Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


Commemorating W.E.B. Du Bois and "The Crisis": Reflections on Religion and American History

Introduction 

Historical anniversaries provide occasion to remember, to reflect, and to create meaning. The controversy surrounding the 1994 Enola Gay exhibit and the memory of World War II offers a case in point. Current debates about September 11 memorials, museums, and mosques in New York City serve as others. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) celebrated its centennial in 2009, only months after America’s first black president Barack Obama was sworn in. The NAACP’s official magazine, The Crisis, turned 100 in November 2010 and thus provides an occasion to remember and to reflect.1

Still in print, The Crisis represents the struggle, the ingenuity, and the fruit of its founder W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963). Du Bois spent nearly twenty-five of his ninety-five years as its editor (1910-1934). Throughout his autobiographical writings Du Bois proudly reflected on this achievement. In Dusk of Dawn (1940), for example, Du Bois maintained that through the work of the NAACP and The Crisis he could “place consistently and continuously before the country a clear-cut statement of the legitimate aims of the American Negro and the facts concerning his condition.” In his 1968 Autobiography, published posthumously, Du Bois remembered that “With The Crisis, I essayed a new role of interpreting to the world the hindrances and aspirations of American Negroes.” 2

Commemorating W.E.B. Du Bois and "The Crisis": Reflections on Religion and American History


Making Books Out of Ether: The Next Generation of Historical Research

The Constitution crackled as it burned, fifty of its avowed enemies looking on with gleeful eyes, the sweet stench of freshly fired muskets filling their nostrils. People love to burn that which they hate. Flames regularly consume effigies, flags, draft cards, braziers, and despised decrees. As a corollary, people hate to see that which they love go up in flames. Americans alive in the tumultuous 1780s were no exception. So there would be hell to pay for those who dared to set a copy of America's proposed frame of government aflame.
—Draft, "Birth of a Capital Market: The Life and Death of the First U.S. National Debt, 1776-1836"

Librarians, archivists, books, bibliographies and microfilm machines have long been the research historian's best friends, but there is a new name on the A-list—the digital collection. And what a friend! The digital collection does not compete with the historian's older buddies but rather complements them, bringing out their best qualities. The resulting party promises to be the highlight of the season and could summon forth a new, more consilient generation of historical research.

Making Books Out of Ether: The Next Generation of Historical Research


From Mascot to Militant: The Many Campaigns of Seba Smith's "Major Jack Downing"

Readers of the Washington, D.C. newspaper The Daily National Intelligencer witnessed a strange and disturbing transformation in 1847, when the nation’s most popular literary character freely admitted that he had become a greedy, cynical killer. Soon enough this beloved American hero, whose name was synonymous with Yankee Doodle, would threaten to stage a military coup to seize the Capitol and overthrow Congress! Readers of the Early American Newspapers archive can follow along, gleaning important hints to decoding contemporary political rhetoric.


Major Jack Downing.
(Portrait credit: Library of Congress Prints
and Photographs Division)

The Intelligencer, formerly a nonpartisan legislative record, became the flagship of the Whig Party when it split from Andrew Jackson’s Democrats in the early 1830s. But it was during the second year of the war between the United States and Mexico that the newspaper would green-light one of the most audacious political satires in U.S. history. If you imagine a sequel to Forrest Gump in which the benign protagonist masterminds the torture of the Abu Ghraib detainees, you might gather some sense of the controversy produced by the corruption of Seba Smith’s iconic everyman, Major Jack Downing.


Seba Smith (1792-1868).
American humorist and writer.

From Mascot to Militant: The Many Campaigns of Seba Smith's "Major Jack Downing"


Play Matters: The Academic Librarian's Role in Fostering Historical Thinking

History is a field of study filled with bias, ambiguity and complexity. Analyzing historical documents and other artifacts is the historian's primary occupation. For students of history and related fields, working with primary materials is recognized as an important way to develop critical thinking skills, in general, and historical thinking skills, in particular. This is serious stuff. Or is it?

During a discussion on library instruction and outreach for digital primary collections at the Readex ETC Workshop and Symposium in April 2005, I asked my colleagues and fellow participants to ponder the following "what ifs":

• What if we exposed students to primary resources without requiring them to navigate the library's Website or learn the intricacies of searching a highly structured database?
• What if we provided easy access to the secondary literature associated with the primary source materials they're using?
• What if we modeled how we found the sources through step-by-step Web guides for those curious to learn more?

I even suggested that we help faculty build digital sandboxes in the backyards of their course pages. These sandboxes would be filled with an array of engaging primary materials and tools that would enable students to explore, to discover, to play. My playful argument was based on a growing body of research that indicates that students need the opportunity to connect with primary sources on a cognitive and emotional level in order to assess their meaning and put them into historical context (Bass, 2003; Bass & Rosenzweig, 1999; Perkins, 2003; Tally, 2005; Wilson & Wineberg, 2001; Wineburg, 1991, 2000, 2001).

A year has passed since I attempted to make the case for digital sandboxes, and a couple of things have convinced me it deserves more serious consideration.

Play Matters: The Academic Librarian's Role in Fostering Historical Thinking


Promoting Silkworms: Using Electronic Texts and Digital Images for a Historical Exhibition

The discovery of news articles published in the 1830s about a 139-acre silk farm in Framingham, Massachusetts—along with a stunning 19th-century image of bombyx mori, the silkworm, at several phases of its life cycle—opened the door to our first use of digital archives in a museum exhibit.

Staff and volunteers at the Framingham Historical Society and Museum were in process of organizing The Fabric of Framingham, an exhibition that weaves together the warp of the town's textile traditions with the weft of its vibrant social fabric. An important goal for the exhibition was to introduce visitors to primary source materials as historical context for the textiles and costumes from our collection.


Background image: Silk-worms. Letter from James Mease transmitting
a treatise on the rearing of silk-worms, by Mr. De Hazzi, of Munich. With plates, &c. &c.
February 2, 1828. Read, and referred to the Committee on Agriculture. Serial Set Vol. No. 172.

We gathered materials on Framingham's first industry, the manufacture of straw bonnets, and on the town's longest-lasting industry, wool and wool products. We traced the histories of cotton, linen, rubberized fabrics, ready-made clothing and even a short-lived attempt at making silk. The Historical Society's research team searched the digital Early American Newspapers collection and downloaded articles and advertisements related to these industries in Framingham.

Promoting Silkworms: Using Electronic Texts and Digital Images for a Historical Exhibition


Resolving a Stolen Past: The General Allotment Act, Individual Indian Money Accounts, and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

In December 2009 and at the end of a thirteen-year journey through three administrations and an array of proceedings against four Secretaries of the Interior, a Class Action Settlement Agreement was reached in Cobell v. Salazar before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. This accord recommends a two-part resolution to claims of alleged federal mismanagement of American Indian tribal funds and other assets, resulting from the government’s failure to meet its fiduciary responsibilities as specified by the General Allotment Act of 1887. These paths consist of a payment to individual tribe members to address monetary claims, and of a land program to consolidate more than 140,000 individual Indian allotments and over four million fractionated interests derived from the land distribution process of the Act and subsequent legislation. The Department of the Interior’s summary of this decision included a pertinent 40-acre allotment example. This example was originally described in Hodel v. Irving (481 U.S. 704, 713 [1987]) as “one of the most fractionated parcels of land in the world,” a parcel that produced roughly $1,100 of annual income for its 439 unequal owners. 1 Such fragmentation is systemic and has been censured in studies such as the 1928 Meriam Report.


Elouise Cobell filed her class action suit in 1996 and originally thought it would take only three years to resolve the issues. She joined Secretary Salazar and Attorney General Holder in making the announcement.
(Photo credit: Tami A. Heilemann-DOI)

Resolving a Stolen Past: The General Allotment Act, Individual Indian Money Accounts, and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set


Writing the David Ruggles Biography: Newspapers Help Complete the Portrait of a Radical Black Abolitionist

David Ruggles (1810-1849) was a brilliant, intrepid, multi-talented soul who devoted his time and health to “practical abolitionism.” This term, Ruggles argued, meant that abolitionists should not just philosophize about the day when slavery would end, but strive to help the everyday victims of human bondage.

In Ruggles’ home city of New York, such assistance included blocking kidnappers who stole young black children from the streets under the pretense that they were fugitive slaves. It meant providing succor for self-emancipated slaves. Frederick Douglass arrived in New York on September 3, 1838, penniless, lonely, and frightened. He spent a night sleeping among the barrels on the docks of the harbor. A kind sailor took him to Ruggles’ house where he learned about anti-slavery activities, was married to his fiancé, and then was sent off to New Bedford, Massachusetts, armed with a five-dollar bill and a letter of recommendation.

Writing the David Ruggles Biography: Newspapers Help Complete the Portrait of a Radical Black Abolitionist


Chocolate: A Readex Sampler

Between the years 1998-2008 my large research team had the good fortune to be funded by a generous grant from Mars, Incorporated, to investigate the culinary, medicinal, and social history of chocolate (1). Our initial research focused on chocolate-related information from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and the transfer of medical-related uses of chocolate into Western Europe. Between the years 2004-2008 our research shifted to the introduction, distribution, and social uses of chocolate within North America. To this end we paid special attention to cacao/chocolate-related aspects of agronomy, anthropology, archaeology and art history, culinary arts, diet and nutrition, economics, ethnic and gender studies, geography, history, legal and medical issues, and social uses.

Our research team drew extensively on Colonial Era and Federal Era documents available through Early American Newspapers, especially chocolate/cacao-related advertisements, articles, price currents, obituaries, and shipping news documents. As a scholar who formerly spent months using microfilm documents—winding and re-winding reels searching for specific documents on specific dates—I report here that the new technologies available through Readex have made my work and that of my students a hundred times easier. Now, with a click of our computer “mice,” team members can retrieve thousands of documents that previously would have taken weeks to amass.

Presented here are examples that provide a brief “taste” of these chocolate-related documents.

Chocolate: A Readex Sampler


A Light on Past Lives: The Illuminating Effects of Electronic Resources on Biographical Research

The most revolutionary change in biography writing is the advent of digitized newspapers. Unlike microfilm, which simply reproduced newspapers on film, these new electronic records provide what we biographers and historians have long dreamed for—a means of finding a needle in the haystack.

Let me explain. For years folks like me have been using the great newspaper collections in our nation’s libraries, archives, and other repositories. The contemporaneous accounts are like gold. But as with the pursuit of this precious metal, we have not been able to mine all of it. In fact, using our previously inadequate research tools, many of the best veins have remained untapped.

Essentially our choice was to read every page of a newspaper’s run or use dates to guide our research. So, for instance, if I wanted to discover what was said about a particular artist, I might have looked at issues of a newspaper published around the opening date of an exhibit. But if an art critic wrote a review several weeks later, the likelihood was that I would miss it.

A Light on Past Lives: The Illuminating Effects of Electronic Resources on Biographical Research


Conducting Biographical Research in Government Publications, Part II: John C. Frémont and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

To read Part I of this article in the Spring 2006 issue of The Readex Report, click here.

What finally made John Frémont's career was the second western expedition. This time the Army ordered him to map the wagon route all the way to Oregon. Having had some trouble with Indians on the 1842 trip, Frémont decided to requisition not just an assortment of guns and ammunition, but also a cannon—a brass 12-pounder mountain howitzer (S.Doc. 14, 28-1).

Leaving in May, 1843, from what is now Kansas City, Frémont's main party followed the emigrant route through Nebraska and Wyoming. Frémont and a few companions soon split off to travel a more southerly route, taking them near modern Denver and allowing them to explore the northern edges of the Great Salt Lake before reuniting with the expedition. His published report's glowing description of the region around what is now Salt Lake City would be largely responsible for Brigham Young's decision to move his people there.

When Frémont reached Oregon in November, 1843, he decided not to return as instructed along his outward route. Instead, he decided to explore southward along the eastern edge of the Cascades and search for the legendary River Bonaventura, which some believed flowed westward through the Sierras to the Pacific. If it existed, which most doubted, emigrants would have an easy passage through the mountains to California.

Conducting Biographical Research in Government Publications, Part II: John C. Frémont and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set


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