Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


Cultural Conflict and the Battle of the Sexes in Hispanic American Newspapers

Among the various types of writing in early-20th century Hispanic American immigrant newspapers was a genre essential in forming and reinforcing the attitudes of Hispanic communities. It was the crónica, or chronicle, a short, weekly column that humorously and satirically commented on current topics and social habits. In Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries, the crónica had already been cultivated extensively and had helped to define national identity over the course of the 19th century.

In America, however, the crónica came to serve purposes never imagined in Mexico or Spain. From Los Angeles to San Antonio and even up to Chicago, Mexican moralists assumed pseudonyms (in keeping with the tradition of the crónica) and, from this masked perspective, wrote scathing satirical commentaries in the first person. As witnesses to both American and Mexican culture, the cronistas were greatly influenced by popular jokes, anecdotes and speech, and in general, their columns were a mirror of the surrounding social environment.

Cronistas battled with religious fervor to protect Spanish language and Mexican culture against what they saw as Anglo Saxon immorality. This was done not from the bully pulpit but rather through sly humor and a burlesque of fictional characters.

Cultural Conflict and the Battle of the Sexes in Hispanic American Newspapers


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


Assessing the Map Trade in 18th-Century America

The consumer behavior of 18th-century Americans has been well-documented in regard to tastes in clothing and furniture, the social acts of dining and tea drinking, and pursuits such as book buying. Benjamin Franklin, for example, records how he purchased a copy of The Pilgrim's Progress as a young man, then later sold it to buy Burton's Historical Collections from one of Boston's numerous booksellers. Yet in comparison to the study of early Americans' literary purchases, few efforts have attempted to understand how Americans acquired cartographic products, or what choices the market offered. My research has focused on determining the composition of the map trade, the vendors involved and the availability of their products, including maps, charts, atlases and globes.

Trade with England and Western Europe supplied many of the manufactured goods that populated the colonial American economy. Among those goods were prints, books and maps that appeared in prodigious numbers in American marketplaces. Several types of sources record the inventory and sale of maps, charts, atlases and globes. Account books and correspondence between merchants and their customers can be fruitful, albeit labor-intensive, avenues of inquiry in manuscript repositories. The printed catalogues of booksellers, only a handful of which include cartographic products, also offer a narrow window on the market. Far more numerous than those research staples—and now far more accessible—are early American newspapers. Advertisements and notices from newspapers provide indispensable documentation of the map trade, and America's Historical Newspapers, part of the Readex Archive of Americana, greatly facilitates the task of locating that evidence.

Assessing the Map Trade in 18th-Century America


From Student Researcher to Careful Scholar: Tips from a Lexicographer

As a lexicographer, dictionary web site editor and co-host of the KBPS radio show "A Way With Words," I receive a large number of questions from the public about word histories.

Many of these queries come from students who want help with their studies. As long as I'm not asked to research the entirety of an assignment, I try to provide a few key sources, a few examples of useful searches and to warn them off of sources I know to be misleading or wrong. My overall intent is to educate these students on how to better find digital data for all of their research, that is, to help them become careful scholars.

For example, I can see in the logs of my dictionary web site that some web searchers share the characteristics of bad drivers: either they are too timid or they are too aggressive. The ability of Google to turn up excellent results no matter how poorly a query is composed seems to bring on a high level of impatience. While conducting searches on sites other than Google, these hurried searchers rarely try alternative approaches like breaking compounds up into two words or making two words a single-word compound, using plurals or conjugated forms, or looking for intentional misspellings, such as eye dialect. They also search as if all query functions on all web sites can handle natural language queries, when, in fact, few can. Searchers often misspell words and don't notice. (When they do, I see the correctly spelled word appear immediately after in a new search). So, I tell these students that becoming a careful scholar means to search with an eye for error—his or hers and others'—and to keep in mind the variety and variability of English orthography.

From Student Researcher to Careful Scholar: Tips from a Lexicographer


This Headache Is Killing Me: The Bromo-Seltzer Poisonings of 1898

Isaac E. Emerson, the man who patented the formula for Bromo-Seltzer, was as well-known in the late-19th century as Bill Gates is today. Bromo-Seltzer was billed as a cure for exhaustion, headache, insomnia, brain fatigue, loss of appetite and other common complaints. Sold in distinctive little blue bottles, it became a household word through extensive newspaper advertising that extolled its virtues, often in poetic verse:

With nerves unstrung and heads that ache.
Wise women Bromo Seltzer take.

The day before Christmas 1898, a pasteboard box marked Tiffany & Co., addressed to Mr. Harry Cornish and wrapped in plain paper, arrived at the New York Knickerbocker Athletic Club where Mr. Cornish worked. Inside were a two-inch high, sterling candlestick-shaped bottle holder and a blue bottle of what appeared to be a trial-size sample of Bromo-Seltzer. The package bore no mark of the sender. Cornish took the box home and showed the gift to Mrs. Florence Rogers and her daughter Mrs. Kate Adams, who was his aunt. Mrs. Rogers thought it must have been sent by a bashful girl. Cornish left the present in his room and thought no more of it.

This Headache Is Killing Me: The Bromo-Seltzer Poisonings of 1898


"Human Serpents sent us by our Mother Country": The Transformation of Anthony Lamb, Transported Convict

In 1724, Anthony Lamb had nearly served out his apprenticeship to a maker of mathematical instruments in London when he fell in with some bad company at a local pub. Eager to impress his new comrades, Lamb aided them in the robbery of a boarder in his master’s house one night by leaving the front door unlocked. Lamb’s associates ransacked the boarder’s room and took a considerable sum of money and expensive clothing. The robbers and the stolen goods were never recovered, but suspicion immediately fell on Lamb, who confessed his role. Lamb was brought to trial at the Old Bailey and was sentenced to transportation to the American colonies for a seven-year term.

Lamb was one of over 50,000 convicts who were transported to America by Great Britain beginning in 1718 and ending abruptly in 1776 with the American Revolution. Most of the convicts ended up in Maryland or Virginia (not Georgia, as is commonly believed). Despite the large number of convicts who were shipped across the Atlantic, finding information about them can be a challenge. Most of the convicts were illiterate, and many of them tried to hide their criminal past by changing their names and moving away after serving out their terms. The historian has to do some real digging to fill in the lives of these little-known men and women, and Readex’s Early American Newspapers is a tremendous help in this regard.

"Human Serpents sent us by our Mother Country": The Transformation of Anthony Lamb, Transported Convict


"Countess" Ida von Claussen: Woman of Convictions

It is futile to attempt to become invisible if you are a beautiful titian-haired heiress standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall. You can't alter your Junoesque stature, so you defiantly raise your height even further by wearing three-inch heels and enormous plumed hats. You sweep into countless courtrooms, elegantly gowned, a white dog under your arm. Rather than running from the press, you actively summon them. Your impudent grin brazenly answers headlines that, with both awe and derision, report on your escapades for over three decades.

The world first came to know Ida Marie von Claussen-Raynor-Honan-Davis-Dona-Maybury in 1907 when, at the age of 32, she attempted to sue Theodore Roosevelt and the American Ambassador to Sweden for one million dollars. Her claim? The men broke her heart by refusing to allow her presentation at the court of her new personal friend, King Oscar II.

"Countess" Ida von Claussen: Woman of Convictions


Following the Trail of a Deep South Massacre

Recent access to new scholarly databases has enabled me to pursue an unfinished story I had encountered during my research about the Colfax Massacre of 1873, a racial conflict arising from the Reconstruction-era politics of Louisiana. In particular, I hoped to learn more about a curious document I had turned up in the course of my inquiry into the life of William Smith Calhoun, a Radical Republican scalawag and planter whose tremendous family estate included the town of Colfax, where Republican blacks met disaster in battle with a White League or Ku Klux armed force.

Calhoun had played a key role in an 1869 challenge to the outcome of the previous national election, in which one of his neighbors, Michael Ryan, had been seated with the Democratic Party minority in the House of Representatives. I learned as much the old-fashioned way, at the New York Public Library, in a bound volume of nineteenth-century pamphlets that included a privately printed compendium of Michael Ryan's brief to the House of Representatives. Reading cautiously but still stirring a cloud of debris from its pages, I gleaned mostly biographical details and marveled that the otherwise obscure Calhoun had offered linchpin testimony that resulted in Ryan's removal as the Representative of the 4th Louisiana Congressional District.

Following the Trail of a Deep South Massacre


Reading Between the Lines: Rediscovering the Home of a Founding Father

In 2004, the Pennsylvania home of Frederick Muhlenberg (1750-1801)—first and third Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives—was saved from the wrecking ball by a grassroots effort. The Speaker's House, as it is known today, was built in 1763-64 and is located in the historic colonial village of Trappe, Montgomery County. Together with two acres of grounds, this landmark was saved by a non-profit organization bearing the house's name. Since its heroic success in rescuing the property, The Speaker's House has undertaken an intensive effort to research both Muhlenberg himself and the house's complex evolution over time. Using archival, architectural and archaeological evidence, the organization has sought to understand how the building looked and was used during Muhlenberg's occupancy.

Volunteer researchers have undertaken an intensive study of deeds, tax lists, census and probate records and Muhlenberg family papers, in particular the voluminous journals and correspondence of renowned Lutheran minister Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (1711-1787), Frederick's father and nearest neighbor. A vital part of the archival research effort was aided by the digitized newspapers available in America's Historical Newspapers. Articles found in the database have provided invaluable clues to the house's past.

Reading Between the Lines: Rediscovering the Home of a Founding Father


American Mystery Meat: Unriddling the Mince Pie

I first became attuned to the historical enigma of mince pie in the mid-1990s while doing research for my book American Babel: Rogue Radio Broadcasters of the Jazz Age (University of Pennsylvania Press: 2005), a study of forgotten independent (i.e. non-corporate) radio stations of the 1920s and early '30s. This was way back in pre-digital times, and I was spending countless hours at the helm of a microfilm reader, blindly trolling through the period press for references to my subjects. My progress would have been slow even if my magpie brain hadn't been continually distracted by newspaper stories and memes unrelated to my task.

Chief among said distractions were references to mince pie. These I found everywhere, and always in contexts that baffled me. I still have photocopies of two exemplary items. One is a 1924 cartoon entitled “Movie of a Man and a Hot Mince Pie,” which depicts a middle-class diner in a pince-nez happily tucking into a steaming slice of mince, then going into convulsions and being whisked away in an ambulance.

The other is a 1925 profile of a doughty centenarian bearing the headline “At 107 She Is Fond of Hot Mince Pie”

American Mystery Meat: Unriddling the Mince Pie


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