Databases

To begin, I looked at a selection from Lynn Festa’s 2006 work Sentimental Figures of Empire in Eighteenth-Century Britain and France. In chapters 2 and 3, she looks at the sentimental item through Sterne’s story A Sentimental Journey and through object narratives, or stories told from the perspective of an object such as a pin or a rupee. Looking at the way the argument was structured, I don’t believe a database was used. She focused primarily on using several major stories to illustrate her points, as opposed to looking for connections between different stories of the genre. The object narrative was a niche type of story which was popular during the 18th century, so perhaps there are few enough examples that Festa could work with them without using a database. A database would have allowed connections between elements of the story to be compared more easily. For example, perhaps all of the objects passed through the same location or met the same types of characters. A database would make those kinds of connections easy to identify. For this type of piece, it would make questions about common elements in these stories much easier to assess.

Jill Lepore’s New York Burning would have been incredibly difficult without using a database. She created records for almost 700 people mentioned in a contemporary book about the trial of New Yorkers accused of conspiring to burn the city. Lepore situated these people within the city, using newspaper records of runaway slaves and tax rolls. She tracked the statements people made during the trial, and the outcome for each accused person. She also was able to use a digital map to place some of the more important people within the city, to see the routes they would take and identify the places and people they might meet on a regular basis. She also included a text version of two of her databases, which would allow readers to see her evidence and perhaps find different questions to ask about the information. Using a database and a digital map, tracking the connections between people became a much easier process, and allowed her to speak with a great deal of authority.

I would like to digitize some newspaper sources. It seems like newspapers have been digitized in varying ways. Some have chosen to type everything in and make it completely searchable, while other sites have chosen to allow only specific keywords to be searchable. Some search engines are more user friendly, searching more broadly, while others are very specific. Some of these do not give you any idea of how the article or advertisement actually looked in the newspaper, completely reducing them to modern font on a white screen.

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