This short URL brings you to a rather unremarkable home page, that of the U.S. Library of Congress. Click behind the facade and you’re on an elegant bridge to America’s past. There’s no map, but don’t worry. You want to get lost among the millions of pieces on display — manuscripts, streaming audio, streaming video, photos, propaganda, cartoons, television commercials, baseball cards. They make up a comprehensive text book you will never finish in a lifetime — and one that won’t let you put it down.

Don’t make this your first stop at the library but keep it in mind because after you’ve been inside for several hours you’re gonna start to wonder why a government — especially one that’s always fighting with itself — would keep and record all this stuff.

Japanese anime rules the current century, but 100 years ago American animation set the trends. Here’s some historical background as well as links to hundreds of cartoons circa 1900-1921.

This is the road to an era defined by huge advances in information technology and by a boom of new inventions and consumer products — the Roaring ’20s. The thousands of items include essays, pamphlets, personal collections, consumer and trade journals, photographs and films that give both sobering and whimsical looks back to a period the 1990s are often compared to.

The Coca-Cola Co. has donated 50 years of its television commercials that can be viewed through RealMedia — a great angle from which to view the emergence of post-World War II pop culture.

Among the first U.S. industrial successes was a company called Westinghouse, which also has donated its historical records to the library, among them an assortment of silent films that show blue-
collar workers assembling the old economy. The images in this particular stream are dark, and the camera angle is static and distant, effective in bringing you to the reality of 1904.

I’ve never looked for a ragtime section at Tower Records and I doubt I’d browse through one if even if it were right next to the club music discs. So I don’t know why I pulled up this 1929 recording by the Imperial Marimba Band, other than because it was there. Type “Euday L. Bowman” in the search field, click on “12th Street Rag.”

This is a page with documents more than 200 years old that is updated periodically and will again be this weekend when George W. is inaugurated as the United States’ 63rd president. Included are presidential diaries and letters from those who witnessed past inaugurations. More than 2,000 digital files.

This site is also likely to be updated over the weekend, since it is just about every time George W. opens his mouth. It’s a compilation of verbal gaffes that make Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori sound eloquent.