Friday, March 04, 2005

I'm reading the Everyman's Library selection of George Orwell's essays. Some nice stuff in here that speaks to our current situation. E.g., here's one from "Review of the Union Now" (1939):

"In a prosperous country, above all in an imperialist country, left-wing politics are always partly humbug."
Google has an interesting new pay-for-research page worth checking out. I guess if you have questions that you want someone to research, you can post the question and price you're willing to pay for an answer, and if one of the 500 researchers involved is interested, they'll try to get you an asnwer.

The Internet is advancing research in new and exciting ways. E.g., be sure to read the intro/preface of Banking on Baghdad by Edwin Black ... the same writer who wrote IBM and the Holocaust. The book is a slog, but his research strategy is mind-blowing.

Apparently, he's a professional archivist. In the introduction he describes his research methodology:

"To assemble this challenging story (the 7,000 year history of Mesopotamia), I recruited a team of some 30 researchers working in the United States, Canada, England, and Israel accessing original documents and obscure materials in some 20 archives and other repositories, as well as nearly 50 libraries in five nations. This includes the private files of British Petroleum, Turkish Petroleum, Anglo-Persian Oil Company, Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and Iraqi Petroleum, all of which are organically connected entities. The result was a trove of some 50,000 documents, plus hundreds of scholarly books and journal articles that ultimately yielded the dots that connected into a recognizable line. Ironically, in many cases, that line runs in circles. In Iraq, history not only repeats itself; the unstoppable repetition constitutes the very nature of its history—and likely its future."

"...At any given time, up to a dozen researchers were working in various archives and libraries in such cities as Coventry, London, Washington, or New York. Telephone calls in archives and libraries are strictly prohibited. Instead, we used cell phone text messaging, laptop computers and wireless PDA to share real-time discoveries about corporations, officials, and themes. For example, we might trip across an obscure executive’s name while reviewing documents in an oil company archive; that name was text-messaged out to others standing by at the Public Record Office and the British Library or other repositories where the lead was pursued, with new information coming back to track down further information in the oil company files. Sometimes this international exchange could be accomplished in just moments."

"To bridge the gap between cities, we created a private password-protected intranet site where files and information were posted so researchers in various cities could view them just moments after they were discovered. In many cases, we used books so rare that only one copy might be available in London’s library system, or only a few copies anywhere in the United States. For example, an obscure volume of published diplomatic papers of Iraq from the 1950s was found in St. Louis. Needed pages of this book and others were scanned by researchers and posted on their private websites. We could then print them in my Washington office."

"In addition, modern databases and digital collections allowed us to instantly search the actual page images for key words in diplomatic correspondence, newspapers and journal articles hailing back more than a century. This new digital capability is startling and has redefined historical research. Moreover, because researchers were located in various time zones, research could be done in the Pacific evening or European morning and be ready for us in Washington when we woke up."

That's pretty interesting. Imagine being able to take a team of top researchers and paying them to work full-time on one wickipedia-like topic.