Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


W. E. B. Du Bois’s Lectures and Speeches: A Brief History

When you hear the name W. E. B. Du Bois, what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of his book The Souls of Black Folk, or his storied conflict with Booker T. Washington over the best approach to racial justice. Maybe you recall his study Black Reconstruction in America, or his membership in the Communist Party and subsequent move to Ghana. Chances are that the image of Du Bois conjures thoughts about a cerebral intellectual, college professor, ardent activist, and brilliant author. But what if we think about Du Bois as a lecturer and speaker, as a public intellectual whose spoken words contributed as much to the quest for racial and economic justice as his written work did?

This article offers a brief overview of a richly documented yet largely overlooked and understudied aspect of Du Bois’s long and distinguished life: his annual lecture tours. Hundreds of his lectures and speeches survive in his archives at UMass Amherst and other collections around the country, as do his own observations about these public presentations. Enriching our understanding of these aspects of Du Bois’s life and career, black newspapers across the country such as the Los Angeles Tribune, Broadax, and Washington Bee reported on his speeches. This article utilizes numerous streams of primary source evidence; however, it draws significantly on the rich digital holdings of African American Newspapers, 1827-1998, and African American Periodicals, 1825-1995, to document several moments in the fascinating history of Du Bois’s lecture tours. 

W. E. B. Du Bois’s Lectures and Speeches: A Brief History


Former Slaves and Free Blacks in Canada West: Using Early American Newspapers to Trace the Circulation of a Slave Narrative

Between 1830 and the eve of the American Civil War, approximately 40,000 former slaves and free blacks fled the United States for Canada, especially to Canada West (that is, modern-day Ontario).[i] Slavery in Canada West had been in decline since the late eighteenth century, and slavery in the British colonies was officially abolished by an act of British Parliament which took effect in 1834. The number of fugitives travelling into Canada peaked after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 since this law made it far easier for runaways in the Northern United States to be returned to their former masters. It is estimated that 15,000 to 20,000 African Americans entered Canada from 1850 to 1860.[ii]

Until recently critics have ignored the Canadian-dimension of slave narratives, despite the fact that there are more than ten nineteenth-century book-length slave narratives with portions set in Canada West.[iii] Some of these narratives were printed and circulated in the United States, and others in Britain and Canada West. These texts include, for example, Benjamin Drew’s The Refugee or The Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada (1856), Samuel Ringgold Ward's Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro: His Anti-Slavery Labours in the United States, Canada and England (1855), Josiah Henson’s The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as narrated by himself (1849) and Richard Warren’s Narrative of the Life and Sufferings of Rev Richard Warren (A Fugitive Slave) (1856).

Former Slaves and Free Blacks in Canada West: Using Early American Newspapers to Trace the Circulation of a Slave Narrative


Gun-barrel Censorship of a Crusading Editor: Southern Honor, at War with Freedom of the Press

On January 15, 1903, a little before 2 pm, South Carolina Lieutenant Governor James H. Tillman shot N. G. Gonzales, the unarmed editor of The State newspaper. The shooting occurred in Columbia, South Carolina, on the northeast corner of Main and Gervais Streets across from the State House, the bustling intersection of local business and politics. Gonzales had been on his way home to lunch. Tillman had just adjourned the state senate over which he presided, and walked out of the capitol accompanied by two unsuspecting state senators, George W. Brown and Thomas Talbird, who joined him for what they thought would be a pleasant stroll back to their hotel. The corner on which the shooting took place housed a clamorous streetcar transfer station, guaranteeing that there were many witnesses.

Gun-barrel Censorship of a Crusading Editor:  Southern Honor, at War with Freedom of the Press


Civil War Biblicism and the Demise of the Confederacy

The Georgian newspaper The Macon Daily Telegraph and Confederate published a New Revelation in the bleak fall of 1864, when the doom of the Confederate States of America seemed to draw closer by the day. The revelation, a pamphlet of 12 pages, was an extraordinary piece of American Old Testamentism that recast the central narratives of the Hebrew Bible as chronicles about America: North America, “the birthplace of mankind,” was sanctified, or rather Canaanized, and became the geographical center of the biblical drama: “the river that went out to water the garden of Eden…was the Mississippi-Pison, the river compassing the land of Havilah, the Arkansas; Gihon, the river lining the boundary of Ethiopia, is the Ohio. Hidekel, the Missouri, and Euphrates, the Upper Mississippi.” The New Revelation wholly conflated the biblical and American landscapes, with “the Hebrew Canaan [identified as] the United States, Mexico and Central America.” “Joshua,” the revelation’s author, could even identify “the site of the present city of New York” as the place where Noah built his ark and made preparation for his voyage. Another crucial moment in the Amero-biblical drama that the revelation narrated took place 5,000 years after the deluge, when “a weather-beaten vessel is seen, laden with the first Virginia colony.” When it lands, the sons of Abel—the Europeans, according to Joshua’s account—face the sons of Cain—the Indians—as they “swap beads for whisky.” 

Civil War Biblicism and the Demise of the Confederacy


A "Doubtful and Dangerous Practice": The 1721 Boston Inoculation Controversy, and Uncovering African Medical Knowledge in Early American Newspapers

In 1721, residents of Boston began to fall ill with smallpox, in what would become the city’s sixth such epidemic since 1630.  At this time, neither physicians nor laypeople conceptualized disease in terms of discrete entities such as germs or viruses; instead, they held that illness originated in physical imbalances, often caused by unhealthy environmental conditions or dietary choices.  Additionally, many colonists believed that illness was a divine judgment upon people that could be healed through prayer and repentance.  Consequently, Boston city leaders ordered 26 free Africans to wash the streets in hopes of preventing smallpox from spreading.  Their efforts were unsuccessful, for the disease infected over half of the city’s population of 11,000, eventually killing over 800 citizens in just over a year. 

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The Muslim World in Early U.S. Texts

About a decade ago, I began researching representations of Islam in early national American literary texts; when someone would ask what the subject of my dissertation was, and I gave this answer, I often received responses along the lines of, “Was there any literature about Islam in the early U.S.?” 

Oil painting of Decatur Boarding the Tripolitan Gunboat
during the bombardment of Tripoli, 3 August 1804.
Source: Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy, Washington Navy Yard

The Muslim World in Early U.S. Texts


Finding John McKinley: Fresh Discoveries about a Forgotten Supreme Court Justice

When I moved to Alabama in 1998 to take a faculty position with Auburn University’s Department of Political Science, I already knew a great deal about two of the nation’s most notable Supreme Court justices appointed from that state. John Archibald Campbell resigned from the Court at the outset of the Civil War only to return later as an attorney to argue several important cases before his former colleagues. Hugo Black, the first Supreme Court appointee of Franklin Roosevelt, spurred an expansion of the protections contained in the Bill of Rights against state and local government infringement. Upon arriving in Alabama, however, I was surprised to learn of a third justice from the state—a man named John McKinley—who was the first Alabamian to serve on the United States Supreme Court upon his appointment in 1837. McKinley intrigued me. For much of the next decade, I kept my eye out for material about him, but my own academic research and writing took me down a different path.

By early 2007, I had started to devote more time to McKinley, but quickly learned that this justice was forgotten in part because so little information was available. In all of the books and journal articles discussing McKinley that I could find, the cumulative record of his life amounted to approximately one hundred pages, and much contained in those sources was duplicative. I resigned myself to completing no more than a short article on McKinley’s life and legacy.

Finding John McKinley: Fresh Discoveries about a Forgotten Supreme Court Justice


“Suitable To The Season”: Using Historical Newspapers to Help Reproduce 18th-Century Clothing

Cinnamon, nutmeg, claret, coffee and chocolate are not just spices or beverages; they were adjectives commonly used in the 18th century to describe the color of cloth. Easily visualized today, colors like cinnamon and coffee help us form a picture of goods on the shelf of an 18th-century New England shop.  As a costumer specializing in the accurate reproduction of Colonial Era clothing, I have found Early American Newspapers an invaluable reference source on early American garments.

Source: Hallie Larkin

When studying Colonial Era clothing, naturally the primary source is the original garment. As a first step in the research process, nothing can compare to personal examination of an extant artifact.  From these we can learn how the 18th-century tailor or seamstress constructed the garment, what thread and sewing stitches were used, how the clothing fit on the body, and the textiles used in construction.

As a second step in clothing research, 18th-century portraits should be examined. Oil paintings enable us to see clothing as it was worn, accessories used, changes in fashion, and the physical posture of the 18th-century woman or man. Also we are often able to know who the sitter was, where they lived and when the portrait was painted.

“Portrait of Anne Willing Bingham” by Gilbert Stuart (1797)

“Suitable To The Season”: Using Historical Newspapers to Help Reproduce 18th-Century Clothing


Bay Mares, Coquettes, and Plumage: Naming and Novel Celebrity

For most present-day racetrack goers, it seems unlikely that a horse named Eliza Wharton might cause a flash of recognition, a knowing smile, or a startle at the potential impropriety. But for nineteenth-century racing fans, this was not the case.

“Eliza Wharton” was the heroine of Hannah Webster Foster’s 1797 best-selling novel, The Coquette, loosely based on a New England scandal of the previous decade involving Elizabeth Whitman, the daughter of a well-known minister in Hartford, Connecticut. The novel’s heroine, likewise a minister’s daughter, spurns the advances of a rather staid minister, only to succumb to the seductive wiles of a well-known rake, fall pregnant, and flee her parents’ home for Danvers, Massachusetts, where she eventually dies after delivering a stillborn child. Readers who might have been expected to condemn the fallen woman instead sympathized with her.

Why exactly the name Eliza Wharton was chosen for the bay mare, we can’t be sure: was the novel a particular favorite of her owner, Thomas Doswell of Virginia, or his wife, Susan Brown Christian? Did the horse remind them of the novel’s well-bred and refined heroine? Or was there a bawdier reason, suggesting both the horse and the novel’s heroine were “fast”? Regardless, the horse serves as a marker of the novel’s saturation in the American imaginary. It is unlikely that anyone who read its name in a newspaper of the 1830s did not immediately grasp the association.

Bay Mares, Coquettes, and Plumage: Naming and Novel Celebrity


Frontiersman or Southern Gentleman? Newspaper Coverage of Andrew Jackson during the 1828 Presidential Campaign

During the 1828 presidential election, Andrew Jackson came under attack for a number of reasons: his violent temper, his execution of U.S. militia and foreign nationals during the 1810s, and even the questionable circumstances of his marriage to his wife, Rachel. Often overlooked was the question about Jackson’s southern identity. During the final six months of the 1828 campaign, newspapers across the nation were filled with attacks and counterattacks about whether Jackson fit the expectations of a southern planter.

Two main questions about Jackson’s southern identity drew the attention of the nation’s media: Old Hickory’s slave mastery and his support of southern disunionism. Critics highlighted accusations that Jackson had been a slave trader prior to the War of 1812, which Jackson denied. This charge called into question his moral judgment and fitness for office. “There is no charge which ought to affect more seriously the reputation and prospects of General Jackson than that of speculating in slaves,” the Daily National Journal (Washington, D.C.) declared in mid-October. “Could the people of the U. States, under the influence of a momentary infatuation, elevate to the first office in the nation a man who had been engaged in carrying slaves from one State to another, for the purposes of traffic and profit,” the editorial continued, “ages would be insufficient to wipe away the foul stain from the annals of our republic.”

Frontiersman or Southern Gentleman? Newspaper Coverage of Andrew Jackson during the 1828 Presidential Campaign


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