After many months of difficult work, I’ve now finally released my new content-archiving website UNZ.org, providing convenient access to over a million readable articles and books written by hundreds of thousands of authors. The system also provides links and references to another million articles not readable for copyright reasons.
The collection includes the near-complete archives of hundreds of English-language periodicals from the last 150 years, some of which were once among the most influential in America, but have subsequently been forgotten. Most of this material has never been previously available anywhere on the Internet.
As one example of its usefulness, Harvard University’s Nathan Glazer some time ago contacted me and asked my assistance in locating a couple of articles published during the 1940s by an old friend of his in Dwight Macdonald’s Politics. Although Harvard boasts the renowned Widener Library, one of the largest in the world, locating the articles might have normally taken hours or even days, while I found them within five minutes, as well as several of his own articles from that same era (for copyright reasons, only the pieces in Politics are readable).
As another example, just after I released the system late last week, someone stumbled upon Friedrich Hayek’s article about his cousin the noted philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein published in the August 1977 issue of Encounter, and within a day or two, nearly three thousand people had read the article, probably for the first time. I’ve previously written about the enormous influence of that vanished magazine, originally funded by the CIA, which arguably functioned as a major taproot of both the neoliberal and neoconservative ideological movements.
I would hope that these millions of newly available pages of high-quality content may prove a major resource for historians and other academics.
Given the vast quantity of the material and the lack of previous organization, I have developed a number of software systems to maximize the accessibility.
First, all the material is grouped in variety of different ways, including stratification by author, publication, date, and general topic, while the full contents of each particular issue of a periodical are also presented in a table-of-contents format. Book reviews and the books reviewed are directly linked to each other.
All of this material is searchable, by title, text, date, and other criteria, which sometimes yields unexpected nuggets of historical interest. For example, when I did a casual search for “Pearl Harbor” across all periodicals published from Sept. to Nov. 1941, I discovered that Argosy Weekly, then one of America’s most popular national magazines, had published a September 1941 cover story providing a fictionalized account of the bombing of Tokyo by America’s Pearl Harbor fleet.
For example, the Articles Page displays Clouds of authors and periodicals, followed by a list of individual articles ordered by title. Within each Cloud, the size of each name corresponds to the amount of content, while the color tint indicates what fraction is readable (due to copyright issues), with bright blue indicating greatest readability and black least.
As a user begins typing in any letters of an author’s name, an article title, a periodical, or a time period, the Clouds and Lists immediately adjust to reflect those changes. This allows the quick location of a particular writer and also indications of the relative prominence of writers in a particular time period or genre. For example, once “Cham” has been typed into the author field, the Cloud readjusts to display only the dozens of authors whose names start with “Cham”:
A similar approach applies to individual publications, such as The Atlantic Monthly, whose pre-1923 contents are copyright-expired and readable. The main page displays its own Cloud of authors, and may be used to filter the publication by clicking the link, for example showing only the pieces by Oliver Wendell Holmes. Everything is fully searchable by text, title, period, author, and various other criteria, as in these pages containing the words “Lincoln” and “Grant.”
One difficulty faced by modern historians and researchers has been “survivorship bias,” with undue weight often placed on those publications from a century ago that happen to have survived into the present day, such as The Nation, The New Republic, The Atlantic, and Harpers. But in the past, other periodicals often had comparably large subscriber bases and intellectual influence, although their names have long been forgotten, including The North American Review, Munsey’s, McClure’s, The Century, The Forum, The Bookman, The Literary Digest, Scribners, and The Outlook. This same pattern continued during the first half of the 20th Century, as Colliers, The American Mercury, and The Saturday Review at times carried great intellectual and popular weight. Indeed, I’ve been told that as late as the 1960s, the two most important reviews for any serious American book were those that ran in The New York Times and The Saturday Review, with only the latter having a national distribution. I’ve also explained during much of the 1950s and 1960s, The Reporter filled much the same political role as The New Republic later did across the 1980s and 1990s.
During different eras, ideological gaps have been filled on the left by The New Masses and IF Stone’s Weekly, and on the right, by The American Review, Father Coughlin’s Social Justice, and the later American Mercury. The drastic ideological evolution of Commentary, from leftist to neoconservative, and National Review, which moved in the opposite direction, may be seen by casually examining the changing backgrounds of their contributors and contents pages over time.
Given the vast quantity of material, it is obviously useful to be able to retain interesting items at one’s fingertips, so I have provided individual users with the option of building up their own personal Library, with the contents saved as a cookie on their browser. Any of the articles or books displayed ona page may be dragged and dropped with the mouse into the Clipboard that automatically opens at the top of the page, or tagged by clicking the checkbox and then added with a button. This same option applies for authors or periodicals, which may be added to the Clipboard as well. Although the Clipboard contents are temporary, the Library page allows the items to be moved into the shelves of the permanent Library, again either by dragging them with the mouse or by tagging them.
The Library page also provides a number of sample “Available Libraries” that may be loaded into the system, such as “The New York Intellectuals” or “Neoconservative Origins,” providing immediate access to a collection of the periodicals and authors in question. Once a Library has been produced or loaded into the system, users may conduct text or title searches restricted to that Library or any one of its shelves, thereby allowing searches to be fully customized with respect to any desired set of general contents. As an example, one of the sample Libraries is “Academics on Race and IQ,” and here is the result of a search for all articles and books by those individuals that contain the word “Race” in the title.
I believe that this potential resource greatly multiplies the total published content conveniently available from our nation’s past, and I hope that researchers, academics, and others will begin to make considerable use of it.