Tuesday, May 30, 2023 - 22:30

This is a tale from the digital Stone Age.

In an era before PCs became commonly available, lists were created through a primitive cut-and-paste method of organization. You wrote down your information or names or whatever, in vertical columns on a pad of paper, in the order that you found them. When finished, or reasonably so, the paper was cut up into horizontal strips which were rearranged into alphabetical order. You then fixed them down with a vertical strip of Scotch Tape and took a photocopy of the paste up. This became your master working copy for additions and corrections. The original got was filed for a while until it became irrelevant and was dumped. 

In 1984 I was busy with my doctoral research and needed to prove a point using a series of maps giving the location of mission stations on a map of South Africa. So, I dutifully drew up my list of missions drawn from a number of other, widely disseminated, lists and was making copies of my paste-up in the departmental office at Wits when my HoD, Pancho Guedes, put his head over my shoulder and said “That looks interesting”. When I told him what it was about, he asked for a copy and three days later presented me with a typed up list, courtesy of Rosemary, our Departmental Secretary. Soon afterwards we printed copies of the manuscript for all on the staff, and much to our surprise eventually sold 600 copies as far afield as the USA and Australia. 

So, the lesson having been learnt, the making of lists became a standard method of creating a data base for my research when none was available. Things, of course, became a lot simpler soon afterwards, when we acquired our first PC. 

About two years later I received a letter from an academic in the USA, telling me that he was writing a book about people who wrote lists. A list about lists, if you wish. He seemed to be harmless enough so I wrote back, and that was when I realized that the making of lists was “a thing” among certain people. I never heard from this man again, and I hope that now I am not on another list, one kept by the FBI, listing potentially dangerous or deranged people worldwide. 

Putting such fears aside, I have since drawn up any number of other lists, all in the course of my research, and because such things are seldom made available for general dissemination, I thought that, as a public service, I should make them accessible to interested colleagues through the marvels of the internet. 

And so, I dedicate the lists that follow to readers and compilers of directories, genealogies, catalogues, inventories, registries, thesauruses, gazettes, lexicons, grocery lists, train schedules, telephone books, dictionaries, almanacs, ledgers and government statistical returns. Whatever their reasons.

Franco Frescura


Tuesday, May 30, 2023 - 22:42

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