Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


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

What 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 of vice and violence. 1

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On the fateful night of June 28, 1848, Goode was seen attacking his paramour Mary Anne Williams over her involvement with another man by the name of Thomas Harding. 2

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


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

Recently digitized children’s books available in Readex collections include three that show the interplay between adult work and child’s play—opening up newly accessible vistas in areas such as visual culture and child studies. In my tenure of over thirty years at the American Antiquarian Society, I have either cataloged or supervised the cataloging of the books in the AAS Children’s Literature Collection.  This position has given me great control over the production of high-quality, detailed catalog records that provide rich metadata for author (many of them were women who did not sign their actual names to the books that they wrote), publisher (including many from towns outside of the major publishing centers of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia), illustrators (documenting the people who worked as artists in Antebellum America), provenance (providing access to elements like owner’s inscriptions and hand-colored illustrations), and subjects.  Subject analysis is particularly important in the effective cataloging of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century children’s books because many are chock full of contemporary societal attitudes toward issues like child labor, play, sex role, war, and slavery, but they generally have euphemistic titles that reveal very little about their contents.  These catalog access points provide the intellectual infrastructure for present and future generations of researchers to examine relevant children’s books in ways that would have been impossible before they were cataloged, and thanks to Readex, scanned copies of these books and their superb metadata are now widely available to researchers worldwide. 

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


Rascalities and Notorieties: Salacious and Satirical Illustrations in the Flash Press of the Nineteenth Century

The early 1840s saw the rise of new underground newspapers, known collectively as the “flash press,” dedicated to the licentious appetites of the American urban male. Their readers saw these publications as satirical, irreverent and ribald; but to their opponents, they were obscene, vulgar and immoral. At first glance, they looked no different from the dozens of daily and weekly newspapers available in New York and Boston at the time, but the illustrations on the front page of nearly every copy were a tipoff that their content would not be ordinary. The pictures were often double entendre—sometimes less than double—and even when not blatantly sexual, they were always lively and eye-catching.

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To one who chronicles American vice and crime, these rare nineteenth-century papers provide a missing link—a sympathetic view of the demimonde to balance the moralistic tone taken by mainstream publications of the time. These bawdy newspapers also offer a unique perspective for researchers in other scholarly areas such as urban life, political history and gender and women’s studies. Readex’s American Underworld: The Flash Press—the new digital collection created from the holdings of the American Antiquarian Society—contains a wide variety of titles with a surprising number of surviving issues. To find so many of these seamy urban newspapers available in one place, carefully digitized and easily searchable, is invaluable. The illustrations in these publications were often as important as the text and are as provocative to contemporary readers as they were to rakes and sporting men.

Rascalities and Notorieties: Salacious and Satirical Illustrations in the Flash Press of the Nineteenth Century


The Value of Digitized Newspaper Collections in Researching Neglected Women’s Writing: Two Newly Recovered Works by Ella Rhoads Higginson, First Poet Laureate of Washington State

In recent years, my scholarly efforts have been devoted to the recovery of Ella Rhoads Higginson (1862?-1940), the first prominent literary author from the U.S. Pacific Northwest and the first Poet Laureate of Washington State. Internationally celebrated for her writing, Higginson put the Pacific Northwest on the literary map. People across the nation and around the world were first introduced to the Pacific Northwest and the people who lived there when they read Higginson’s award-winning poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Higginson’s descriptions of the majestic mountains, vast forests, and scenic waters of the Puget Sound presented the then-remote, unfamiliar Pacific Northwest to eager readers. However, by the time she died in 1940, both she and her captivating work were almost completely forgotten.

 

The Value of Digitized Newspaper Collections in Researching Neglected Women’s Writing: Two Newly Recovered Works by Ella Rhoads Higginson, First Poet Laureate of Washington State


Thomas Hamblin’s House of Blood and Thunder: The Transformation of New York’s Bowery Theatre in the Early 19th Century

Thomas Hamblin (1800-1853) was arguably the most influential—and contradictory—figure in antebellum U.S. theater. An English actor and manager, he became synonymous with American working-class nativist culture. He transformed New York City’s Bowery Theatre from a failed venue for refined drama to what became known as “The House of Blood and Thunder.” Hamblin excelled at producing successful melodramas, tragedies, and farces that appealed to the city’s working classes while not alienating the elite. Despite being repeatedly mired in scandals of adultery, divorce, as well as rumors of murder, Hamblin remained an influential figure. As a man who literally traded blows with his critics, Hamblin remains a fascinating, if overlooked figure, in nineteenth-century American culture.

 

Hamblin came to the United States in 1825, launching his American career as Hamlet at the respectable Park Theatre. Although he became known as a fine Shakespearean actor, Hamblin stepped into management in 1830 when he took the reins of the re-opened Bowery Theatre, a house that would go on to revolutionize New York theater. A letter to the editor during his opening tour in New York shows a confident and proud, if arrogant, approach to dealing with the public that would remain a hallmark of his career.

Thomas Hamblin’s House of Blood and Thunder: The Transformation of New York’s Bowery Theatre in the Early 19th Century


The Lost Prince of American Bohemians: The Strange Life and Mysterious Death of Ralph Keeler, Literary Vagabond

Ralph Keeler is the most extraordinary American that you’ve never heard of—a performer, traveler and writer who blazed a trail through the heart of literary scene on both sides of the continent in the decade after the Civil War. His astonishing adventures—and, particularly, his equally enigmatic end—can be traced through the pages of America’s Historical Newspapers.

 

A potted biography can hardly do justice to the vicissitudes of Keeler’s short life: as a runaway child, Keeler became part of a minstrel troupe that travelled around the country, including a stint along the Mississippi River in a showboat. Leaving that life behind to pursue an education, he made his way to Europe where he enrolled as a student at Heidelberg University. Returning to America after the Civil War, he gravitated to San Francisco—at that moment, the capital of Bohemian life in the newly reunited nation. It was an apt choice: Keeler’s flamboyant personal style soon captured the attention of the city’s literati, and he became friends with writers like Mark Twain, Bret Harte and Charles Warren Stoddard. At first he worked as a teacher: notice of his address to the “The State Teachers’ Institute,” in his role as “Principal of the Foreign Evening School,” appeared in the Weekly Alta-California, the city’s leading newspaper, in May 1867.

The Lost Prince of American Bohemians: The Strange Life and Mysterious Death of Ralph Keeler, Literary Vagabond


Unlearning from Uncle Tom's Cabin in Black Literary Studies After Ferguson: Perspectives from a Graduate Seminar Utilizing Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

 

Most important, Stowe’s text allows whites to talk to other whites about the personal and national issues surrounding the slave [and current] black experience and establishes the character types usually associated with African Americans.

Sophia Contave, “Who Gets to Create the Lasting Images?”

 

During the very first session of my Spring 2015 graduate seminar on “Revising Uncle Tom's Cabin: 19th-Century African American Novelists Respond,” I asked the students enrolled to begin generating ideas for the collaboratively authored papers they would later publish in The Readex Report. To stimulate use of the online resource Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia, I assigned a focused timeline project. Because my seminar first met on Thursday, January 22, 2015, the course objectives included: “[To] Help students learn to situate themselves in the academy as raced sociopolitical beings.” To this goal, I added two online resources, Race—The Power of an Illusion and 12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson. If I were to generate now a timeline pinpointing political and cultural events surrounding the months during which my seminar students generated very different timelines, my own would include:

Unlearning from Uncle Tom's Cabin in Black Literary Studies After Ferguson: Perspectives from a Graduate Seminar Utilizing Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922


Antebellum Christian Tracts and the “Africanist Presence”: A Lesson Plan for African American Literature Courses

 

Introduction: “Christians, attend, while I relate…” [1]

Legh Richmond’s The African Widow, a pamphlet circulated by the Christian-based American Tract Society in 1827, unwittingly displays a poignant example of the role Christianity has played in the creation and continuation of stereotypes of African Americans. The stereotypes invoked in the readable didactic poetry of The African Widow depict what Toni Morrison has named the “Africanist presence.”[2] While white supremacists and other proponents of slavery used Christianity to dehumanize and subjugate black people, antebellum abolitionists ironically also exploited Christian networks as venues for their own sociopolitical agendas.

Antebellum Christian Tracts and the “Africanist Presence”: A Lesson Plan for African American Literature Courses


Advocating Activisms: Teaching Interracial Political Activist Models in Contemporary College Classrooms

Black and White women during the U.S. antebellum period participated in abolitionist and social activist work through a variety of organizational outlets. One of those outlets was the 1837 interracial Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, documents of which—Proceedings of the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women (1837) and An Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States Issued by an Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women (1837)—appear in Readex’s online collection Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia.  Understanding how women from racially diverse backgrounds worked together toward social change in the U.S. could serve today as an illuminating example for students concerned with racial discord and interracial relations in our nation, both then and now.  Afro-Americana Imprints gives us the opportunity to look back at these particular documents and analyze them for useful activist strategies for working toward progressive social change—negotiation of interracial relations, strategies of self-representation, representations of others—but also for missteps, including cultural miscommunications. These two documents, among the thousands available in this online collection, can help us strengthen ways we engage in meaningful and effective interracial work. Moreover, they can enrich our opportunities to enact significant changes to our contemporary activism(s).

Advocating Activisms: Teaching Interracial Political Activist Models in Contemporary College Classrooms


African American Education and Postbellum Ambivalence: A Look at the Relationship between the Presbyterian Church and Lincoln University

 

As for intellect, all I can say is, if a woman have a pint and a man a quart—why cant she have her little pint full? You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much,—for we cant take more than our pint'll hold.

— Attributed to Sojourner Truth (June 21, 1851)[1]

African American Education and Postbellum Ambivalence: A Look at the Relationship between the Presbyterian Church and Lincoln University


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