The Journal for MultiMediaHistory
Volume 1 Number 1 ~ Fall 1998

HarpWeek: The Civil War Era, (1857-1865) Norfolk, Virginia: HarpWeek, 1997. 12 CD-ROMs. PC, Windows 95 and Windows NT. [Detailed technical information is available at the HarpWeek Web site:]  

Harper's Weekly masthead.
Harper's Weekly masthead.
HarpWeek: The Civil War Era, (1857-1865) is a new CD-ROM product which faithfully reproduces the original Harper's Weekly magazine in digital form and adds the benefit of a comprehensive index. The team of historians, indexers, and computer specialists have meticulously indexed every article, story, illustration, cartoon, poem, work of prose, and advertisement. The end result is a product that brings new usefulness to an important primary resource.

The product is very expensive ($16,900) and does have some technical limitations. The program only runs on Microsoft Windows 95, Windows NT 3.5, or later operating systems. It can be mounted on a Local Area Network (LAN) for one simultaneous user or mounted on a stand-alone. If mounted in a stand-alone configuration, the PC must have abundant memory on the hard drive for the search engine software. The preferred CD-ROM installation is using a jukebox or fully dedicated towers which can store and quickly access the twelve disks (more if later installments are purchased). An external CD-ROM drive and disk-caddy swapping will not work effectively as the program was not designed to be run that way.

Lynching of slave Amy Spain.
Lynching of slave Amy Spain outside Darlington, South
Carolina, courthouse. Harper's Weekly, September 30, 1865.
The index itself is hierarchical and thesaurus based. Actually, the index is composed of five indexes: news and features, biographies, illustrations, literature and publishing, and advertising. The publishers of HarpWeek claim to have made archaic figures of speech more accessible with modern index terms. The five indexes can be searched individually or in combination with each other. However, the latter operation will slow the search considerably. Descriptor lists are available to help users perform successful searches. The four descriptor categories are: topics, geography, occupation/role, and literary genre. Terms found in the descriptor categories can be used to search in the indexes. Since there is no provision for free-text searching or applying Boolean logic, using descriptors is the only way to build a multi-term search string. However, there is a limit of eight terms if the words all come from the same descriptor category. There is a limit of three terms if more than one descriptor category is used.

When the user does find relevant articles, the images can be viewed in three formats: postage stamp, light box (which shows more than one postage stamp image at once), and full page. The postage stamp images are too small to be read which may limit their usefulness, except perhaps in the cases of the larger illustrations. The full page images are quite spectacular. Images can be printed or saved to floppy diskettes in a JPEG format.

The drawbacks of HarpWeek may make some prospective buyers think twice before making such a substantial investment in the software as well as the requisite hardware. For those who do purchase the CD-ROMs or subscribe to a Web-version, the rewards will be considerable. The comprehensive index makes the old Harper’s Weekly much more accessible and brings new usefulness to this important chronicle of a troubled time in American history.

Joel D. Kitchens,
Texas A&M University

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CD-ROM Review of HarpWeek
Copyright © 1998 by the Journal for MultiMedia History

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Contents: JMMH, Volume 1 Number 1 ~ Fall 1998