Google Books is a kind of Victorian portal that takes me into a mare magnum of out-of-print authors, many of whom helped launch disciplines. Or who wrote essays, novels, and histories that did not transcend their time. Or who anonymously produced the paperwork of emerging bureaucracies, organizations, and businesses that, because printed, has been scanned and, because scanned, is now available.
I am not a scholar of the 19th century but have found its digitization to be one of the most fascinating new resource for understanding the centuries that precede it.
It is not by chance that the 19th century gave birth to projects such as the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED is the tip of an iceberg of genteel scholars, male and female, who had the time and resources to dig through vast mounds of material and make something of it. Those researchers lived in closer chronological proximity to their subjects than we do; they often worked amid the dimly lit bookshelves and attics of private homes. As a result, their experience of a historical subject captures a sense of intimacy that might otherwise be lost.