Popular Science

Popular Science looks forward to the talkies in October 1922

Another day, another digitised journal. This time it is Popular Science, the American science and technology journal which has been reporting on scientific developments for a general audience since 1872 (when it was Popular Science Monthly). The journal went online in 1999 and has now gone a step further by putting its entire 138-year archive online as well, and all freely available.

It is a simple resource to use – just a search box (there is no advanced search though advanced features for searching and browsing are promised for the future), and then the list of results. This gives the date of the monthly issue and the page on which the search term can be found (which will be highlighted in yellow on the page itself). Clicking on the link takes you to the specific page, and if you want to browse the issue further you simply have to scroll up or down. The instructions promise a magnifying glass controls to zoom in and out on the page, but this seems only to be available on the Google Books version, where there entire run of the journal can also be found. There is no option for copying text or downloading the documents.

So, using our regular test search term, ‘kinetoscope’ what do we get? There are ten hits, the earliest a passing mention among a list of Edison inventions in January 1895, then a proper description in May 1896, a detailed article and well-illustrated on the new science of motion pictures in general from December 1897, then mentions in March 1905, October 1913, and retrospective mentions in later issues. Other keywords that yield useful results include ‘cinematograph’, ‘kinematograph’, ‘movie’, and ‘motion picture’. There are articles on film production, motion picture technology (cameras, projectors, lighting, sound technology as in the article illustrated above) and experiments using film. There are also several articles on pre-cinema technologies and the work of chronophotographers such as Eadweard Muybridge and E.J. Marey.

The articles are usually illustrated, and in keeping with the journal’s mission the explanations are clear and useful. The older articles (pre-1914) tend to be longer and more scholarly in tone; the later pieces are shorter and more populist in nature. It’s a fine resource, easy to use, and of value both for the intrinsic information offered and for insights into how the new science of motion picture film was viewed and explained to a particular, educated audience. Go explore.


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