Thursday, July 1, 2010

52 Weeks to Better Genealogy: Google Books

From Amy Coffin, this week's 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy challenge is:

Take a stroll through Google Books. Most of us have probably used Google Books in our genealogy research, but have you really taken the time to explore what’s there? Look at the magazines and featured books. Check out the subjects offered. By taking the focus off research for a bit, your mind is open to see other ways this tool can be used. Bloggers can discuss any interesting items they found on Google Books during this exercise.

The chief benefit in my mind of Google Books is providing the text of classic works in all fields, those which are now in the public domain.  I will not go into the recent lawsuit concerning the posting by Google of excerpts from books which are not in the public domain (one of which is mine, and I'm of two minds about that).  But the contribution Google Books has made to history, genealogy, and a host of other research fields in posting these old -- some of them VERY old -- books is nearly unparalleled.

I hope you have read my entries on the documents in the East Florida Papers concerning the death by suicide of a doctor in St. Augustine in 1810.  There is an inventory  in the file of his clothing, personal effects, and the small bit of furniture he owned.  There is also a separate inventory of his books.  There are books on diseases of the tropics, books on surgery, and books called "materia medica," descriptions of disease symptoms and treatments of the day (there are modern materia medica works, as well).  

Among the materia medica works is one by Boerhave and one by Cullen, both published in the mid to late 1700s.  These books are on Google books.  The Boerhave is in Latin, so is a bit of a rough go.  The Cullen is in English.   Seeing the actual texts has an immediacy that just cannot be beat.  Here they are, two of the titles the doctor had in his collection in St. Augustine.  Others that were in his collection may have copies in Google Books, as well, but I don't have time right now to go look extensively.

Just seeing those two books for myself is a pleasure.

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