The History of Information (dot com)

At first glance, the intriguing website looks like just another aggregation of historical facts. It isn’t!

Jeremy M. Norman has set himself the task of building a meta-history site: a history of data collections tagged by subject category. The resulting website is a rich source of information about books, printing, bookbinding and many related topics, arranged and constrained in chronological order.

If you want just items about “printing by handpress or by hand” from 1500 to 1700, for example, pick the topic and set the timeline on the left to discover entries for the first book printed using chiaroscuro woodcuts (1557), Charles IX of France proscribing printing without permission under penalty of death, and the advent of the term “incunabula”, among the 40-odd result set. Each item is well illustrated and described, with onward links to references and sources as appropriate.

Bibliography, Book History, Book Illustration, Book Production, Book Trade, Bookbinding, Papermaking, and Printing along with their sub-divisions by topic, will also be of interest to bibliophiles. I find it helps to constrain your browsing using the left-hand date ruler so you can focus on the time period of most interest. Each item is cross-referenced to its other relevant topics, so browsing can turn into a fascinating near-random walk through the information.

I think of it as a useful guide-to-information site – cataloguing the information items about aspects of history instead of cataloguing history directly. However, in his lengthy introduction to the site (in the “About” section), the author likens it to a commonplace book. That severely undersells what he has achieved; this is a valuable site both for direct research and secondary searching, or “pearling” to discover new information.

David Macfarlane, Council Member