Jennifer Trammell is Digital Marketing Director at NewsBank. She helps libraries ensure their students and patrons have access to the research information they need. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, she previously worked as a news anchor and reporter across the Midwest and in Florida.
With incredible energy and expertise, Mark Wahlgren Summers brought history to life with his dynamic interpretation of 19th-century political campaigns for the librarians and educators who attended a Readex-hosted breakfast during the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in Orlando. Summers, the Thomas D. Clark Professor of History at the University of Kentucky, where he has taught for the last 32 years, entertained the crowd with his highly animated lecture titled “Politics is just war without the bayonets”: Dirty Politics in a Genteel Age, 1868-1892.
Here, he describes stump speeches, often delivered at train stations, across the campaign trail:
Summers didn’t just tell the crowd about the past, he helped them experience it with his lively retelling, leading attendees to make comments like this:
For most historians, the Gilded Age was the Golden Age of American politics. Well before football or baseball found a vogue, it was the great participatory sport. Families turned out for parades, rallies and barbecues. Campaign clubs designed ornate uniforms and hired brass bands to precede them as they marched. Eligible voters in record numbers showed up at the polls. Watch the full presentation to understand why Summers warned that to be wistful for those days is a grave mistake.
World-famous for her debut novel—and until last year her only novel—Harper Lee took America by storm in 1960 when To Kill a Mockingbird was published.
Unlike now classic works that were published to lackluster reviews, including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Lee’s enduring story of racial injustice in a small Southern town received immediate praise in newspapers across the United States.
The Boston Herald wrote:
This is a book which the reader will thoroughly enjoy, a book overflowing with life, and warm laughter; one that holds understanding in its heart and passes it on to the absorbed reader.
For the past ten years, Manisha Sinha has immersed herself in the 19th century and the world of abolitionists. The fruits of Sinha’s scholarship, a comprehensive history of the abolition movement, The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition (Yale University Press, 2016), arrives in bookstores this month.
Her work is already challenging some of the conventional ideas associated with abolition. For example, Sinha—Professor of Afro-American Studies and History at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst—extends the movement’s chronological boundaries to the 18th century and demonstrates that abolition was a radical movement that involved many issues in addition to the emancipation of slaves. Perhaps most importantly, Sinha also brings light to the largely forgotten impact on the abolition movement of free and enslaved African Americans.
Speaking at a Readex breakfast event during the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Boston earlier this month, Sinha shared the major findings of her decade-long dive into abolition history and how she went about conducting research for the book. In the full presentation, Sinha describes her many trips to repositories to review physical documents, and even joked the time she spent at the American Antiquarian Society—which she describes as “the best place to do research”—almost reached the level of an occupation.
“They got me there for a year on an NEH fellowship, and I never left!” Sinha told the audience.
With her Civil War expertise, passion for environmental history, and quick wit, Megan Kate Nelson, author of Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War, offered a compelling presentation at the Readex-hosted breakfast during the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in San Francisco.
The acclaimed historian shared her journey through thousands of images created during the Civil War, including sketches, photographs, newspaper illustrations, and engravings. Through these visuals, Nelson unlocked the story of war held in trees. By the end of the hour, her passion for injured landscapes had convinced the audience that trees are, in their own way, veterans of war. They played a critical role in the “destructive creation” by both Union and Confederate soldiers. By the end of the war in 1865, more than 4 million trees had been consumed.
But, the destruction of trees only tells half the story. During the Civil War, trees played a crucial role in construction, providing the necessary material to create sturdy housing structures, critical for soldiers’ survival, especially through cold winter months. These simple buildings gave soldiers a sense of place and community, a small inkling of security in unfamiliar territory hundreds of miles from home. Through her research, Nelson uncovered evidence that soldiers even gave their homes addresses.
Readex has partnered with the Library Company of Philadelphia to create Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922, an online version of one of the world’s preeminent collections for African American studies. While in Philadelphia, members of the Readex team had the opportunity to visit the Library Company for a firsthand look at original documents found in this newly digitized collection. For a quick overview of Afro-Americana Imprints, see the video below:
Krystal Appiah, the Library Company’s Curator of African American History, was one of our hosts during this visit. As part of her daily work, she helps a diverse group of researchers find relevant materials in African American history, literature and related fields. With her deep understanding of the Afro-Americana Collection—an accumulation that began with Benjamin Franklin and steadily increased throughout the Library Company’s history—Appiah expertly navigates the stacks to locate just the right item.
As Director of the Center for Historic American Visual Culture at the American Antiquarian Society, Nan Wolverton is a master at studying images, looking beyond what is readily apparent to uncover details that give fresh insight to a point in time or an aspect of society.
Speaking at a Readex breakfast event during the American Library Association Midwinter Conference in Chicago, Wolverton demonstrated her expertise, analyzing newspaper advertisements, photographs, broadsides, political cartoons, and even sheet music. She pointed out details easily overlooked—what the tablecloth in a 19th-century breakfast scene says about America’s place in the global economy, what a walking stick reveals about a former slave’s position, and why the image of a mental institution came to be stamped on dinner plates. She encouraged librarians, faculty, and students to look more deeply and use visuals to enhance their own teaching and research.
“The visual is overlooked as an important source of evidence,” Wolverton said. “An image can enhance the written record but it also can teach us something significant about which the written record can be silent or ambiguous.”
Wolverton explained how she uses images in her American Studies courses at Smith College as a way to introduce students to themes and references they may not otherwise understand, like how the “striped pig” relates to alcohol:
Following the release of an American contractor held in a Cuban prison for more than five years on spying charges, President Obama announced Wednesday the United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba. Mr. Obama also declared an embassy will be opened in Havana for the first time in more than 50 years.
During the Readex ALA breakfast presentation in Las Vegas last June, University of Florida Professor Lillian Guerra shared her first-hand observations of how the long-standing embargo has impacted life in the island nation. See the full presentation here:
When Prof. Lillian Guerra declared she would start her Readex-sponsored presentation at the 2014 American Library Association (ALA) annual conference with a joke, I was concerned:
Now, I must admit, my reaction was unwarranted. Guerra’s anecdote about life in the island nation of Cuba proved to be not only funny, but also telling of the many restrictions Cubans face every day and the steps some are willing to take to openly express opinions.
Considering tight travel restrictions and the United States’ long-standing embargo against the Republic of Cuba, many Americans have a limited view of the island nation and few have stepped foot there themselves.
At a special ALA breakfast event in Las Vegas, Guerra drew back the curtain and provided a first-hand view of Cuba most in attendance had never seen. In a follow-up survey, attendees wrote:
“Dr. Guerra used a combination of scholarship and personal experiences to give us an overview of this fascinating country.”
“The speaker was excellent. She's one of the best I heard at the conference.”
“It was probably the most interesting session I attended at ALA. I left feeling pleased that I had gone and am now interested in Dr. Guerra's research.”
Erica Armstrong Dunbar holds many titles—scholar, historian, professor—and, as dozens of academic librarians recently learned, spellbinding storyteller.
Speaking at a special breakfast event at the American Library Association Midwinter Conference, Dunbar—Director of the African American History Program at The Library Company of Philadelphia—unraveled the fascinating tale of Ona Judge Staines, a slave who escaped from George Washington’s family in 1796. Philadelphia was an appropriate setting for such a story. The executive mansion at 524-30 Market Street, where Judge lived, served, and from which she ultimately escaped, stands just four blocks from where we met for Dunbar’s talk.
Through Dunbar’s extensive research into Judge’s life, the audience came to understand the enslaved young woman’s unique circumstances and why she so feared a move to Mount Vernon after Washington’s retirement from the presidency. As I listened to Ona’s story, I yearned to see the face of this woman who, despite Washington’s ongoing attempts to find her, evaded capture for the rest of her life.
At the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, Readex vice president Remmel Nunn shared his expertise on “Ethnic Studies in the Digital Age.” Drawing from the Archive of Americana and other resources, he presented multiple examples of how recently digitized materials have opened new doors for researchers. Remmel demonstrated how specific newspaper articles have provided fresh insight into such topics as the Emancipation Proclamation, the “Prayer of Twenty Millions,” and Lincoln’s colonization plans for African Americans. He also illustrated how new perspectives on the Civil War have arisen through the digitization of newspapers like The Black Warrior, a paper published by Black soldiers in the Union Army.
Remmel also discussed the creation of new bibliographies, collection development challenges, oral history trends, and more. I hope you’ll appreciate the slides shown, which include compelling examples of the kind of historical images that are emerging as essential primary sources.