How do we recover the reading experiences of the past? Lately scholars have stepped up the hunt for evidence of how people over time have interacted with books, newspapers, and other printed material.
"You're looking for teardrops on the page," says Leah Price, a professor of English at Harvard University and the author of How to Do Things With Books in Victorian Britain (Princeton University Press, 2012).
That article, the other day, over at the Chronicle, reminded me of this marketing letter I got in the mail last fall:
Ancestry By Evidence, Inc.
3600 Tierra Drive
Ladrones, CA 94300
September 21, 2012
Dear Mr. Oronte Churm:
Ancestry By Evidence, Inc., (ABE) is the largest company of its type in the world, and that means more and better information about your family, whatever your budget!
Conventional Digital Genealogy is our entry-level option for those with basic questions about their family’s past. ConGen kiosks, located conveniently in many indoor shopping malls, provide up to six generations worth of data at an affordable price. The info you’ll get from nearly 3,000 data banks, archives, and libraries is not limited to just names and birthdates!
Recent developments in information technology, library science, forensic anthropology, genetics, and other key fields yield data on the long-departed that will blow you away! Great stuff, like region of origin, immigration, military service, occupations, awards, known residences, political affiliations, criminal records, spending habits, sexual proclivities, and of course modes of death. At nominal extra charge we can retrieve vital medical records, discover still photographs suitable for framing or scrapbooking—even in some cases digitize audio recordings and film from obsolete technologies!
Ready to take it even further? Our Premium Genealogical Customers give us the opportunity to do what we do best: Provide info about an ancestor through careful study of the long-deceased’s personal belongings.
PremiGene clients discover that the dead are never truly dead! A suit hanging in an attic wardrobe, for instance, can provide surprising genetic details about the person who wore it—enough data to fill 16 sets of encyclopedia! Imagine what you could do with that!
Did you know that what remains of an ancestor’s* personal library can provide literacy levels, amounts of time spent reading, emotional reactions to favorite passages, locations where books were read, the meaning of otherwise indiscernible or cryptic handwriting in margins, and much, much more?
Our Analytical Chemists will detect and measure great-grandpa’s accreted breath and hormonal residue on each page, then our Narrative Team will overlay this data on graphs of major world events, known local happenings, and personal histories like you’d get from our ConGen services. What stories you’ll be able to tell about those whom you’ve never known! (Please see our free monthly newsletter, Get With the Tomes!, included in this packet, for more details.)
Listen, 98% of Americans have never known more than two generations of their own families. Most of us no longer even know who to ask anymore for the basic stories of where we came from. Ask us instead!
Call us at ABE, 9:00-4:00, PST, to speak with a Lives Over Representative! We look forward to sharing your journey!
John Thomas Dempsey
Ancestry By Evidence, Inc.
(*Must be a direct bloodline relative. Offer not available at ConGen kiosks. Minimum package purchase required. Offer expires January 10, 2013.)
Of course I couldn’t pass this up, so I sent them boxes of books that remain from my great-grandfather’s library. Next week I’ll post their report, which I got over the holidays. --Churm
MULTIPLE: President, Los Angeles Harbor College, President, Los Angeles Southwest College, President, Los Angeles Valley College