Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


Using the Archive of Americana at China's Finest University

It was through my early American history classes at Colgate University that first I discovered the joys of using the Archive of Americana as a teaching tool. In those classes, I compelled my students to make use of this valuable resource by establishing citation levels for each grade. For my advanced undergraduate classes on early American and New York City history, I advised students that they needed 30 citations from America's Historical Newspapers and related collections; 50 citations qualified students for the B level; those who could cite 80 different sources could aspire to an A. Note that they could "qualify." The papers still had to include solid writing, vigorous analysis and a cogent thesis. Despite some grumbling, the Colgate students submitted to the protocol and a few earned an A in the seminar.

Then, I got the opportunity to teach as a Distinguished Fulbright Professor at Peking University (Beida) in Beijing. I was determined to introduce my Chinese students to the Archive of Americana as well. While I did not expect that Peking students had the time, skills or inclination to make such extensive research in English-language sources, I did hope that we could master some research techniques and that they might uncover evocative historical moments. But as often happens when teaching abroad, my plans met with a number of difficulties.

Using the Archive of Americana at China's Finest University


Finding Book Reviews of Classic American Literature: Search Tips for Students Using the Archive of Americana

Finding recent scholarship on 18th- and 19th-century literature poses no great challenge to the skilled researcher, who may use a variety of available tools to support such an inquiry. It can be more difficult, however, to discover contemporaneous responses to significant 18th- and 19th-century authors. One useful tool for that type of search is the digital Archive of Americana. With a bit of strategic searching, students can discover a wealth of book reviews and other responses to classic American literature within the Archive, especially in America's Historical Newspapers.

American Broadsides and Ephemera and both series of Early American Imprints all include "Book Reviews" as a genre. However, only a few items are identified as belonging to this genre—four in American Broadsides and Ephemera and one each in Series I: Evans and Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker. These varied items range from a compilation of critical responses to The Life and Labors of David Livingstone included in the Hubbard Bros.' exclamatory prospectus ("A BOOK OF MATCHLESS INTEREST! WITHOUT A PEER!! MAGNIFICENTLY ILLUSTRATED!!!")

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to John Quincy Adams' "rather political than literary" American Principles: A Review of Works by Fisher Ames.

Finding Book Reviews of Classic American Literature: Search Tips for Students Using the Archive of Americana


Puritan Amnesia and Secular Attitude: Newspapers and National Identity in Revolutionary America

For many, the American Revolution represents the beginning of our history as a society. In the public memory of the past, the preceding colonial years are relegated to Puritan pre-history, as if only after 1776 we began to walk upright. This assertion of public sentiment can be traced through diverse sources, including civic commemorations, historical fiction and America's early newspapers.

This pre-history was not akin to a period of prelapsarian innocence. There is evidence that America's newly minted citizens were reluctant to embrace their Puritan heritage. A unique feature of American newspaper accounts in the years between 1776 and 1784 is the absence of any allusion to that biblical and metaphorical "city on a hill" invoked by John Winthrop, incoming governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in his 1630 sermon preached on board the Arbella bound for New England. "The eyes of all people are upon us," Winthrop said, and warned that if the Puritans made a mess of things, they would become global laughingstocks. 1

If the "eyes of all people" were upon the colonies in 1776, the colonists—at least those whose letters and opinions appeared in the papers—were not interested in having that gaze cast backward at their Puritan forebears. Francis J. Bremer, who detected a similar evolving pattern of Puritan neglect in Boston's civic commemorations, concluded that "the first symptoms of Winthrop amnesia emerged as early as 1905." 2 Judging from the manner in which Winthrop and the Puritans were treated—or not—by the revolutionary press, amnesia set in significantly earlier than that.

Puritan Amnesia and Secular Attitude: Newspapers and National Identity in Revolutionary America


Thanks for the Memories, ... and the Documentary Records: Thanksgiving and the History of American Holidays

"Twas founded be th' Puritans to give thanks f'r bein presarved fr'm
th' Indyans, an' . . . we keep it to give thanks we are presarved fr'm th' Puritans."

—Finley Peter Dunne, "'Thanksgiving,' Mr. Dooley's Opinions" (1901)

Holidays are like peaks in a nation's topography. Without them, the landscape would be flat and monotonous; with them, we find places that rise above the everyday world and give us lofty views and broader perspectives. America's national holidays are the extraordinary annual events that help define the United States and its people. On such occasions, Americans tell themselves and the world who they are. They commemorate their origins, call attention to their basic values and ideals, celebrate their good fortune and express thanks to those who created, nurtured and protected their nation. All these qualities make Thanksgiving especially promising terrain for American historians, ground that's easy to chart because historical actors have left such prominent signposts—documentary records—of their festivity.

Thanksgiving is America's most cherished holiday. The autumn festival's nearly universal appeal comes peculiarly from its elasticity and ambiguity. Invented in the 17th century, Thanksgiving has been continually reinvented ever since. Though it began as an exclusive tribal rite for white Anglo-Saxon Protestant New Englanders, Thanksgiving has been appropriated generally by Americans of various tribes well beyond the New England Pale. Some might quibble with Mr. Dooley's historical analysis, but he was surely correct in noticing the value—to immigrants and other marginalized Americans—in the creative recycling of this vital American tradition.

Thanks for the Memories, ... and the Documentary Records: Thanksgiving and the History of American Holidays


What Shall We Do Today

Perhaps the best known Victorian amusements are concerts, musical shows and various types of theatrical entertainments. However, these ubiquitous diversions were but a few of the venues through which people sought and procured pleasure in the United States during the 19th century. During this period residents could rely on a veritable buffet of popular pastimes designed to amuse, instruct and dazzle their audiences.

Lectures were offered on a variety of subjects, from the humorous to the sublime. Some of these lectures revolved around, or included panoramas, stereopticon shows and paintings.Talks about Yellowstone and Niagara Falls illustrated the natural wonders of America for people who did not have the time or means to travel. Disasters were a common theme, running the gamut from "The conflagration of Moscow," which toured in 1837, to the "spectacle of an Arctic voyage with storm and shipwreck at sea." Onlookers could experience the awe and terror almost as if they had seen it first hand.Shows about distant places were always a draw, especially views of the Holy Land and ancient sites such as "The ruins of Pompeii and Athens." Many were geared towards families and offered insights into foreign cultures and lands, including Africa, India, Japan, Ireland and China.

What Shall We Do Today


Dance in Colonial America: A Research Challenge

In 1976 the American Bicentennial created an audience for information about early American dance, but no scholarly resources were available. I took on the challenge and since that time have collected and indexed the raw materials with the help of two grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (EASMES and PACAN).

Today many relevant primary sources are available online, and some—including several found in the Archive of Americana—challenge widely accepted historical understandings. From these and other resources, I have just completed a comprehensive history of dance in colonial America, covering dance of Native peoples as well as of European and African immigrants.

Here are a few examples of recent findings that have broadened our knowledge of music and dance in 17th- and 18th-century America.

Searching Mary Rowlandson’s description of her experience at a Wampanoag victory dance in 1675, I discovered that the festive clothing of her captors had incongruous European elements probably obtained from traders. Rather than the usual deerskin loin cloth, quill decorations, and detailed body paint, "he was dressed in his Holland shirt, with great laces sewed at the tail of it, he had his silver buttons, his white stockings, his garters were hung round with shillings. . . she had fine red stokins, and white shoes, her hair powdered and face painted red, that was alwayes before black" (Rowlandson, 57).

Dance in Colonial America: A Research Challenge


"I am scholar—hear me roar! Primary materials rule." Students Test the Scholar in the Digital Archive

I love putting history on trial in my undergraduate courses. These students still typically think of history as finding, identifying or uncovering a set of hard facts, but, as Hayden White reminds us, history has a subjective dimension—historians construct claims, create narratives, interpret facts, build cases, possess agendas, have pre-dispositions. History is much more interesting than students sometimes think.

Well, there's no better place to put history on trial—that is, to experience the role that invention plays in the writing of history—than the massive digital collections in the Archive of Americana®. And while working with these collections there is a generic assignment I have found valuable in assisting undergraduates be critical thinkers about history that I call "Testing the Scholar."

Let's test the scholar, I say, by first understanding the scholar's argument and then forming our own judgments by investigating virtually the same bundle of data, tapping the inherent power of access to rich primary materials.

Let's take a representative example of this exercise from Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800. Let's say we want to learn about execution sermons—a topic sure to have "curb appeal" for undergraduates.

If we click through the "Genre" tab to the healthy list of subcategories under sermons, there is a category for execution sermons. There are 90 such sermons in this grouping, about 65 first editions, not an impossible task for a class of, say, 20 or 30 students to divide up, read and hold in their group consciousness.

The first thing I would do is have the students read Ronald Bosco's "Lectures at the Pillory: The Early American Execution Sermon"—an essay that covers precisely the time period as Early American Imprints, Series I—and, as a class, identify all Bosco's claims, both major and minor.



Exploring the Explorers: Government-Sponsored Expeditions in the 19th Century

The nineteenth century was the last great age of exploration on the earth. …American exploration, in particular federally sponsored exploration, began in the nineteenth century at an advanced level as the beneficiary of the developments in the arts and science of exploration of proceeding centuries, but developed some special characteristics of its own.
– Spy Out the Land [1]

In the 19th-century, the United States government spearheaded hundreds of exploring expeditions throughout America and around the world. To record the many works published about those trips, Adelaide R. Hasse—the first Superintendent of Documents librarian—compiled Reports of Explorations Printed in the Documents of the United States Government [2] in 1899. This bibliography is not only a "who's who" of 19th-century explorers but also a travel guide to the many places the government sent these expeditions, including the Amazon, the Arctic, Japan, Mexico, Mississippi River, Yellowstone and many other locations. This article will provide tips on finding a few of the fascinating works cited by Hasse and published in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1980 and other Archive of Americana collections.

Adelaide R. Hasse (1868-1953) Superintendent of Documents Librarian (1895-1897)Adelaide R. Hasse (1868-1953) Superintendent of Documents Librarian (1895-1897)

Exploring the Explorers: Government-Sponsored Expeditions in the 19th Century


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