Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


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


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


Two Women Who Spied During the American Civil War: Going Undercover with Belle Boyd and Pauline Cushman in the Archive of Americana

In July 1861—just three months after the bombardment of Fort Sumter—unabashed Southern sympathizer Rose O’Neal Greenhow of Washington, D.C., was already engaged in espionage on behalf of the Confederacy.  Well-placed in Washington society—and adept at bleeding information from the many men who found her attractive—Greenhow learned that Union troops under General Irvin McDowell would attack Rebel forces in Manassas, Virginia, within days.

Rose got a message via courier to the Confederate commander, General P. G. T. Beauregard, informing him of the Union’s plans.  With this advance notice, the Confederates had time to bring up General Joseph Johnston’s troops from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to augment Beauregard’s army.  After crossing Bull Run Creek on July 21, McDowell’s men encountered thousands more enemy soldiers than expected.  By day’s end, the Confederates had routed the Union forces and sent them into a panicked retreat back toward Washington.

Rose Greenhow was justifiably proud of her intelligence effort, which contributed to a stunning Rebel victory in the first major battle of the war.  But this triumph all but guaranteed a long and bloody struggle ahead.  A decisive Union victory at Bull Run, followed by a push toward Richmond, the Confederate capital, might have brought the war to a quick end, thus sparing hundreds of thousands from death and disfigurement.

Two Women Who Spied During the American Civil War: Going Undercover with Belle Boyd and Pauline Cushman in the Archive of Americana


Gas! Gas! Gas! Anesthesia History in Early American Newspapers, Pamphlets and Broadsides

In the past newspapers, pamphlets and broadsides have been underused sources for research in medical history. Digital access has made these materials much easier to find and use. This piece examines three significant documents and explains their value to the history of anesthesia: an 1800 newspaper article found in Early American Newspapers, 1690-1922, Series 1-14, and an 1860 pamphlet found in American Pamphlets, 1820-1922: From the New-York Historical Society. The third item is a broadside from the Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia.

On September 9, 1800, a most remarkable letter appeared in The Telegraphe and Daily Advertiser published in Baltimore, Maryland. [Fig. 1] Written on August 27, the letter originated from “Prison, Philadelphia” and is signed by Thomas Cooper [Fig. 2]. His long piece of correspondence is one of the earliest notices in America of the gas research by Dr. Thomas Beddoes and Humphry Davy in England.

Gas! Gas! Gas! Anesthesia History in Early American Newspapers, Pamphlets and Broadsides


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


Reading between the Lines: Exploring Postbellum Plantation Memoirists through Digitized Newspaper Collections

Late nineteenth and early twentieth-century plantation memoirs and reminiscences are an important, though often overlooked, genus of Lost Cause apologia. Printed by some of the nation’s leading publishing houses, these narrative sources tend to foreground a conspicuous nostalgia for the plantation-era South, adopting literary strategies that connect with discourses of paternalism and carefully fashioned vignettes on close affinities, real or imagined, between master and slave.

Despite a recent plethora of books on the southern autobiographical impulse, critical assessment of plantation memoirs and reminiscences has not been forthcoming to date. This is unfortunate, not least because the potential scope of such analysis affords an excellent opportunity to reveal the ways in which white elites used a lifetime’s memories to underpin southern regional identity and history in the years following the Civil War and Reconstruction. This absence of scholarly attention may indicate the unfashionable status of a cluster of authors who, writing many years after the events they describe, privilege fond memories of plantation life and lifestyle. Much ink was spilled in an effort to capture everyday relationships and social interactions between ruling landowners and their dependents that from today’s vantage point can appear overblown, obtuse or outdated.

Reading between the Lines: Exploring Postbellum Plantation Memoirists through Digitized Newspaper Collections


Benjamin Franklin’s “The Way to Wealth”: Documenting Its Dissemination through Bibliographical Work

Some phrases have become common expressions because the works in which they appear were printed repeatedly in diverse publications. That is the only way they could have entered into such widespread popular usage. Such a phrase is “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and in a splendid bibliography Stephen M. Matyas, Jr., has traced its dissemination up through 1825.[i]

“Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”; “Lost time is never found again”; “No gain, without pain”—these are other phrases that are part of our language, still seen by parents and grandparents as common-sense words of wisdom, maxims worthy of being instilled in the younger generation.

Benjamin Franklin’s “The Way to Wealth”: Documenting Its Dissemination through Bibliographical Work


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