Error message

Notice: Undefined index: und in include() (line 142 of /var/www/vhosts/

Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.

Play Matters: The Academic Librarian's Role in Fostering Historical Thinking

History is a field of study filled with bias, ambiguity and complexity. Analyzing historical documents and other artifacts is the historian's primary occupation. For students of history and related fields, working with primary materials is recognized as an important way to develop critical thinking skills, in general, and historical thinking skills, in particular. This is serious stuff. Or is it?

During a discussion on library instruction and outreach for digital primary collections at the Readex ETC Workshop and Symposium in April 2005, I asked my colleagues and fellow participants to ponder the following "what ifs":

• What if we exposed students to primary resources without requiring them to navigate the library's Website or learn the intricacies of searching a highly structured database?
• What if we provided easy access to the secondary literature associated with the primary source materials they're using?
• What if we modeled how we found the sources through step-by-step Web guides for those curious to learn more?

I even suggested that we help faculty build digital sandboxes in the backyards of their course pages. These sandboxes would be filled with an array of engaging primary materials and tools that would enable students to explore, to discover, to play. My playful argument was based on a growing body of research that indicates that students need the opportunity to connect with primary sources on a cognitive and emotional level in order to assess their meaning and put them into historical context (Bass, 2003; Bass & Rosenzweig, 1999; Perkins, 2003; Tally, 2005; Wilson & Wineberg, 2001; Wineburg, 1991, 2000, 2001).

A year has passed since I attempted to make the case for digital sandboxes, and a couple of things have convinced me it deserves more serious consideration.

Play Matters: The Academic Librarian's Role in Fostering Historical Thinking

Conducting Biographical Research in Government Publications, Part II: John C. Frémont and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

To read Part I of this article in the Spring 2006 issue of The Readex Report, click here.

What finally made John Frémont's career was the second western expedition. This time the Army ordered him to map the wagon route all the way to Oregon. Having had some trouble with Indians on the 1842 trip, Frémont decided to requisition not just an assortment of guns and ammunition, but also a cannon—a brass 12-pounder mountain howitzer (S.Doc. 14, 28-1).

Leaving in May, 1843, from what is now Kansas City, Frémont's main party followed the emigrant route through Nebraska and Wyoming. Frémont and a few companions soon split off to travel a more southerly route, taking them near modern Denver and allowing them to explore the northern edges of the Great Salt Lake before reuniting with the expedition. His published report's glowing description of the region around what is now Salt Lake City would be largely responsible for Brigham Young's decision to move his people there.

When Frémont reached Oregon in November, 1843, he decided not to return as instructed along his outward route. Instead, he decided to explore southward along the eastern edge of the Cascades and search for the legendary River Bonaventura, which some believed flowed westward through the Sierras to the Pacific. If it existed, which most doubted, emigrants would have an easy passage through the mountains to California.

Conducting Biographical Research in Government Publications, Part II: John C. Frémont and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

The Development of the American Advertising Card

Advertising cards, also known as trade cards, were issued by businesses to advertise their wares and services. They appeared in England in the seventeenth century, eventually following the colonists to America and coming into use here in the early eighteenth century. Advertising cards changed little for more than 100 years, but then made up for lost time by evolving rapidly over the last quarter of the nineteenth century. And then, they all but disappeared.

At every stage of their existence, American trade cards reflected the state of the country. Before there were large companies, trade cards advertised individual merchants and craftsmen. Cards were produced by local printers and engravers, solely in black and white and usually without illustration.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, businesses grew in size. This expansion included printing establishments, where advances in printing technology yielded quality improvements and the option of color. All of this is documented on advertising cards. And as national pride, power, and confidence swelled, the ethos of “America Ahead” imbued many trade cards of the late nineteenth century.

The American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series I digital archive contains 129 different genre-based repositories, one of which is Advertising Cards. Entries for nearly four thousand trade cards reside therein. We will use six examples from this archive to map the development of the American advertising card.

1774: Philip Godfrid Kast, Pharmacist

The Development of the American Advertising Card

Chocolate: A Readex Sampler

Between the years 1998-2008 my large research team had the good fortune to be funded by a generous grant from Mars, Incorporated, to investigate the culinary, medicinal, and social history of chocolate (1). Our initial research focused on chocolate-related information from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and the transfer of medical-related uses of chocolate into Western Europe. Between the years 2004-2008 our research shifted to the introduction, distribution, and social uses of chocolate within North America. To this end we paid special attention to cacao/chocolate-related aspects of agronomy, anthropology, archaeology and art history, culinary arts, diet and nutrition, economics, ethnic and gender studies, geography, history, legal and medical issues, and social uses.

Our research team drew extensively on Colonial Era and Federal Era documents available through Early American Newspapers, especially chocolate/cacao-related advertisements, articles, price currents, obituaries, and shipping news documents. As a scholar who formerly spent months using microfilm documents—winding and re-winding reels searching for specific documents on specific dates—I report here that the new technologies available through Readex have made my work and that of my students a hundred times easier. Now, with a click of our computer “mice,” team members can retrieve thousands of documents that previously would have taken weeks to amass.

Presented here are examples that provide a brief “taste” of these chocolate-related documents.

Chocolate: A Readex Sampler

Jackasses, Dogs and Dead Chickens: Vignettes of the Civil War Revealed in Ephemera

During the Civil War, enterprising publishers produced small envelopes with patriotic images, views of camp life, battles, portraits and comic illustrations. Both soldiers and their friends and families used these Civil War envelopes to mail letters during the conflict. Although most of these envelopes were printed in Union states, a few were produced in Confederate States, which suffered from not only a shortage of paper, but also a lack of envelope-making machinery.

Engravers such as Charles Magnus created envelopes—printed in black, purple or gold ink and then carefully hand-colored—that provided vibrant images of soldiers' life during the conflict. These vignettes of camp life and battles allowed the people at home to be a part of what was happening with their loved ones so far away. News could come quickly by telegraph, but visual images of the war were few and far between. Magnus was also famous for his camp scenes taken from photographs, such as "Camp scene from photograph. 16," which showed a sailor, a Zouave and soldier standing next to four other soldiers sitting in front of a tent.

Civil war envelopes used a range of patriotic images, including eagles, Lady Liberty, cannons, drums, the United States flag, ships, soldiers and portraits of the president and his generals. Many of these were printed in red and blue ink. In an attempt to link the current struggle with the noble cause of Independence, George Washington and Revolutionary-era soldiers also appeared in illustrations.

Jackasses, Dogs and Dead Chickens: Vignettes of the Civil War Revealed in Ephemera

Promoting Silkworms: Using Electronic Texts and Digital Images for a Historical Exhibition

The discovery of news articles published in the 1830s about a 139-acre silk farm in Framingham, Massachusetts—along with a stunning 19th-century image of bombyx mori, the silkworm, at several phases of its life cycle—opened the door to our first use of digital archives in a museum exhibit.

Staff and volunteers at the Framingham Historical Society and Museum were in process of organizing The Fabric of Framingham, an exhibition that weaves together the warp of the town's textile traditions with the weft of its vibrant social fabric. An important goal for the exhibition was to introduce visitors to primary source materials as historical context for the textiles and costumes from our collection.

Background image: Silk-worms. Letter from James Mease transmitting
a treatise on the rearing of silk-worms, by Mr. De Hazzi, of Munich. With plates, &c. &c.
February 2, 1828. Read, and referred to the Committee on Agriculture. Serial Set Vol. No. 172.

We gathered materials on Framingham's first industry, the manufacture of straw bonnets, and on the town's longest-lasting industry, wool and wool products. We traced the histories of cotton, linen, rubberized fabrics, ready-made clothing and even a short-lived attempt at making silk. The Historical Society's research team searched the digital Early American Newspapers collection and downloaded articles and advertisements related to these industries in Framingham.

Promoting Silkworms: Using Electronic Texts and Digital Images for a Historical Exhibition

Making Books Out of Ether: The Next Generation of Historical Research

The Constitution crackled as it burned, fifty of its avowed enemies looking on with gleeful eyes, the sweet stench of freshly fired muskets filling their nostrils. People love to burn that which they hate. Flames regularly consume effigies, flags, draft cards, braziers, and despised decrees. As a corollary, people hate to see that which they love go up in flames. Americans alive in the tumultuous 1780s were no exception. So there would be hell to pay for those who dared to set a copy of America's proposed frame of government aflame.
—Draft, "Birth of a Capital Market: The Life and Death of the First U.S. National Debt, 1776-1836"

Librarians, archivists, books, bibliographies and microfilm machines have long been the research historian's best friends, but there is a new name on the A-list—the digital collection. And what a friend! The digital collection does not compete with the historian's older buddies but rather complements them, bringing out their best qualities. The resulting party promises to be the highlight of the season and could summon forth a new, more consilient generation of historical research.

Making Books Out of Ether: The Next Generation of Historical Research

Pensions for Soldiers' Widows: Congressional Attitudes During the 19th Century

Congress, as caretaker for the nation, has always revered and honored those soldiers who served their country. The Readex digital edition of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set can be used to reveal the ways in which Congress' attitudes toward what was appropriate changed during the 19th century.

In 1828, Congress passed a bill for the relief of certain surviving officers and soldiers of the Army of the Revolution. As a result, Captain William Anderson was granted a pension for life. Upon his death, in 1830, his widow petitioned Congress to continue the payment to her. The answer of the Committee on Pensions was unequivocal1:

"The title of the act itself seems to indicate the intention of Congress to confine its benefits to the 'surviving officers and soldiers.' No provisions were made for the widows of deceased officers or soldiers."

"It is to be presumed, from the resolution, that Captain Anderson, during his life, received the benefits and liberal provisions of the act; and the committee are constrained to say, that the petitioner has of course received more of the bounty and liberality of the country for the services of her late husband than the widows of officers whose husbands died previous to the passage of the act."

In an act passed in 1836, Congress established the rule that the widow was entitled to a pension if the soldier had served after the marriage. The rules were relaxed in 1838 to allow a widow the pension for five years that would have been allowed for her husband had he lived (however, this lasted only until 1844).

Pensions for Soldiers' Widows: Congressional Attitudes During the 19th Century

Images of American Historical Figures on 19th-Century Clipper Ship Cards

Most of us are familiar with clipper ships, if only from Currier & Ives prints. Beginning in the 1840s, these beautiful sailing ships plied the seas, bringing goods and people from coast to coast and often to other countries. When gold was discovered in California in 1848, the ensuing demand for speedy transit truly brought the clipper into its own.

In the mid-1850s, as the clipper industry became more competitive, clipper ship sailing cards replaced newspaper advertisements and broadsides as the preferred advertising medium. These cards were usually printed with a combination of letterpress and wood engraving on sturdy enameled card stock. Shipping managers sent cards by private courier to commission merchants and exporters and posted them in any place that might catch the eye of a potential customer.

The quality of clipper ship card design and printing increased from the late 1850s right through the 1860s. Ironically, the clipper ship industry was in decline for most of this period, and few cards were printed after about 1870.

While not all clipper cards were illustrated, many were, using a wide variety of dramatic images, including ships, knights, women, Native Americans, famous people, patriotic imagery, animals and landscape scenes. To verify this, peruse the nearly 400 cards in the American Antiquarian Society's diverse collection, available in the Readex digital edition of American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series I. From the database's main page, select "Ship Cards" and set sail.

As an example of the knowledge you can glean from studying clipper ship cards, we'll focus on just one thematic aspect: images of American historical figures.

Andrew Jackson

Images of American Historical Figures on 19th-Century Clipper Ship Cards

Serial Set, Breakfast of Champions: Setting the Table for Librarians

Although the "U.S. Congressional Serial Set" is an extensive collection of documents that makes the history of the United States come alive, many librarians have been reluctant to highlight this resource at the reference desk or in their library instruction classes. Until a few years ago, the Serial Set had been available only in often-fragile printed volumes and in microfiche with limited indexing, which made identifying and then finding relevant materials challenging, even for experienced librarians. In this article, I will describe how a new Web-based edition of these historical U.S. government publications became available at San Jose State's King Library.

Formed by a unique collaboration between the public library of San Jose and San Jose State University, King Library serves the diverse research needs of students, faculty, staff and the community. Prior to this merger, the San Jose State University Library was the designated federal depository for San Jose. However, most inquiries for federal resources came from the University's faculty and students. For example, history and political science students were often required to analyze the evolution of U.S. legislation and policy.

Since the merger, our academic librarians have become aware of the public community's research interests. For example, the California Department of Education has provided social studies teachers with a new set of frameworks that incorporate the use of primary sources to develop historical literacy concepts (California, 1997). As a result, students from local high schools have started to visit our library to find primary resources for their social studies assignments, many of which could effectively utilize the Serial Set.

Serial Set, Breakfast of Champions: Setting the Table for Librarians


Welcome to The Readex Report

This online publication explores diverse aspects of digital historical collections and provides insight into web-based resources, including the Archive of Americana and Archive of International Studies.

Recent Issues

Back to top