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Google Does History

Most Americans get their view of history from Hollywood. This is another thing the Internet will change.

And the change begins today, with the appearance on Google Video of historic movies, documentaries and other films from the National Archives.

Google is working on a pilot program to digitize rare historic footage, and then post it on both Google Video and the National Archives Web site.

"We're excited to bring this historic footage to the world," Peter Chane, senior product manager for Google Video, told internetnews.com. "Previously, you had to go to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., to see these films. Now, you can simply sit down at your computer anywhere in the world and watch history."

The digitized films will be available free via search or browsing. Users can watch them as streaming files on the PC or download them for playback in the downloadable Google Video Player.

"This is an important step for the National Archives to achieve its goal of becoming an archive without walls," Allen Weinstein, U.S. archivist, said in a statement. "Our new strategic plan emphasizes the importance of providing access to records anytime, anywhere."

The pilot program features 103 films from the audiovisual collections, including "Carmencita -- Spanish Dance" from 1984, the earliest film preserved in the National Archives; a sampling of documentaries produced by NASA on the history of the spaceflight program; and films from the 1930s documenting the establishment of the national and state park systems.

Google launched video searching last June, following a January rollout limited to stills and information about TV programming.

Chane wouldn't comment about how Google is digitizing the aged footage, but confirmed that the project used some equipment his company had designed.

Google is indexing the information on each item using information available from the National Archives; the digital files are hosted on Google's servers.

The National Archives and Google are considering the expansion of the project to include the archive's texts.

Earlier this week, the University of California announced that it had made more than 1,000 hours of video programming available through Google Video. The content includes interviews, lectures, documentaries and performances.

While this is the first project undertaken by a commercial search provider to make available film, there are competing efforts to make books and other historic documents available online.

Besides Google's Library project, MSN, Yahoo and the Internet Archive are leading the Open Content Alliance (OCA).

The OCA plans to digitize as many out-of-print books and documents as it can, and then post them to an open index, inviting libraries and other organizations to build their own search front ends.

The Smithsonian Institution will contribute its current digital collection and work to digitize materials with a focus on history, culture and biodiversity.

The Missouri Botanicals Garden will scan rare botanical prints and books kept under lock and key in its archives.

The Natural History Museum of London, the New York Botanical Garden and Royal Botanical Garden of London will contribute materials, as will the libraries of Columbia, Emory and Johns Hopkins Universities.

Google has not joined the OCA, and Chane declined to discuss whether it planned to do so.