The World Turned Upside Down

Article excerpt

Two hundred sixteen years ago this month, a milestone event occurred in the life of two great nations -- the United States and Great Britain. On October 19, 1781, General Cornwallis surrendered 7,000 troops at Yorktown, Virginia, and ended the American Revolution. As his troops marched out and surrendered their arms, their band played, "The World Turned Upside Down."

Americans then -- and even Americans today, at least the ones who remember the fateful day -- rejoice in the memory of that great occasion. But if you wore a red coat on that day, you probably didn't feel much like cheering. History -- (actually the History Channel in my case) -- records that Cornwallis felt so little joy that he didn't even turn out for the occasion. Instead he sent his second in command, a General O'Hara, to surrender to the Colonials. The British officer presented his sword, not to George Washington, but to the French admiral, Comte de Grasse-Tilly. The admiral refused the sword and pointed to Washington. Grimly, the British officer walked over and handed his sword to Washington, who gave him a look and then pointed to his own second in command, a man named Benjamin Lincoln.

In the course of verifying the above details -- online of course, I realized how fully the online world has turned upside down, even for a fairly conservative, old-style searcher like myself. I first turned to a resource I own -- the Microsoft Bookshelf CD-ROM collection of reference sources. It verified the date and most of the names involved. However, it had no listing for O'Hara or for Lincoln's first name. Onto the Web I went, finding several incidental references, including Lincoln's first name, but it took too long. On the other hand, as so often happens with Web searching, the last thing I found proved fascinating on more levels than one. It was an extract from the diary of Ebenezer Denny, an ordinary soldier who served in Washington's army at Yorktown. On the day of the surrender, Denny wrote, "Much confusion and riot among the British through the day; many of the soldiers were intoxicated; several attempts in course of the night to break open stores; an American sentinel killed by a British soldier with a bayonet; our patrols kept busy. Glad to be relieved from this disagreeable station" ( texts.html).

The fascination arose from the source -- a Hypertext on American History from the Colonial period until Modern Times, with a large collection of original documents, essays, biographies, etc. The Web site resulted from an extensive project run by students and contributors from several departments of the Arts Faculty of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Professor George Welling teaches in the American Studies section there and developed the project for his students, both to acquaint them with original historical documents and to develop their essential skills in computer and Web work. [For more details, usa/usa.html.] So people in the Netherlands provide original texts for Americans studying American history. And all for free -- to me, at least.

I love this Web!!

"The British Are Coming"

At presstime, the news came out over the wires that Knight-Ridder was in negotiation to sell KRI -- Dialog, DataStar, CARL Corporation -- to M.A.I.D. (aka Profound in the U.S.). Calls from colleagues and messages on listservs buzzed. Frankly, few people would have picked M.A.I.D. as a contender. Too small. Where would the projected $500 million sales price come from?

At presstime, no one knew if the deal would go through. In fact, some people began to speculate that Knight-Ridder might find it hard to sell KRI at all -- at least at the price they want. NewsNet's demise helped confirm rumors that several major, established traditional information industry leaders had gone on the block over the last year and found no buyers. …