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 Analyzing historical documents and other artifacts is the historian's primary occupation.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

Finding Fatalism and Overconfidence in a Cruel Port: The Bubonic Plague's First Appearance in Brazil

article2-pic1.jpgOn October 18, 1899, Brazilian health officials declared that bubonic plague had arrived. Bacteriologists identified the bacteria in samples taken from sick patients in Santos, a port city that had grown rapidly due to Brazil’s coffee boom. For much of history, people reacted to the news of plague with panic, flight and violence. When plague struck Santos, however, the town did not empty of its residents, international ships were not quarantined outside the port, and authorities or militias did not form “rifle cordons” at roads leading out of town. In fact, according to one report, “the news that bubonic plague had broken out in Santos seems to have made an impression everywhere but here. Santistas are, as a rule, of a somewhat skeptic frame of mind and reports about sickness and epidemics do not frighten them unduly.”

Finding Fatalism and Overconfidence in a Cruel Port: The Bubonic Plague's First Appearance in Brazil

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

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

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

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


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