Archives of Information- 5 minutes read - 938 words
We are in an age of endless information—one might even argue too much information. Not only can we find a diagram illustrating the Pythagorean theorem in seconds by reaching into our pocket and tapping a glass pane a few times, but we also know minute life details of our friends, acquaintances, and strangers around the earth. For most of us, information is both easy to access and readily available.
I decided to write Heretics of Piedmont in the fall of 2020. This was a time when the United States, after a lull in restrictions during the summer, began to lock down again. However, to write the novel, I needed information—lots of it.
I felt my job was to read, absorb, and distill numerous accounts of Waldensian history to be both entertaining and consumable by the typical Christian fiction reader. I have heard it said many times that it’s one thing to tell someone about something, but it’s a whole other talent to keep them engaged and help them understand it.
Go back in time fifteen years, and my predicament would have been extremely difficult. The dissenting, medieval religious group known as the Waldensians resided mostly in southeast France and northwest Italy. This presented me with two problems: nearly all well-known works about them are out of print, and many others are only accessible in European libraries—even then, often only by professional historians). If I would have written this in, say, 2005, I might have finished the research in five years. And that’s being optimistic.
Enter two great works of the 21st century: The Internet Archive and Google Translate. I can only begin to explain how wonderful these resources were.
First, the Internet Archive. This website has literally millions of documents, books, audio, and video: all in the public domain (meaning either the copyright has expired or it was designated that way originally). Many of their resources were donated by university and public libraries, which thankfully included most of the books I needed to read. On top of that, Google Books has also donated their millions of scanned books to the Internet Archive as well as hosting them in their domain.
It’s one thing to have books digitally available. But with websites like the Internet Archive, they’re also indexed and searchable by their full text. For example, I occasionally found a quote in one book that referenced another out-of-print work. To verify the information, I wanted to check the original also. Just a few years ago, that would have required maybe finding the book in the card catalog, praying it was the same edition, and if not, skimming through the pages to find the quote. In 2021, all it took was typing part of the quote in the search bar, and usually the first result ended up being what I needed.
As for Google Translate, let me be straight and say I am far from a polyglot. I speak English, and can understand parts of a few others. The problem was that many of my sources were written in French or Latin, neither of which do I know extensively. Yes, the foreign language sources were not books I read in their entirety; I would not be doing them proper justice by plugging them into a robot translator and letting them read it. But usually all I needed was a paragraph or less. This is where the robot at least gave me a directionally correct translation of the original.
The Internet Archive is supported by donations: digital media, labor (e.g. scanning), and finances to run their massive array of servers. Google, despite my numerous ethical issues with that corporation, mainly supports their free resources like Google Books through advertisements. In a way, I feel indebted to them.
The other scenario would have been me flying to Europe at least once, having a French and Latin speaker available to translate, spending hours finding books, and hours more finding what I needed. I am thankful for digitized research.
These are some books I consulted:
- Aeneae Sylvii Piccolominei Postea Pii II. Papae Historia Bohemica. Germany: Sumptibus Joh. Melchioris Sustermanni, 1699.
- Allix, Pierre. Some Remarks Upon the Ecclesiastical History of the Ancient Churches of Piedmont. United Kingdom: Clarendon Press, 1821.
- Baird, Robert. Sketches of Protestantism in Italy. Past and Present. Including a Notice of the Origin, History, and Present State of the Waldenses. Boston: Benjamin Perkins & Co., 1847.
- Gallenga, Antonio Carlo Napoleone. History of Piedmont. United Kingdom: Chapman and Hall, 1855.
- Gilly, William Stephen. The Romaunt version of the Gospel according to St John. United Kingdom: John Murray, 1848.
- Henderson, Ebenezer. The Vaudois: observations made during a tour to the valleys of Piedmont. United Kingdom: John Snow, Paternoster Row, 1845.
- Jones, William. The History of the Christian Church from the Birth of Christ to the Xviii. Century. United States: R.W. Pomeroy, 1832.
- Morland, Samuel. The History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piemont. United Kingdom: Henry Hills, one of His Highness’s printers, 1658.
- Muston, Alexis. The Israel of the Alps: A History of the Persecutions of the Waldenses. United Kingdom: Ingram, Cooke, 1852.
- Todd, James Henthorn. The books of the Vaudois, the Waldensian manuscripts preserved in the library of Trinity college, Dublin. United Kingdom: MacMillan and Co., 1865.
- Vedder, Henry C. “Origin and Early Teachings of the Waldenses, According to Roman Catholic Writers of the Thirteenth Century”. The American Journal of Theology 4, no. 3 (1900): 465-89. Accessed April 9, 2021.
- Voltaire, François Marie Arouet de., Masters, Brian. Treatise on tolerance. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
- Wylie, James Aitken. The history of Protestantism. United Kingdom: Cassel, Petter & Galpin, 1874.