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.


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