A whale of a tale: Why off-line research matters
March 12, 2014 | 5:30 pm
A long time ago, in some book of weird tales, I ran across the story of a man who had, allegedly, been swallowed alive by a whale, and later retrieved alive from its stomach. He was supposedly catatonic for two weeks, then finally able to resume his duties, with the side effect that his skin had been bleached white by exposure to the whale’s digestive juices. Some ministers used this tale as “proof” that the Biblical story of Jonah was plausible.
But one fellow—Edward B. Davis, Associate Professor of Science and History at Messiah College—heard the story and got curious. And he went looking for proof that the story either had really happened or that it hadn’t. And the true story he found—and the story of how he found it—is, if anything, even more fascinating than the story of the man supposedly et by the whale to begin with. (I won’t spoil it for you, but I’ll say it is worth reading all the way through to the end.)
Now, granted, this story doesn’t have a whole lot to do with e-books. But it does have to do with research, a skill that is often taken for granted in this digital age. Why should we research things? We’ve got Google!
But a lot of resources aren’t available online even still, and sometimes the best resources are only found in the actual places where the events happened. I think a lot of people these days think that “if it’s not on-line, who needs it?” but often the very best stories can’t be found just sitting behind a computer.
Neil Gaiman once said, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” Sometimes, you need someone with the skills of a historical researcher to cut through the BS and bring you the truth. This was one of those times.