Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


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


"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


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


Whitman in Wisconsin: Uncovering his Legacy with "Labor-Saving Machines"

No labor-saving machine,
Nor discovery have I made;
Nor will I be able to leave behind me any wealthy bequest to found a hospital or library,
Nor reminiscence of any deed of courage, for America,
Nor literary success, nor intellect—nor book for the book-shelf;
Only a few carols, vibrating through the air, I leave,
For comrades and lovers.

—Walt Whitman, "No Labor-Saving Machine," 1867.

In a rare moment of humility recorded in this poem, Walt Whitman was circumspect about his legacy. His lasting contribution to the world would be no "labor-saving machine," or act of philanthropy. Even Leaves of Grass, into which he had collected a lifetime of reflections and assertions about democracy, the body, the spirit, the physical world, seemed transient. Earlier Whitman had predicted a demand for "copious thousands of copies"1 of Leaves of Grass, but here sees no "literary success" as his lasting achievement. Whitman instead saw his legacy as a ripple in the zeitgeist, "a few carols vibrating through the air" to perhaps be tuned in later by likeminded souls.

Whitman in Wisconsin: Uncovering his Legacy with "Labor-Saving Machines"


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


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