. Arias’s memorial urges the king to finance an expedition to Australia, not only for the good of Spain and the glory of the king, but most importantly, to bring “our holy faith and Catholic religion” to “its numberless inhabitants, who are so long waiting for this divine and celestial benefit at the hand of Your Majesty.” When reading this memorial, I was rather astonished at how boldly Arias addressed the king. He quoted extensively from the Bible and said it was the duty of the king, as sovereign of a nation that belonged to the Church, to send people to bring the Gospel to the inhabitants of the new land, or else he would have to answer for his refusal before God. This he repeated several times. It seems rather daring for a subject to use such a threatening tone towards his sovereign, but Arias must have hoped it would be effective (it wasn’t — vast as its global empire was, Spain never did gain a foothold in Australia).

These are only some of the remarkable anecdotes in Terra Australis, and the book is definitely worth reading, because much more can be learned from it. It almost reads like an adventure novel. But it contains true stories, the adventures of real explorers and seamen, and all their perils and successes.

This post was contributed by Eevee, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


The April Baby’s Book of Tunes

May 1, 2019

This post is published in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Children’s Book Week, April 29 to May 5, 2019.

Greenaway illustration

Distributed Proofreaders volunteers have always loved preserving children’s books, from the famous to the obscure. Hot off the Press has highlighted quite a few of our outstanding e-book versions of works for young people, such as L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, popular juvenile series starring the likes of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, dime-novel series like Motor Matt, and books illustrated by beloved artists like Walter Crane. But these are just a tiny fraction of the total: Distributed Proofreaders has contributed over 3,700 children’s books to Project Gutenberg.

One very recent example is The April Baby’s Book of Tunes, published in 1900. It tells the story of three little girls in Germany who are stuck indoors during an unexpected April snowstorm just before Easter. Their mother entertains them by setting a variety of well-known English nursery rhymes to music.

Though credited only as “the author of Elizabeth and her German Garden,” the author was Elizabeth von Arnim, then known as the Countess von Arnim-Schlagenthin. Born Mary Annette Beauchamp in Australia but raised in England, she married a Prussian count in 1891. They had five children (three of whom were the models for the little girls in The April Baby’s Book of Tunes), but the marriage was not a happy one. The count’s propensity for racking up debts eventually led to his being imprisoned for fraud. This in turn led to her writing her successful semi-autobiographical novel, Elizabeth and Her German Garden (1898), under the pseudonym “Elizabeth.” She wrote some 20 books, mainly novels; two of them, The Enchanted April (1922) and Mr. Skeffington (1940), were made into popular films. After the count’s death in 1910, a turbulent affair with H.G. Wells, and another unhappy marriage, this time to the 2nd Earl Russell (whom she satirized in her 1921 novel Vera), she led a peripatetic life that took her all over Europe and the United States. She died in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1941.

Perhaps the most delightful part of The April Baby’s Book of Tunes are its 16 charming color illustrations by the great children’s book artist Kate Greenaway. It was one of Greenaway’s last published works; she tragically died in 1901 of breast cancer at the age of 55. She was justly famous for her use of vibrant color in depicting beautiful children in beautiful surroundings, and The April Baby’s Book of Tunes is no exception.

As if that weren’t enough, the book features 10 little songs, prettily arranged for voice and piano (presumably by von Arnim herself; the composer is not credited). In the HTML version at Project Gutenberg, you can click on links to hear the music and download the notation if you wish.

The April Baby’s Book of Tunes is “Elizabeth’s” only children’s book, but it’s a lovely example of the genre. It could not fail to be, with Kate Greenaway’s entrancing illustrations.

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


Celebrating 37,000 Titles

April 16, 2019

Distributed Proofreaders celebrates the 37,000th title it has posted to Project Gutenberg, French Painting of the 19th Century in the National Gallery of Art. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it.

french_painting_cover_blogAmong the joys for those who love both art and books are museum publications featuring their collections or exhibitions. Distributed Proofreaders’ 37,000th title, French Painting of the 19th Century in the National Gallery of Art is an excellent example of the delights available in this form. It’s a short booklet, just 43 pages, but it’s filled with lovely color plates of 16 selections from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art was the brainchild of Pittsburgh banker and industrialist Andrew Mellon.  He had begun collecting art in the 1890s on the advice of his friend Henry Clay Frick, whose own vast collection later became a very fine New York City museum. In 1936, Mellon — who was then embroiled in tax difficulties — approached the Roosevelt Administration with an offer to build a national art gallery, to be formed from his personal art collection and maintained by the U.S. Government with the help of a substantial financial endowment. Mellon never saw the gallery completed, however; he died in 1937, and the gallery opened in 1941.

The French Paintings booklet approaches the art chronologically, from the neoclassical work of Jacques-Louis David — famous for his portraits of Napoleon, one of which is included in the booklet — to modernists like Auguste Renoir, whose Girl with a Watering Can graces the cover. Each color plate is accompanied by a short description of the painting and its place in art history, as well as the donor’s identity (the majority were donated by New York banker Chester Dale).

Museum publications like this one were designed to make art — or history or science — more accessible to museum visitors. Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg make publications like this accessible worldwide to anyone with access to a computer, tablet, or smartphone, including people who may never see a museum in person.

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


Proofreading a Technical Text

April 1, 2019

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Introduction

Distributed Proofreaders recently made Alfred Russel Wallace’s two-volume book The Geographical Distribution of Animals (1876) available for free download from Project Gutenberg (Volume I and Volume II).

Wallace and fellow naturalist Charles Darwin not only were colleagues in their researches, but also collaboratively originated seminal ideas about the development of animal species, resulting in what is now generally known as evolution.

Scientific or technical works like Geographical Distribution can present special challenges to the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who work on them. This post explores some of those challenges.

The Distributed Proofreaders Process

Distributed Proofreaders volunteers acquire scanned images of public domain books either from online sources like The Internet Archive or by scanning the books manually. The scanned images for Geographical Distribution came from The Internet Archive.

The scanned page images are run through optical character recognition (OCR) software to turn them into editable text. Sometimes the resulting text contains what we call “scannos” — misinterpretations of the image by the OCR software, such as a speck on the image rendered as a period, or the word “I” rendered as a numeral 1. Under the guidance of a Project Manager, volunteers proofread the text for errors and to format it, a page at a time, in several rounds. The Distributed Proofreaders process enables many volunteers to work on the same book at the same time. Another volunteer (the post-processor) assembles the final product into a complete e-book which, after final checks for errors, is then posted to Project Gutenberg.

During the proofreading phase, many problems can be resolved easily. For example, a scanno, such as “carnage” for “carriage,” is simply corrected to match what appears in the original page image. Not all problems are small ones, though. The proofreader who encounters a more difficult problem, such as one of those discussed below, is required only to leave a note about it for future volunteers working on the text. Some proofreaders choose to go further and search reference materials, such as dictionaries, and ask for help in the project’s discussion forum or one of the specialised forums at Distributed Proofreaders.

While many projects at Distributed Proofreaders are straightforward, others present challenges like poor printing, resulting in poor scan quality and therefore errors in the raw text; antiquated language found in older texts; many or large tables of data, etc. The object is to determine the author’s true intention and reflect that in the final product.

Proofreading Geographical Distribution

From May to October, 2016, Distributed Proofreaders volunteers worked on the first volume, resolving (or attempting to resolve) several thorny issues, communicating with each other and the Project Manager in the Project Discussion.

This text had good quality scans, with very few typographical, spelling or grammar issues. The challenges lay in the fact that it was a deeply technical work with specialised biological terminology. Here are some of the interactions volunteers had in the Project Discussion.

Differentiating between æ and œ ligatures

With the clear scans, it was generally easy to distinguish between æ and œ ligatures. But the original printer apparently had some trouble doing so when working from the author’s manuscript. Misreading of the ligatures led to subsequent mistakes that were easily perpetuated in the rest of the work, even by such a scrupulous authority as Wallace.  Of course, in extenuation, the Internet age has made it much easier to check doubtful cases than it was in Wallace’s day.

One volunteer’s research could not determine whether Cænyra was a typo for the more likely Cœnyra. My researches led to the Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Entomology Supplement 9 (1967), where Francis Hemming states that Cænyra is “an incorrect subsequent spelling of Cœnyra.”

Both Turacœna and Turacæna occur twice in Volume I, but Turacœna is not italicised on two pages, which makes it much easier to identify. Turacœna also appears twice, and Turacæna not at all, in Volume II. Volume II includes the index, and Wallace states in the errata for Volume II that misspellings have been corrected in the Index.  These facts make Turacœna the people’s choice.

Typographic or spelling errors

A very rare typographic error in Geographical Distribution is Wallace’s reference to “the living three-handed armadillos” for three-banded armadillos.

There is a reference, with a clear connection to kingfishers, to the genus Halycon. Exhaustive, in-depth research (even using dead-tree books on my shelf) suggested that it is a long-standing error which had been perpetuated. The genus, in my humble informed opinion, should be Halcyon (as Wallace has it in the second volume, as well as several times in the first volume). In other words, a rare typo.

When a typesetter uses the upside-down letter n, it will turn into the confusing letter u, as in Otiorhynchus vs. Otiorhyuchus. Which is correct? I go for the confusing u with n theory, as rhynchus in Greek refers to nose, beak or snout, and rhyuchus is not a sensible construction. This is where familiarity with Latin or Greek roots saves the day.

But if one sees the word drougo, knowing about drongo, or finds the word scink which is usually spelled skink nowadays; there is considerable doubt. Is it an older version, or a typo? Why does he have Ethiopian, except for the one occurrence of Ethiopean?

Sometimes the puzzle is intractable without a true subject specialist’s advice.  For instance, is it Ptilornis or Ptilorhis or even Ptiloris? Ptilorhis appears to be a late misspelling; but a Ptiloris exists; and Ptilornis ends with the root of ornithology.

Dealing with typos is, of course, the real elephant (Loxodonta africana or Elephas maximus) in the room. There are two kinds of taxonomists: lumpers and splitters. The splitters at one time had about a dozen elephant species; nowadays the lumpers are in the ascendance, and we have only two. Just in case you wondered.

One of the volunteers documented a few variations in spelling or typography: honey-sucker and honeysucker; king-fisher (in the index) and kingfisher (everywhere else); wood-pecker once, elsewhere woodpecker; aerial or aërial… The list goes on. It is for the post-processor ultimately to make the final decision about standardising such variations, but sharp-eyed proofreaders can help by leaving notes about their observations.

Scientific nomenclature

The system of naming organisms with a genus name followed by a species name is  universal, if complicated. This was never completely stable, and some tough  investigations had to be undertaken to decide which version (where the volumes had  more than one) was to be accepted.

A Distributed Proofreaders volunteer agonises: “How do you feel about Wallace’s occasional habit … to start species name with a capital letter? For me, it seems [to] violate everything I’ve learned about scientific names.… Have the rules regarding capitals been different, earlier?”

Wikipedia has an interesting article about binomial nomenclature, with links to more information.  It appears that for animals, the rule was changed to make species’ names start with a lower-case letter, a change that only happened many years later for plants.

Nowadays the rule is explicit and rigid — the genus starts with a capital and the species with a lower-case letter. In the old days there were many different rules at different times, so in the case of this project, we must follow Wallace’s usage.

Hyphenating biological names

I had to leave a general note about end-of-line hyphens splitting biological names. “Whenever I find one I check the name; but in any case, these are extremely rarely hyphenated, so please don’t put the hyphens back in unless you are absolutely certain!”

Rewards of Distributed Proofreading

Understanding historical context

Working with old and unusual material which might be otherwise unobtainable frequently supplies a context for current ideas. One example is Wallace’s puzzlement about the strange and sometimes anomalous animal habitats he found. I can’t help thinking how delighted he would have been to hear about continental drift, explained by plate tectonics, the theory which the South African geologist Alexander du Toit put on a solid footing after Alfred Wegener first floated the idea in 1912, decades after Geographical Distribution was published. This quote from Wallace illustrates my meaning perfectly:

Should we ever arrive at a fair knowledge of the physical changes that have resulted in the present condition, we shall almost certainly find that many of the differences and anomalies of their existing fauna and flora will be accounted for.

Understanding the author’s character

Wallace, like many naturalists, collected insects, including beetles. As he explained:

[These] families comprise the extensive series of ground beetles (Carabidæ) containing about 9,000 species, and the Longicorns, which are nearly as numerous and surpass them in variety of form and colour as well as in beauty. The Cetoniidæ and Buprestidæ are among the largest and most brilliant of beetles; the Lucanidæ are pre-eminent for remarkable form, and the Cicindelidæ for elegance; and all the families are especial favourites with entomologists, so that the whole earth has been ransacked to procure fresh species.

Results deduced from a study of these will, therefore, fairly represent the phenomena of distribution of Coleoptera, and, as they are very varied in their habits, perhaps of insects in general.

I am reminded of J.B.S Haldane, who was a British scientific polymath of the early 20th Century. It is variously reported that his reply to a question by a theologian whether anything could be concluded about the Creator from the study of natural history was “an inordinate fondness for beetles.”

Making texts accessible to all

Apart from the new things we Distributed Proofreaders volunteers learn every day from working on public domain projects, we have the great satisfaction of “preserving history one page at a time” and introducing new readers to the rewards of great old books like this one.

This post was contributed by Bess Richfield, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Edith Wharton’s French Idyll

November 1, 2018

The American writer Edith Wharton (1862-1937) didn’t fully blossom as an artist until she was in her 40s. Raised in a stodgy “Old New York” family, trapped in an unfulfilling marriage, all her life she longed for personal and literary freedom. She was a dedicated bookworm from childhood, and through her avid reading she glimpsed vistas of art and knowledge that her family and husband, wealthy and cultured though they were, could not appreciate as deeply as she did.

She had been well traveled, as most of her class and era had been, and so was quite familiar with Europe from childhood. But she wasn’t at home in her own home. As Janet Flanner put it in a 1929 New Yorker profile, “For if Boston, the city of her marriage, never forgave her for having been born in New York, her New York never forgave her for having been born in New York and writing about it.”

For a time, she found a refuge in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, at The Mount, an airy villa she designed herself, inspired by the European homes she had written about in The Decoration of Houses (1899) — so different from the dark, overstuffed brownstones of her New York youth. There she wrote her first great New York novel, The House of Mirth (1905); there she relaxed, in the cozy library with its tall windows overlooking the terrace and her beloved gardens, with kindred spirits like Henry James, reading aloud and talking of books and art.

Wharton’s appreciation for France began to grow during this time. In 1906 and 1907, she and her husband embarked on the auto trips that formed the basis for A Motor-Flight through France (1908). A long-time devotee of motoring, she declares at the opening of the book, “The motor-car has restored the romance of travel.” Now, instead of the ugliness of train travel, one has “the delight of taking a town unawares, stealing on it by back ways and unchronicled paths, and surprising in it some intimate aspect of past time, some silhouette hidden for half a century or more by the ugly mask of railway embankments and the iron bulk of a huge station.” The trips covered thousands of miles across the French landscape, alighting at tiny medieval towns and big cities, chateaux and cathedrals, ruins and gardens.

Back in America, the Lenox idyll began to sour. As her literary star ascended, her marriage deteriorated. Her husband philandered. She fell passionately and fruitlessly in love with the caddish journalist Morton Fullerton (“My life was better before I knew you,” she heartbreakingly wrote him after his ardor had cooled). Her husband plundered her trust fund. She was nearly 50 in 1911 when she finally left him, The Mount, and America to begin a new idyll in France.

Le Pavillon Colombe

Edith Wharton’s garden at the Pavillon Colombe outside Paris

Wharton spent the rest of her life there, finally free to live the literary life she had long yearned for. She initially established herself in Paris, where she wrote Ethan Frome (1911) and several other novels. As she put it in her autobiography, A Backward Glance (1934), “In Paris no one could live without literature, and the fact that I was a professional writer, instead of frightening my fashionable friends, interested them.”

During the First World War, Wharton worked tirelessly to provide shelter, employment, schools, and hospitals for refugees. To raise money for Belgian refugees, she organized and edited The Book of the Homeless (1915), a compilation of donated works by noted writers, artists, and composers of the day. She visited the front, chronicling the devastation she saw in Fighting France (1915). The lovely pastoral landscape she had toured by car less than a decade earlier was now a wasteland:

The country between Marne and Meuse is one of the regions on which German fury spent itself most bestially during the abominable September days. Half way between Chalons and Sainte Menehould we came on the first evidence of the invasion: the lamentable ruins of the village of Auve. These pleasant villages of the Aisne, with their one long street, their half-timbered houses and high-roofed granaries with espaliered gable-ends, are all much of one pattern, and one can easily picture what Auve must have been as it looked out, in the blue September weather, above the ripening pears of its gardens to the crops in the valley and the large landscape beyond. Now it is a mere waste of rubble and cinders, not one threshold distinguishable from another.

Though extremely busy with her war-work, which later earned her medals from both France and Belgium, she still managed to write several novels during the war, including Summer (1916) and, directly inspired by the war, The Marne (1918).

In 1919, Wharton left the bustle of post-war Paris for a quiet home on its outskirts, the Pavillon Colombe, and later took a winter home at Hyères in the south of France. In her loving tribute to the French, French Ways and Their Meaning (1919), she observed:

The French are the most human of the human race, the most completely detached from the lingering spell of the ancient shadowy world in which trees and animals talked to each other, and began the education of the fumbling beast that was to deviate into Man. They have used their longer experience and their keener senses for the joy and enlightenment of the races still agrope for self-expression. The faults of France are the faults inherent in an old and excessively self-contained civilisation; her qualities are its qualities; and the most profitable way of trying to interpret French ways and their meaning is to see how this long inheritance may benefit a people which is still, intellectually and artistically, in search of itself.

Wharton went on to write many more books, including The Age of Innocence (1920), a novel about the New York society of her youth, for which she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. She returned to the United States only a couple of times, once to receive an honorary doctorate from Yale University in 1923 — another first for a woman. There was otherwise no need to return: She had found her true idyll. She died peacefully at the Pavillon Colombe in 1937.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer and a member of The Mount and the Edith Wharton Society. Wharton’s time in France is chronicled in a newly published book, Edith Wharton in France (Lenox: The Mount Press/Prospecta Press, 2018), by the late Claudine Lesage, which was the source of some of the information in this post.


Celebrating 36,000 Titles

September 7, 2018

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Distributed Proofreaders celebrates the 36,000th title it has posted to Project Gutenberg, The American Missionary, May 1882. Congratulations and thanks to all the DP volunteers who worked on it.

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The American Missionary was published by the American Missionary Association (A.M.A.) from 1846 to 1908, and continued publication under the guidance of other Congregational missionary societies until 1934. The American Missionary Association itself continued under that name until 1999, when it was incorporated into another department in the Congregational Church. The periodical was published monthly for much of its lifetime, but occasionally less frequently. Throughout the era of Reconstruction, it served as the marketing arm of the A.M.A., educating the readers of its 20,000 monthly copies about the work of the A.M.A., and openly soliciting support for the continuance of that work. The aim and work of the A.M.A., stated in each issue of the magazine, was

To preach the Gospel to the poor. It originated in a sympathy with the almost friendless slaves. Since Emancipation it has devoted its main efforts to preparing the FREEDMEN for their duties as citizens and Christians in America, and as missionaries in Africa. As closely related to this, it seeks to benefit the caste-persecuted CHINESE in America, and to co-operate with the Government in its humane and Christian policy toward the INDIANS. It has also a mission in AFRICA.

Although written primarily from a single point of view — that of white, northern Congregational Christians — The American Missionary provides an interesting real-time view of how social opinion and public policy developed through the era of Reconstruction and beyond. During the 1870’s and 1880’s, it chronicled history seldom taught in schools — the impact of yellow fever on commerce and education in the South, the fear of Northern states that Southern illiteracy was a danger to U.S. democratic institutions, and national concern that California’s response to Chinese immigration would cause another secession from the Union, to name just a few. The periodical chronicled society’s gradually increasing awareness of the essential humanity of all races, decrying the missteps along the way, and sometimes inadvertently revealing the prejudices of the A.M.A. itself. These developments were reported and commented upon as they occurred, without hindsight to distort their contemporaneous meaning and impact.

The May 1882 American Missionary issue is Distributed Proofreaders’ 36,000th unique title prepared for Project Gutenberg. It is a typical issue for the 1880’s. It contains an announcement of President Chester A. Arthur’s veto of Congress’s first attempt to pass the Chinese Exclusion Act and a daily journal of a trip up the Nile by steamer and across the desert by camel, through Thebes and Cairo. It also contains a description of the Chinese New Year as celebrated by the Chinese-American community, and a biology lesson by a teacher in Atlanta. As do all American Missionary issues, it contains a list of donations, by city, church, and name, for a single month, useful for historical and genealogical research.

DP provided the first American Missionary project to Project Gutenberg in April 2004. It was the issue for January 1888. Since that time, we have finished over 125 issues. Over 120 others have finished the rounds, and are awaiting completion—most due to missing pages and covers still to be collected by volunteers. The projects still in process cover the period of June 1882 to the fourth quarter of 1901.

Although most of the American Missionary issues are partially available from online sites other than Project Gutenberg, such as the Hathi Trust, the scans at those sites are generally missing the front and back covers, which were either not included in the bound collections of issues, or which were bound separately from the issues at the backs of the volumes. These cover pages often list the officers and meeting notices of the A.M.A., as well as some of the advertisements.

Many online copies, other than those at Project Gutenberg, are also missing all of the advertisement pages. The advertisements cover church organs and corsets, guns and fencing, architectural services and theological books, stove polish and life insurance—a cross-section of the goods and services available for purchase in the latter part of the 19th Century. Many advertisements include pricing and street addresses useful for historical research. These missing pages are included in most of the American Missionary issues prepared for Project Gutenberg by Distributed Proofreaders. Dedicated volunteers search out original copies from university libraries and other sources, obtaining high-resolution copies of the missing pages and matching them to the appropriate magazine issues. Some of the engravings in the advertisements are particularly fine, although time has taken a toll on their clarity. The rotary printing press, Singer factory and Remington guns in the May 1878 issue are excellent examples.

This post was contributed by ArleneJoyce, a DP volunteer who is the Project Manager and Post-Processor for many of the American Missionary projects.


How Time-Travel Led Me to Distributed Proofreaders

August 31, 2018

Samuel Pepys

Over the years I’ve travelled in time again and again.

Through the letters of Abigail and John Adams, I’ve lived through the start of the American Revolutionary War, 18th-century smallpox vaccinations, travel abroad, and the early days of a new republic. The originally unpublished diaries of Mary Boykin Chesnut took me to the start of the U.S. Civil War. I sat with her and her friends waiting breathlessly for news from the Battle of Fort Sumter where their husbands and brothers fought. The diary of John Evelyn took me to the Sun King’s court and to England in the time of Charles II. I cried with him over the early death of his two young sons. And my mother’s diary from the year she turned 17 took me to the early days of World War II in Western Canada — full of accounts of boy-friends, dances, factory work, and friends going off to war (I can still remember my mother’s “You read my diary?! — Give it back!!”).

The time travel that has enthralled me most was nine years in 17th-century England with a young man so full of life and so involved in the events of his time.

I had wanted to read the diaries of Samuel Pepys for many years, when I found an abridged version in a local bookstore. It didn’t take me long to realize that there was little of interest there — no more than a collection of “he was really there” names and events. Then I found the Project Gutenberg version of the full nine years of the diary (although, the edition on which it was based having been published in 1893, it had a few ellipses to hide the most racy bits, which I soon found out how to track down elsewhere).

Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1660 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1661 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1662 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1663 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1664 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1665 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1666 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1667 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1668 N.S
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1669 N.S.

The Project Gutenberg version opened up a whole new world to me — the world of a young man in his 20s celebrating Christmas openly after the puritanism of the Cromwell years, travelling with the court to return the rightful king to England, and obtaining a new and interesting job through the influence of highly-placed friends. It took me years to live through the diaries, reading slowly night by night and heading off to bed myself with his “And so to bed” which ended so many of his daily entries.

I lived through a young man’s excesses in his nightly drinking with his friends and his delight in learning about the “hair of the dog,” until his reluctant decision to lead a more sober life. I experienced his joy at playing musical instruments, and all the details of his many house-decorating forays. With him, I casually passed by the bonfires of Guy Fawkes Day celebrations and experienced the terror and excitement of “shooting the bridge” by riding out the torrent of Thames tidewater under London Bridge with the ferrymen. I lived through the plague as it decimated London, leaving the streets silent and empty as more and more deaths were recorded each day, and was terrified anew by the great fire of London and the drama of the king and his brother working tirelessly with the citizens to save the city. And there was the time when everybody feared imminent invasion by the Dutch and I went with Pepys to hide his valuables. He was upset that one bag of buried coins could not be found. And of course, there were his constant infidelities, described in detail despite the ever-present ellipses.

How did the adventures and infidelities of this young man lead me to Distributed Proofreaders? After a few years of downloading and reading the Pepys diaries that had been prepared for Project Gutenberg by David Widger, I felt guilty. I’d had such a lovely time in 17th-century England that it seemed wrong for me not to repay in some way. By joining Distributed Proofreaders, I discovered a way to help create e-books that other people could download and enjoy.

I hope that some of the books I have helped prepare have given readers as much joy as the Pepys diaries have given me, and that you’ll consider joining the time-travellers at Distributed Proofreaders on our journeys into the past.

This post was contributed by Linda Hamilton, General Manager of Distributed Proofreaders.


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