Friday in the Stacks: The Annual Register

The Annual Register

The Annual Register

Well, in this edition of Friday in the Stacks I’d like to tell you about a dusty (and in our case, literally dusty) old set of books called “The Annual Register.” Now, do not judge this book series by its physical cover (drab browns and oranges complete with much dust); this is a truly amazing source.

Published annually since 1758, each book covers major events, themes, relationships, situations, etc. happening all over the world in that year. Each (well, within the last 50 years at least) seem to be structured the same way. It starts with a section on countries – starting with the UK & Commonwealth countries, then by region, e.g. North America, Asia, etc.

But each book does not simply cover what was happening in each country, but also in the arts and literature, science and technology, religion, economics and sociology, and law. There are also maps! And primary source documents. Woah.

And the icing on the cake? It’s eminently readable! I lost track of time (not the first time) comparing the 1964, 2001, and 2013 registers. The 1964 volume was fascinating (space race! leadership upheaval in the U.S.S.R.! Jawaharlal Nehru dies!). Did you know J.B.S. Haldane died in 1964? Well there’s an obituaries section where you could learn such a thing.

By 2001 (but probably before), it looks like each volume will start with excerpts from past Annual Registers from as old as can be (225, 250, etc.) years ago and then onward in 25 year increments. So for example, in the 2013 volume (which in this case seems to be about 2012), it quotes from the Annual Register of 200 years ago:

1812. The desertion of Moscow by Napoleon (who quitted it the day after the defeat of Murat) was equally a subject of surprise and speculation at Paris, the public papers of which exhausted their ingenuity in finding excuses and motives for this event. One of them thus concludes its reasonings: ‘To say that the emperor has left Moscow is only to say, that this father of the soldiers marches wherever great operations demand his presence. His presence commands victory; it will still watch over the safety of the victorious army.’ We shall see in the sequel how well this expectation was verified.

Whew! Amazing, no?

Then the 150 years ago bit:

1862. America. The hopelessness of the attempt to bring back the Union by force of arms was clear to all who were capable of forming a dispassionate judgment; but pride, obstinacy and lust of empire still impelled the North to continue the desolating strife. We fear that torrents of blood will yet be shed before the termination of the Civil War, of which the civilized world is ashamed and sick.

Hmm… so anyways, as an historical piece, it’s quite rich. That quote from 1862 is worth a little look, right?

Alright. How will my students use this? Let’s say a first year is writing a paper about the role of women in the Ghanaian liberation / independence movement. Well, maybe she has no real understanding of Ghana (or, ahem, the Gold Coast) and its history. I don’t mind saying that Wikipedia is certainly a great start to get some overview context. But, picking up the 10 books spanning say 1955-1966 and reading the portions on this region (plus skimming a bit of the overall world context in the preface of each volume) may give her a broader understanding of what was happening here in the context of what was going on in the world right at that moment.

And who knows? Maybe she’ll flip to the section on the Arts & Literature and look at the trends in opera or ballet and get inspired about that for some other course!

I’m not kidding: the arts (at least since 1964 which was the oldest volume I pulled this morning) seem to be continually structured as covering opera, ballet, the theater, art, music, the cinema, television & broadcasting, and architecture followed by literature. While 2001 has these categories more or less, the 2013 book (again – about 2012) has opera, classical music, rock & pop music, ballet & dance, theater: London & New York, cinema, television & radio, visual arts, architecture, literature.

What categories get called out fascinates me. Why is there a classical music section in this 2013 volume? You’ll just have to pick it up and find out what they say!

Also, I love that the “rock & pop” music section of 2013 starts off with the fact that “Gangnam Style” was the first YouTube video to hit a billion views. I don’t know why I find it amusing that “Gangnam Style” is in this reference work filled with weighty matters. Then again, major pop phenomena may be weighty in their own way.

Okay. That’s it for this edition of Friday in the Stacks. See you next time!

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