As the world turns its sympathy toward the Philippine islands devastated, just days ago, by the largest typhoon in recorded history, a fascinating fact has emerged and moved explosively across the Internet:
Just over a century ago, those same islands – indeed that same nearly destroyed town on the island of Leyte, Tacloban – were raked by another death-dealing typhoon that was estimated to have killed 15,000.
How was this fact verified? By reference sources available right on the web, housed here at the Library of Congress on a site known as “Chronicling America.” The site offers hundreds of old newspapers, online, and is searchable. It’s a joint project of the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Activity on that site (especially from mobile devices) suddenly spiked starting two days ago – it was five or six times the traffic of a normal day — and when our web analysts looked into it, they found typhoon links and a big upsurge in traffic from users in the Philippines underpinning that.
Here’s the link that went viral.
It’s a shame that it takes a tragedy – make that two tragedies – to bring this excellent research tool into focus. And, while this is indeed a sad story, looking at old newspapers isn’t exactly drudgery – you may notice, while doing research in old papers, how easy it is to be distracted by the highly opinionated writing, the ads for everything from corsets to cure-all medicines and the odd, sometimes ridiculous illustrations. If you’re not careful, you’ll never get that research done!
The suffering denizens of Leyte will include no one who can remember their past as far back as 1912; sadly, they were condemned to repeat it. But there’s a glimmer of hope in this history as well – Tacloban made a comeback after that horrifying storm 100 years ago. Presumably it can again.