Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


"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.

"Countess" Ida von Claussen: Woman of Convictions


Thanks for the Memories, ... and the Documentary Records: Thanksgiving and the History of American Holidays

"Twas founded be th' Puritans to give thanks f'r bein presarved fr'm
th' Indyans, an' . . . we keep it to give thanks we are presarved fr'm th' Puritans."

—Finley Peter Dunne, "'Thanksgiving,' Mr. Dooley's Opinions" (1901)

Holidays are like peaks in a nation's topography. Without them, the landscape would be flat and monotonous; with them, we find places that rise above the everyday world and give us lofty views and broader perspectives. America's national holidays are the extraordinary annual events that help define the United States and its people. On such occasions, Americans tell themselves and the world who they are. They commemorate their origins, call attention to their basic values and ideals, celebrate their good fortune and express thanks to those who created, nurtured and protected their nation. All these qualities make Thanksgiving especially promising terrain for American historians, ground that's easy to chart because historical actors have left such prominent signposts—documentary records—of their festivity.

Thanksgiving is America's most cherished holiday. The autumn festival's nearly universal appeal comes peculiarly from its elasticity and ambiguity. Invented in the 17th century, Thanksgiving has been continually reinvented ever since. Though it began as an exclusive tribal rite for white Anglo-Saxon Protestant New Englanders, Thanksgiving has been appropriated generally by Americans of various tribes well beyond the New England Pale. Some might quibble with Mr. Dooley's historical analysis, but he was surely correct in noticing the value—to immigrants and other marginalized Americans—in the creative recycling of this vital American tradition.

Thanks for the Memories, ... and the Documentary Records: Thanksgiving and the History of American Holidays


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.

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


"Out of the Jaws of Death! Out of the Mouth of Hell!" - Dispatches from the Front during the American Civil War

"We are in the midst of the most terrible battle of the war—perhaps history." 1 So wrote General George McClellan to Chief of Staff Henry Halleck and President Abraham Lincoln before the telegraph wires went dead the morning of September 17, 1862. The wires would remain dead all day, as the battle of Antietam consumed the lives of 6,000 men and the fate of the nation lay in the balance.

Indeed, the first report of Antietam's outcome to reach Lincoln would come not from his generals, but from a reporter, George Smalley of the New York Tribune. Smalley had guessed where the two massive armies would converge, and was there from the beginning, joining General Hooker on horseback. During a crisis early in the battle, Hooker's attention was drawn to Smalley, who was gazing at the battle around him with cool aplomb. "In all the experience which I have had of war," Hooker would later write, "I never saw the most experienced and veteran soldier exhibit more tranquil fortitude and unshaken valor than was exhibited by that young man." 2

Early in the fighting Hooker turned to Smalley and enlisted him as his official messenger to his officers, which put Smalley in one of the most dangerous and important roles on the battlefield. Smalley had two horses shot out from under him, but lived to not only deliver Hooker's orders but to observe the entire battle so keenly that his published report in the Tribune came to be known as the standard against which all battlefield reporting would be measured.

That Smalley managed to do this at all is surprising enough, but that he did it so well almost defies belief. A sample:

"Out of the Jaws of Death! Out of the Mouth of Hell!" - Dispatches from the Front during the American Civil War


Rivers Run Through It: The U.S. Congressional Serial Set and Its Maps

Throughout our past, rivers have expanded commercial and manufacturing opportunities, influenced settlement patterns and acted as boundaries—effectively shaping the history, politics and geography of nations across the globe.

The U.S. Congressional Serial Set illustrates the important role of rivers through its collection of more than 50,000 maps, many in full color. In addition to its vast number of U.S. maps, the Serial Set includes maps from locales as widely scattered as Asia, South America and the Yukon Territory.

It seems all rivers have a story to tell. Here are several, as told from the pages of the Serial Set.

Colorado River

The Colorado River is formed by the junction of the Grand and the Green Rivers. The Grand River (officially renamed the Colorado in 1921) has its source in Grand Lake in the Colorado Rocky Mountains; while the Green's source is located near Fremont Peak in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. These two great rivers join in Canyonlands National Park in Utah and flow south before emptying into the Gulf of California.

Including the Green, the whole length of the Colorado River is about 2,000 miles. Its watershed is the size of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri combined. There are two distinct portions of the basin of the Colorado. The upper two-thirds of the basin run through gorges at the four to eight thousand foot level, flowing through mountains that are eight to fourteen thousand feet above sea level. Winter comes early and snow falls to great depths at this level. When the summer sun shines, this snow melts and water cascades down mountain sides, swelling the river into great torrents.

Rivers Run Through It: The U.S. Congressional Serial Set and Its Maps


Dance in Colonial America: A Research Challenge

In 1976 the American Bicentennial created an audience for information about early American dance, but no scholarly resources were available. I took on the challenge and since that time have collected and indexed the raw materials with the help of two grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (EASMES and PACAN).

Today many relevant primary sources are available online, and some—including several found in the Archive of Americana—challenge widely accepted historical understandings. From these and other resources, I have just completed a comprehensive history of dance in colonial America, covering dance of Native peoples as well as of European and African immigrants.

Here are a few examples of recent findings that have broadened our knowledge of music and dance in 17th- and 18th-century America.

Searching Mary Rowlandson’s description of her experience at a Wampanoag victory dance in 1675, I discovered that the festive clothing of her captors had incongruous European elements probably obtained from traders. Rather than the usual deerskin loin cloth, quill decorations, and detailed body paint, "he was dressed in his Holland shirt, with great laces sewed at the tail of it, he had his silver buttons, his white stockings, his garters were hung round with shillings. . . she had fine red stokins, and white shoes, her hair powdered and face painted red, that was alwayes before black" (Rowlandson, 57).

Dance in Colonial America: A Research Challenge


On the Trail of Crispus Attucks: Investigating a Victim of the Boston Massacre

If American history students can name any victim of the Boston Massacre, it is almost certainly Crispus Attucks. He became a symbol of African-American patriotism for the Abolitionists of the 1800s and for civil rights activists of the 1900s. Yet Attucks' name doesn't appear in the first newspaper reports about British soldiers shooting into a violent crowd on March 5, 1770. That's just one of the mysteries that students can explore by using the Archive of Americana to examine the Boston Massacre.

Click here to view pdf

In colonial Boston, some newspapers were published on Mondays and some on Thursdays. Because the shootings on King Street occurred on the evening of Monday, March 5, the first press reports didn't appear until Thursday, March 8. The Boston Chronicle stated that among the dead was "A Mollatto man named, Johnson."

Click to view pdf

The same day's Boston News-Letter provided more information about this victim:

A Mollatto Man, named Johnson, who was born in Framingham, but lately belonging to New-Providence, and was here in order to go for North-Carolina, killed on the Spot, two Balls entering his Breast.

On the Trail of Crispus Attucks: Investigating a Victim of the Boston Massacre


Around the World in 80 Documents: 19th-Century Publications on Europe, Africa and Asia in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

Not only are American government documents not just about American government, they aren't just about America. Asked to highlight the U.S. Congressional Serial Set's richness for exploring the wider 19th-century world, I immediately thought of the fictional Phileas Fogg and his 1872 bet that he could travel around the globe in 80 days. I challenged myself to find remarkable and relatively contemporaneous documents on every country that Fogg visits in "Around the World in Eighty Days" (1873), Jules Verne's classic adventure novel.

Phileas Fogg, accompanied by his man servant Passepartout, departs London on October 2, 1872. Passing through France and Italy by train with little comment, Fogg leaves for the East on the steamer Mongolia from Brindisi on October 9. The steamer crosses the Mediterranean, transits the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, and deposits Fogg in Bombay on October 20. He travels across India by train and elephant. On October 24 he and his rescued Indian noblewoman depart Calcutta on the steamer Rangoon, which takes them to Hong Kong after a brief stop in Singapore. The party is briefly separated at Hong Kong. Fogg travels on to Shanghai by a rented vessel, reuniting with Passepartout in Yokohama.

From Yokohama Fogg departs for San Francisco on the Pacific Steamship Mail Co. on November 14. In New York Fogg just misses his December 11 connection with a Cunard liner and rents another vessel to carry him across the Atlantic to Ireland. From there, following some final misadventures, Fogg travels back to London. With this quick summary of Fogg's itinerary, we can now try to mimic his course with Serial Set publications.

Around the World in 80 Documents: 19th-Century Publications on Europe, Africa and Asia in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set


Pursuing Democracy: The First Hispanic Newspapers in the United States

In 1807, French intervention in Spain and Napoleon's puppet government in the Iberian Peninsula propelled many Hispanic intellectuals to the young American Republic. There, they translated into Spanish the U.S. Constitution and the ideas of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. These translations were published by early American printers in Philadelphia, and their own ideas about democracy were disseminated to Spanish-language newspapers published in New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere. From the United States, the newspapers were often smuggled back to homelands across the Atlantic and the Caribbean. It was this publishing foundation that enabled the fathers of Spanish-American republics to interpret American liberalism and democracy, in order to envision what their own governments could and should become once independence was achieved.

Because Hispanic intellectuals often went into exile in New Orleans, Philadelphia and New York, early Hispanic newspapers were founded in those cities. The first Spanish-language newspaper published in the United States was El Misisipí, founded in New Orleans in 1808 to advocate the independence of the Spanish colonies in the New World. Likewise, the first newspaper to be issued in what is now the U.S. Southwest was La Gaceta de Texas (1813), which supported the independence of northern New Spain. Largely through such newspapers, patriots, founding fathers and philosophers from as far away as Buenos Aires and Lima participated in political movements from U.S. shores.

Pursuing Democracy: The First Hispanic Newspapers in the United States


"Human Serpents sent us by our Mother Country": The Transformation of Anthony Lamb, Transported Convict

In 1724, Anthony Lamb had nearly served out his apprenticeship to a maker of mathematical instruments in London when he fell in with some bad company at a local pub. Eager to impress his new comrades, Lamb aided them in the robbery of a boarder in his master’s house one night by leaving the front door unlocked. Lamb’s associates ransacked the boarder’s room and took a considerable sum of money and expensive clothing. The robbers and the stolen goods were never recovered, but suspicion immediately fell on Lamb, who confessed his role. Lamb was brought to trial at the Old Bailey and was sentenced to transportation to the American colonies for a seven-year term.

Lamb was one of over 50,000 convicts who were transported to America by Great Britain beginning in 1718 and ending abruptly in 1776 with the American Revolution. Most of the convicts ended up in Maryland or Virginia (not Georgia, as is commonly believed). Despite the large number of convicts who were shipped across the Atlantic, finding information about them can be a challenge. Most of the convicts were illiterate, and many of them tried to hide their criminal past by changing their names and moving away after serving out their terms. The historian has to do some real digging to fill in the lives of these little-known men and women, and Readex’s Early American Newspapers is a tremendous help in this regard.

"Human Serpents sent us by our Mother Country": The Transformation of Anthony Lamb, Transported Convict


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