A Name to Conjure With: Mardi Gras Indians Keep the Faith through the Spirit of Sauk War Leader Black Hawk

The spirit of Black Hawk is alive and well and living in New Orleans. How does the influence of this Sauk war leader inform Creole identity over 250 years after his birth? The answer involves a rich gumbo of Native American and African American culture with dashes of American Spiritualism and the iconography of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

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Black Hawk (Muk-a-tá-mish-o-ká-kaik) was born to a prominent Sauk family in 1767 in Saukenuk, present-day Rock Island, Illinois. He distinguished himself in battle during numerous campaigns against other Indian tribes and thus became influential although he was not a hereditary chief. Life was good for Black Hawk’s band in the years leading up to the 1820s. But it did not last. Edwin D. Coe recounted Black Hawk’s trajectory in an 1896 pamphlet from Readex’s American Pamphlets:

A Name to Conjure With: Mardi Gras Indians Keep the Faith through the Spirit of Sauk War Leader Black Hawk

“The highlight of my ALA conference”: Librarians laud Readex-sponsored program by Civil War historian Amy Murrell Taylor

[Go directly to Prof. Taylor’s highly praised presentation.]

In the days following the start of the American Civil War, enslaved people immediately began fleeing plantations to seek refuge. In a captivating presentation on this topic at the 2020 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting, Amy Murrell Taylor, Ph.D., shared from her acclaimed book Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War's Slave Refugee Camps. An award-winning professor at the University of Kentucky, Taylor is an authority on the social and cultural history of the U.S. South in the 19th century.

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Taylor’s research, supported in part by Readex products, uncovers stories of the many thousands of men, women, and children who fled slavery and sought refuge behind the lines of the Union army during the Civil War. These untold stories of people seeking freedom shed new light on history of emancipation.

In a survey following her presentation, attendees offered overwhelmingly positive reactions:

  • Fantastic!
  • Best thing I attended.
  • The highlight of my ALA conference.

Taylor revealed in her powerful talk how she was struck over the course of her research by the way issues that people were wrestling with in the 19th century have become “eerily relevant to our lives today.” Listen as she describes the similarities.

“The highlight of my ALA conference”: Librarians laud Readex-sponsored program by Civil War historian Amy Murrell Taylor

The Great Blondin: ‘Crossing of Niagara on a Rope!’

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The acrobat whose name would become synonymous with tightrope walking was born Jean-François Gravelet in Saint-Omer, Pas-de-Calais, France. Generally known as Charles Blondin (1824-1897), the performer was also referred to as Jean-François Blondin, Chevalier Blondin, The Great Blondin, and, in his first public appearance, The Boy Wonder.

Blondin traveled to the United States in 1855, joined a circus, and became famous for crossing the Niagara Gorge, at times doing summersaults, on a tightrope. In a series of articles, originally reported in the Rochester Union and reprinted in the Washington, D.C., Constitution, the acrobat himself and his first crossing are described on July 6, 1859, this way: 

“About four o’clock M. Blondin arrived in a carriage decorated with the American and French flags, and was received with cheers from the multitude, music from the bands, and the firing of a cannon, which was answered from the Canada side. A ring was made by a rope, and within the ring was a tight rope six feet above the ground, upon which the preliminary exhibition took place.

The Great Blondin: ‘Crossing of Niagara on a Rope!’

Ties that Bind: The Role of American Railroads in Expanding and Connecting Vast Territories

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The political question of internal improvements challenged lawmakers in the earlier days of the United States with the majority supporting the federal government taking an active role in the construction of roads, canals, and railroads. This view prevailed. Many schemes were put forward to construct railways that would connect canals and other waterways.

In 1829, W.C. Redfield published a pamphlet proposing a route that would establish connections among New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and several territories.

The construction of a Great Western Railway...is recommended to the attentive consideration of every citizen who feels an interest in the prosperity of his country, and wishes to promote its rapid advancement in wealth and power, by the multiplication of those physical resources which constitute national greatness, and best promote individual happiness and prosperity.

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By the 1830s railroads were being proposed and constructed rapidly. Many of these were of limited scope but funded variously by regional commercial and civic interests or the War Department which had a sustaining interest in the nation’s defense infrastructure.

Ties that Bind: The Role of American Railroads in Expanding and Connecting Vast Territories

Charleston Advisor Reviews “American Underworld: The Flash Press”

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The January 2020 issue of The Charleston Advisor offers a full look at a long-awaited digital collection of bawdy U.S. newspapers. This new review includes detailed sections on content, user interface/searchability, pricing, and purchase/contract options. The following is from the review’s abstract:

The American Underworld: Flash Press Collection available from Readex is a treasure trove of early American metropolitan journalism, providing a rare glimpse into unique, short-lived, and often bawdy newspaper titles which found their glory days between the 1830s and 1850s. Akin to the tabloid presses of today, these publications often presented the seamier aspects of everyday urban society, often preaching against the very topics on which they reported. In the more than sixty papers available through the American Antiquarian Society, this collection represents some of the rarest of all American newspapers and contains unique research material for those in urban studies, women’s studies, criminal justice, Victorian society, and the literature of the nineteenth century.

The Charleston Advisor continues:

The visibility and clarity of each article is truly stunning, since the database allows for significant detail and zooming options….The Flash Press Collection is made up entirely of primary source material, making it ideal for courses rooted in this type of historical examination and exploration….From the standpoint of accessibility and significance to scholarship and research, the value of this rare and unique primary source content cannot be overstated.

Charleston Advisor Reviews “American Underworld: The Flash Press”

Inherit a Problem: How Lysenkoism Ruined Soviet Plant Genetics and Perpetuated Famine under Stalin, Khrushchev—and Mao

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Part of the power of Readex’s new Morality and Science: Global Origins of Modern Bioethics is the access it affords to primary material that is otherwise difficult to obtain in English-language translations. This is certainly true when it comes to the suppressed Soviet controversy regarding Lysenkoism as a credible expression of the tenets of evolutionary biology. That debate bears a striking resemblance to America’s love/hate relationship with climate change as a consequence of global warming in which human actions are held to play a significant role—or not. And the parallels go deeper still.

In 1925 America had a problem with evolution, or rather with government endorsement of Charles Darwin’s widely accepted theory of “natural selection” which implied that human beings were the descendants of primates rather than created in the semblance of a divine being. The “Scopes Monkey Trial” of that year pitted orator William Jennings Bryan against highly regarded attorney Clarence Darrow in a bid to punish (or free) John Scopes, a Tennessee high school teacher who taught evolution rather than creationism. Scopes was jailed for doing so under Tennessee’s Butler Act of 1925, which prohibited the denial of creationism in public education. The case was ultimately invalidated on technical grounds during an appeal of the initial ruling to fine Scopes $100. It became the template for the 1955 play Inherit the Wind, which was later made into a motion picture.

Inherit a Problem: How Lysenkoism Ruined Soviet Plant Genetics and Perpetuated Famine under Stalin, Khrushchev—and Mao

Fish or Cut Bait: Following a Phrase in Early American Newspapers

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The derivation of the phrase “fish or cut bait” is relatively clear, but its meaning has been murky since it became popularized in the mid-nineteenth century. One interpretation is similar to a contemporary idiom more politely expressed as ‘evacuate or vacate the wash closet,’ urging one to either proceed or cease a course of action. Another reading of the expression is it is instructing one to choose between two actions required to attain a particular goal.

An April 30, 1897, New-York Tribune column encouraging Tammany Hall to take action on monetary policy illustrates both the phrase’s origin and that its common usage is incomplete. 

“She must either fish or cut bait,” says “Jimmie.” The fisherman’s formula—intended to express the idea of division of labor with no loafing—is “must either fish, cut bait or go ashore.” The omission of the last choice indicates a purpose of throwing Tammany overboard without giving her a chance to go ashore if she doesn’t either fish or cut bait.

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A Pawtucket Times article from March 24, 1920, describing a call to accomplish the multitude of tasks required to form a fish and game association, also interprets the phrase as a division of labor.

Fish or Cut Bait: Following a Phrase in Early American Newspapers

Women in War: From the American Indian Wars to the American Civil War

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The experiences of women in wartime have been less well documented than those of men. Their contributions, their sufferings and heroism merit closer attention. The wealth of digitized primary sources in Readex collections offer fresh opportunities for researchers to study women who lived through, and often participated in, conflicts across multiple centuries and continents. In this post, we will touch on the diverse roles played by women in American wars from the early days of settlement through the middle of the 19th century.

The earliest European settlements in North America conflicted with the various Indian tribes which populated the eastern lands of the continent. One popular type of publication was the captivity narrative. In 1754 Susanna Willard Johnson and her family were taken captive by the Abenakis and held for four years. After her release she published a popular account.

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Women in War: From the American Indian Wars to the American Civil War

“An Alluring Magnet”: The Cold War, Martian Exploration, and the Pull of the Red Planet

 

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More than a thousand years ago, Egyptians noticed a shining red object that seemed to wander through the night sky. Fascinated, they painted the celestial body onto star charts and the ceiling of tombs. Chinese, Greek, Roman and other ancient astronomers also tracked the red planet, making up stories about it and attributing it with an array of astrological powers.

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In more modern times, too, people obsess over Mars. It has stunning topography, with a volcano three times higher than Mount Everest and gorges four times deeper than the Grand Canyon. Massive windstorms shape its sands into ever-shifting, otherworldly dunes. Its surface temperature is 138 degrees Fahrenheit colder than Earth’s, and its atmosphere deadly thin. Although liquid water once pooled and coursed across the surface of Mars, that water seems largely locked up as ice today.

“An Alluring Magnet”: The Cold War, Martian Exploration, and the Pull of the Red Planet

‘Freedom Found: Untold Stories of the Civil War’s Refugees from Slavery’ – Announcing the 2020 Readex ALA Midwinter Breakfast Event

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On Sunday, January 26, Readex will host a special breakfast presentation titled “Freedom Found: Untold Stories of the Civil War’s Refugees from Slavery” at the 2020 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia. An open discussion will follow the talk by acclaimed author Amy Murrell Taylor, Professor of History and winner of multiple outstanding teacher awards at the University of Kentucky.

About the Presentation

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The liberation of four million men, women, and children from slavery in the United States is often told as a one-man, one-moment story centered on Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. This talk revisits that story by looking at the emergence of Civil War “contraband” camps, settlements of over 500,000 refugees from slavery who sought protection inside the lines of the Union Army. It tells the untold stories of the many people and moments that accomplished the real work of seeking freedom in the Civil War, and considers why an elemental part of Emancipation’s history has remained relatively hidden in American memory. What challenges lie in the way of reconstructing this history—and in reshaping the way that most Americans understand this momentous period?

About the Speaker

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‘Freedom Found: Untold Stories of the Civil War’s Refugees from Slavery’ – Announcing the 2020 Readex ALA Midwinter Breakfast Event

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