Many excellent historical books on mining and mining engineering are now
available from archive.org and Google Books. In some cases, these
repositories also have partial (or, rarely, complete) runs of historical technical
journals of interest to mining historians.
Full-text search of these digitized books is a godsend, but sometimes it doesn’t work right. Maybe you are looking for a topic instead of a keyword, or the conversion to text mangled the word you want, or the website doesn’t allow you to look inside several volumes at once (ahem, archive.org), or there’s no OCR text layer at all (as when downloading PDFs from Google Books).
But researchers can still find information in these newly-digitized
historic sources using old-fashioned analog methods. Thinking about
these files as the actual book volumes they represent helps us
consider the tools that their makers would have used to search for
information. In an era long before full-text search, readers relied
on indexes to help them find information, and it was critical that
these indexes were made carefully. These indexes can still help us
find information, often different than what you find with full-text
Most technical journals from this period were printed with soft
covers, issue by issue, which were intended to be bound together into
a “volume” when enough had appeared. (Volumes typically encompassed
six months or a year, depending on the journal.) When the last issue
in a volume had been produced, the publishing company would index the
contents of all the issues for the year. The idea was that this index
would get bound together with the issues in the resulting volume.
However, since each index was originally loose – like one more issue
of the journal – different binders might put it in different places.
Most common was to bind the index at the end of the run of the
journals. However, sometimes the index was bound in the very front,
before the issues. Knowing this can help you find a volume’s index
when you download the electronic version. Check the front of the
file, and if it isn’t there, check the back too. Here’s the index at
the back of an 1874 volume of the Mining and Scientific
Press; and in this 1916 volume, it’s in the front.
Some journals would occasionally compile together these yearly indexes
into a more comprehensive index that covered a span of years. For
smaller publications, this might be issued as a supplement to a
regular issue, but in other cases this would be a stand-alone volume.
Some examples of the latter sort of indexes include:
Other indexes were compiled by third parties, and cover more than a
single periodical. Many of these covered engineering topics
generally, but some were specific to the mining industry.
Mining-specific third-party indexes
For mining engineering around the turn of the 20th century, Walter
R. Crane’s Index of Mining Engineering Literature is very valuable.
He indexed some 30 periodicals, including some that were not devoted
to mining specifically and others published overseas on mining topics.
The starting point of the coverage seems to vary, but in the cases of
some periodicals dates to the early 1870s at least. He produced the
first edition in 1909, and a second edition, which contains different
references, in 1912.
While Crane covers years or decades at a time, another mining-specific
index covers less than a year in a single volume, but with tremendous
reach and detail. The Mining World Index of Current Literature grew
out of the efforts of the journal Mining World to keep its readers
apprised of new work being published in the field. Eventually the
index was published on its own as a standalone volume. Unfortunately,
this ambitious project seems to have lasted only a few years, but if
your research falls in this short era, it’s a great resource.
Modern electronic indexes
The modern heir to these efforts is the OneMine database, created and maintained by the several minerals engineering societies that succeeded the American Institute of Mining Engineers. The database contains both references and the full-text documents. OneMine allows visitors to search and find references for free, but requires membership with an affiliated society or institution to access the full-text documents. The references alone are quite helpful, however, and provide enough information that you should be able to track down your document in a library (or via inter-library loan). While OneMine has some older historical material, the bulk of the material appears to date from the last 40-50 years.
GeoRef is another modern database of importance to mining historians. Produced by the American Geosciences Institute, much of the content is geology-related rather than strictly mining, but plenty of mining-related material is included. The GeoRef dataset is available as part of subscription packages from EBSCO, ProQuest, and other database platforms, meaning you have to be at a subscribing institution to use it.
Unlike your favorite search engine, both OneMine and GeoRef are true indexes, rather than simply full-text search platforms. Entries are supposed to be thoughtfully structured and populated with keywords that can lead you to other useful entries. It seems probable that both platforms will eventually move to full-text search, but the effort and expense of adding full-text documents to old entries makes a retroactive update less likely. This means mining historians will do research using indexes, whether paper or electronic, for decades to come.