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

Warren-cover-300px.jpg

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


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.

0-Wicked-Victorian-Boston-Cover.jpg

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


The Role of Women in Early American Presidential Campaigns: Using Newspapers to Explore the Informal Politics of the Jacksonian Era

Jacksonian-era newspapers provide an opportunity to examine not only traditional politics, such as candidates’ perspectives on issues and party platforms, but also the more informal politics of the period. One such example of cultural politics, as these informal expressions are known, is women’s inclusion in presidential campaigns. While some scholars, such as Norma Basch, Elizabeth Varon, and Kirsten Wood, have looked extensively at women’s presence and involvement in the 1828 and the 1840 presidential elections, recently digitized newspapers offer fresh opportunities to explore this topic in those contests as well as less studied campaigns of the 1830s.

The Role of Women in Early American Presidential Campaigns: Using Newspapers to Explore the Informal Politics of the Jacksonian Era


Envisaging Freedom on the Eve of Emancipation: The British Caribbean, 1833-1834

When the British colonial secretary Edward Stanley in May 1833 introduced the resolution for emancipation in Parliament, he referred to it as a “mighty experiment.” A year later on August 1, 1834, as 800,000 slaves were freed throughout parts of the British Empire, most of them in the Caribbean, emancipation remained, to its supporters and detractors alike, unchartered territory. There had been modest and smaller trials of freedom before. But the only large-scale shift from chattel slavery had been on the island of Saint-Domingue some thirty years prior, when the enslaved there rose up in insurrection, dispatched their French masters in a bloody and arduous thirteen-year struggle, and proclaimed their new black republic Haiti.

 

 

Envisaging Freedom on the Eve of Emancipation: The British Caribbean, 1833-1834


Antebellum America’s Galvanizing Issue: The Tariff

For the past 50 years few Americans discussed tariffs. That has changed in the past two years. During his presidential campaign of 2016, Donald Trump hinted that he would impose tariffs in order to revitalize manufacturing in the United States. From the stump, Trump assailed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other trade agreements. While economists recoiled over these pronouncements because of the harm they might cause domestic markets, they forgot that trade restrictions serve a political purpose as well. Trump’s call to impose restrictions on foreign goods entering the United States benefitted him in the Rust Belt states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Trump’s pledge to support American manufacturing through new tariffs no doubt contributed to his upset victory in the industrial Midwest. His actions also reinforce the point that tariffs can influence domestic politics.

Antebellum America’s Galvanizing Issue: The Tariff


Black Freethought from Slavery to Civil Rights: Atheism and Agnosticism in African American Cultural and Intellectual Life

In his second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, Frederick Douglass asserted that throughout his life his religious views “pass[ed] over the whole scale and circle of belief and unbelief, from faith in the overruling Providence of God, to the blackest atheism.”[1] The point at which he was most skeptical and irreligious was during slavery but Douglass remained a non-traditional religious figure until his death in 1895. After the Civil War, for example, Douglass attributed the freedom of slaves to the work of men and women rather than the will of God and opposed the efforts of black ministers to use the Bible in public schools. He also embraced white freethinkers such as Robert Ingersoll and participated to a small extent in the late-nineteenth century freethought movement.

 

 

 

Black Freethought from Slavery to Civil Rights: Atheism and Agnosticism in African American Cultural and Intellectual Life


Fields of Fire and Frost: The Battle of Chickamauga and Weather in Early American Newspapers

On September 17, 1863, two armies shifted into position along northwest Georgia’s Chickamauga Creek.  Since late June, Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans’ Union Army of the Cumberland had shoved Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee to the southeast.  Weather conditions for men in the field had been hot and dry enough to stir up stifling clouds of dust.  But that night, as soldiers steeled themselves for impending combat, the weather suddenly turned cold.  A howling north wind blew through the dark creek bottoms and over rolling wooded hills like a bloodthirsty banshee.  Having thrown away their blankets in the summer heat, many soldiers on both sides shivered and huddled for warmth.  Temperatures collapsed over thirty degrees into the forties, not counting wind chill. The next day was gray and cold.  At the closest outpost of the Smithsonian Institution’s national weather observation program, afternoon highs had plummeted 24 degrees, from 80 degrees on September 17 to only 54 degrees the next day.  That night, the mercury again fell into the forties.[1] The vicious two-day battle that followed took place on frosty morning ground under a cold, clear sky. At night, stars twinkled and water froze in canteens.  In defiance of orders, many soldiers built fires to keep wounded comrades from freezing to death.

 

Fields of Fire and Frost: The Battle of Chickamauga and Weather in Early American Newspapers


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


Speaking Out in Thunder Tones: Black Chosenness and “Our Government” in the Earliest African American Newspapers

In the fall of 1836, a fastidiously well-dressed New Yorker was elected President of the United States. One year later, the country was in the midst of a devastating economic depression, the forced removal of Native Americans from the southeastern states was in full swing, and the regime of slavery seemed more secure than ever.

On November 4, 1837, the Colored American, a black newspaper based in New York City, weighed in on the political state of the country. In a letter titled “Our Government,” the paper’s white printer Robert Sears took a dim view of the present and future state of the nation. “It requires but a very superficial acquaintance with the state of ‘men and parties’ in this country,” lamented Sears, “to convince the most unbelieving, that PATRIOTISM among us at the present day, is but an empty name, and that the days of our Republic are numbered.” Lambasting the moral character of the men ostensibly governing the country, Sears wrote that “Swindlers and drunkards are appointed to office” and “Licentiousness exists to a most alarming extent among our men in power.” “Extravagance and speculation seem to be the order of the day,” he continued, “and MONEY—not intellectual and moral worth—is the true standard of character and respectability among us!” Acting as a “sentinel on the walls seeing the enemy approaching,” the Colored American used Sears’s letter to “sound the alarm” and warn its readers, “Our Nation is corrupt to the very core.”

Speaking Out in Thunder Tones: Black Chosenness and “Our Government” in the Earliest African American Newspapers


Pages

Welcome to The Readex Report

This online publication explores diverse aspects of digital historical collections and provides insight into web-based resources, including the Archive of Americana and Archive of International Studies.

Stay in Touch

Sign up to receive product news, special offers and invitations.

Recent Issues


Back to top