Almost everything I've read of history (that's hundreds of books; history is a passion of mine) is secondhand material. Historians research the original documents, digest them, apply their own spin, and write a book. The historians cite and sometimes briefly quote the original source material, but only rarely does someone like me get to see any other than a very short piece of the real thing.
Some very different recently became available, from (of all people) Donald Rumsfeld. As a companion site to his memoir, he's put up a web site that includes digitized and searchable texts of thousands of original documents related to his life and experience. Given his career, this means that it's full of fascinating documents. So far I've just dabbled in it, searching on a few keywords (like “Kandahar”) and just browsing through the results. The whole experience, though, is entirely new to me – it's as though someone let me into Rumsfeld's private filing system. What to look for? I have to learn how to use this tool to satisfy my own thirst for historical knowledge. It has the feel of something revolutionary and … really, really cool.
If you share my interest in history, you'll want to check this out.
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