usually find out about sites for this column through reader tips, links
from other sites and notes from friends who say, “check this out.”
Rarely do I learn about useful sites via press releases.
But this week is an exception, because I got a press release yesterday with an eye-catching (but long) headline:
World’s Largest Collection of Political & Historical Quotations Available on the Web
Powerful Tool Includes Sources & Citations to Meet Journalistic, Editorial and Scholarship Standards
Turns out the site in question is PoliticalQuotes.org,
the home of Eigen’s Political & Historical Quotations. It offers,
at no charge, “over 40,000 quotations from more than 11,000 different
historical and political figures can be accessed through a powerful
fourth-generation search engine that is simple to use for the novice,
yet powerful enough for the most complicated Boolean and conceptual
searches for the sophisticated researcher.” Am not quite sure what a
fourth-generation search engine is, but I decided to give it a try.
went to the site and typed in “Gandhi” and up came 79 quotations, 61 of
them by Mohandas K., the rest by other famous Indian Gandhis, Indira
and Sonia. I kept reading and found this quote by Indira Gandhi, the
then Prime Minister of India: “I don’t mind if my life goes in the service of the nation. If I die today every drop of my blood will invigorate the nation.”
She said this on Oct. 30, 1984, the day before she was assassinated by
her own bodyguards. I was glad to see the date listed, but would have
liked to see an attribution — perhaps the publication or broadcast
outlet that confirmed the quotation.
On that same page, I scrolled down to the “keywords” section and clicked on “assassination,” which brought up more than 100 quotes on the topic, including this one from John F. Kennedy: “If anyone is crazy enough to want to kill a President of the United
States, he can do it. All he must be prepared to do is give his life
for the President’s.”
Unfortunately, not only is there no attribution, but there’s also no
date provided. So I decided to call the number on the press release and
ask about it.
The Eigen in the title is Dr. Lewis
Eigen, described in the press release as “the Editor & Compiler,”
has worked on this project for almost 30 years. He explained that
he and his editors have read through and researched every one of these
quotes, and that they stand by them so that journalists and others can
cite “Eigen’s Political & Historical Quotations” or
About 12,000 of these quotes were
published several years ago as The Macmillan Dictionary of Political
Quotations — and that took 1,000 pages. Eigen is able to offer more
than three times as many quotes and do it at a price everyone will
Be sure to read the preface page,
which provides “editorial guidelines, searching methodology and
assistance for the user” and also explains the role of the Eigen-Arnett
Education and Cultural Foundation in making all this available at
I will have to do a lot more spot-checking before I can declare this
something I could cite without hesitation (and even then, as we know,
nothing this big can ever be 100 percent accurate). In the meantime,
this is an interesting new resource and definitely worth bookmarking.
UPDATE 5/28/2006: After a couple of readers why there would be any quotes without attributions, I put the question to Dr. Eigen via e-mail. Here’s his respsonse.
There are several reasons:
First, there are many quotations where the number of contemporaneous sources and sources thereafter all tend to agree about the quotation but there is disagreement about the date or source. We chose not to randomly pick one over another.
Second, there are some quotations which for hundreds of years scholars have agreed are genuine but there is no specific citation for any of them. We thought about not including those, but then thought that would be too arrogant.
Third, there are some where we made a mistake and the citation was not entered into the computer or entered in the wrong place. These we fix as we find them.
Fourth, quotations emanating from cultures of oral traditions (eg Native Americans, most African cultures, have no specifics other than the contemporary “culture keeper” or “history singer”. Our manual discusses this in detail and the reasons for our choice to include these.
All this is with the background that we do accept secondary sources where we think these are reasonably reliable. And sometimes these lack specifics.
So the issues are more complex than meets the eye. We are not sure we have made the best decision in each case, but we tried. The manual gives our criteria and standards that we used so we have done all this in a transparent manner.
While no one can be scientifically certain that all these quotes are genuine, we can say that based on the criteria that we set down and followed, these quotations are all much more likely than not to be genuine.
Lewis D. Eigen, leigen [at] shs.net
YOUR TURN: Send me suggestions for sites you find useful by e-mailing email@example.com.
Sree’s “Blogging for Journalists”
workshop: Tuesday, June 13, 2006, at Columbia University in New York
City — a one-night workshop on starting a blog — or improving one you
already have. Lots of tips and ideas.
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