‘Today In History’ Sites Provide Perspective

By: Charles Bowen

How often have you been writing or editing a feature story about some historical event and wished you could jazz it up a little by adding something on the news headlines of that day? Clever use of the Web can link you to several “Today in History” services that can be employed for that purpose, but usually they are limited in what they can provide. Most report only the major national and international events of the day.

But what if your story really cries out for information on what songs topped the charts, what books were new in the libraries and stores, what TV shows and movies were being talked about. and what a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk cost at the grocery store?

A cool new Web site lets you customize your own time capsule for any day, offering not only the big contemporary news but also this kind of everyday information that your readers can relate to. The free service offers a choice of either a quick-time capsule page or an advanced page that has more in-depth information, including the names of famous people born on that day, typical consumer prices from that year, Academy Award winners, and so on. Data online includes the years 1800 through 2001, although data for the years 1800 to 1875 is spotty.

To check out the feature, visit the Time Capsules site at http://www.dmarie.com/timecap, where the introductory page is topped with a data entry box in which you can type the desired date in mm/dd/yyyy format. Next, click below the data box on either:

* Quick Page, which generates an automatic Time Capsule, using highlights from the site’s data for major facts and figures, or

* Advanced Page. This option connects you to a “wizard” that lets you examine a larger selection of headlines for that date, as well as contemporary songs, books, television shows, and even popular toys of the day.

The resulting display lists top headlines of that week in history, the hit songs and the consumer prices for eggs, cars, gasoline, houses and stamps, the average income, minimum wage, and Dow average for the year. Also listed in the display are the names of the president and vice president, Academy Award winners, celebrities and notables born on that day, and hot TV shows, books, and toys. Links at the top of the screen allow you to get a printer- friendly version of the data or to start over with a new date.

And here are other resources on the Web that can help with finding “this day in history” information:

1. Television’s History Channel has an especially powerful site for such material. Visit the feature (http://www.historychannel.com/today) and see the top historic news for the current day, often accompanied by related text articles and even online video clips. See the link to “What Else Happened Today?” for other citations on other historic events, birthdays, and even the names of chart-topping songs on this date in previous years.

2. The Library of Congress’ American Memory (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/today/archive.html) has three options to view the 365 pages of material. You may either enter a word or phrase to search the full text of the database’s articles (with either word variants such as plurals or exact matches), jump to a specific day in the archive, or browse the database by month. Each article has a main topic of interest for the day, along with hot links to related articles and sites around the Web.

3. The Scopes Systems Historical Events and Birthdates database (http://www.scopesys.com/anyday). This is an especially detailed private collection of anniversaries, birth and death dates, sports and entertainment data, holidays, and religious history.

To see Bowen’s last 10 columns, click here. Previous columns may be purchased in our paid archives. Search for “Bowen” in the “Author” field.

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