History in real time?

So I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about creating a site that provides synchronized access to history. In other words, an RSS time machine. Today being Friday, January 6, 2006, for example, if you went to the site you could see and subscribe to any of these feeds:
Newspapers and Periodicals

  • Today in the New York Times (1905): Front page stories from the New York Times on Friday, January 6, 1905
  • …or any of these years, since these are all the years that have the same weekdays as 2006: 1905, 1911, 1922, 1933, 1939, 1950, 1961, 1967, or 1978.
  • Same deal for other newspapers, like the Friday, January 6, 1905 issue of Puck

Diaries

  • “Today” in the journals of Lewis and Clark, Samuel Pepys, or Henry David Thoreau
  • The ones above have already been done (and done well), so I wouldn’t want to try and steal their thunder, but find other serially-created journals and diaries that haven’t been published. What’s out there?
  • …The daily log of my great-grandmother Anna Thomas’ grand tour in 1900? (I’d link to it, but it’s awaiting restoration from my damn-fool blundering)
  • …The journal of Marco Polo?
  • …The ship’s log of the Beagle, or Nelson’s flagship?
  • …The journal of one of the Victorian generals in the Crimean War?

Now, you might ask (I’ve already asked myself): how would this be different than the existing historical document sites out there? The short answer is: in the way you read it — in real time. Instead of going to the site and browsing all the material at once, you’d subscribe to a particular thread in your Bloglines feed (or whatever your RSS reader is) and just get the info piecemeal every day. You’d be reading in synch with the time it was created — subscribing to a periodical from history just like the original readers would. I’m wondering what it would be like to spend a year (or five years, or twenty years), living alongside a historical figure or news source.

What if you had a “headline news for today” from 100 years ago that just, you know… lived alongside you? at Westtown, we liked to go down to the microfiche collection and look up the oldest Times issues there, and laugh at the story leaders: “Man almost falls into hole!” (that’s an actual story, by the way.) I’m guessing that, at first, the stories and entries wouldn’t make any sense at all, but what if you just had that feed in your mix for a year? Would you start looking forward to see what happens to Boss Tweed? Would you worry about whether the twins are going to recover from the influenza? Would you feel triumphant when Lewis and Clark reach the sea?

I’d love your suggestions for domain names: “realtimehistory.com?” (damn, that’s taken), “synchronistory.com?” (worst. URL. evar) and especially for good candidates for publishing. I’ve added the likely candidates that I’ve been able to find through two hours of googling at this Backpack page, and would love to know about others. What would be more interesting to see — big historical events consumed in real time (“relive” the depression?) — or reading the daily life of folks whose lives were congruent to yours?

History in real time?

3 thoughts on “History in real time?

  1. My in-laws live in a tiny town an hour north of us called Red Hill. Their local paper actually does this – with every issue they print an entire old page from 100 years ago. I love reading it every time I visit. Sort of a ‘recurring history’ lesson. I love the idea!

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  2. Sally says:

    One of my best web seasons was spent reading the journals of a number of folks who were through-hiking the Appalachian Trail. One AT site had set it up, and the hikers sent their diaries to folks who’d voluteered to transcribed, and then they were put on line. It was terrific, almost like a soap opera at times (as some of the hikers connected with each other) and I felt almost bereft when the season ended. The site was gone last time I looked, and the posts didn’t happen the following year, but it was really gripping while it was going on. Of course, it wasnt “history” yet. But a community diary is a wonderful thing. How about the Seige of Lucknow?

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