Friday, February 15, 2013

Primary Source E-Books for All!


For historians and historical novelists alike, a major part of the creative process is research. Primary sources in particular are a very important part of that and give a direct voice to the age about which you are writing.

Previously, primary sources were not always easy to find as the big retailers stocked only the major sellers of the Penguin Classics series such as Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul or Arrian’s Campaigns of Alexander. Few commercial retailers stocked a wide variety of the Loeb Classical library and when they did, the prices were often too high.

With the advent of e-books and large scale digitization projects, that has changed.

One of the best discoveries I have made on-line is the website for Project Gutenberg. The project was founded by Michael Hart who was dealing with e-books long before anyone had heard of such a thing. He stated the mission of Project Gutenberg as follows:  “To encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.”

It’s simple and straightforward and anyone can contribute. It’s also one amazing resource that makes research easy. Loads of primary sources, especially ancient and medieval texts, are now accessible in digital format.

I found it when I was in need of some of Cassius Dio's books for research for my Eagles and Dragons series. Once I got onto the site, I started searching for other ancient texts that I had always wanted but either couldn’t find or justify the expense of purchasing elsewhere.

It was like a candy store for historians. So, I plugged in my Kindle and started downloading Xenophon, Herodotus, Plato, Virgil, Apollonius of Rhodes, Aristotle, Homer, Cassius Dio and others. And it’s all stored on my e-reader.

The Arthurian enthusiast in me is also happy to see the romances of Chr├ętien de Troyes on there, as well as such important ‘Dark Age’ sources as Nennius, Gildas and Aneirin.

My impression before was that Project Gutenberg was just for historical texts but there has been a new development.

The site has launched a new Self-Publishing Portal to facilitate on-line publishing by contemporary authors. This is all about free access.

There is a trend now among many authors to make their work, especially the first book in a series, available for free. Project Gutenberg is one place where you can do that. Check out the Self-Publishing Portal HERE

There are of course other websites where you can access ancient texts. The Perseus Digital Library of Tufts University is one such resource. However, for Project Gutenberg, I like how easy it is to download files for your e-reader, especially a mobi version for Kindle. Check out the site HERE and see what you can find.

The internet has so much on it now it can be quiet overwhelming for someone doing research and there is the added caveat that you must scrutinize whatever it is you are looking at closely for accuracy in translation.

Despite that, we are far better off than we were when it comes to access to ancient and medieval primary sources. The past is literally at our fingertips now and that, without a doubt, is a very good thing indeed.

If you have any other recommended sites you would like to share, please do so in the comments box below. 

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