Will you be attending the American Library Association conference this summer? If so, make a date with Readex to attend a special breakfast event focusing on the use of digital resources for historical research.
Twenty-seven years ago, the government publications listed below were published in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set. They came from the 1st Session of the 98th Congress, 1983.
When I scan the titles of these publications, I have to wonder whether they really were published that long ago because the issues are just as relevant today, if not more.
Here are a half dozen that strike me as particularly timely:
One hundred and forty-five years ago this month, two of the most critical events in American history occurred within five days of one another. On April 9, General R. E. Lee surrendered the battered Army of Northern Virginia to Union forces under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant. Five days later, President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth and died the next day. Learn about these events and many more in The Civil War: Antebellum Period to Reconstruction—a Choice 2010 Outstanding Academic Title.
A comprehensive database of Americana covering the antebellum period through the Civil War and Reconstruction .... allows users to fully research this important era of American history .... excellent coverage of the social, political, and cultural aspects of this momentous time period. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers; general readers.
I was ready to indict and convict Vanderbilt of war profiteering, if that’s where the evidence led me. Instead, it convinced me that the Commodore deserved his gold medal. Vanderbilt has often been treated with cynicism by historians, who are ready to believe the worst of a staggeringly rich, secretive, and combative man. Certainly I did not set out to rehabilitate his reputation. But I couldn’t ignore the evidence—evidence provided in breathtaking abundance by Congress in its Serial Set, now more accessible than ever thanks to digitization.
It is almost conventional wisdom to assert that the many, many thousands of private citizens’ petitions and memorials submitted to Congress and printed in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set give us in almost each case a window into the mind of the common man. These men, and often also women, were exercising their right granted by the First Amendment “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” which often meant redress of damages, for claims of one kind or another—pensions in thousands of cases, and sometimes on behalf of a concern for more general issues beyond the needs of their particular cases, such as a plea for social justice. An example of that latter class is the brief memorial from a man named Sherlock Gregory, a citizen of Sand Lake in Rensselaer County, New York State, in 1838.
Students and scholars of Peace Studies and related fields will be interested to learn that Mahatma Gandhi’s Indian Opinion is one of the titles in the World Newspaper Archive: African Newspapers, 1800-1922. Founded by Gandhi in 1903 when as a young attorney he worked in South Africa, this newspaper chronicles the genesis of the concept of “non-violent resistance,” which would become the foundation of the Indian independence movement.
In the mid-19th century, the British government in South Africa began importing workers from India to work as indentured servants. However, under the authority of General Jan Smuts, severe restrictions were imposed on all Indian immigrants, including a mandatory identity card, warrantless search, seizure and arrests. Gandhi, at that time working as a lawyer in the Natal province of South Africa, launched the newspaper with the aim of educating the European community in South Africa about the plight of Indian immigrants.
Most librarians must shudder at the thought of marginalia, since writing in books must be near the top of their taboo list. But many instances of marginalia have been hugely important (the scribblings of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Pierre de Fermat come to mind), and the other day I thought I might have tripped across some very interesting ones penned by Samuel Johnson. Granted, this was not the good Doctor himself, but the respected American philosopher who became the first president of King’s College (now Columbia University).
Perusing Johnson’s Elementa Philosophica (1752) in Early American Imprints, Series 1: Evans, I noted the marginalia immediately, and also saw that it appeared to be signed by the author in the same hand. How very exciting! (The copy of this work that Readex digitized for this database came from the American Antiquarian Society, whose holdings contain many works donated by their authors, so this made sense.) Here is what I was looking at:
Citing James Constantine Pilling’s bibliography of Algonquian language publications, the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) catalog entry in the digital edition of Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800 notes the separately printed dedication sheet to Robert Boyle, the famous British scientist, who supported the production of John Eliot’s translation of the Bible into the Algonquian language.
The separately printed sheet, an American printing, was loosely inserted into copies of the 1685 edition of that famous Bible which were sent to England. That dedication sheet is not in the AAS copy digitized by Readex. Incidentally, Eliot’s dedicatory pages to Boyle are bound into his 1666 “The Indian grammar begun: or, An essay to bring the Indian language into rules, for the help of such as desire to learn the same, for the furtherance of the Gospel among them.”