Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


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 Analyzing historical documents and other artifacts is the historian's primary occupation.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


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


Chinese Exclusion Acts: A Brief History of United States Legislation Aimed at Chinese Immigrants

Chinese immigrants first arrived in the United States in large numbers after the discovery of gold in California in 1849. Initially coming to work as miners, many took farming and manufacturing jobs when the Gold Rush died down.

Another surge of Chinese immigration took place in the 1860s, when construction of the Transcontinental Railroad demanded a large number of reliable workers. Because Chinese laborers were willing to work for lower wages, they were often preferred to other workers by the Central Pacific Railroad Company, particularly during construction of the Transcontinental Railroad's western section.

With the number of Chinese immigrants increasing, China and the United States signed a treaty on July 28, 1868 to supplement the 1858 Treaty of Tianjing. The new treaty, popularly known as the Burlingame-Seward Treaty, established several principles that aimed to ease immigration restrictions and limit American interference in China's internal affairs. The treaty stated:

The United States of America and the Emperor of China cordially recognize the inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance, and also the mutual advantage of the free migration and emigration of their citizens and subjects respectively from the one country to the other, for purposes of curiosity, of trade, or as permanent residents….

Chinese subjects visiting or residing in the United States shall enjoy the same privileges, immunities and exemptions in respect to travel or residence as may there be enjoyed by the citizens or subjects of the most favored nation….

Chinese subjects shall enjoy all the privileges of the public educational institutions under the control of the government of the United States, which are enjoyed in the respective countries by the citizens or subjects of the most favored nation. 1

Chinese Exclusion Acts: A Brief History of United States Legislation Aimed at Chinese Immigrants


Rescuing Cast Offs: The Do-It-Yourself Box Furniture of Social Worker Louise Brigham

Today's Do-It-Yourself movement is peopled with crafty types who revel in finding creative ways to reuse things instead of simply throwing the old stuff out and buying new. Evidence of this movement can be found in the popularity of ReadyMade Magazine's MacGyver Challenges; in Ikeahacker's celebration of imaginative consumers who adapt the often bland goods sold by that international chain; and in Wardrobe Refashion's encouragement to those inclined toward re-interpreting and re-thinking the value of "pre-loved" clothes.

Why do some of us go through the trouble of reusing old things instead of simply buying new? The answers vary, but common motives include environmentalism, thrift, artistic expression and a desire to find alternatives to disposable consumption. This "stewardship of objects"1 once played a much more prominent role in everyday peoples' lives, as each person mended, made do and cajoled objects into lasting as long as possible at a time when material goods were not as easily obtained as they are today. (For more on the truly fascinating history of the "stewardship of objects," read Susan Strasser's Waste and Want.) And even if today's repurposing efforts are not the result of scarcity of goods, this practice plays an important part in the story of America's material culture. One hundred years ago, Louise Brigham's box furniture played a part as well.

Rescuing Cast Offs: The Do-It-Yourself Box Furniture of Social Worker Louise Brigham


Finding Book Reviews of Classic American Literature: Search Tips for Students Using the Archive of Americana

Finding recent scholarship on 18th- and 19th-century literature poses no great challenge to the skilled researcher, who may use a variety of available tools to support such an inquiry. It can be more difficult, however, to discover contemporaneous responses to significant 18th- and 19th-century authors. One useful tool for that type of search is the digital Archive of Americana. With a bit of strategic searching, students can discover a wealth of book reviews and other responses to classic American literature within the Archive, especially in America's Historical Newspapers.

American Broadsides and Ephemera and both series of Early American Imprints all include "Book Reviews" as a genre. However, only a few items are identified as belonging to this genre—four in American Broadsides and Ephemera and one each in Series I: Evans and Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker. These varied items range from a compilation of critical responses to The Life and Labors of David Livingstone included in the Hubbard Bros.' exclamatory prospectus ("A BOOK OF MATCHLESS INTEREST! WITHOUT A PEER!! MAGNIFICENTLY ILLUSTRATED!!!")

Click to access full image

to John Quincy Adams' "rather political than literary" American Principles: A Review of Works by Fisher Ames.

Finding Book Reviews of Classic American Literature: Search Tips for Students Using the Archive of Americana


Religion and the Rise of the Second Ku Klux Klan, 1915-1922

In 1915, the second incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan was born. The second Klan, a memorial to the Reconstruction Klan and its work in the postbellum South, was to act as a restructured fraternity that supported white supremacy, the purity of white womanhood, nationalism and Protestant Christianity. William J. Simmons, a fraternalist and former minister, organized the charter for the new order and consecrated its beginning by setting afire a cross on the top of Stone Mountain, Georgia.

Simmons’s flair for the theatric (including the adoption of the fiery cross as a symbol of the Klan)—along with the order’s aggressive public relations campaign and membership boon—quickly gained the attention of local and national newspapers. Reporters commented on the Klan's platform, its stated intentions and its historical connections to the Reconstruction Klan. Some of the initial coverage, in the South especially, was favorable. The Columbus Enquirer Sun wrote, “Proof that the noble spirit that actuated the members of the famous Ku Klux Klan in the reconstruction period still lives among the sons is shown in the remarkable growth of the organization…” 1The new order seemed to have the potential to reform the region—and possibly the nation.

Religion and the Rise of the Second Ku Klux Klan, 1915-1922


Commodore Vanderbilt: Patriot or War Profiteer?

When I set out to write a biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, a man known by the informal title of "Commodore," I faced one mystery after another. Even though he was one of the richest and most powerful businessmen in American history, he conducted most of his operations in secret. He left no diary, no collection of papers, and carried out many transactions orally, without committing them to paper. But perhaps no period of his life was more bewildering than the Civil War.

Congress bequeathed a gold medal upon the Commodore for donating his largest steamship (the Vanderbilt) to the Union navy—but he did so only after leasing it to the War Department for many weeks, until the bill reached $300,000, nearly a third of what it cost to build. He refused to take any compensation when he organized a massive flotilla to transport an expedition to New Orleans led by General Nathaniel Banks—yet the press was scandalized by stories of decrepit, unseaworthy vessels that he hired for the fleet. It was said that Vanderbilt used an agent who extracted outrageous commissions from shipowners, suggesting the Commodore had received some of the gains as well.

Was Vanderbilt a noble patriot, or a war profiteer? Most histories of the period that mention him list him as an example of the latter, alongside men who sold the government rotten shoes and shoddy uniforms that fell apart in the first rain. Yet Vanderbilt named two of his sons after national heroes (William Henry Harrison and George Washington), and seems to have taken great pride in his country.

Commodore Vanderbilt: Patriot or War Profiteer?


Recovering Memories of a Defining Local Event: A Revolutionary-Era Tea Burning

In the 18th century, it was not unusual for a ship to dock at John Shepherd’s landing in the tiny village of Greenwich, New Jersey. The town, located on the Cohansey River about six miles from Delaware Bay, was an official British customs port. But it was not a very busy port town, and its population was small enough to make any vessel’s arrival worthy of conversation. One ship in particular—which arrived sometime in the second week of December 1774—was even more newsworthy because of its cargo.

For the past year, the British-American colonies had been resisting England’s efforts to flood their markets with cheap tea from India. The colonists had been forced to pay a tax on tea since 1767—the year the commodity was included on a list of luxury items levied as part of the Townshend Duties. When the Townshend Duties were repealed in 1770, however, the tax on tea continued, causing the product to become the object of many colonial boycotts during the seven years that preceded the dreaded Tea Act of 1773. This spirit of resistance was not lost on the inhabitants of Greenwich. The brig that had just pulled into their port was filled with tea from the East India Company.

Recovering Memories of a Defining Local Event: A Revolutionary-Era Tea Burning


Searching for the Forgotten Movie Mogul: William Fox, Founder of Twentieth Century Fox

When I began work several years ago on my in-progress biography of William Fox (1879–1952), founder of Twentieth Century Fox, I knew I was in for trouble. Although Fox was arguably the most important of all the early movie moguls because of his foundational contributions to the art, technology and business of movies, he seemed to have largely disappeared from history. No serious biography of him yet existed, and most movie history overviews made only scant, passing reference to him. Personal papers? Fox left none. Studio archives? Successive management regimes threw away almost everything except minutiae from Fox's regime—keeping extras' contracts and the like, but none of the founder's correspondence or business files. As if all that weren't bad enough, the general field of early film history, especially from 1900 through the mid-1920s when Fox was highly active, was woefully under-cultivated. No wonder no one had ever written a William Fox biography.

Searching for the Forgotten Movie Mogul: William Fox, Founder of Twentieth Century Fox


The Digital Detective: Tracking Criminals When the Trail Runs Cold

When I began work on a history of American counterfeiting between the Revolution and the Civil War, I was faced with some peculiar research problems. With a few rare exceptions, counterfeiting during this period was a crime that was not prosecuted by federal authorities. The problem was instead left to state and local law enforcement officials who were often outnumbered and incompetent. This was partly a consequence of the fact that the paper money in circulation originated not with the federal government, but with hundreds of state-chartered banks. But it was also a reflection of the relative weakness of the federal government's policing.

And therein lay a serious problem, not only for the police of the day, but for the historian who would attempt to reconstruct this kind of criminal activity. Counterfeiting involved vast numbers of players spread out across state and even national lines. This meant that local law enforcement officials often operated in the dark as to the scope and scale of the network of manufacturers, distributors, retailers and passers of bogus bills. Local law enforcement records—what few have survived—often provide but a fleeting snapshot of an individual counterfeiter who typically posted bail and fled, never to be seen again. What, then, is a historian to do, particularly a historian who wants to reconstruct the entire criminal careers of some of these colorful individuals?

The Digital Detective: Tracking Criminals When the Trail Runs Cold


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