“Expanding human control over nature:” How the CIA created a record for understanding the controversy over genetic engineering

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In 2018, a Chinese scientist named He Jiankui secretly altered the DNA of a pair of human embryos to make them resistant to the HIV virus. When the twin babies were born and Dr. He announced what he’d done, scientists and governments around the world condemned him. One researcher called his actions “unconscionable...an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible.” The Chinese government launched an investigation, and media circulated calls to ban or limit the technology that made the genetic engineering possible.

The CIA, no doubt, was paying attention to the whole hoopla. Although the twin babies represent the current apogee of genetic engineering, Dr. He’s work was predicated on decades of research and debate—much of which was monitored by the CIA, which has experimented with using genetically-engineered insects and other animals as instruments of espionage.

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“Expanding human control over nature:” How the CIA created a record for understanding the controversy over genetic engineering

New 1-Minute Video about ‘Territorial Papers of the United States, 1764-1953’

More than half of America’s states began as territories. “Territorial Papers of the United States” records this official history, collecting Native American negotiations and treaties, correspondence with the government, military records, judicial proceedings, and more. Now these publications are available in a unique digital product, offering new research opportunities for all studying the creation of modern-day America.

Learn more in 60 seconds:

 

Praise for Territorial Papers of the United States:

“As government information librarians, we not only assist users with current issues, we often delve into historical research. Negotiation of Native American treaties, public land issues, and territorial administration all frame a significant role in the development of the United States. To have digital access in a single interface to the complete, original documents of the Territorial Papers of the State and Interior Departments culled from difficult-to-access locations is a great complement to existing collections and an enormous benefit to researchers. In addition, Readex’s Territorial Papers of the United States is cross-searchable through the Readex AllSearch interface with the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, Early American Imprints and Early American Newspapers.”

— Christopher C. Brown, Professor, Reference Technology Integration Librarian / Government Documents Librarian, University of Denver

New 1-Minute Video about ‘Territorial Papers of the United States, 1764-1953’

“As if Moved by a Ghostly Hand”: CIA Monitoring and the Emergence of Modern Robotics

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The word robot comes from the Czechoslovakian word robotnik, meaning “forced labor,” or “slave.” And indeed, since it was coined by Czech writer Karl Čapek in 1920, people have both feared and fantasized about robots. Friendly ones, like The Jetsons’ housecleaner Rosie or Star Wars’ C3PO, exist to make our lives easier. But lurking behind their helpfulness is the prospect of malevolence, a suspicion that the machines we’ve built in our image could turn on us. As Bladerunner artfully captured, becoming too dependent on robots could make us—not them—the real slaves.

Yet while pop culture reflects society’s conflicted feelings about automation, the scientific fields of robotics and artificial intelligence have marched forward with less ambiguity. Robots have transformed from clunky, bumbling machines to sleek, capable devices that deliver packages, vacuum our floors, and manufacture items we use every day. As these machines encroach deeper into our lives, the question of how we got here is increasingly relevant to scientific historians and other researchers. What philosophical, technical and cultural advances led to the automated world we now inhabit?

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“As if Moved by a Ghostly Hand”: CIA Monitoring and the Emergence of Modern Robotics

Lawyers, Guns and Money: California during the Interregnum of 1846-1848

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The inclusion of California in Territorial Papers of the United States, 1763-1953, is perhaps surprising as that state was never formally organized as a territory prior to statehood in 1850. Rather, Alta (Upper) California, including much of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, went through a two-year transitional period during the Mexican-American War when its status was undetermined. The “territory” that became the Mexican Cession following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 was administered by the U.S. Army as a protectorate with the clear understanding that it would ultimately redound to the United States.

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The conquest and annexation of Upper California was the ultimate step in “Manifest Destiny,” a term coined in 1845 by journalist John O’Sullivan to articulate the sense that the American national project was to extend republican government from coast to coast, and that this task was sanctioned by God.

Lawyers, Guns and Money: California during the Interregnum of 1846-1848

Ribald Renderings, a Nuanced Novella and Informed Innocence: Readex Report (November 2019)

In this issue: Seamy urban newspapers seduce and scandalize readers in 19th-century America, weighty themes abound in yesteryear’s children’s books, and did an 1849 execution inspire an enigmatic American novella?


Washington Goode and Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor: Race and the Death Penalty through Nineteenth-Century Media

By Lenora Warren, Lecturer, Department of English, Ithaca College

Warren-cover-300px.jpgWhat connects the 1849 execution of an obscure African American sailor with Billy Budd, Sailor, the enigmatic novella written by Herman Melville, one of the greatest American writers of the nineteenth century? Perhaps a great deal. Let’s begin with the sailor, a man by the name of Washington Goode, about whom little is known. As a very young man Goode served under Andrew Jackson during the Seminole War, and after the war, he served as a ship’s cook. By 1848 Goode was a resident of “The Black Sea,” a neighborhood frequented by sailors on leave, immigrants, and African Americans, and notorious as a hotbed … > Full Story


The Cultural Work of Child’s Play: Examples from Three Picture Books in Readex Digital Collections

By Laura Wasowicz, Children’s Literature Curator, American Antiquarian Society

Ribald Renderings, a Nuanced Novella and Informed Innocence: Readex Report (November 2019)

A Nebulous New Threat: Tracing the Intersection of Climate Science and Foreign Policy

Earlier this year, the United States Department of Defense and U.S. Intelligence Community issued reports warning that human-caused climate change is already exacerbating national security threats and global instability—a problem that’s only expected to worsen in coming decades. Among the impacts listed are rising sea levels that could flood U.S. military bases on Pacific islands; punishing drought that’s driving conflicts in East Africa; and melting Arctic sea ice reinvigorating competition for natural resources between the U.S., Russia and China.

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Yet while the ways in which climate change fuels conflict and instability are ever evolving, the threat itself is hardly new. As early as the 1980s, the U.S. Naval War College began studying the intersection of global warming and American security. And a division of the CIA that monitored, recorded and translated into English thousands of foreign broadcasts and publications has been tracking international research on the issue for even longer. Today, these reports, found in Climate Science and Sustainability, offer a compelling archive for researchers interested in tracking how governments around the world have responded to the growing threat of climate change over time.

A Nebulous New Threat: Tracing the Intersection of Climate Science and Foreign Policy

'Free Talk About Free Books': Tracing the evolution of America’s libraries through primary source documents

1. From private collections to public repositories

The first libraries in the United States were largely private, the realm of wealthy and learned men. During the Colonial Era, these men bequeathed books to educational institutions, establishing early college libraries. They also initiated subscription libraries, which were private collections funded by memberships and dues. While such institutions weren’t available to the general public, they laid the foundation for the public lending libraries that soon became a hallmark of American civic and intellectual life.

One of the earlier imprints chronicling this evolution is a broadside dated 1741, found in Readex’s Early American Imprints, notifying the public of a meeting “in order to consider the Proposal of applying for a CHARTER, to incorporate the said Company.”

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That company was the Library Company of Philadelphia, the inspiration of Benjamin Franklin. The same year, Franklin published “a catalogue of books belonging to the company…” which members could borrow to read at their leisure—a rare luxury in a time when books were expensive and difficult to come by.

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Thirteen years later another broadside, this time from New York City, proposed a subscription program to finance a public library. These important institutions were still not free, although their fees were relatively modest for Americans of comfortable financial means.

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'Free Talk About Free Books': Tracing the evolution of America’s libraries through primary source documents

“Not the sort of thing one forgets”: Using primary source documents to trace the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster

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On April 26, 1986, a safety experiment at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine went terribly awry, unleashing plumes of fire and invisible radioactive particles that rained down on surrounding towns and cities. Considered the worst nuclear accident in history, the Chernobyl disaster exposed millions of people to radiation and displaced some 200,000 people from their homes.

Yet coverage of the disaster by the Soviet government and state media was shockingly circumspect, focusing on the valiant efforts of workers rather than the devastation experienced by innocent people and animals. A July 1986 report from Pravda, the official newspaper of the USSR, for example, praised the “organized and precise work” of cleanup crews, adding that “many of the power station workers serving the power units are setting examples of courage [muzhestvo] and enthusiasm in their labor.”

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“Not the sort of thing one forgets”: Using primary source documents to trace the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster

‘Politically, Morally and Personally Unworthy’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

The October release of Territorial Papers of the United States, 1765-1953, includes many letters and little-known documents tracking New Mexico’s controversial Secretary of the Territory, H.H. Heath.

An unsigned memoir from 1868 offers some background:

Mr. Heath is a native of New York, for several years a resident of Washington, he was for a time a (deputy) clerk of the House of Representatives and established here in 1849 or 1850 a newspaper called the “Southern Press” for the express purpose of defending “Southern rights.”

During the Lecompton struggle he was editor of “The North West” “which supported Southern men and Northern, too, who supported them.”

He held the Post Office at Dubuke [sic] for three years, until ejected by Mr. Lincoln.

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Heath’s service to New Mexico Territory began a year earlier in 1867 after a brief delay. Writing to Secretary of State William Henry Seward on March 15, 1867, Heath asked:

I have the honor to request permission to delay my departure for New Mexico…to afford me time to make my arrangements for taking my family and household goods with me.

Four months later Heath sent another letter to Seward, this time writing:

I have the honor to report my arrival in this place and the assumption of the duties of Secretary of this Territory.

I arrived her yesterday after a very protracted and tedious trek…of 47 days…

In August Heath wrote again to Seward, this time about documents uncovered in his New Mexico office. Describing the find, he writes:  

‘Politically, Morally and Personally Unworthy’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

‘An excellent resource of 19th-century primary materials’: Library Journal reviews Nineteenth-Century American Drama

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The October 2019 issue of Library Journal includes a substantial review of Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900. Reviewer Rob Tench of Old Dominion University notes that the collection’s “interdisciplinary nature expands appeal to anyone researching the myriad aspects of 19th-century American life and culture.” Here's a brief excerpt from the full review:

Nineteenth-Century American Drama is a comprehensive collection of 4,700 American plays published or produced between 1820 and 1900….The plays reflect their time, providing contemporary and unfiltered perspectives about 19th-century issues such as women’s movements, temperance, westward expansion, immigration, war, industrialism, slavery, reconstruction, and abolition….This is an excellent resource of 19th-century primary materials about American theater, life, culture, history, literature, economics, political science, religious and ethnic studies, and sociology.

‘An excellent resource of 19th-century primary materials’: Library Journal reviews Nineteenth-Century American Drama

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