Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


The Connecticut Webster on Slavery

The pure-bred New Englander revered the Constitution. Though the eloquent statesman hated slavery, he sought to eradicate this evil without destroying the union. Division was anathema to him, as could perhaps be guessed from his ancestral name, Webster, which means “uniter” in Anglo-Saxon. And some three score and eight years before the outbreak of the Civil War, whose 150th anniversary we commemorated last spring, he advocated a moderate course designed to steer clear of bloodshed.

The man’s first name was Noah—not Daniel—and he hailed from Hartford. While his younger cousin, the Massachusetts legislator, would repeatedly take up the same mantle on the Senate floor, most notably in an impassioned speech on behalf of the Missouri Compromise in 1850, Noah Webster first spoke out against “the violated rights of humanity” back when Daniel was still in grade school.

The Connecticut Webster on Slavery


Talking News with Carolyn Cassady: A Conversation with the Matriarch of the Beat Generation

Closing in on her 88th year, Carolyn Cassady is still gracefully full-speed ahead. The wife of Neal Cassady, one-time lover and confidant of Jack Kerouac, and a somewhat reluctant Beat Generation icon herself, she’s recently returned to her home in England after a whirlwind trip to the U.S. for the production wrap-up of Walter Salles’ new film version of Kerouac’s masterpiece “On the Road,” in which she is portrayed by actress Kirsten Dunst. Her daily duties include sheaves of mail in need of reply, books to sign (her own “Off the Road: My Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg,” a treasure in itself), the occasional visiting rock star, and interviews to grant and subsequently deliver. It isn’t odd for the BBC to call or knock requesting a quote or access to the private mementos of her storied past.

A decade after I did my undergraduate work at Marlboro College on Beat Generation writers, with focus on the women, Carolyn and I became friends through correspondence. And as one might assume a fan would, I’ve peppered her with whatever questions cross my mind. Many times, she’ll implore me back to her book. “Didn’t I cover that in ‘Off the Road’?” And of course many times I find she has, to my chagrin. But she is always welcoming, reminding me that a simple sign in her kitchen reads “Ask Carolyn.” So I do.

Talking News with Carolyn Cassady: A Conversation with the Matriarch of the Beat Generation


Early Radio Broadcasting: Solving Mysteries with America's Historical Newspapers

I have been a media historian for several decades, with expertise in the history of broadcasting. For years, I did my research the traditional way, using old magazines, old newspapers, and lots of old microfilm. It was fun, but often very tedious, since few of those materials were indexed, and I had to go page by page to find the information I was seeking. Still, I managed to write three books and a number of articles that way. But as I did my research, I accumulated a long list of unanswered questions. Sometimes I would find an article that mentioned a person or an event well-known in a given city, but not well-known enough to be explained in any resources available to me. I hoped that at some future time I might solve some of those mysteries, so that I could write a more accurate piece and tell the full story.

Early Radio Broadcasting: Solving Mysteries with America's Historical Newspapers


Avoiding Errors, Fopperies, and Follies: How to be a Good Wife

Anyone who’s planned a wedding has probably dealt with unsolicited advice: everything from what drinks to serve, how long (or short) the ceremony should be, how the couple should deal with name changes, and, not least, rules and tips for creating, maintaining, and sustaining a successful marriage.

Although I tried to compartmentalize my upcoming wedding plans far, far away from the bounds of the English department and scholarly research, it just so happened that the peculiarities of wedding/wedded life intersected, oddly enough, with archival research. What follows are portions of a news/opinion piece submitted to The New-England Weekly Journal (Containing the Most Remarkable Occurrences Foreign & Domestic) on February 15, 1731. It is part one of a two-parter called “A Letter to a Lady on her Marriage.” Written by a gentleman who was concerned with communicating ideals of conduct and virtue for the young New England woman, the article lists several follies that the wedded woman must necessarily avoid in order to make “a good Figure in the World.” Brides-to-be, be aware: perhaps we can learn a thing or two about how we ought to govern ourselves after we’ve snagged that husband.

Avoiding Errors, Fopperies, and Follies: How to be a Good Wife


Writing the David Ruggles Biography: Newspapers Help Complete the Portrait of a Radical Black Abolitionist

David Ruggles (1810-1849) was a brilliant, intrepid, multi-talented soul who devoted his time and health to “practical abolitionism.” This term, Ruggles argued, meant that abolitionists should not just philosophize about the day when slavery would end, but strive to help the everyday victims of human bondage.

In Ruggles’ home city of New York, such assistance included blocking kidnappers who stole young black children from the streets under the pretense that they were fugitive slaves. It meant providing succor for self-emancipated slaves. Frederick Douglass arrived in New York on September 3, 1838, penniless, lonely, and frightened. He spent a night sleeping among the barrels on the docks of the harbor. A kind sailor took him to Ruggles’ house where he learned about anti-slavery activities, was married to his fiancé, and then was sent off to New Bedford, Massachusetts armed with a five-dollar bill and a letter of recommendation.

Writing the David Ruggles Biography: Newspapers Help Complete the Portrait of a Radical Black Abolitionist


An Undergraduate's Reflections on Original American History Research: How Online Access to Historical Newspapers Helped Prepare an Award-Winning Tea Party Study

Of all the events that occurred during America’s colonial era perhaps none more immediately conjures up images than the Boston Tea Party, when patriots boarded English ships to destroy taxed tea. Nearly a year and a half later, on April 19, 1775, the skirmish between those patriots and British Regulars at Lexington and Concord provoked the shot that was heard “around the world,” a story with which many Americans are also familiar. Undoubtedly, these events merit widespread recognition, for both were key developments in the establishment of the United States. However, by moving immediately from the Tea Party to the beginning of the Revolution, one neglects crucial moments during those intervening sixteen months that helped develop a pervasive unity necessary for a successful war with Britain. That unity derived in part from responses to the Tea Act of 1773, efforts that were spearheaded in Boston but not isolated there. Indeed, reactions throughout the colonies testify to Massachusetts’ importance as the first colony to act decisively in response to the tea’s arrival. That significance is manifested most clearly in the inspired attitudes of New Yorkers, whose actions affirm the influence of the Bostonians’ decision. 1

An Undergraduate's Reflections on Original American History Research: How Online Access to Historical Newspapers Helped Prepare an Award-Winning Tea Party Study


A Light on Past Lives: The Illuminating Effects of Electronic Resources on Biographical Research

The most revolutionary change in biography writing is the advent of digitized newspapers. Unlike microfilm, which simply reproduced newspapers on film, these new electronic records provide what we biographers and historians have long dreamed for—a means of finding a needle in the haystack.

Let me explain. For years folks like me have been using the great newspaper collections in our nation’s libraries, archives, and other repositories. The contemporaneous accounts are like gold. But as with the pursuit of this precious metal, we have not been able to mine all of it. In fact, using our previously inadequate research tools, many of the best veins have remained untapped.

Essentially our choice was to read every page of a newspaper’s run or use dates to guide our research. So, for instance, if I wanted to discover what was said about a particular artist, I might have looked at issues of a newspaper published around the opening date of an exhibit. But if an art critic wrote a review several weeks later, the likelihood was that I would miss it.

Lacking dates, I could alternatively turn to a newspaper index such as the one produced by the venerable New York Times. However, unbeknownst to many researchers, this index is not complete. In keeping with the newspaper’s motto “All the News Fit to Print,” its indexers only included those items they judged fit to be indexed. A lot never earned a reference.

So without a date or without an index entry, the millions of pages of newspapers have remained as inaccessible to writers as the Manhattan white pages would be if one had little more than a first name—a lot of great information, but unreachable.

A Light on Past Lives: The Illuminating Effects of Electronic Resources on Biographical Research


This Headache Is Killing Me: The Bromo-Seltzer Poisonings of 1898

Isaac E. Emerson, the man who patented the formula for Bromo-Seltzer, was as well-known in the late-19th century as Bill Gates is today. Bromo-Seltzer was billed as a cure for exhaustion, headache, insomnia, brain fatigue, loss of appetite and other common complaints. Sold in distinctive little blue bottles, it became a household word through extensive newspaper advertising that extolled its virtues, often in poetic verse:

With nerves unstrung and heads that ache.
Wise women Bromo Seltzer take.

The day before Christmas 1898, a pasteboard box marked Tiffany & Co., addressed to Mr. Harry Cornish and wrapped in plain paper, arrived at the New York Knickerbocker Athletic Club where Mr. Cornish worked. Inside were a two-inch high, sterling candlestick-shaped bottle holder and a blue bottle of what appeared to be a trial-size sample of Bromo-Seltzer. The package bore no mark of the sender. Cornish took the box home and showed the gift to Mrs. Florence Rogers and her daughter Mrs. Kate Adams, who was his aunt. Mrs. Rogers thought it must have been sent by a bashful girl. Cornish left the present in his room and thought no more of it.

This Headache Is Killing Me: The Bromo-Seltzer Poisonings of 1898


"Countess" Ida von Claussen: Woman of Convictions

It is futile to attempt to become invisible if you are a beautiful titian-haired heiress standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall. You can't alter your Junoesque stature, so you defiantly raise your height even further by wearing three-inch heels and enormous plumed hats. You sweep into countless courtrooms, elegantly gowned, a white dog under your arm. Rather than running from the press, you actively summon them. Your impudent grin brazenly answers headlines that, with both awe and derision, report on your escapades for over three decades.

The world first came to know Ida Marie von Claussen-Raynor-Honan-Davis-Dona-Maybury in 1907 when, at the age of 32, she attempted to sue Theodore Roosevelt and the American Ambassador to Sweden for one million dollars. Her claim? The men broke her heart by refusing to allow her presentation at the court of her new personal friend, King Oscar II.



Reading Between the Lines: Rediscovering the Home of a Founding Father

In 2004, the Pennsylvania home of Frederick Muhlenberg (1750-1801)—first and third Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives—was saved from the wrecking ball by a grassroots effort. The Speaker's House, as it is known today, was built in 1763-64 and is located in the historic colonial village of Trappe, Montgomery County. Together with two acres of grounds, this landmark was saved by a non-profit organization bearing the house's name. Since its heroic success in rescuing the property, The Speaker's House has undertaken an intensive effort to research both Muhlenberg himself and the house's complex evolution over time. Using archival, architectural and archaeological evidence, the organization has sought to understand how the building looked and was used during Muhlenberg's occupancy.

Volunteer researchers have undertaken an intensive study of deeds, tax lists, census and probate records and Muhlenberg family papers, in particular the voluminous journals and correspondence of renowned Lutheran minister Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (1711-1787), Frederick's father and nearest neighbor. A vital part of the archival research effort was aided by the digitized newspapers available in America's Historical Newspapers. Articles found in the database have provided invaluable clues to the house's past.

The Speaker's House as it looks today.
The frame addition and mansard roof were added c. 1867.

Reading Between the Lines: Rediscovering the Home of a Founding Father


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