The investigations involved in historical research can involve looking into a great variety of sources, including the somewhat unusual mode of document storage known as microfilm. Microfilm is a means of storing documents and images by copying them into a small reel of film. Like a smaller version of the reels that were put in old movie projectors. This microfilm reel is loaded into a microfilm machine, which projects the images captured onto a screen. The microfilm machine which I had recently used looked a cross between an old desktop computer and a projector. Microfilm can be used to store a variety of documents and images, often including things such as books, newspapers, photographs, and printed records. For a time during the nineteenth century, many libraries and other institutions turned to using microfilm as a way to store their materials, as a way to reduce the space required to store information and to help preserve documents which were under threat of decomposition. This practice isn’t done as much these days, due to the innovations of computer digitalizing and the internet arriving, and subsequently becoming the new big thing for condensing space and preserving decaying documents.
Recently, I have used a microfilm machine and looked at a microfilm for historical research for the first time. Currently, I am doing an independent study, in preparation for writing my honor’s thesis in history; on the history of temperance thinking and activism within 19th century Western New York. As part of this, I have been looking into documents written on temperance matters, by people who had been in Western New York at the time. I had found out about a book, The Golden Horn or Fatal Exchange, which had been written by a minister, who had produced temperance books during his life. When the interlibrary loan I had requested came in, I had found out that I was sent a microfilm of it. Thus, with some aid from the Herrick Librarians, I was able to use a microfilm machine to look at it.
At first the machine was a bit complicated to use, but it got easier with time. Once, the film was set up and the machine was arranged to view it strait, there were only a few motions to figure out in order to read through it. Push in to move left, pull out to move right, slide it left and right to move it up and down, use the turning handle to scroll to the next thing of pages, and use the dial to move back to previous pages. After the couple hours I spent reading through the book on it, I believe I got the hang of the basics.
The information I got through the machine was certainly useful. The book contained plenty of the kind of demonstrations of thoughts on temperance matters, which I was looking for. In addition, the information in the book pairs nicely with an earlier book written by the same author. It could be useful through the comparison and contrast of the two books, and may help shed some light on the dynamics of a temperance thinker over time. So, I would say that it was useful to have looked at it.
Overall, the experience itself was useful for me in historical research. In this particular instance, it allowed me to gain access to a broader supply of information. Though in doing so, it has opened the door for broader possibilities for finding information for historical research. As well as, allowed me to begin to learn how to use the machine which enables for this to be done. One of my history professors mentioned to me that using a microfilm machine is kind of like a rite of passage for historians, and that with historical research projects, historians can easily find themselves spending significant amounts of time looking over microfilms in research projects. In which case, this experience takes on an additional significance. In total, it can be said that it is a practical step continuing on the path of developing as a historian and in gaining abilities for historical research.