"The UCSB site is astonishing: an expertly designed,
easily searchable trove of beautiful, weird, wonderful records, many
of them extremely rare...I can't help but suspect that we're watching
a turning of the scholarly tide; I think we'll see a lot more work
on The Other Roots Music in the coming years."
Historical material heading onto the Web isn't all
documents and images, either. Last November, 5,000 digitized wax-cylinder
recordings dating back to 1895 were posted online by the Cylinder
Preservation and Digitization Project at the University of California
at Santa Barbara. Among the recordings: Tin Pan Alley music, vaudeville
performances and advertisements from that time.
Rick Altman, a professor of cinema and comparative
literature at the University of Iowa, says that the digitized cylinders
have been a blessing for his research work. He recently downloaded
routines by Russell Hunting, a comedian around the turn of the 20th
century whose recordings, until now, were nearly inaccessible. Mr.
Altman has written extensively about silent-movie-era performers who
specialized in making sounds to match the action on the screen --
from chirping birds to foreign accents -- and says that many of these
performers modeled their styles after Mr. Hunting's.
"I had to write about this without ever having
heard him," Mr. Altman says. "Now I'll have a better sense
of what people were looking for."