Sunday, April 15, 2007
A Digital Feast
If you're like me, when the O.R. Atlas—after a long stretch out of print—became readily available again about fifteen years ago, you bought two copies: one to thumb through with abandon, and one to keep pristine. After spending $2,500 or so for the 128-volume Official Records, a back-up atlas hardly seemed extravagant.
I've noticed that Barnes & Noble, under its own imprint, still offers a cheap edition of the atlas. I haven't looked to see if the bargain rate is a factor of a massive print run, or subpar reproduction. It may be a little of both.
I can't recall how long it was after I sent my last payment of a years-long subscription to Broadfoot for the printed O.R. set before the whole thing appeared on a single CD-ROM for about $100, but it wasn't long. In rapid succession, of course, many more essential reference works had been digitized, from Fox's Regimental Losses to Dyer's Compendium (my wife bought me the $125 Morningside edition of the latter for Christmas one year, bless her heart). And while there's nothing finer than kicking back in a comfy chair with a little black volume of the O.R., I have to admit that the convenience of searching and pulling something up online, or off a disk, is irresistible. It's not as if you even have to verify the accuracy of a transcription, since most of the digital versions are straight scans of the original. For years now, I have relied almost exclusively on Cornell's Making of America site to look up citations in the Official Records. But I'll never give up the books. I need to live in a library, and that bookcase full of gold-stamped spines is a member of the family, albeit more dusty than my children.
The Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, best known simply as the O.R. Atlas, has long been available on disk, but has also made its way online, thanks to the University of Alabama—see here—(there are some other online venues featuring it as well, such as this one by Simmons Games. It is somewhat harder to use—absent thumbnails—but perfectly usable if you know what plates you're looking for). Kudos to the University of Alabama for making these color plates easily accessible (and thanks to Brian Downey for mentioning it in the comments to another blog). As an added bonus, the site includes links to their Historical Map Archive, Contemporary Maps archives, and even a handy tutorial on the difference between Raster and Vector Imagery.