Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I can see for miles and miles and miles

Pete Townshend

Take the Greek "pan," for "all," and stick it on "horama," meaning view, and you get panorama. So says Nicole, and with a smile that confident, I'm just going to take her word for it.

One of the most amazing things about the internet these days is unfettered access to photo collections at various repositories. I can get swept away for hours just randoming searching the digital offerings at the Library of Congress. This evening I got lost in the Panoramic Photograph Collection. Initially I was looking to see what they had in the way of panoramic Civil War images (the key words "civil war" will bring up 33 hits), and there are some good ones, particularly covering Gettysburg and Vicksburg, taken mostly in the early 1900s. The view at top is of the Round Tops at Gettysburg. It's worth visiting the site and viewing the images at full size (click on the image here, then click on it again at the LoC site to expand the view). To find other Civil War images, start at the PPC home page, and be sure to use the "search this collection" as opposed to the "search all collections" box, to restrict your search to the panoramas.

The breadth of what they're offering online is pretty impressive, though presumably a fraction of their holdings. The Panoramic Photograph Collection has some 4,000 images "featuring American cityscapes, landscapes, and group portraits." I spent about 90 minutes just searching for different places I've lived, and finding some stunning views I'd never come across before. One example: I lived in Evansville, Indiana for six years, and the riverfrontwhere downtown edges up to the broad sweep of the mighty Ohiowas one of my favorite places. There's just something about a big old river. It was there before cameras, and buildings, and it will be there after. I was happy to find this view of that oft-visited spot.

It is absolutely mesmerizing to see a frozen moment in time, of a very familiar place, but populated with people and buildings lifetimes removed from your own experience. The panoramic view has the effect of breathing more life into the scene, and the old black and white, grainy quality accentuates the feeling that one is looking through a mysterious window into the past.

I want to mention another site that's been around quite awhile, in case you're not already familiar with it, or you didn't have the processing power to tackle it on first encounter.
Adding some modern technology to panoramic views, the folks at Behind the Stonewall have produced over one-hundred 360-degree panoramic videos on Civil War battlefields (stitching together still snapshots into spinning images that can be controlledleft or right, slow or fastwith your mouse). They cover a number of battlefields to-date, and give especially good coverage to Gettysburg, Manassas, Antietam, and Chickamauga, where the various panoramas are keyed to a map. The view window is small, but the images are sharpstill not recommended for dial-up, I'm guessing. I would like to give encouragement to sites like this one, which use the internet in creative, useful, and magnamimous

Below: written on front: "[Copyright] 1912, S.U. Bunnell, Pasadena, Cal., Largest trees on Earth series, #572."

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