Not just scanning – Thoreau’s Cape Cod

It makes no odds what it is you carry, so long as you carry the truth along with you. – intro to 1893 edition

There are many good responses to “Why do we still have libraries when everything is online?” My favorite one has to do with the importance of finding people to curate and sort and sift through the enormous bulk of online material to create knowledge and wisdom from what is merely just data. Small projects which do not scale. Henry David Thoreau went to Cape Cod in the mid 1800s and wrote about the experience. His writings on Cape Cod were published in 1865 and reprinted many times after that. The text can be found any number of places, but actually flipping through the books reveals a lot more about the cultural history of this book and the text it contains. Just the covers alone are lovely to look at.

cover of Cape Cod featuring windmill

Cover featuring the Eastham Windmill

cover of Cape Cod featuring cranberry motif

Cover featuring cranberry motif

Looking through the many copies Open Library has, there’s a lot of marginalia and other interesting things to peek at. One version appears to have been purchased for a dollar while another may have cost upwards of thirty.

image from inside of Cape Cod book

The book was frequently given to libraries as a gift. Sometimes by people you may have heard of.

bookplate of Frederick Law Olmstead Jr.

Some of these versions have beautiful and unusual illustrations and some have photographs.

a cape cod citizen

first page with flower water color

Some have illustrations nearly obliterated by low quality scanning (not ours).

low quality scan

And some have little mysteries. What does “By transfer The White House” mean? What did the War Department think of this book?

by transfer, the White House

front page of book with War Department stamp

All of these are aspects of the book–one work,many editions–that surface through close inspection, with human eyes.

The Concord MA library has scanned, assembled and anotated a set of images of Thoreau’s surveys which is another wonderfully curated set of digitized ephemera that help us understand our world..

4 thoughts on “Not just scanning – Thoreau’s Cape Cod


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