Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Weather, Almanacs, and Googling

"The weather's been on the chilly side lately," I thought to myself the other day. Having only lived in the area for a year, though, I had to check whether my impression was right. Indeed. The Byfield area varies between roughly 45 and 65 Fahrenheit this time of the year, with records in the 30s and 90s F. I was curious, though, and dug a little more. The record highs and lows for Massachusetts took me by surprise. According to the 6th edition of The Weather Almanac (REF 551.69 BAI), the highest measured temperature was 106 F (July of 1911 in Lawrence); the lowest -34 F (at the Birch Hill Dam station, January of 1957).

What is an almanac, then? According to Wikipedia, it is
"an annual publication containing tabular information in a particular field or fields often arranged according to the calendar. Astronomical data and various statistics are also found in almanacs, such as the times of the rising and setting of the sun and moon, eclipses, hours of full tide, stated festivals of churches, terms of courts, lists of all types, timelines, and more."
Modern almanacs, however, contain much more. They can list data from around the world, summarize recent events or popular phenomena, or describe developments in a given topic.

In 1967, for instance, you could have checked the final standings of the college basketball season - or the Hall of Fame - in an almanac (The World Almanac Commemorative Edition; REF 317.3 WOR). You could check all sorts of tidbits. Did you realize, for instance, that when biting into a hamburger, you're chewing on something over a 100 years old? According to The People's Almanac Presents the 20th Century, shelved at 031.02 WAL, the first hamburger or the first hot dog were created in 1900 and 1906, respectively. Instant coffee became available in 1901 and decaf in 1903. Speaking of old things, exactly a hundred years ago, Boston prohibited public dances or balls, because they're "uncongenial to the habits and manners of the citizens" (When in Boston: A Timeline and Almanac, p. 99; 974.461 VRA). Perhaps they were thinking balls lead to a special form of symbiosis... (Almanac of the Environment: The Ecology of Everyday Life, p. 19; 363.7 HAR).

So, in the days of yore, almanacs served the same function as the Internet and Google do now. Whether you think the Internet or a book is easier to search is perhaps up to you, but I do say one thing for old-style almanacs: they need no electricity. If your town's electrical grid should go down on a sweltering day of 106 degrees, that can be a blessing.

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