Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


“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


Dirty Searching and Roundabout Paths: Using Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922, in a Master's Level Seminar

Would you consider sealing your next envelope with a sticker that read: “Be not partakers in other men’s sins.” More pointedly if you received such a missive, by ripping the seal would you be endorsing or decrying the maxim? I’m not sure, myself. But I was glad to learn about and see the page of gummed Abolitionist labels that my student placed within the discourse of indulgence and sin during the nineteenth century.

In fall 2013 my graduate students explored the online collection Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia. They were instructed to construct a historically informed narrative from what they found—a narrative that could demonstrate what possibilities the collection might offer future users: students, scholars, and archival tourists alike. Since I was teaching this Clemson University Master’s level seminar, English 8200, The Slave Narrative in English, I directed students to primarily read texts as representations of a cultural and literary imagination. Nonetheless, I also instructed them to relentlessly frame questions of storytelling with rich contextual shaping of cultural truths, historical events, and material culture studies. While we focused mainly upon reading history and theory of the narrative tradition, as well as on contemporary iterations within important Neo Slave novels, the class was designed to explore the language and culture of racial power and social change more generally for the 19th century.

Dirty Searching and Roundabout Paths: Using Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922, in a Master's Level Seminar


Dismantling the Minstrel: A Pedagogical Approach

Introduction: Stains of Cork

A buffoon is a figure who cannot succeed in his performance without “failing” in his role. In minstrelsy, many of the characters are buffoons whose failure elides the actor’s identity so that blacks are stereotyped as a race that cannot control their behavior and thus become objects of derision. Blackface extends negative perceptions, regardless of the actor’s race beneath the burnt cork, because these roles are meant to reify stereotypes.

De Vere’s Negro Sketches, End Men’s Gags, and Conundrums.
Click to open full page in PDF.

The performances I have chosen for this lesson plan are geared toward the construction of “black” men unable to act seriously. This lesson plan aims to teach notions of blackface as well as the cultural construction of minstrelsy that has incorporated the stereotypes beneath the cork. I have included three transcripts of short minstrel shows from the book De Vere’s Negro Sketches, End Men’s Gags, and Conundrums, which are available in Readex’s online collection Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia. These sketches include “Bones as a Legitimate Actor,” “He Would Be an Actor,” and “Dar’s De Money” (a malapropism for “Desdemona”).

Dismantling the Minstrel: A Pedagogical Approach


“Be Not Partaker in the Sin”: The Language of Abstinence in 19th-Century Abolition and Temperance Texts

With deep roots in evangelism and a heavy focus on boycott, negative action, and righteous rejection as the means of social improvement, the temperance movement and abolitionist movement of the 19th century were undertaken with some of the same religious arguments. The collaboration between the two is widely known, but the mechanisms beyond religious motivation are deserving of further exploration. Despite a widespread sense in the North (and a nearly universal one in the South) that these movements should be carefully separated (Carson 660), temperance continued to overlap with abolitionism. The heart of this collaboration may be revealed by exploring the language of archival primary documents printed by abolitionist societies. Suffused with the language of boycott and purity, these texts, which are taken from the Readex database of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia, reveal a concern with maintaining middle-class values of abstinence through refusing the touch of slavery with the same fervor that a virtuous citizen might refuse tobacco or alcohol. I suggest the application of sociological temperance theory to the literary analysis of anti-slavery documents published from 1845 to 1861. Through this lens, I identify the correspondences between the two movements as results of a middle-class preoccupation with performative refusal, and I propose that this understanding forms a vital underlying component of the 19th-century activist voice.

From The Child’s Anti-Slavery Book.
Click to open full page in PDF.

“Be Not Partaker in the Sin”: The Language of Abstinence in 19th-Century Abolition and Temperance Texts


Confessing to Nothing: The Agency of Confession in Nat Turner and John E. Cook

On October 16, 1859, the white abolitionist John Brown and 21 followers attacked the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, an event that secured Brown a place in the hall of iconic American personalities and which, paradoxically, obscured the men who sacrificed with him. Indeed, while volumes have been filled about Brown, there is a serious dearth of information surrounding his band of militants, so much so that many students might believe Brown acted alone. One such militant in particular was so invaluable to Brown’s campaign that it would be historically ignorant to overlook him.

John E. Cook.
Image source: green-wood.com

His name was Captain John E. Cook, brother-in-law of Indiana Governor A.P. Willard, poet, womanizer, respected abolitionist—and if it weren’t for the Afro-American Imprints collection—a continued mystery for myself and others. A Readex Archive of Americana collection, Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia is an enormous archive of important documents relating to the African-American literary and cultural experience. The collection represents more than just a compendium of slave narratives; it is a gateway to a hidden cultural past shared by slaves, freemen, abolitionists, slave owners, writers and activists. It should truly serve as the logical starting point to any scholarly inquiry related to pre-20th century African-American studies.

Confessing to Nothing: The Agency of Confession in Nat Turner and John E. Cook


The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass in Anacostia (Washington, D.C.) as told in the Washington Evening Star

From late 1877 until his death in early 1895, Frederick Douglass was the most prominent resident of Anacostia, the historic area located in Washington, D.C.’s Southeast quadrant. An internationally known writer, lecturer, newspaper editor, and social reformer, Douglass was a man of his neighborhood. He spoke regularly at nearby churches, invested in the area’s first street car line, and opened his Victorian mansion, Cedar Hill, to students from Howard University, where Douglass served on the Board of Trustees. Douglass’s many contributions to Washington, D.C. have been overlooked for too long.

With the digitization of the Washington Evening Star, researchers can now systemically track the growth of Anacostia, which became D.C.’s first subdivision in 1854, and the life and times of Frederick Douglass in the nation’s capital. Douglass moved from Rochester, New York, to Washington, D.C. in the early 1870s to publish and edit The New National Era, a weekly newspaper devoted to covering Reconstruction, the Republican Party, and black Washington.

Click image to view full pdf.

The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass in Anacostia (Washington, D.C.) as told in the Washington Evening Star


When Benjamin Franklin Came Home: A Look at the Media Coverage of His Return

In the late afternoon of July 12, 1785, Benjamin Franklin, along with his two grandsons, set out on the approximately 125-mile trip from his home in Passy to the port of Le Havre on the northern French coast. They arrived on July 18 and set sail for England on the morning of the 22nd. Landing at Southampton on the 24th, Franklin spent a few days, as he had throughout the trip, being entertained by friends, dignitaries, and various well-wishers. Finally, on July 28, they set sail for America. The passage was quite swift, with Captain Truxton’s ship, the London Packet, arriving in Philadelphia 48 days later on September 14. Franklin recorded the arrival in his diary: “My son-in-law came with a boat for us, we landed at Market Street wharf, where we were received by a crowd of people with huzzas, and accompanied with acclamations quite to my door. Found my family well.” [1]

Franklin's return to Philadelphia 1785

 

When Benjamin Franklin Came Home: A Look at the Media Coverage of His Return


Verses from Beyond the Grave

Thomas W. Piper was executed in Boston on May 26, 1876, concluding one of the city’s most sensational murder cases—the murder of five-year-old Mabel Young in the belfry of the Warren Avenue Baptist Church. It was the sort of dramatic story that had always inspired the poetry of Byron DeWolfe, who penned ballads on several New England murders. But DeWolfe died in 1873, two years before Mabel Young’s murder was committed, so it came as a bit of a shock when a poem written by Byron DeWolfe entitled “Verses Composed on the Confession and Execution of Thomas W. Piper, The Convicted Belfry Murderer” was published after the execution.

George Gordon Byron DeWolfe was known as “The Wandering Poet of New Hampshire.” Though he was born in Nova Scotia and spent much of his time traveling from state to state, DeWolfe called Nashua, New Hampshire, home. He wrote topical poetry about contemporary events and there was no subject too big or too small for Byron DeWolfe. His poems, printed in Boston as one-page broadsides and sold to the public, commemorated everything from a New Hampshire clambake to the assassination of President Lincoln. DeWolfe was also known as the “Steam-machine Poet” for the rapidity with which he wrote. Sometimes he would include the time it took to write the poem as all or part of the title, for example, “Verses, Given in Twenty Minutes,” and “The Great Eastern’s Coming. Composed in Forty-three Minutes.”

Verses from Beyond the Grave


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