Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


Promoting Silkworms: Using Electronic Texts and Digital Images for a Historical Exhibition

The discovery of news articles published in the 1830s about a 139-acre silk farm in Framingham, Massachusetts—along with a stunning 19th-century image of bombyx mori, the silkworm, at several phases of its life cycle—opened the door to our first use of digital archives in a museum exhibit.

Staff and volunteers at the Framingham Historical Society and Museum were in process of organizing The Fabric of Framingham, an exhibition that weaves together the warp of the town's textile traditions with the weft of its vibrant social fabric. An important goal for the exhibition was to introduce visitors to primary source materials as historical context for the textiles and costumes from our collection.


Background image: Silk-worms. Letter from James Mease transmitting
a treatise on the rearing of silk-worms, by Mr. De Hazzi, of Munich. With plates, &c. &c.
February 2, 1828. Read, and referred to the Committee on Agriculture. Serial Set Vol. No. 172.

We gathered materials on Framingham's first industry, the manufacture of straw bonnets, and on the town's longest-lasting industry, wool and wool products. We traced the histories of cotton, linen, rubberized fabrics, ready-made clothing and even a short-lived attempt at making silk. The Historical Society's research team searched the digital Early American Newspapers collection and downloaded articles and advertisements related to these industries in Framingham.

Promoting Silkworms: Using Electronic Texts and Digital Images for a Historical Exhibition


Supplementing Early American Imprints: The Extraordinary Collection of Michael Zinman

Many of the hitherto unknown early American imprints now being digitized by Readex at the Library Company of Philadelphia were acquired in 2000, a mere ten years ago, from Michael Zinman, a private collector who surely ranks among the greatest Americana collectors of all time. Zinman’s collection of some 11,500 books, pamphlets, and broadsides printed in the thirteen colonies and the United States through the year 1800 was the largest such collection assembled in the 20th century, and larger than all but a handful of institutional collections. Not counting a great many duplicates, the Zinman collection added roughly 5,000 imprints to the collections of the Library Company. Including materials on deposit from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, its holdings then stood at over 17, 500 imprints, second only to the American Antiquarian Society, which has about 22,000. The total number known is over 45,000.


At a Council held in Boston January 8. 1679. The Council doth upon further Consideration judge meet to alter the day of Thanksgiving. [Boston: J. Foster, 1679]

Supplementing Early American Imprints: The Extraordinary Collection of Michael Zinman


Writing the David Ruggles Biography: Newspapers Help Complete the Portrait of a Radical Black Abolitionist

David Ruggles (1810-1849) was a brilliant, intrepid, multi-talented soul who devoted his time and health to “practical abolitionism.” This term, Ruggles argued, meant that abolitionists should not just philosophize about the day when slavery would end, but strive to help the everyday victims of human bondage.

In Ruggles’ home city of New York, such assistance included blocking kidnappers who stole young black children from the streets under the pretense that they were fugitive slaves. It meant providing succor for self-emancipated slaves. Frederick Douglass arrived in New York on September 3, 1838, penniless, lonely, and frightened. He spent a night sleeping among the barrels on the docks of the harbor. A kind sailor took him to Ruggles’ house where he learned about anti-slavery activities, was married to his fiancé, and then was sent off to New Bedford, Massachusetts, armed with a five-dollar bill and a letter of recommendation.

Writing the David Ruggles Biography: Newspapers Help Complete the Portrait of a Radical Black Abolitionist


Jackasses, Dogs and Dead Chickens: Vignettes of the Civil War Revealed in Ephemera

During the Civil War, enterprising publishers produced small envelopes with patriotic images, views of camp life, battles, portraits and comic illustrations. Both soldiers and their friends and families used these Civil War envelopes to mail letters during the conflict. Although most of these envelopes were printed in Union states, a few were produced in Confederate States, which suffered from not only a shortage of paper, but also a lack of envelope-making machinery.

Engravers such as Charles Magnus created envelopes—printed in black, purple or gold ink and then carefully hand-colored—that provided vibrant images of soldiers' life during the conflict. These vignettes of camp life and battles allowed the people at home to be a part of what was happening with their loved ones so far away. News could come quickly by telegraph, but visual images of the war were few and far between. Magnus was also famous for his camp scenes taken from photographs, such as "Camp scene from photograph. 16," which showed a sailor, a Zouave and soldier standing next to four other soldiers sitting in front of a tent.


Civil war envelopes used a range of patriotic images, including eagles, Lady Liberty, cannons, drums, the United States flag, ships, soldiers and portraits of the president and his generals. Many of these were printed in red and blue ink. In an attempt to link the current struggle with the noble cause of Independence, George Washington and Revolutionary-era soldiers also appeared in illustrations.

Jackasses, Dogs and Dead Chickens: Vignettes of the Civil War Revealed in Ephemera


A Light on Past Lives: The Illuminating Effects of Electronic Resources on Biographical Research

The most revolutionary change in biography writing is the advent of digitized newspapers. Unlike microfilm, which simply reproduced newspapers on film, these new electronic records provide what we biographers and historians have long dreamed for—a means of finding a needle in the haystack.

Let me explain. For years folks like me have been using the great newspaper collections in our nation’s libraries, archives, and other repositories. The contemporaneous accounts are like gold. But as with the pursuit of this precious metal, we have not been able to mine all of it. In fact, using our previously inadequate research tools, many of the best veins have remained untapped.

Essentially our choice was to read every page of a newspaper’s run or use dates to guide our research. So, for instance, if I wanted to discover what was said about a particular artist, I might have looked at issues of a newspaper published around the opening date of an exhibit. But if an art critic wrote a review several weeks later, the likelihood was that I would miss it.

A Light on Past Lives: The Illuminating Effects of Electronic Resources on Biographical Research


Chocolate: A Readex Sampler

Between the years 1998-2008 my large research team had the good fortune to be funded by a generous grant from Mars, Incorporated, to investigate the culinary, medicinal, and social history of chocolate (1). Our initial research focused on chocolate-related information from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and the transfer of medical-related uses of chocolate into Western Europe. Between the years 2004-2008 our research shifted to the introduction, distribution, and social uses of chocolate within North America. To this end we paid special attention to cacao/chocolate-related aspects of agronomy, anthropology, archaeology and art history, culinary arts, diet and nutrition, economics, ethnic and gender studies, geography, history, legal and medical issues, and social uses.

Our research team drew extensively on Colonial Era and Federal Era documents available through Early American Newspapers, especially chocolate/cacao-related advertisements, articles, price currents, obituaries, and shipping news documents. As a scholar who formerly spent months using microfilm documents—winding and re-winding reels searching for specific documents on specific dates—I report here that the new technologies available through Readex have made my work and that of my students a hundred times easier. Now, with a click of our computer “mice,” team members can retrieve thousands of documents that previously would have taken weeks to amass.

Presented here are examples that provide a brief “taste” of these chocolate-related documents.

Chocolate: A Readex Sampler


An Undergraduate's Reflections on Original American History Research: How Online Access to Historical Newspapers Helped Prepare an Award-Winning Tea Party Study

Of all the events that occurred during America’s colonial era perhaps none more immediately conjures up images than the Boston Tea Party, when patriots boarded English ships to destroy taxed tea. Nearly a year and a half later, on April 19, 1775, the skirmish between those patriots and British Regulars at Lexington and Concord provoked the shot that was heard “around the world,” a story with which many Americans are also familiar. Undoubtedly, these events merit widespread recognition, for both were key developments in the establishment of the United States. However, by moving immediately from the Tea Party to the beginning of the Revolution, one neglects crucial moments during those intervening sixteen months that helped develop a pervasive unity necessary for a successful war with Britain. That unity derived in part from responses to the Tea Act of 1773, efforts that were spearheaded in Boston but not isolated there. Indeed, reactions throughout the colonies testify to Massachusetts’ importance as the first colony to act decisively in response to the tea’s arrival. That significance is manifested most clearly in the inspired attitudes of New Yorkers, whose actions affirm the influence of the Bostonians’ decision. 1

An Undergraduate's Reflections on Original American History Research: How Online Access to Historical Newspapers Helped Prepare an Award-Winning Tea Party Study


Conducting Biographical Research in Government Publications, Part II: John C. Frémont and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

To read Part I of this article in the Spring 2006 issue of The Readex Report, click here.

What finally made John Frémont's career was the second western expedition. This time the Army ordered him to map the wagon route all the way to Oregon. Having had some trouble with Indians on the 1842 trip, Frémont decided to requisition not just an assortment of guns and ammunition, but also a cannon—a brass 12-pounder mountain howitzer (S.Doc. 14, 28-1).

Leaving in May, 1843, from what is now Kansas City, Frémont's main party followed the emigrant route through Nebraska and Wyoming. Frémont and a few companions soon split off to travel a more southerly route, taking them near modern Denver and allowing them to explore the northern edges of the Great Salt Lake before reuniting with the expedition. His published report's glowing description of the region around what is now Salt Lake City would be largely responsible for Brigham Young's decision to move his people there.

When Frémont reached Oregon in November, 1843, he decided not to return as instructed along his outward route. Instead, he decided to explore southward along the eastern edge of the Cascades and search for the legendary River Bonaventura, which some believed flowed westward through the Sierras to the Pacific. If it existed, which most doubted, emigrants would have an easy passage through the mountains to California.

Conducting Biographical Research in Government Publications, Part II: John C. Frémont and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set


Avoiding Errors, Fopperies, and Follies: How to be a Good Wife

Anyone who’s planned a wedding has probably dealt with unsolicited advice: everything from what drinks to serve, how long (or short) the ceremony should be, how the couple should deal with name changes, and, not least, rules and tips for creating, maintaining, and sustaining a successful marriage.

Although I tried to compartmentalize my upcoming wedding plans far, far away from the bounds of the English department and scholarly research, it just so happened that the peculiarities of wedding/wedded life intersected, oddly enough, with archival research. What follows are portions of a news/opinion piece submitted to The New-England Weekly Journal (Containing the Most Remarkable Occurrences Foreign & Domestic) on February 15, 1731. It is part one of a two-parter called “A Letter to a Lady on her Marriage.” Written by a gentleman who was concerned with communicating ideals of conduct and virtue for the young New England woman, the article lists several follies that the wedded woman must necessarily avoid in order to make “a good Figure in the World.” Brides-to-be, be aware: perhaps we can learn a thing or two about how we ought to govern ourselves after we’ve snagged that husband.

Avoiding Errors, Fopperies, and Follies: How to be a Good Wife


"Behold and Wonder": Early American Imprints as a Tool for Students' Research

Teaching the history and culture of early America to undergraduates is challenging on many fronts. Students' familiarity with the best-known documents of the Revolutionary period can breed either contempt or a reverential awe indistinguishable from ignorance and boredom. The lesser-known material from earlier years presents formidable conceptual obstacles and seldom stays in print very long outside of the excerpts found in anthologies.

In the past decade, online resources have opened up some pedagogical opportunities that can help overcome some of these obstacles in the study of early America. Web-based lectures and research assignments have become indispensable to my own teaching at the University of California, Irvine, where I regularly use early American materials in my lectures for the Humanities Core Course.

Humanities Core is a year-long course that enrolls about 1,200 first-year students. Taught in the usual combination of large lectures followed by small discussion sections, the course satisfies several of our general education requirements, including freshman composition; it is usually the first—and often the only—humanities course students take. Lectures must therefore be challenging but comprehensible to a naïve audience, and they must also equip students with basic research techniques that will allow them to apply what they learn in lectures when writing their own essays.

"Behold and Wonder": Early American Imprints as a Tool for Students' Research


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