Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.

Rivers Run Through It: The U.S. Congressional Serial Set and Its Maps

Throughout our past, rivers have expanded commercial and manufacturing opportunities, influenced settlement patterns and acted as boundaries—effectively shaping the history, politics and geography of nations across the globe.

The U.S. Congressional Serial Set illustrates the important role of rivers through its collection of more than 50,000 maps, many in full color. In addition to its vast number of U.S. maps, the Serial Set includes maps from locales as widely scattered as Asia, South America and the Yukon Territory.

It seems all rivers have a story to tell. Here are several, as told from the pages of the Serial Set.

Colorado River

The Colorado River is formed by the junction of the Grand and the Green Rivers. The Grand River (officially renamed the Colorado in 1921) has its source in Grand Lake in the Colorado Rocky Mountains; while the Green's source is located near Fremont Peak in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. These two great rivers join in Canyonlands National Park in Utah and flow south before emptying into the Gulf of California.

Including the Green, the whole length of the Colorado River is about 2,000 miles. Its watershed is the size of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri combined. There are two distinct portions of the basin of the Colorado. The upper two-thirds of the basin run through gorges at the four to eight thousand foot level, flowing through mountains that are eight to fourteen thousand feet above sea level. Winter comes early and snow falls to great depths at this level. When the summer sun shines, this snow melts and water cascades down mountain sides, swelling the river into great torrents.

Rivers Run Through It: The U.S. Congressional Serial Set and Its Maps

Using the Archive of Americana at China's Finest University

It was through my early American history classes at Colgate University that first I discovered the joys of using the Archive of Americana as a teaching tool. In those classes, I compelled my students to make use of this valuable resource by establishing citation levels for each grade. For my advanced undergraduate classes on early American and New York City history, I advised students that they needed 30 citations from America's Historical Newspapers and related collections; 50 citations qualified students for the B level; those who could cite 80 different sources could aspire to an A. Note that they could "qualify." The papers still had to include solid writing, vigorous analysis and a cogent thesis. Despite some grumbling, the Colgate students submitted to the protocol and a few earned an A in the seminar.

Then, I got the opportunity to teach as a Distinguished Fulbright Professor at Peking University (Beida) in Beijing. I was determined to introduce my Chinese students to the Archive of Americana as well. While I did not expect that Peking students had the time, skills or inclination to make such extensive research in English-language sources, I did hope that we could master some research techniques and that they might uncover evocative historical moments. But as often happens when teaching abroad, my plans met with a number of difficulties.

Using the Archive of Americana at China's Finest University

Around the World in 80 Documents: 19th-Century Publications on Europe, Africa and Asia in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

Not only are American government documents not just about American government, they aren't just about America. Asked to highlight the U.S. Congressional Serial Set's richness for exploring the wider 19th-century world, I immediately thought of the fictional Phileas Fogg and his 1872 bet that he could travel around the globe in 80 days. I challenged myself to find remarkable and relatively contemporaneous documents on every country that Fogg visits in "Around the World in Eighty Days" (1873), Jules Verne's classic adventure novel.

Phileas Fogg, accompanied by his man servant Passepartout, departs London on October 2, 1872. Passing through France and Italy by train with little comment, Fogg leaves for the East on the steamer Mongolia from Brindisi on October 9. The steamer crosses the Mediterranean, transits the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, and deposits Fogg in Bombay on October 20. He travels across India by train and elephant. On October 24 he and his rescued Indian noblewoman depart Calcutta on the steamer Rangoon, which takes them to Hong Kong after a brief stop in Singapore. The party is briefly separated at Hong Kong. Fogg travels on to Shanghai by a rented vessel, reuniting with Passepartout in Yokohama.

From Yokohama Fogg departs for San Francisco on the Pacific Steamship Mail Co. on November 14. In New York Fogg just misses his December 11 connection with a Cunard liner and rents another vessel to carry him across the Atlantic to Ireland. From there, following some final misadventures, Fogg travels back to London. With this quick summary of Fogg's itinerary, we can now try to mimic his course with Serial Set publications.

Around the World in 80 Documents: 19th-Century Publications on Europe, Africa and Asia in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set


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