Welcome to the Times Machine

It’s taken a decade or so, but newspapers are finally beginning to get the hang of this new media thing.

Among the most impressive new offerings: The New York Times Machine, an online experience that allowed me, in an instant, to read a story, originally published on May 25, 1883, entitled: “Two Great Cities United: Bridge Formally Opens.” From the text:

The Brooklyn Bridge was successfully opened yesterday. A fairer day for the ceremony could not have been chosen.”

Train service was extended from Easton, PA, Long Island, and other just-far-enough-away places. The service was decidedly a Brooklyn celebration. The people in New-York (at the time, the hyphen was still in common use) were less ecstatic, but showed up in the tens of thousands to join the celebration.

I know all of this because I am reading the actual printed page of the newspaper, the story in its original font, in its original presentation. I can see what happened on that day by reading other stories. There was an uprising of Italian railroad workers in Philadelphia who demanded their pay before they went back to work. The French government is having trouble with their colonial subjects in Madagascar who seem willing to “fight to the death” for their rights (The New York Times is remarkably even-handed in telling this story.) General Grant arrived in Chicago, and will leave for Galena tomorrow (in fact, that was the whole story).

The interface is simple, and well-designed. On the left, which occupies about 3/4 of the screen, there is simply a picture of the newspaper. Click on a story, and it becomes large enough to read. (No way to copy contents just yet, but I hope that will be part of a future release.) On the right is a search window and a list of search results, each with a headline. Some stories are presented with a brief summary. Every story can be forwarded by Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Google+, and more (this feature doesn’t work just yet, but it will soon).

After writing this initial draft of this article, I decided to explore some more. The Sunday New York Times for July 20, 1969 is filled with fascinating advertisements. I found a real zebra rug offered for just $195, marked down from $395, from Hunting World (“the sought-after high-contrast skins with the darkest stripes and the whitest backgrounds”). And now, the news… A judge in New Jersey determined that the conflict in Vietnam was, legally, a war. TV writer Jack Gould explained how television signals were transmitted from the moon. Bobby Seale led a Black Panther rally with about 3,000 people; most of them were white, and they shouted, repeatedly, “power to the people” while thrusting their fists into the air. Son House, Sleepy John Estes, Brownie McGhee, and Yank Ranchel were among the performers at the Newport Folk Festival (I wish I had been there!). Elsewhere in New England, last night, Ted Kennedy’s car ran off a bridge in Edgartown, Massachusetts, and the yet-unnamed female passenger was killed.  Ted Williams was managing the Washington Senators, host of that year’s baseball All-Star Game, celebrating the 100th anniversary of professional league play. And, the Pope, still watching black-and-white TV, arranged for a color set so that he could watch today’s Apollo moon landing. It is SO cool to see these original stories in their original form. This particular edition included over 450 stories–plus a whole lot of interesting (and not so interesting) advertisements, mostly from department stores.

The current version is a prototype (Beta version), so the range of dates and stories is very limited. Still, it’s fascinating to see what The New York Times Machine will be–and soon.

Below, a sample image. It’s far easier to read the real thing (just click here).

NYTimesMachine NYTimesMachine2

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Storytelling through Maps and Timelines

Creative Commons license: Nicholas Kenrick

Bagan today. Creative Commons license: Nicholas Kenrick

In the year 1100, the largest city, by far, was Kaifeng, which was twice the size of its nearest competitor, Constantinople, three times the size of the third city on the top five list, Marrakech, which was, at the time, about the size of Kalyan and Cairo. Never heard of Kaifeng or Kalyan? If today’s Kaifeng was located in today’s United States, it would be the nation’s second largest city; in China, where it has been a significant city for a very long while, it would be in the top forty or fifty cities. Kalyan is now part of Mumbai. A hundred years later, Bagan makes the list–it’s no longer an active city, but the site is as popular in Cambodia as Angkor Wat. Add another 100 years and the first of the European cities makes the top five list: Paris. By 1492, just as Europe is waking up to the possibility of its role as a global power, there are no European cities on the list. Instead, it’s Beijing with over a half-million people in the number slot followed by Vijayanagara, Cairo, Hangzhou, and from the Americas, Tenochtitlán.

In 1492, the world map is a fascinating place filled with vaguely familiar names. A large swath of what is now Russia was then the Khanate of Siber; the Mongols are firmly in control of the large area that is now Mongolia; the only people in Australia are Aborigines; and the Caribbean and much of South America are under the control of the Arawak people (who will be killed, in large numbers, by European invaders and their diseases, the first of whom is Columbus). You’ve probably heard of Catherine of Aragon, a Henry VIII wife (remember “Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived?”–Catherine’s the one who Henry divorced, setting up a major tiff with the Pope). Anyway…Aragon occupies the eastern half of the Iberian Peninsula in 1492. The Inca are all along the Pacific side of what becomes South America, and the Mayas and the Aztecs are all over what becomes Central America and Mexico. Japan is Japan, Korea is Korea, and remarkably, Poland is a large country–actually a kind of joint project, so the place is called Poland Lithuania.

How do I know all of this? Because I’m having a blast browsing through a new combination of world atlas and history book. It’s called The New Atlas of World History: Global Events at a Glance and it’s been put together by research fellow at England’s Lancaster University named John Haywood.

NewAtlas World HistoryQuite sensibly, Mr. Haywood has produced a book whose broad horizontal pages alternate between an atlas view of the world at various intervals, and a timeline of significant events that describe that time in greater detail.

His story begins around 100,000 when ice sheets covered much of today’s Canada, all of today’s United Kingdom, and the rest of northern Europe. From the ancestral starting place in eastern Africa, homo sapiens migrate first into Asia and China, then across two land bridges, one to what becomes North America and the other (who knew?) across present-day Indonesia and the Indian Ocean across to Australia (which is how the place become populated with Aboriginal peoples). In fact, Europe was settled, or, at least, visited in large numbers, about 5,000 years after Australia. It took even longer for the people who took the now-Alaska land bridge to make their way all the down through the current United States and Mexico, eventually finding themselves in what is now South America.

Looking way ahead to, say, 1900, it’s again a fascinating map and story: there is no Poland, for example, because it has been obscured by the giant Russian Empire, and also, if I’m reading the map correctly, by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, too. On that map, Africa is a collection of colonies belonging to Belgium, Holland, Germany and other countries whose international colonization efforts were ended by a pair of wars that provided plenty of good reason to focus on life at home.

So here’s a rough look at the 1492 map of the world (click on it to see a full-screen PDF with far better detail):
Atlas_Map_Smaller

And, to accompany that layout, here’s a look at the adjacent page, this time providing a timeline view of events that mattered at the time (same story, click to see a PDF that’s easier to read):

Timeline

Of course, the book offers more than just these two layouts. One of my favorites shows the migration routes to the United States, mostly from Europe, circa 1900. The same map contains the sobering stories of indentured servants leaving India for British colonies in Africa. Subsequently, a young attorney and activist named Mohandas Gandhi will understand his power by correcting the situation in South Africa (then, the Cape Colony) before returning to his native India.

So: here’s the history of the world in just over 200 pages, full-color, filled with fascinating stories told in some text, but mainly, through descriptive maps and pictures. It’s a thoroughly modern way to tell our story, and, as you might imagine, it has become a favorite. You’ll get some flavor of the work’s value by clicking on some the links on the book’s catalog page, but there’s really nothing quite like having the whole of it in front of you on a hot Sunday afternoon in the cool shade, preferably with an equally cool drink from some far-off land close at hand.

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