Introducing the PDR Index

December 13, 2022

The object of the general index is just this, that anything, however disconnected, can be placed here, and much that would otherwise be lost will find a resting place. Always growing and never pretending to be complete, the index will be useful to all, and its consulters will be sure to find something worth their trouble, if not all they may require.Henry Benjamin Wheatley, How to Make an Index (1902)

One of our favourite projects and kindred endeavours from this last decade has been The Appendix, a quarterly journal of experimental history published between 2012 and 2015. Among the many innovative features they included in their online offering was an index, pointing to pages on their site instead of those bound in a book. In 2019, Appendix co-founder and publisher Brian Jones joined the PDR team, and we have been dreaming about having an index of our own ever since. We are pleased to announce — thanks to Brian’s wonderful work — that it has finally arrived!

Why index a site like ours? Writing about Conrad Gessner, who believed that the index was second only to the printing press in its importance for knowledge, Dennis Duncan describes the sixteenth-century naturalist’s notion that there are two ways to use an index: “after reading the main text, and before. In other words, as a reminder and as a foretaste.” In compiling an index that spans more than a decade of writing and images on the Public Domain Review, we certainly hope it will serve our readers in both ways — helping to resurface favoured pieces and draw attention to new works, creators, and ideas. It is a third use, however, that excites us most about the PDR Index: its ability to track chance resonances, collect accidental symmetries, and chart themes that only become visible on an indexical scale.

Sometimes these connections are “baked in”, as it were, such as when visualisations of scintillating scotoma mingle with schematics of military architecture under the heading of fortifications — a term Victorian migraine patients used to describe the haloed phenomena’s folds. Other times, unremarkable actions gain surprising properties in retrospect. A simple act like folding, present in the background of various posts, comes to the fore as a creative process, used across centuries to summon faces out of pillow cases, table linens, and spilled ink. Faces leads us to images of anthropomorphic landscapes, also indexed under concealment, a heading which, in turn, opens onto a cluster of fin-de-siècle efforts at hiding messages in plain sight, whether through ciphers or illustrations of insects. It is a quixotic goal (see Quixote, Don), but we hope, at times, our index might offer pleasures analogous to those felt by the codebreaker: a chance to decipher questions, dreams, and anxieties that recur without coordination across period and place.

A driving force of the Public Domain Review has always been to promote and celebrate the surprising, strange, and beautiful works within our collective digital reach. As our project continues to grow, thanks to the support of our readers and Friends, we hope this ever-expanding index will reflect both the multiformity of our contributions and contributors, as well as their uncanny congruences. At the very least, it might draw a curious mouse click and open a world previously unknown.

Click here to start exploring.