Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


Indexing Congressional Publications: The Grasshopper's View

Representative Alexander Hamilton Stephens, 1812-1883, and U.S. Senate Librarian, Alonzo Webster Church, 1829-1909, though on different sides of the aisle and separated by almost two decades in age, had at least one thing in common besides being Southerners, Georgia natives, and graduates of the University of Georgia: a deeply held concern about the indexing of and access to U.S. Congressional publications.

In the Jan. 19, 1880 report "Indexing the Publications of Congress" (H.Rpt. 128, 46th Congress, 2nd Session), Stephens noted that his recent reports from the Committee on Rules have "had the effect of calling the attention of members to the real nature and importance of index-making…and developed an appreciation of the fact that the want of a proper system of indexing has detracted very greatly from their value and use." He then went on to say "the application of a uniform system of indexing, based on well-established principles, would enable the compilation of general indexes at stated periods hereafter a matter of very little trouble and expense."

Stephens also focused on the practices, current at that time, of indexing the Congressional Record, which were making access to the Record far from easy. He quoted one index entry which begins "That the rules of the Last House of Representatives shall be the rules of this House until otherwise ordered, with the following amendments thereto; namely: Rule 76 shall be amended so as to read as follows…" and then the entry goes on for another 660 words making a total entry of 690 words. From that exaggerated case Stephens drew the conclusion: "Measured by the standard of Sir Henry Thring, that 'an index is perfect in proportion as it is concise in expression,' we doubt if a more extreme example of what an index entry should not be can be found in the history of index-making since the art of printing has been practiced."

Indexing Congressional Publications: The Grasshopper's View


100 Years Ago in Baseball: Dead Balls, Spitters and No-Hitters

For baseball fans, 1908 is a year to remember. That September, in a pennant race that has not been replicated since, four teams in the American League were separated by a only few percentage points. For three teams in the National League, the race to the World Series was even closer.

Click here to see full pdf documentThe season came down to the very last weekend. In the American League, Detroit barely held off Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox to clinch the pennant by the smallest margin of victory in baseball history—.004 percentage points. In the National League, a miscue of mythical proportions helped decide the pennant: in a game between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Giants, Giant rookie Fred Merkle failed to tag second and nullified his team's winning run. A season-ending playoff game ensued, and—anomaly of all 20th-century anomalies—the Cubs took the game from the Giants and proceeded to go on to beat Detroit and win the World Series for the second straight year.

100 Years Ago in Baseball: Dead Balls, Spitters and No-Hitters


Following the Trail of a Deep South Massacre

Recent access to new scholarly databases has enabled me to pursue an unfinished story I had encountered during my research about the Colfax Massacre of 1873, a racial conflict arising from the Reconstruction-era politics of Louisiana. In particular, I hoped to learn more about a curious document I had turned up in the course of my inquiry into the life of William Smith Calhoun, a Radical Republican scalawag and planter whose tremendous family estate included the town of Colfax, where Republican blacks met disaster in battle with a White League or Ku Klux armed force.

Calhoun had played a key role in an 1869 challenge to the outcome of the previous national election, in which one of his neighbors, Michael Ryan, had been seated with the Democratic Party minority in the House of Representatives. I learned as much the old-fashioned way, at the New York Public Library, in a bound volume of nineteenth-century pamphlets that included a privately printed compendium of Michael Ryan's brief to the House of Representatives. Reading cautiously but still stirring a cloud of debris from its pages, I gleaned mostly biographical details and marveled that the otherwise obscure Calhoun had offered linchpin testimony that resulted in Ryan's removal as the Representative of the 4th Louisiana Congressional District.

Following the Trail of a Deep South Massacre


Creating the Fourth Branch of Government: The Role of the Press in Pennsylvania's Constitutional Debates

The views expressed in this article are the author's and not necessarily those of the Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State, or the United States Government.

When the meeting of the Pennsylvania State Assembly received the Federal Constitution in September 1787, the idyllic excitement that had emanated from the Federal Convention shattered. The leaders of Pennsylvania—the first state to witness a large and heated public deliberation over the Federal proposal—quickly turned to the press to gain public support. Historians have typically acknowledged Pennsylvania as a leader in the ratification debates, setting the blueprint for state campaigns to come. Historian George Graham summarized the dominant historiographical argument when he wrote, "In practical terms, Pennsylvania was the heart of the new nation both socially and economically. In symbolic terms, it was its political center. During the ratification process, this symbolic status proved to be in many ways the most significant."1 While correct in identifying the state's leadership role, Pennsylvania's most significant contribution came through its use of the press.

Pennsylvanians had long argued over many of the issues addressed in the Constitution, including representation, taxation and others. However, by its very nature, the Constitution raised the stakes of t hese debates and further polarized the citizenry. Each faction then relied upon the press to spread and court public support. George Washington confirmed the influence of the press when he commented to an associate that "[ratification] will depend … on literary abilities and the recommendation of it by good pens."2 Pennsylvania's ratification debates reveal the transformation of early American political life from one primarily dictated by personal reputation and influence to one controlled by print.

Creating the Fourth Branch of Government: The Role of the Press in Pennsylvania's Constitutional Debates


"A Dastardly Outrage": Kate Brown and the Washington-Alexandria Railroad Case

As a Senate employee "in charge of the ladies' retiring room," Kate Brown worked hard, washing towels and laundering curtains. More than one senator commented on her "lady-like character" and described her as "an educated, intelligent, respectable, and to all appearance refined woman." Although not known as a rebel or a troublemaker, on a chilly afternoon in February 1868 Kate Brown rebelled and stirred up a legal storm that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

It was nearly 3:00 p.m. on February 8, 1868, when Kate Brown pulled out her return ticket and stepped aboard a train to take her from Alexandria, Virginia, where she had been visiting a sick relative, back home to Washington, D.C. With her foot still on the step, Brown was accosted by the rail line's private police officer, who called from the platform that she must take the other car. "This car will do," the 28 year-old Brown replied quietly and stepped inside the train. At that point, as Brown later told a Senate committee investigating the incident, "the policeman ran up and told me I could not ride in that car... he said that car was for ladies." Of course, Kate Brown was a lady, but she was also African American.

"A Dastardly Outrage": Kate Brown and the Washington-Alexandria Railroad Case


American Mystery Meat: Unriddling the Mince Pie

I first became attuned to the historical enigma of mince pie in the mid-1990s while doing research for my book American Babel: Rogue Radio Broadcasters of the Jazz Age (University of Pennsylvania Press: 2005), a study of forgotten independent (i.e. non-corporate) radio stations of the 1920s and early '30s. This was way back in pre-digital times, and I was spending countless hours at the helm of a microfilm reader, blindly trolling through the period press for references to my subjects. My progress would have been slow even if my magpie brain hadn't been continually distracted by newspaper stories and memes unrelated to my task.

Chief among said distractions were references to mince pie. These I found everywhere, and always in contexts that baffled me. I still have photocopies of two exemplary items. One is a 1924 cartoon entitled “Movie of a Man and a Hot Mince Pie,” which depicts a middle-class diner in a pince-nez happily tucking into a steaming slice of mince, then going into convulsions and being whisked away in an ambulance.

The other is a 1925 profile of a doughty centenarian bearing the headline “At 107 She Is Fond of Hot Mince Pie”

American Mystery Meat: Unriddling the Mince Pie


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