Friday, April 03, 2009

The Age Of The Digital Warehouse and a Narrow Pair of Corsets

One of the great delights of the web at the moment is the amount of material that is being added. We have managed to get passed the stage where a large proportion of the material available was not of the type you would want your maiden aunt to see. We have also got passed the stage where large parts of the web were given over to corporate shop-windows. We have reached the age of the digital warehouse : the age when the complete written records of mankind are slowly being transferred so they are available on-line. The true delight of being around at the moment is that you can wake up each day and discover yet another treasure trove of information. For information nuts like me it is not so much like being a kid in a sweetshop as being a kid let loose in a chocolate factory.
Yesterday I discovered that the entire British parliamentary records are now available online and free of charge. Hansard is the verbatim transcripts of the proceedings of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and the digital archives cover every day of every session from 1803 to 2005 (more recent Hansard records are available from the Houses of Parliament website). It is the historical archives which are more interesting and offer endless hours of pleasure for information drifters like me. I tested the system out by calling up the day of my birth and was well rewarded with a tabernacle full of trivia. 
There, for example was a youthful Harold Wilson (then President of the Board of Trade) explaining to Reg Sorensen MP that women could get corsets without the need of clothing coupons as long as they were less than six inches wide. A few pages later, up pops a dear old friend of mine (Lucy Middleton, then MP for Plymouth) asking why Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress was not being exhibited in her constituency. Cyril Dumpleton MP - such a splendid name - rose to his feet in indignation to ask the Education Minister why a juvenile under the age of 12 was being allowed to take part in a public performance by conducting an orchestra at the Harringay Festival. The House of Lords was engaged in more weighty stuff but with their usual efficiency they managed to give a Third Reading to the Ascot Racecourse Bill in just 12 words and adopt the William Brown Nimmo Charitable Trust (Amendment) Order in just four sweet words.
I could go on, but I won't. Loosen your six-inch corsets and go for a wander yourselves.

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