State University of New York at Stony Brook
Melville Library
Map Collection
Stony Brook, NY 11794-3331


Long Island History on the World Wide Web

By David Yehling Allen

March 16, 2001
Links updated and minor revisions, October 28, 2004

     Author's note:  a slightly different version of this article was published in the Spring, 2001, issue of the Long Island Historical Journal .  This article is being co-published on the Web by permission of the journal's editor.  This Web-based version will be updated as new information is received.



Sites Devoted Primarily to Long Island History
Finding Information about Long Island History at Comprehensive Sites
The Future of Long Island's Past of the Internet


     This article is part review essay, part prophecy, and part advocacy. By now most Long Island historians have used the World Wide Web for research or teaching. Still, many are uncertain about exactly what is available on "the Web," and few have pondered how the Web may affect their work in the future.

     Even in the case of a narrowly focused area, such as Long Island history, a surprising amount of primary and secondary material is already available on the Web. Much of it is "hidden" in the sense that it cannot be found by using a search engine to locate material under an obvious subject like "Long Island history":  rather it has to be ferreted out by looking for sites on specific subjects, such as Walt Whitman or the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, or else by sifting through huge collections, such as the American Memory Project at the Library of Congress.

     This article discusses a number of Web sites with information about Long Island history. They will be described and evaluated, and hints will be provided on how to use them. To facilitate its use as a resource guide for the Internet, this article is being published on the Web with active links to the sites discussed.  This article will be revised periodically as new resources become available.

     The article concludes with a discussion of the possible future of Long Island history on the Internet. A program is set forth for digitizing large quantities of historical materials relating to Long Island, and prospects for realizing such a program are considered.

Sites Devoted Primarily to Long Island History

     There are few sites devoted solely to Long Island history. The best known and most important is Newsday's Long Island, Our Story , and we will begin by reviewing that site  ( Not only is the Newsday site the most comprehensive one dealing solely with Long Island history, but it also illustrates many of the possibilities and problems of historical publication on the Web.

     The Newsday site is an outgrowth of its "Long Island History Project," which has led to a series of articles in the newspaper, and a handsomely illustrated book, also bearing the title Long Island, Our Story .  Most of the content of the Web site also appeared in the articles and in the book.(1)

     The Newsday project has been warmly received by most Long Island historians--as well it should have been, for it has made available in easily digestible form a wealth of information about Long Island's past.(2)  In many respects Newday's beautifully illustrated book and its counterpart on the Web provide the best existing overview of Long Island history. The journalists who wrote the individual stories generally did a good job of familiarizing themselves with the contemporary historical literature on their subjects, and of summarizing it for a wide audience. Reflecting the interests of contemporary historians, Newsday's book includes a good deal of information on such subjects as women, Native Americans, blacks, and everyday life on Long Island. These subjects have been given short shrift in most earlier works that attempt an overview of Long Island history.(3 )

     In spite of its considerable merits, Newsday's production, in all of its formats, has serious limitations as a work of history. Many of these are probably inescapable in a work written by a team of journalists. The quality of the articles is uneven.  The articles written by the lead reporters on the project (Steve Wick and George DeWan) reflect wide knowledge of Long Island history.  They are based on interviews, extensive reading of the modern historical literature, and some reading of primary sources and older works.  On the lower end of the scale, a few of the articles are downright inaccurate, and reflect very little research of any kind. Inevitably, even at its best, the Newsday series does not measure up to the standards of professional historians.  They do not have the authority and depth one finds in works by historians who have spent years immersed in their subjects. In common with many of the older comprehensive works on Long Island history, there is also a certain lack of coherence to Long Island, Our Story . The work as a whole does not constitute a narrative grounded on careful analysis of broad developmental themes. The work is a loosely organized collection of articles and vignettes, which few would want to read from cover to cover. Finally, the articles lack footnotes and bibliographies. Thus, there is often no way to check the veracity of the sources of information used in the stories, and they cannot be used as launching pads for further research.

     One of the purposes of the Newsday series is to provide material for use in elementary and secondary education. But, especially on the secondary level, one has to wonder how useful such information really is. Although Newsday accompanies its stories with contemporary illustrations and selected original source materials, there are not enough of them to use for original research. A student paper written using only what Newsday provides would read very much like it was based on an article in an encyclopedia. One would hope that even at the high school level students would be encouraged to go beyond this approach, and arrive at their own conclusions based on reading a variety of conflicting sources. 

     It would be unfair to take Newsday to task for not producing an academic work of history, which was not its purpose and would probably not appeal to most of its readership.  However, this does not mean that we should ignore its limitations--many of which could have been avoided or corrected.  The translation of Long Island, Our Story into Web format provided an opportunity to remedy many of the weaknesses of the book, and the Newsday staff has taken some advantage of this opportunity.

      It easy to revise documents on the Web, to add materials, and to provide links to related resources.  The Newsday staff has done this to some extent, and added a large amount of supplementary material to the original book.  This new  material includes a section called "The Vault," which includes selected source documents, as well as photographs and video clips.  Another section, "Our Towns," includes brief town histories, which are often embellished with old photographs.  The town histories usually include a final paragraph entitled "Where to Find More," which mentions local libraries, historical societies, and sometimes books.  The lack of such a feature is a serious weakness in the book version of Long Island, Our Story .

    Newsday has so far been shy about adding to or revising the articles that originally appeared in the book.  It is understandable that the editors would want to retain the integrity of the original articles, but it is a pity that they do not correct even obvious errors. It would also be a fairly simple matter to add bibliographies to the individual sections on the Web. They might be placed in a separate section in "The Vault," and linked to the original stories.  And, of course, hyperlinks could be added to related materials on the Internet. These additions would help students and researchers to move beyond the circumscribed presentation of Newsday's series, and to explore on their own the much wider world of Long Island history.  Being unobtrusive, there is no reason to think these additions would detract from the readability or popularity of the original.  By making the site more useful to educators and researchers, they would probably make it more popular.

     In spite of its limitations, Long Island, Our Story excels in breadth and depth all of the other sites devoted to Long Island history.  The other sites relating directly to Long Island history are narrower in focus and content than the Newsday site, and most have similar limitations. With some exceptions, they are designed to present basic information about an institution or a subject, rather than to provide in-depth resources for research. This is fine in so far as it goes, but it is possible to go much further.

     A number of sites provide useful leads for researchers looking for source materials.  A useful listing has been put up the Suffolk County Clerk's office, "Archives and Manuscript Repositories in Nassau and Suffolk counties ( ).  Many Long Island museums and historical societies also have Web sites: a comprehensive list can be found on "Long Island's Page of Pages" ( ).

     Most of the sites of historical societies and other institutions just contain basic information about the sponsoring institution, but others also provide substantial information about local history. One of the information rich sites belongs to the Oyster Bay Historical Society ( ). This growing site includes a brief history of Oyster Bay, along with a selection of historical documents, a gallery of historical photographs, and a collection of links to related resources. This is also a good place to begin looking for information on Oyster Bay's most famous resident, Theodore Roosevelt, though you can turn directly to such sources as the National Park Service's Sagamore Hill Website ( ), or to the huge site maintained by the Theodore Roosevelt Association ( ).

     Another site worth special mention is that of the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society ( ).  In addition to information about the Port Washington area, this site includes an outstanding collection of links to a wide range of sites dealing with all aspects of Long Island history.

     Westernmost Long Island is also relatively well served by Web sites. Brooklyn On Line has a page devoted to Brooklyn's history with a variety of interesting things on it ( My favorite part of this site is devoted to the Battle of Brooklyn (also known as the Battle of Long Island). Those interested in Brooklyn history will also want to look at Michael Cassidy's genealogy oriented site  ( A highlight of this site is the complete text of Henry Stile's History of the City of Brooklyn (1867).(4 )

     Another useful site is hosted by the Friends for Long Island's Heritage ( ). This site contains information about that organization's projects, and about the museums and preserves it supports in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.  The Friends site includes a link to the Cradle of Aviation Museum ( ), which boasts one of the most content rich sites on Long Island, and provides fairly detailed articles about various aspects of the history of aviation on Long Island, including photographs, sound recordings, and other resources.  Those interested in aviation history or the general area around Mitchel Field will also want to take a look at the Hempstead Plains site ( ).

     Other forms of transportation are also relatively well served on the Internet. The Oyster Bay Historical Society includes among its resources a Long Island Railroad History Project, which has links to several related sites, including The Railroad Museum of Long Island ( For those interested in automotive transportation, the New York Roads site ( ) is a good starting point. It has a wealth of historical information about Long Island roads, including maps and important planning proposals, such as the Long Island Sound Bridge Study. It also has links to a number of related sites, including one on the Long Island (Vanderbilt) Motor Parkway ( ).  And, finally, those who prefer to navigate by water can find a wealth of information at the Long Island Lighthouses page ( ).

     An interesting and well-done community-based site is "Longwood's Journey"  ( ). This site provides a wealth of information about the little known Longwood area (Coram, Middle Island, Yaphank, and Ridge). The Longwood site, which was put together in part by social studies students at Longwood Middle School, provides a good historical summary of the development of the area, along with historical census information, maps, selections from newspapers and diaries, and even obituaries. I was particularly impressed by the use of details from property maps to show the development of the Longwood community through time. This site might serve as a model for other school and community based organizations.

     Sites created by genealogists are often rich sources of information about local history. Perhaps here more than anywhere else is revealed the extent to which the Internet has contributed to a grass-roots resurgence of interest in local history.  It is already been noted that the complete text of an important history of Brooklyn can be found on a genealogical web site. The most important single site for New York State genealogy is NYgenweb (, which hosts pages for most counties in the state. Many of the upstate county pages on Nygenweb include historical maps and digital versions of important books on local history. The NYGEN sites for Kings, Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk counties are not yet so richly endowed, but all are worth visiting. Look for lists of cemeteries (and their residents), census records, brief town histories, lists of churches, and related links of interest to both genealogists and local historians. Also worth investigating is "The Long Island Genealogy Page" ( ).  This page has a number of interesting links, including one to a site that includes the full text of several old Long Island business directories ( ).

     There are also sites devoted to individual Long Islanders. Long Island's poetic icon, Walt Whitman, predictably has the most extensive coverage. Access to the several sites with Whitman material can be obtained through a Long-Island based "Walt Whitman" page ( ). This site has links to extensive collections of material by and about Whitman at the Library of Congress and at the University of Virginia. The Walt Whitman Hypertext Archive at the University of Virginia ( http://Jefferson.Village.Virginia.EDU/whitman) is especially impressive. It includes a comprehensive bibliography on Whitman, reviews of Whitman's works, the complete text of his published writings, and a variety of manuscript works, notebooks, and letters. It is the only site discussed in this section of this article with enough information to allow for extensive original research.

     Other literary lights also have Web pages devoted to them, although none receive such extensive treatment as Whitman. A number of sites are devoted to F. Scott Fitzgerald, including the F.Scott Fitzgerald Centenary page at the University of South Carolina ( ).  There are several sites with information on Jupiter Hammon, Long Island's first black poet. One of the best is Paul Reuben's page, which includes a bibliography and timeline, as well as the text of several of Hammon's works ( There is even a site devoted to Jack Kerouac at Northport ( There are many other sites with information about people associated in some way with Long Island. Generally speaking, it is relatively easy to locate sites dealing with specific people, places, or events by using search engines, such as AltaVista or Google.

     Searching for materials on the Web can sometimes turn up strange and unexpected things. One such surprise occurred when I was looking for information about Camp Hero (the military base near Montauk point). I discovered that there is practically a whole subculture concerned with experiments allegedly conducted at Camp Hero during World War II involving time travel, flying saucers, extraterrestrials, and massive atrocities by the federal government. While all or most of this is doubtless nonsense, this cult would make an interesting subject for the student of popular culture. To find out more, look for links at the aptly named "Surfing the Apocalypse" site Who would have thought that Long Island has a location to rival Rosewell, New Mexico?

     I hope it is not presumptuous to include in this discussion my own site for the Map Collection at the University at Stony Brook ( ). This site includes a set of pages entitled "Long Island Maps and Their Makers," which provides a brief overview of the history of Long Island cartography, and serves as an introduction to the book with the same title.(5) However, this is not the place to go for high quality digital images of Long Island maps. Better images of entire maps can be found at this site on the page "New York State Historical Maps," and many of these maps include Long Island. The best images of Long Island maps can now be found elsewhere. Technical developments in the past few years have made it possible for institutions with sufficient resources to produce and distribute over the Internet very high quality images of large maps. Links to such maps depicting Long Island can be found on the last page of "Long Island Maps and Their Makers," and through the "New York State Maps Pathfinder," which is part of "New York State Historical Maps." Particular attention should be given to the Library of Congress site (panoramic maps, railroad maps, some early maps); the David Rumsey Collection (many nineteenth-century maps); the University of Connecticut (early maps showing Connecticut and Long Island, Long Island Sound); and the National Ocean Service (published Coast Survey maps).(6 )

     Some Long Island property maps and atlases had also been digitized when this article was originally published.  These works were mostly made between 1850 and 1920, and show individual homeowners and sometimes property lines.  These qualities make property maps favorites of genealogists, archaeologists, and town historians. A 1906 property map of Long Island by E. Belcher Hyde has been digitized by Newsday, but appears to be no longer available as of 2004.(7)   High quality black and white images of the important  Atlas of Long Island by F.W. Beers (1873) were posted on a genealogical site, but also appear to be no longer available on the Web.

     Somewhat strangely, although maps are among the most difficult materials to digitize, Long Island historians are better provided with cartographic materials than with any other type of information in digital form.  Nonetheless, much work remains to be done.  Many property atlases remain to be digitized, and other types of maps have yet to make an appearance on the Web.  Fire insurance maps are among the many types of maps that are not yet freely available on the Internet.  Fire insurance maps resemble property maps, but are still more detailed, and even include  information about the construction of individual buildings.  Also not yet available in digital form are the manuscript Coast Survey maps, which provide the earliest detailed cartographic picture of all of Long Island.(8)

     The situation of Long Island maps is representative in one respect of all types of Long Island historical resources on the Internet. The material at a site labeled "Long Island" constitutes only a small fraction of what is available elsewhere on the Web. In the case of maps, links have been made to similar materials at other locations. In the case of most other materials, such a comprehensive collection of links does not exist, and it is up to individual researchers to somehow find the numerous resources that exist somewhere in cyberspace.

Finding Information about Long Island History at Comprehensive Web Sites

     Most of the material on the Web useful for original research on Long Island history is on sites with a broader focus than just Long Island. This should not be surprising, since digitizing historical materials is expensive, and funding has been easier to find for projects that are national in scope.

     A good place to begin a consideration of these sites is JSTOR ( Unlike most of the sites presented here, JSTOR, which stands for Journal Storage project, is not freely available on the Internet, but only through subscribing institutions. Many research libraries belong to JSTOR, including the University at Stony Brook, and unaffiliated researchers can get access to it at the University libraries. Nonsubscribers can obtain basic information about JSTOR at the Internet address (URL) given above.

     JSTOR consists of the back runs of over 120 heavily used academic journals. These include twenty historical journals, among them The American Historical Review, The Journal of Negro History, and The William and Mary Quarterly . The back runs of these journals are preserved as scanned digital images, which are indexed to make them searchable by key word. Long runs of some of these journals are available-in the case of The American Historical Review, everything from its inception in 1895 to within a few years of the present. Because JSTOR specializes in preserving and making available back files of journals, publishers can continue to profit by selling current issues to their subscribers. A "moving wall," is used to update the collection: as journal volumes reach a certain age they are continually added to the collection. (For example, the most recent volume of a particular journal in JSTOR might always be the one that is three years old.)

     For researchers JSTOR has two major advantages. First, it enables them to access back runs of journals from computers at home or office, and to print high quality copies of articles that look much like good photocopies. In addition, the key word indexing enables users to search through whole runs of journals, or even through the entire JSTOR collection, using keywords, or combinations of keywords. The sophisticated search software used by JSTOR incorporates such features as searching by phrase and key words, use of Boolean operators (and, or, not ), truncation of search terms, and limitation by date of publication. In terms of the ways it can be searched, JSTOR is typical of many of the large academic sites specializing in scholarly materials.

      The best way to understand the implications of searching massive amounts of full text by key word is to look up some articles on a specific subject, such as Long Island history. Because of the huge size of the JSTOR database, searches on broadly conceived topics are likely to be unproductive. Thus a search for the phrase "Long Island," in the twenty historical journals yields more than 200 "hits" (the maximum allowed by the database). It is possible to restrict searches on broad topics like this to article titles, but "Long Island" appears in the titles of only two articles--both dealing with the Battle of Long Island. This may be an indication of the relative neglect of Long Island as a subject of historical research, although it should be kept in mind that none of the historical journals included in JSTOR include any of those dealing with Long Island or even New York State history.

     JSTOR really comes into its own when you start to search for more circumscribed subjects. A researcher interested in slavery on Long Island could retrieve 187 articles with the key words slave+ and "Long Island." (The plus sign in JSTOR is a truncation symbol, which allows you to retrieve such variants as "slave," "slavery," and "slaveholder.") A search for Jupiter Hammon yields 16 articles in the collection of historical journals; journals dealing with African-American studies are in a separate collection, and you can get an additional 15 articles by including them in your search. Those interested in the American Revolution will find 196 articles containing "battle" and "Long Island" on the same page; more than 200 articles can be retrieved by searching for "battle" and "Brooklyn." To narrow down searches with too many results, try including specific names or places. The name of Washington's spymaster, Benjamin Tallmadge, appears in only seven articles. The moral is that researchers using this type of database need to be flexible and try a variety of combinations of terms to get the results they want.

      Keep in mind that current issues of historical journals are often also available in electronic format. With few exceptions they, too, are not free, and must be accessed through institutions that subscribe to them. A list of the electronic journals in history available at the University at Stony Brook can be found on the University Library's home page ( ).(9 )

      JSTOR's use of image files in combination with full-text indexing reoccurs in many of the large collections of scholarly materials available on the Internet. The same combination can be found in the Making of America (MOA) project, which is being carried out by Cornell University ( and the University of Michigan ( ). While JSTOR specializes in academic journals, MOA concentrates on books and periodicals published between 1815 and 1925. This time coverage is typical of many digital projects, since materials more than 75 years old are generally no longer protected by copyright.

     Already the Making of America project constitutes a valuable resource for students and researchers interested in Long Island history. Numerous references to events on Long Island can be found in both the book and the periodical collections. The collection at Cornell is particularly important for its Long Island holdings, since it contains a relatively high percentage of materials relating to New York State. These include six works dealing specifically with the history of Long Island: The Records of the Town of Brookhaven (vols. II and III); Gabriel Furman, Antiquities of Long Island (1874); T.G. Bergen, Register in Alphabetical Order of Early Settlers of Kings County, Long Island, N.Y. (1881); S.M. Ostrander, A History of the City of Brooklyn and Kings County (1894); M.P. Bunker, Long Island Genealogies (1895); and H.P. Hedges, A History of the Town of East-Hampton, N.Y. (1897).

     The collection at the University of Michigan, which at present has to be searched separately, should not be ignored. Many of the journals in that collection contain materials on Long Island, and the book collection includes a notable treasure: the four volume Documentary History of the State of New York edited by E.B. O'Callaghan.(10 ) Such massive compilations of miscellaneous source materials seem to cry out full text indexing and presentation over the Internet.

     Since every single word in these collections has been indexed, they are ideal for investigating "needle in the haystack" type questions. An example is the often asked, but never definitively answered, question of when New York was first called "the Empire State." Since it is possible to search for this phrase in the full-text of the entire collection, and to restrict searches by specific time periods, it is easy to establish usage patterns. As it turns out, the phrase occurs frequently in all periods after 1840; there are a few uses of it in the 1830's; and none in the period between 1815-1830. The phrase first appears in 1833.(11 ) The casual way the phrase was used in publications from the 1830's shows that it was already well known at that time. That it does not turn up in the MOA collections prior to 1834 does not prove much about the origins of the phrase: if more materials from the early nineteenth century were included in MOA, earlier uses would doubtless be found. Nonetheless, our search does at least show us that the phrase was well established by the middle of the 1830's.

     The richness of the two MOA collections is revealed by the results of several sample searches. What has been said about searching in JSTOR applies generally to MOA. Because such a massive amount of text is indexed, searches work best on very specific subjects (such as names of towns or people). Broader subjects, such as slavery or agriculture, should be searched using Boolean operators (and, or, not)--e.g. "slavery" and "Long Island", or "farms" and "Suffolk County." Keep in mind that while the same types of searches can be conducted in JSTOR and MOA, the operators used in searching are sometimes different. Thus, the "+"sign is used as a truncation symbol in JSTOR, while MOA uses an asterisk for the same purpose.

     Even larger than the Making of America project is the American Memory Project ( ). This project includes collections from a number of libraries, but its focus is the Library of Congress, which is making many of its important holdings in American history available in digital form through this project. Taken as a whole, the American Memory Project constitutes the richest group of collections of digital materials on the history of the United States, and works dealing with Long Island are scattered unevenly through it. Most of the collections at this site are thematic, and references to blacks and women on Long Island can be retrieved from one of several corresponding collections. As previously noted, the American Memory Project includes many Long Island maps. It also includes a collection of environmental photographs from the first part of the twentieth century, many of which show Long Island landscapes, such as a photograph of the Hempstead Plains around 1900. Many old Long Island buildings can be seen in a collection of early twentieth-century architectural photographs.

      The American Memory Project provides good examples of the use of digital imaging to make rare manuscript materials widely accessible. Both the George Washington papers and the Thomas Jefferson papers are available at this site. It is possible to search these collections in their entirety by key word, to read transcripts of many of the documents in which the key words appear, and to call up digital images of the original documents. As one might expect, the Washington Papers are a valuable source of information about American operations on Long Island during the Revolutionary War

     New additions are made frequently to the American Memory Project, and it pays to review its holdings from time to time. One of the most important collections currently under construction is entitled: "A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation, U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1873." Already this collection includes all or parts of such important Congressional publications as the Statutes at Large, the House Journal, the Congressional Globe, and the Congressional Serial Set. The entire collection is indexed or searchable in some fashion. A large amount of material concerned with Long Island can be turned up in this collection, although the coverage is uneven and the full text of most of the materials is not indexed (the key word searches usually cover only the indexes). As more materials are added to this collection, especially additional volumes of the Serial Set , the Century of Lawmaking will become an extremely valuable resource.

     Users of the American Memory Project should be aware that searching this collection is not as simple as it may seem. The various collections that make up the project are indexed in a variety of different ways and to different degrees. A person logging on to the home page of the American Memory Project may notice an option to search the entire collection at once (including even such related collections as the Making of America Project). While this comprehensive search is possible, the results retrieved may be incomplete and misleading. The collections as a whole are not indexed for this preliminary search in as much detail as are some of the individual collections. Thus, the only way to search through every single word in the Washington Papers or Cornell's Making of America collection is to log on to these collections individually, and search them one at a time.

     While the above collections are the most important for the history of Long Island, a number of other Web sites have enough material to repay a visit. The digital collections at the New York Public Library are among the most notable. The geographical proximity of New York City to Long Island increases the likelihood of relevant materials being found at this site. So far the New York Public Library has made a relatively small amount of its holdings available in digital form, but its online collections are well worth investigating. One, which is entitled, "Small-Town America: Stereoscopic Views from the Robert Dennis Collection" (, includes many photographs of Long Island towns. The New York Public Library was also involved with other libraries in a cooperative project entitled "Women, Marriage and the Law, 1815-1914" ( ), which includes a good deal of information about women on Long Island. The New York Public Library site is another that is worth revisiting periodically to see what new collections have been added.

      Although very different in purpose and scope, two commercial sites, netLibrary ( and Xlibris ( ), are of potential interest to Long Island historians. All of the sites discussed so far (except JSTOR) have concentrated in making available materials that are no longer copyrighted, and even JSTOR is a not-for-profit corporation. Netlibrary and Xlibris, on the other hand, focus primarily on distributing copyrighted materials. They are commercial publishers of the digital word, and, like conventional publishers, they charge for their services, both to make a profit and to pay royalties to authors.

     NetLibrary focuses on working with established publishers to distribute their books in digital form. A new and rapidly growing company, they make available as of this writing about 40,000 volumes, including many recent titles from the SUNY University Press and the Syracuse University Press (the leading publisher of works on New York State history). NetLibrary specializes in selling rights of access to individual works to institutions, such as libraries, which can then "check out" the volumes to their users for limited periods of time. Borrowers can search the full text of the volumes by keyword, print out individual pages, annotate pages, and cut and paste into their own manuscripts. A side benefit of having the books in digital form is that they can be kept in print indefinitely.(12 ) It costs very little to store an e-book, and it is more economical to print individual copies of little-used books on demand than it is to print and store a whole run of them in inventory.

     As with JSTOR, it is possible for anyone to sign onto netLibrary and get some basic information about the service, including a complete list of titles available on any subject. But to read and download individual works, you have to obtain access through an institution that has purchased the right to make the titles you want available to its clientele. All of the SUNY libraries subscribe to at least a small core group of electronic books through netLibrary, and some public libraries may be able to provide access to selected titles through a consortium called NYLINK.(13 ) At present there are no books dealing exclusively with Long Island history available through this service, but it does include quite a few works dealing with other areas of New York State, including some with information on Long Island. netLibrary titles potentially worth exploring for references to Long Island are: Fort Orange Records, 1656-1678 and Mark V. Wasny, Washington's Partisan War, 1775-1783 .(14 ) The contents of netLibrary are expanding rapidly, and more books relevant to Long Island history are certain to appear in the future.

     It will be interesting to see how popular netLibrary becomes. Most academics, myself included, would much rather read a book in paper than in digital form. Nonetheless, researchers should appreciate being able to do keyword searches through the complete text of books, as well as the ability to copy blocks of text into their notes without typing them in them by hand. For libraries there are great advantages in not having to catalog, shelve, preserve, store, and check out books (although this does raise some interesting questions about how librarians would spend their time in a completely digital library). Having books readily available forever (or at least until our computers melt down) will certainly be a boon to both libraries and their users, who will not have to worry about locating scarce out of print books. It is unlikely that libraries will stop buying books in paper form anytime soon, but I expect we will be seeing much more of electronic books in the near future.

     Xlibris is of particular interest to local historians in search of a publisher. Xlibris, which calls itself as "a strategic partner of Random House Ventures," is one of several enterprises that might be described as digital versions of vanity presses. Because of their small potential market, specialized works of local history are notoriously difficult to publish. However, the low cost of electronic publishing and the possibility of printing on demand from digital files makes electronic publishing an economical way to produce books with little potential for large sales. Xlibris publishes electronic books at a minimal cost to the author (although it charges extra for such services as illustrations and marketing), and it pays higher royalties than standard publishers. Works may be purchased directly from Xlibris in either digital or in paper form, and for a fee they can be advertised through services like A number of specialized works of local history have been published by Xlibris, although so far none of them deal with Long Island. It is nonetheless an option for writers of Long Island history to keep in mind, and may eventually develop into a site with enough resources to make it of interest to researchers.

     There are other places where the diligent researcher may find materials relating to Long Island. Since we lack a comprehensive collection of links for Long Island history, a good place to begin further investigations is the collection of links to World Wide Web resources put together by the New York History ( ).

The Future of Long Island's Past on the Internet

     Although the amount of information on Long Island history on the Internet is impressive, it is only a tiny fraction of what should be made available. A compelling case can be made for digitizing a much larger selection of primary sources and secondary materials. With a much more extensive collection available on the Web, students and researchers could do much of their work without having to spend large amounts of time in archives and special collections with their restrictions on access and use. In addition, having the full text of these materials searchable by keyword would make it possible to track down with relative ease bits of information that would otherwise be lost in volumes of unread text.

     It does not require a great deal of imagination to think of things to digitize. On the analogy of JSTOR, back issues of Long Island historical journals, including The Journal of Long Island History, the Nassau County Historical Journal, the Long Island Forum, and The Long Island Historical Journal could be made available on the Web. The full text of every issue should be made searchable by key word.

     The published records of the Long Island towns are prime candidates for publication in digital form. So are the classic works on Long Island history, such as Thompson's History of Long Island (1849). They could easily be distributed in digital form, since they are no longer under copyright. A project to render Long Island's past in virtual form might also include early Long Island newspapers. Digitizing newspapers would be somewhat more difficult to carry out, since most they would probably have to be digitized from microfilm. But this, too, is feasible, and may soon become commonplace.

     Historic photographs would be easy candidates for digitization. So would drawings and much art. Large paintings, like large maps, require special equipment and unusual software to distribute the resulting images, but there are many examples of such materials being successfully made available on the Web. Although a good sampling of cartographic material is already available, much remains to be done. There is a particular need for digitizing property maps and county atlases, which show individual homeowners, and are favorites for both genealogical and historical research.

     There are, of course, numerous manuscript materials that could be digitized, but I would not give them highest priority, simply because of the amount of work involved. Although it is not difficult to scan manuscript materials as images, the texts have to be transcribed by hand if they are to be searched by keyword, and hand transcription of manuscript materials requires much labor and expertise. Scanned images of printed materials, on the other hand, can be read by optical character recognition (OCR) software, which greatly facilitates the task of transcription and indexing.

     All of the elements of the project I am describing have been done elsewhere using similar types of materials. Although there is nothing revolutionary about this proposal, there are many reasons why it has not yet been carried out on Long Island. Much money and specialized expertise are required to carry out large-scale digitization projects, and so far almost all of the work that has been done is by large and prestigious institutions, such as the Library of Congress and Cornell.

      Digitizing historical materials requires careful planning and strong institutional commitments. Many things that need to be considered before undertaking a digitization project. These include:  making certain that the digitized products have sufficient resolution to be useful, assuring  that they are adequately indexed or searchable by key word, and making certain that they are adequately cataloged to ensure that people can find them.  Some sort of arrangement also has to be made to to preserve the digital files and make them available indefinitely. It is fairly easy to scan volumes of historical materials and put them up on the Web. Already a number of local historical societies and genealogical groups throughout the country have undertaken small projects of this kind. Although such efforts are commendable, there are questions about the long-term viability of these projects. Many of the digitized books lack key word indexing, which is technically more difficult than simple scanning, and this limits their usefulness. These works are often not cataloged and are difficult to track down using Internet search engines. Finally, one wonders how long small institutions and even private individuals will be able to preserve the digital files and make them available. Larger organizations are in a better position to address these issues, and before undertaking digital projects, smaller institutions would do well to consider whether they are not taking on more than they can handle. Probably cooperative arrangements of some kind are the answer to many of these problems--either between smaller and larger institutions, or through smaller institutions grouping together.

     As a result of ongoing national and statewide projects, we can expect to see more Long Island historical materials digitized over time. Needless to say, much more could be done if Long Island libraries, museums, and historical societies were to band together to digitize parts of their collections. The time is ripe for Long Island institutions to work together to develop a plan for creating a Long Island digital library, and to start looking for funding to accomplish it.


1. Newsday, Inc., Long Island, Our Story: the Celebrated Series (Melville, N.Y.: Newsday, 1998).

2. For Edwin Burrows review of the book Long Island, Our Story, see LIHJ 11 (Spring, 1999):233-34. The Newsday project received an Award of Merit from the American Association of State and Local History in 1999.

3. Admittedly Newsday does not have much competition when it comes to producing a modern history of Long Island. Most of the comprehensive histories of Long Island date back to the nineteenth century: see Richard P. Harmond, "Doing and Not Doing Long Island History: The Long Island Hisorians from Wood to Weeks," Journal of Long Island History 15 (Fall 1978):16-22, reprinted in this issue of LIHJ.  Two more recent surveys are the Society  for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities-sponsored, Robert B. MacKay, Geoffrey L. Rossano, and Carol A. Traynor, eds., Between Ocean and Empire: An Illustrated History of Long Island (Northridge, Cal.: Windsor Publications, 1985), reissued as Long Island: An Illustrated History, Robert MacKay and Richard Welch, eds. (Sun Valley, Cal.: American Historical Press, 2000); and the Newsday-sponsored Bernie Bookbinder, Long Island: People and Places, Past and Present (New York: Abrams, 1983, upedated ed., 1998). 

4. Henry Reed Stiles, The History of the City of Brooklyn: Including the Old Town and Village of Brooklyn, the Town of Bushwick, and the Village and City of Williamsburg (3 v.; Brooklyn, N.Y.: Published by subscription, 1867-1870).

5. David Yehling Allen, Long Island Maps and Their Makers: Five Centuries of Cartographic History (New York: Amereon House, 1997).

6. The National Ocean Survey site includes high-resolution images of all printed maps of Long Island and surrounding waters published by the Coast Survey in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This site does not include the important manuscript maps of Long Island done by the Coast Survey in the 1830's (see note 8 below).

7. E. Belcher Hyde Map Co., Map of Long Island: Based upon Recent U.S. Coast Surveys, together with Local Maps on File (Brooklyn, N.Y.: E. Belcher Hyde Map Company). Property maps of Long Island are described in Allen, Long Island Maps and Their Makers , 85-111, 116-18.

8. The manuscript maps of Long Island produced by the Coast Survey in the 1830s are the first detailed maps of many parts of the island, and contain important information about such maters as vegetation, buildings, and roads not contained in the printed maps mentioned in note 6. See David Yehling Allen, "Long Island Triangulated: Nineteenth-Century Maps and Charts of the U.S. Coast Survey, Long Island Historical Journal 6 (Spring, 1994):191-207.

9. The University at Stony Brook Library's history collection home page is also probably as good a place as any to begin exploring those aspects of historical research on the Internet not discussed in this article, such as research databases and comprehensive Web sites with links to historical subjects other than Long Island history. The URL is: ( )

10. Albany: Weed, Parsons and Company, 1849-51

11. The earliest reference to the phrase "the Empire State" in the Making of America collection is in an article at the University of Michigan site. This anonymous article is "Colonization and Abolition," Princeton Review 5 (July 1833):302. The origin of the phrase is discussed by Milton M. Klein in "A Communication," The Long Island Historical Journal 13 (Fall, 2000):139-40.

12. NetLibrary has made an agreement with OCLC, a large not-for-profit provider of services for libraries. Under this arrangement OCLC will maintain archival copies of eBooks from netLibrary. See OCLC News Release, Oct. 26, 1999 ( ).

13. Information about NYLINK can be found at: (

14. Charles T. Gehring, ed., Fort Orange Records, 1656-1678 (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2000); Mark V. Kwasny, Washington's Partisan War, 1775-1783 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1996). Neither of these books is yet available from the netLibrary collection at the University at Stony Brook.