Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Ramblings on Reference, and True Finns

I love old reference books, mostly because of the multitudes of odd entries and curiosities. Why did Henry W. Ruoff, Ph.D., D.C.L., trust his sources, and how did information like this end up being printed in his book, Universal Manual of Ready Reference, in 1905?

"The natives on the coast [of Finland] are either Swedes or Russians. The true Finns have little intercourse with the inhabitants of the maritime district, but inhabit chiefly the east portions of the country, where they live in the midst of forests, by the border of the lakes, and lead a mode of life exactly resembling that of the agricultural or settled Laplander, in houses that have a hole in the top to let out the smoke, and in one large room which is occupied by the whole family."

Okay, so poor old Henry wasn't exactly in the know when it came to turn-of-the-century Finland. But, flipping through the book I have learned (and fact-checked) that Hawaii used to be called The Sandwich Islands. Did you know that the Constitution of the Colony of New Jersey granted suffrage to unmarried women and African Americans who owned property, but the act was repealed in 1807? I didn't. I also had no idea what morganatic marriage was, but here's Henry:

"A morganatic marriage is a form of marriage which frequently takes place among the princes of Germany when they wed women of lower rank than themselves. In the ceremony the left hand is given, and though the marriage is looked upon as legal and the children legitimate, yet they are not entitled to succeed to the dignities and estates of their fathers." Fascinating, is it not?

Old reference books always make me think about the future of information. I am truly amazed how wonderfully accessible and easily contested every last bit of information can be today (unless you live in, say, China). Back in the day it took a lot of guts to print and/or contest information. There was real power behind the printed word, even if it was inaccurate. These days, every bit of information is out there to be challenged. The nature of information is changing: it is more fluid and more organic in nature. My guess would have been that aside from hard sciences, the search for solid facts and absolute answers is declining. (I, for one, tend to look for debates more often than for actual information. The thought of absolute information makes me feel uncomfortable.) It is slightly worrisome, then, that 39% of children between the ages 9 and 17 think that information they find online is "always correct". It would be interesting to know what the percentage for information found in "real" books was. How likely is it that young people would automatically consider old printed information either false or dated? My guess is that the older the person, the more comfortable they'd be in believing what a physical book has to say.

I often find myself on the verge of being an information drop-out: I am old enough to be confused by technological progress and computers at times, but young enough to have learned basic IT at school. As much as I vegetate in front of Wikipedia at times, I often feel I learn more from physical books, even though it is probably not true. It gives me a false sense of security to remember where I learned something from, rather than to think that I came across it online. My mind creates a clear division between the printed word (safe) and the information online (out of control). I flip through my 1905 reference book and have Wikipedia popped open on the side. I am doing my best to get the best of two worlds.

Dress: second hand / UFF, 2010
Cardigan: Lindex, 2009
Tights: Target, bought during TGAAD
Shoes: Vagabond, 2008or9
Mirror pendant: Petrune Vintage, 2010


jesse.anne.o said...

I also veer towards debates but I feel like there's also rarely "absolute" information since even the sciences change so swiftly (and how it's applied to its environment/how its dynamics are discussed is often a debate!).

Modesty is Pretty said...

You trully are a gifted girl because you think outside the box, most of the times it's hard for me to follow because I never even thought about the things you write about, but I always like to learn and read about interesting people who have more to say. =)
Your look is great, that print on the dress is beautiful and the way you matched the shoes and tights very nice, it's makes a perfect streamline.

Anonymous said...

On a slightly different note - though the subject matter remains the same - I live in a postcommunist country (Poland). The tradition of thinking that the press lies, that the television lies, that they're out to manipulate you is sill quite strong in here. Older people (well, older, meaning those who remember those slogans) are usually quite careful when it comes to new information. Scepticism is their second nature. No information given to them remains unchecked. Sometimes it leads to severe paranoia and conspiracy theories, but as I see it, that approach is really useful.
Especially when compared with children's/teenagers' way of believing just about anything. I guess that for many youngsters the sole fact that a piece of information hangs in the Internet is already the guarantee of its being true...that is way more worrying than the fear of the adults, I reckon.
Great, great post, Waves. I really do enjoy reading your entries :)

Charlotte said...

I think we tend to trust printed books more because if it's a good press, the information has usually been vetted by experts in the field. Obviously, Henry had no such fact-checkers at his press. I love being able to look up everything, immediately, though--I was actually reading about the rights of unmarried women in Colonial America just a couple weeks ago, and discovered what you did about NJ.

Very femme, very lovely outfit, Waves.

wardrobeexperience said...


i still love to see flowered patterns in fall...