Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Yakima Memory Project

Yakima Memory Project: "In July of 2001, the Yakima Valley Regional Library and Yakima Valley Museum began a project titled Yakima Memory. This project involves the digitization of approximately 9,000 photographs in two collections, and provides access to the new digitized collections via the internet. The intention of this project is to provide easier access to the photograph collections for study while securing a method of preservation and conservation." Yakima Memory includes items from the Yakima Historical Society, the Sundquist Research Library, and the Click Relander collection.

The web interface isn't pretty, but there are a lot of great regional resources here including photographs of Indians (some by famous photographer Lee Moorhouse), articles about Yakima valley history, XX. There are oral histories online as well, though they are embedded in a terrible Flash player that allows users to play the files, but not to download them or even to fast-forward, rewind or pause. There are even streaming videos online, and the truly Yakima-obsessed (and who is not?) can watch The Great Bank Robbery, a silent film created in 1950 by the Yakima Little Theater Project. The dialogue cards written in magic marker are a nice amateur touch.

The Yakima Memory Project is a pretty impressive resource for local history. Though the website could use some design help, and the techinical decisions on presenting audio and video were not very good, there is a wealth of material here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Video Podcasting from the Minnesota Historical Society

Video Podcasts from the Minnesota Historical Society. The MHS has some great brief video podcasts on its website. I found this one while researching googling a public history controversy--the refusal of Minnesota to return to Virginia a Confederate flag captured at Gettysburg by a Minnesota regiment. (As then-Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura famously said of the request, "Why should we? We won.")

I think these three-to-six-minute vidcasts are a nice model of how a public institution can use the video podcasting format for different purposes. There are vidcasts about historical issues such as the flag controversy or the 1963 Andersen – Rolvaag Election Recount (and which of us can forget that?). Mini-documentaries on Minnesota historical topics such as the1892 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis or The Younger Brothers: After the Attempted Robbery show off highlights of the MHS collections and are great classroom resources. I especially like how they use vidcasts to present and to preserve museum exhibits: see RetroRama - A Celebration of ’50s Suburbia and Pulp Fiction. Even roadtrips by MHS staff become fodder for vidcasts as in this video on 1950s Tourist Cabins.

Virtually any small humanities institution with a video camera and a YouTube account could create online documentaries along the Minnesota model. I think I feel an assignment for my Public History class coming into being!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bury Me Not on the Lone . . . Walmart?

Paved Paradise: Cemeteries in Parking Lots: "While I was researching the 'Cemetery Safari' chapter for my upcoming book Weird Oklahoma, I came across an unusual burial site west of Tulsa that was entirely enclosed within a strip-mall parking lot. Once sacred ground, it's now a conspicuous patch of grass in a sea of asphalt, a quirky spectacle to the shoppers forced to drive around it on their way to Radio Shack . . . And it got me thinking: were there others like it?"

Quite a few others, as it turns out--and check the comments section for even more. Does anyone know of such a landlocked cemetery in the Pacific Northwest?

[Pictured is the Tullahassee Creek Indian Cemetery – Sand Springs, Oklahoma: "Situated right between an ATM and a postal drop box, this Indian cemetery comprises about 1/4 acre of isolated turf in a parking lot outside Tulsa."]

Update: Alan Stein of points us to the Saar Cemetery in South King County, Washington, " surrounded on three sides by a Winco Foods parking lot and the fourth side is bounded by South 212th Street next to the Valley Freeway (State Hwy 167)." (Map) Thanks Alan!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Splendid sleighing snow now in this vicinity."

SNOW STORM: Snow began to fall in this vicinity Monday evening last, and continued until Wednesday evening covering the ground to the depth of fourteen inches. The thermometer ranged but a short distance above zero, and the wind blew most of the town. Wagoning was practically abandoned though some teams were out. Stages were detained. Up to the time of going to press no mails have arrived since Tuesday. Several unsuccessful efforts were made by the stage to leave Colfax. One evening the stage was abandoned a short distance from Colfax, and in the following morning it was nearly covered by a snow drift. The letter mail left Colfax yesterday morning by horseback; this morning, in a four-horse sleigh. Paper mail will be delayed until the weather improves. Splendid sleighing snow now in this vicinity. No wind, and but few drifts. Although down for some time between this city and Colfax, the telegraph wire is now working between Colfax and Couer D'Alene.

-Spokan Times » December 4, 1880 » Page 3 » Column 4

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Idaho's Controversial Lynching Mural

From the Spokesman-Review: "Murals depicting white settlers accosting and then hanging a shirtless Native American man have been displayed openly in Idaho’s temporary Statehouse for the past year, with a note from the state Historical Society promising that interpretation of the murals is 'forthcoming.'" The controversy of the mural goes back at least to 2006. The mural pictured here is apparently one is a series.

The murals were painted in the 1930s as part of a WPA project by artist Martin Fletcher. But Fletcher abandoned the project when he discovered that he could make more money painting portraits. The paintings were finished by "no fewer than 25 relief workers." When Martin toured the finished paintings he said they were "acceptable, but certainly nothing to write home about." Martin noted that "The finished product was further impaired when companion panels somehow were separated and now appear on different floors. For example, Indians charging down one staircase wall menace a steam locomotive, while the covered wagon train the Indians were suppose to be attacking hangs safely on another floor."

Interestingly, Martin's original design did include captions to explain the history that they were meant to depict--though I cannot find any record of what those captions were supposed to say. The murals were controversial from the time of their unveiling and lynching mural has spent much of the last decades hidden under a flag. The plaques that are going up (Plaque 1 | Plaque 2) have a generic quality to them, as one might expect of any committee-written prose: "To the California-based artists of the Great Depression era who completed this work, the murals represented their concept of how the West was won. During the 1930s, government-sponsored painters sought to portray strength and triumph, a nation overcoming adversity to settle a vast land."

This interpretation seems off the mark to me. The mural here is clearly not a celebration. The Indian looks too innocent and helpless, the white lynchers too sinister and matter-of-fact. People in the 1930s, when lynchings of African Americans and immigrants were still often in the news, would have recognized the mural as a crude metaphor for America's unjust treatment of American Indians.

Most likely Fletcher intended a piece of social commentary similar to some of Thomas Hart Benton's contemporaneous murals. See for example this panel from Benton's series "American Historical Epic" at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. Fletcher's vision was lost when the actual painting of the murals fell to untrained WPA workers.

By the way, here is a great site that attempts to index all of the surviving WPA public art.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Spokesman Review Article on the Great Depression

"Bank failures, layoffs and swan-diving stock portfolios are nothing new in the Inland Northwest. It has all happened before – bigger, deeper and longer (or so we can hope) – during the only Depression that has earned the adjective “Great.” Here’s how the Great Depression played out in the Spokane area." So begins a great and uncomfortably timely article by Jim Kershner in last Sunday's Spokesman-Review about the Great Depression in Spokane. The twin collapse of the mining and farm industries made the Depression an especially hard blow in the Inland Northwest. Kershner notes that "In a particularly demoralizing development for Spokane’s youngsters, the Manito Park Zoo was closed in 1932 because of plummeting tax revenues. Three bears were shot and stuffed."

New Deal projects to relieve the Depression were common in our are, and include High Drive, Riverside State Park, the Vista House on Mount Spokane, miles of sewers and storm culverts still in use, and of course Grand Coulee Dam.

The online version of this article includes a short video about the depression in Spokane and a 1932 SR article Freight Trains Carry Hordes of Restless.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Classics in Washington History 4: Local History and a Gallery of 19th Century Facial Hair

(This is the fifth and last post in a series, see the others here: 1, 2, 2.5, 3.)

I think one of the least-anticipated impacts of the digital turn on the practice of history has been the way that it revitalized local history in the United States. The internet with its blogs and listservs and easy web creation has made it possible for legions of amateur historians to put their research on the web, and you can hardly Google the name of any tiny town without coming upon a Geocities page dedicated to its history. At the same time the internet gave local historians new sources of information. In too many cases local historians used to simply recirculate the stories of the first chronicler of their towns with too little critical evaluation and no original research. But now databases such as the Historical Census Browser, Google Book Search and Google Patents, and other searchable large-scale digital repositories make it easy to dig out forgotten facts about even the most obscure towns.

Classics in Washington History offers some wonderful resources for local history. The collection includes a strong selection of "centennial" or "subscription" histories. These are town and county histories written at the turn of the previous century and printed locally in small runs and in many cases very few copies survive. They were often written by a local newspaper editor or attorney and were published by subscription. Often the histories were in two volumes with the second book being a collection of portraits and biographies of local worthies--specifically, local worthies who had agreed to buy a set of the volumes. These collections of formal portraits give this genre of publications its popular slang name among historians: "mug books." (Here is a nice article about evaluating mug books from

Classics in Washington History includes these subscription histories for Yakima, Spokane, Chelan, Big Bend, Walla Walla, Puget Sound, and several other counties. For all their flaws, these histories are invaluable for the local historian. The include details of local history such as the names of public officials and businesses that can be hard to recover elsewhere (especially if there was a courthouse fire at some point). Centennial histories often drew on the memories of still-living pioneers who had come to their towns by covered wagons or even with the fur trade. Most centennial histories tended to glorify and even whitewash the past (which reminds me of another term for this genre--"booster histories") but depending on the author some are quite frank about the seamy side of history. And finally for many towns the centennial histories are all we have in the way of historical records for many episodes. They are to be used with caution, but you can't not use them to do local history.

But the best parts of the mug books are the "mugs"--the late 19th century portraits of American men in all their hirsute glory. After the jump, a few notables.

Representative of the Old Testament look in American beards was Dr Dorsey S. Baker, M.D. of Walla Walla. The description of Baker from Lyman's History of Old Walla Walla County, Embracing Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield and Asotin Counties (1918) is also representative, in this case of the fawning nature of the biographical sketches in these volumes:

"No history of Walla Walla and the Inland Empire would be complete with-
out extended reference to Dr Dorsey S. Baker, now deceased, who for many
years figured most prominently m the professional, commercial and financial
circles of the northwest. He stood in the front rank of the columns that have
advanced the civilization of Washington, leading to its substantial development,
progress and upbuilding."

The oldest men in these mug books have John Brown beards, as with Michael Nixon:

But if old timers preferred their beards long and chin-hiding, the next generation was more into elaborate mustachios, as we see in the portrait of the Wickersham family from the same volume:

None of the Wickershams could hold a candle, however, to Spokane County's E. G. Marston and his impressive handlebars:

Henry Kausche of Walla Walla anticipated the "poser patch" so popular today, but took it to heights that few Indie kids could match:

Whereas Joseph Rose's twisted ends just look silly, as if his mother helped him prepare his mustache in the morning:

Joseph E Stauffer, M.D. schools them all on the curvy handlebar:

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Classics in Washington History 3: Delightful Ephemera

(This is the third post in a series, see the others here: 1, 2, 2.5.)

One of the great strengths of any digitization project is that way it saves obscure and overlooked records and presents them to a broad audience. When a project such as Classics in Washington History puts a classic memoir such as Lawrence Kip's Army life on the Pacific online a great public service is performed. But it does not help advance the scholarship of northwest history--we already knew about Kip and his memoir.

So I am delighted to find that many of the items in the Classics in Washington History project are not merely obscure, but downright ephemeral. "Ephemera" is a term famously difficult to define, but is often used as a catchall for printed items that are not books, such as posters, postcards, sheet music, maps, timetables, pamphlets, programs, and the like. Many ephemeral items were produced for a specific and temporary purpose. When they survive at all it is in small quantities and often in obscure locations. They are perfect candidates for digitization.

Camp Lewis (cover image above) is a example of great digitized ephemera (though at 80 pages it might be stretching the definition and coming closer to something we should call a book). Published in 1917 in Seattle, Camp Lewis is something of a souvenir and patriotic yearbook for the Doughboys and their officers who passed through the camp in America's first year of involvement in the Great War. The anonymous author writes that the booklet "will furnish a better understanding of the seemingly intricate organization, of which the soldier is a vital part, that is using every means and method to make of him a good soldier-synonymous with good citizen-to provide for his comfort and welfare and to prove to him that it is the most meritorious, efficient and energetic Army on earth; to teach him that, as a member of that wonderful body, loyalty, obedience and confidence should and must be his rule of action always." Along with the names of many of the men at Camp Lewis the booklet provides descriptions of army life and quite a few pictures of the camp and its activities.

More ephemera after the bump. (Du'oh--the "More Inside" feature is not working for me today, so here it goes.)

This undated (but probably from the 1890s) railroad brochure tells us: "The completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad, spanning the northwestern portion of the United States between the headwaters of the Mississippi and the most westerly of the Great Lakes and Puget Sound , has developed in Washington Territory a region of such illimitable wealth of soil, iron, coal and lumber as fairly entitles it to the name of the "Pennsylvania of the West." Pennsylvania? See also the section on "Tacoma, the City of Destiny," and the nifty maps of Washington and of the route of the Northern Pacific in the back.

Another surprising RR brochure from the same era is Alaska via Northern Pacific R.R. by John Muir (!) published in 1891. The brochure is nicely illustrated with photographs of people and scenery along the way. There are also two more Northern Pacific RR pamphlets:
Washington the Evergreen State and Washington.

Other interesting ephemera include an epic poem, Annals of old Angeline : "Mika Yahoos delate klosch!" (see below) by Bertha Piper Venen; this very rare 1831 stock certificate from the American Society for Encouraging the Settlement of the Oregon Territory, and this 1939-40 Real property survey, Seattle, Washington.

Coming up next: Local History at the Classics in Washington History collection.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Classics in Washington History, Part 2.5

The first post in this series introduced us to a great digital resource from the Washington State Library, Classics in Washington History. The second post explored one item in the collection, 12th Session of the Washington State Legislature by the artist Alfred T. Renfro. Today a look at another aspect of Renfro's work, his quirky racism. This was going to be part of the second post but it was getting too long.

It was common for cartoonists of Renfro's era to include a small figure in the foreground of their cartoons to provide additional commentary on a topic. (This tradition continues today with a few cartoonists--note the little figure of Tom Toles at his easel that always appears in his cartoons.) Renfro sometimes featured himself in his cartoons the way that Toles does, but more often his foreground character was a comic Indian figure Renfro dubbed "Si-wash." This detail of a cartoon shows the both of them:

More after the bump!

Renfro has Si-Wash capering about at the foot of nearly all the cartoons in this volume. Si-Wash is portrayed as young, cheerful, lazy, uneducated but sometimes capable of real insight. He sports a single feather from his headband, no shoes, and speaks in an unreadable pidgeon much of the time. "The jargon used by my little friend Si Wash is pure Chinook," Renfro tells us (though of course it is nothing of the kind), "If you do not understand it get some old timer to tell you."

Here are a few images of Si-Wash. In the first he sits in a dunce cap next to the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which of course plays into the stereotype of Indians being incompatible with civilization:

Here a detail of another drawing of Si-Wash riding a bird:

Here Si-Wash begs the Insurance Commissioner for a policy in nonsensical "Chinook:"

And finally there is something a little off about an Indian cheerfully offering Washington lands to the white race:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Classics in Washington History, Part 2

12th Session of the Washington State Legislature by the artist Alfred T. Renfro is one of the more endearing volumes in the Classics in Washington History digital collection (which I began exploring yesterday).

Renfro was a well-known commercial artist in turn-of-the-century Seattle. He was an architect as well as an artist, active in the Arts and Crafts movement and an important figure in creating the artists colony of Beaux Arts Village. (The massive timbers used in Craftsman style construction, Renfro noted, were "a good influence on the children.") His book, The Twelfth Session of the Washington State Legislature and State Official Caricatured by Alfred T. Renfro, is a set of humorous drawings and thumbnail biographies of the members of the Washington State House and Senate during the 12th session, from 1910-11. "I hope no one will be offended by anything which appears in this
book," Renfro writes, "We assure you no offense Is meant. Everything is given in good part and we hope It will be taken the same way."

The politicians are described in mildly colorful, mildly humorous ways. "Senator H. O. Fishback," we learn, "is the 'biggest man who ever sat in the senate,' for he weighs over the 300 pound mark. The big senator was chairman of the big committee on Roads and Bridges and was a member of ten other committees, but he is equal to the task. Even his enemies, if he has any, will tell you that he is an honest, sincere and capable man." Below we see the voluminous Fishback:

Each caricature follows the same format--jocular description, a head draw like a portrait, and the rest of the drawing a caricature of the individual. There are always some additional items in the drawing. For Fishback it is the "How Fat is He?" side and rear profiles, and also the cartoon cat (apparently a play on the fish in Fishback).

But we get ahead of ourselves. The first portrait in the volume is of Washington Governor Marion E. Hay (1909-1913), who Renfro portrays as a penny-pinching public servant:

The motto on the wall reads "Give the taxpayer a dollar's worth in return for every dollar they pay." In the lower corner a small figure (who Renfro dubs "my little friend Si Wash") mutters "No easy jobs around here now," as he carries a message to the legislature. Hays was an accidental governor who assumed the office on the untimely death of his successor and whose one term was marked by vigorous anti-corruption efforts.

And here, after the jump, are some more of my favorites from this collection:

"Fighting Dick" Hutchinson:

Puppet Master and Speaker of the House Howard Taylor:

This portrait of Yakima County representative Walter Moren has an interesting load of cultural baggage attached. Since Moran was southern born, Renfro makes him a colonel, and provides as backdrop a southern belle and a stereotyped black servant with a tray of mint juleps. Renfro even provides a poem in mock "darkie" dialect:

He was born in o1' Kentuck 'neath a bright and lucky star,
And of course he is a Kurnel and a member of de bar.
He's a jedge of good mint julips, in de land of tall blue grass,
Where dey grows de blooded horses and de women you can't surpass.

Perhaps the most curious portrait is of Representative William M. Beach of Mason County, dancing in somehow effeminate Indian outfit. Renfro notes that Beach comes from the "only squaw county in the state." I have no idea what "squaw county" was meant to imply, but they sure liked to dance:

Next post: The genial racism of Renfro.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Great Washington History Resource from the State Library

This is the first in a series of posts exploring a fantastic resource: Classics in Washington History. This digital collection from the Washington State Library is "brings together rare, out of print titles for easy access by students, teachers, genealogists and historians." This treasure trove of over 100 books and documents includes a lot of classics in Northwest History, including Army Life on the Pacific by Lawrence Kip, Folk-tales of Salishan and Sahaptin tribes by Franz Boas, and Ka-mi-akin, the last hero of the Yakimas by A. J. Splawn.

All of the above titles are also available full-text in Google Books, which is a superior format to the DjVu browser plug in that the Washington State Library employs. (I will write more on this subject later this week.) However, many of the classics are available no where else online and are real gems for doing local and regional history. The Deposition of Ranald McDonald is one example. McDonald was the son of a Scottish Hudson's Bay Company fur trader and a Chinook mother. In 1848 he purposely had himself stranded on the coasts of Japan, then a closed kingdom cut off from the rest of the world. His deposition is an invaluable source for both northwest and Japanese history, and the library also has MacDonald's autobiography online. The picture on the right is a monument to MacDonald in Nagasaki, Japan. He lies buried in obscure corner of Ferry County. Some other gems of Washington history include 12th Session of the Washington State Legislature, a delightful set of caricatures of early Washington leaders by the artist Alfred T. Renfro, and Annals of old Angeline : "Mika Yahoos delate klosch!" by Venen, Bertha Piper.

I am trying something new on the Northwest History blog this week, each day I will explore a different book or issue related to this site. Tomorrow: Amusing drawings of politicians. Let's see how it works!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

Botanicus - Digital Library from the Missouri Botanical Garden

Botanicus - the Digital Library from the Missouri Botanical Garden is an interesting approach to digitization. Botanicus is designed to fill a specific niche: "Comprehensive collections of botanical literature are only available in a handful of libraries, all located in North American and Europe. For botanical researchers, these library-centered literature searches, while a crucial requirement of any project, delay hypothesis development or recognition and publication of new plant discoveries. For those traveling in remote parts of North America or stationed overseas, lack of access to library resources compounds these difficulties." Botanicus now has over one million pages of rare botanical manuscripts online.

This is a very different digital collection than those I usually highlight here. Though there is a lot of historical information within these volumes, the focus here is on botany, and many of the older volumes (the oldest book is from 1480!) are in Latin as well as French, Spanish, Italian and German. (The image to the left is from Tabacologia, a 1616 treatise on tobacco.)

There are a lot of things to like about this project. Though the search function is weak, there are a lot of ways to browse the collection, including by date of publication, as a tag cloud of LOC headings (I've never seen that one before!) and as a list of locations on a Google Map. The user can zoom in and out of the page images using the mouse scroll wheel. The project has a blog to allow users to follow along with the progress and to comment on features. Titles may be downloaded as PDF files or even reprinted via the internet publishing service And many of the illustrations in the books are simple breathtaking, as in the 1801 muscorum frondusorum.

A few items at Botanicus need work. The search function is simple, allowing only keyword searches. And it does not work very well, searches for "tobacco" and "Indians" get zero results, though the collections do contain items about tobacco and Indians and both appear as tags on the tag cloud page. And given the project's emphasis "primarily on beautifully illustrated volumes from our rare book collection" an image search or at least an image browsing capability would be nice.

Botanicus is an excellent model of a large scale digitization project that utilizes some innovative technologies and strategies for sharing information.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Holy Grail of Audio Recognition

Big news today from the Washington State Digital Archives! (Full disclosure: I am an Assistant Digital Archivist here.) Today we put the audio files of the House of Representatives Committee Meeting Recordings online--and they are keyword searchable.

The House of Representatives Committee Meeting Recordings cover 1973 to 2001. This is almost 6000 hours of hearings and the files take up 1 terabyte of data.
This list of house committees will help give context to some of these files. The files came from 30,000 cassette tapes.The tapes were converted to digital files and cleaned up starting in 2005. Putting them online and making them searchable is a cooperative project between the Washington State Digital Archives and the Microsoft Corporation.

The technical breakthrough is that these files are keyword searchable. Users can enter keywords or phrases and the search engine will dig through all of the files and discover when anyone spoke those words. The search results give some details about the file but also a snippet of the text showing where on that file the words were spoken. Click on any of the strings of words between the dashes and the in-line player will take you directly to that point in the recording. Some good keyword searches are salmon and dams, "Indian gaming," "state history," and "Lewis and Clark."

This, my friends, is one of the holy grails of computing: untrained voice recognition over thousands of hours of tapes and many different voices. We rolled out this technology with the legislative hearings because we are a state archives and this gives the Washington State public unprecedented access to these public records. But think of the other uses for the keyword searching of audio files. I have never visited an archives that did not have boxes of decaying audio tapes from an oral history project that never quite got to the transcribing stage. These tapes can be digitally preserved and put online. Television and radio interviews and news and talk programs will become searchable. This is a digital history breakthrough.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Henry David Thoreau, Climatologist

A fasinating article from the New York Times about a group of researchers using Thoreau's journals to map climate change:

"On average, common species are flowering seven days earlier than they did in Thoreau’s day, Richard B. Primack, a conservation biologist at Boston University, and Abraham J. Miller-Rushing, then his graduate student, reported this year in the journal Ecology . . . 27 percent of the species documented by Thoreau have vanished from Concord and 36 percent are present in such small numbers that they probably will not survive for long. Those findings appear in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s targeting certain branches in the tree of life,” Dr. Davis said. “They happen to be our most charismatic species — orchids, mints, gentians, lilies, iris.”

Of the 21 species of orchids Thoreau observed in Concord, “we could only find 7,” Dr. Primack said."

(Photograph of Walden Pond from the Walden Woods Project website.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Roundup of Very Early Films of Cities

Check this out--London, 1904:

This is a fragment of a film made by an American, Charles Urban, and was just recently discovered in an Australian archive. I learned about the film from this post on Metafilter. And the great thing about Metafilter is how when someone posts something cool, other members add their own related links in the comments. So courtesy of Metafilter let's take a tour of turn-of-the-last-century cities around the world, through film:

Here is another Charles Urban film, of the Indian holy city of Varanasi. The quality is much lower than that of the London footage:

These reminded me of this 1906 film of San Francisco, taken soon after the earthquake:

(You can also see a film of San Francisco made just months before the earthquake at the Library of Congress.)

If you like these old films the British Film Institute has a generous collection of British films posted at YouTube. The Library of Congress has several excellent collections of very early American films online.

I had hoped to finish off this post with a very early film from the Pacific Northwest, but I have come up blank. If you know of any email me.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

History Talk: Quintard Taylor at Gonzaga

(I just received this interesting announcement. Dr. Taylor is a major historian of the American West so this should be good!)

"The Other Black Northwest: Beyond Portland and Seattle"

Presented by Dr. Quintard Taylor, University of Washington, professor of American history

Gonzaga University Wolfe Auditorium, Spokane, November 6, 3:45 p.m.

This FREE public program, presented by the Center for Columbia River History (CCRH), provides a broader understanding of African American history in the region. Dr. Taylor will explore rural communities such as Walla Walla and Roslyn, Washington in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He will also examine the growth of black communities during World War II in places such as Vancouver, Bremerton, and Pasco, as well as the unique civil rights experience of Spokane. This illustrated lecture will remind all that African American history in the Pacific Northwest is not confined to its largest cities.

Sponsored by the Center for Columbia River History through the James B. Castles Endowment. For more information about this and other CCRH programs, visit

Monday, October 6, 2008

Indians and Law in Territorial Washington

As Americans established control of what was Washington Territory in the 1850s, what legal status was provided for the American Indians?

I was searching today to see if the laws of the State of Washington are online. What I found were bits and pieces, not a comprehensive legal record but some valuable information. One treasure is the Laws of Washington, Volume 1, 1854-1862. This is part of the Classics in Washington History online collection provided by the State Library. "This digital collection of full-text books brings together rare, out of print titles for easy access by students, teachers, genealogists and historians," and will be the subject of future posts here. Today, I did a keyword search for "Indians" through this collection of early laws and got some fascinating results.

This 1854 law lists persons "not competent to testify" in the civil actions:

Later on the laws specify who may testify in criminal matters, and here there is more leeway for Indians to speak: "Witnesses competent to testify in civil cases shall be competent in criminal prosecutions, but regular physicians or surgeons, clergymen or .priests, shall not be protected from testifying as to confessions, or information received from any defendant, by virtue of their profession and character; Indians shall be competent witnesses as hereinbefore provided, or in any prosecutions in which an Indian may be a defendant. " (302)

On the other hand the laws specify that "the property of all Indians" is exempt from taxes (p. 526) and a law governing the construction of wharves and regulation of watercraft emphasizes that "No part of this act shall be construed as applying to Indians, or to the property of Indians." (p. 556)

An 1854 "Act to Regulate Marriage" declares "That all marriages hereafter solemnized in this Territory, where one of the parties to such marriage shall be a white person, and the other possessed of one-fourth or more of negro blood, or more than one-half Indian blood, are hereby declared void." Any official who married such a couple was subject to a fine of between 50 and 500 dollars, to be paid to the common schools. In an apparent afterthought, Section 3 of the law states that "nothing in this act shall be so construed as to prevent any parties from being united in marriage, who may be living together at the time of the passage of this act." (651-52) This seems designed to allow established mixed race couples, who had perhaps been married for years in the Indian fashion and had children together, to legalize their ties.

An act authorizing county assessors to take the census directs them to "make separate lists of all taxable half breed Indians, negroes, kanaka [Hawaiians -ed.], and mulatoes, and chinamen" in their counties. (704)

Overall the laws paint a picture of white Washingtonians as eager to define citizenship in racial terms with a limited place for American Indians.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bruce Levine to Speak at EWU and Spokane

Heads up! Civil War historian Bruce Levine will be speaking at EWU this Thursday noon and at the MAC in Spokane Thursday evening. Levine's newest book is Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the War. (A review of the book is here.) Levine will deliver two lectures:

"The Myth of the Black Confederate"
Thursday Oct. 2 at 12 noon
Monroe Hall 205, Cheney WA

"The Confederacy's Plan to Emancipate (and Arm) Slaves"
Thursday Oct. 2 at 6 p.m.
Eric A. Johnston Memorial Audition - Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture
2316 W. First Avenue, Spokane WA

These are important lectures. In recent years neo-confederate "heritage" groups have worked hard to refashion the public narrative of the Civil War, downplaying or dismissing entirely the central importance of slavery and racism. One of their efforts has been to argue that there were large numbers of blacks who fought on the side of the South because they just loved their Massa Lee or something. It is nonsense of course and academic historians have mostly ignored the black confederate mythology even as the neoconfederates have created websites, educational programs, and shoddy publications based on the myth. Levine is among the few historians willing to tackle the topic head-on. (For more on the topic, check out The Myth of Black Confederates tag at the Civil War Memory blog.)

This opportunity to hear a top historian is thanks to a Teaching American History grant from the U.S. Department of Education to Spokane Educational Service District 101.

(If you can't make it here is an MP3 of Levine delivering the second lecture at UC Santa Cruz.)

Monday, September 29, 2008

First-Person Accounts #2: Many Pasts

Today's post continues the series looking at first-person historical accounts, with an eye to mining the websites for accounts of the Northwest.

Many Pasts "contains primary documents in text, image, and audio about the experiences of ordinary Americans throughout U.S. history. All of the documents have been screened by professional historians and are accompanied by annotations that address their larger historical significance and context." It is part of the terrific History Matters website from George Mason University's Center for History and New Media.

Many pasts contains over 1000 primary accounts and is searchable. A search for "Wobblies" produces an evocative anti-IWW cartoon (seen on on the right), a Wobbly poem titled “The Lumberjack’s Prayer ("I pray dear Lord for Jesus' sake, Give us this day a T-Bone Steak...), a description of the difficulties of rural work from an IWW organizer, and The Paterson Strike Pageant Program (a public page ant in support of an IWW strike, organized by John Reed and Bill Haywood).

Other northwest material include “For Oregon!” Settlers From Illinois Describe the New Territory, 1847; Executive Order 9066: The President Authorizes Japanese Relocation; Congress Investigates the 1934 San Francisco Strike; and the delightful “Nobody Would Eat Kraut”: Lola Gamble Clyde on Anti-German Sentiment in Idaho During World War I.

The advanced search option at Many Pasts is very sophisticated, allowing searches limited by topic and primary source type and across different History Matters collections.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

New Job in a New Town

As of last month, I have a new job. I am now an Associate Professor of History at Eastern Washington University and an Assistant Digital Archivist at the Washington State Digital Archives.

This is a dream position for me and I could not be happier. The primary goal of this joint appointment is to build up the MA in Public History program at EWU and to give it a digital edge. My position brings together the amazing technical resources and expertise of the first and largest digital archive in the world and a first-rate history program. Add to that the cultural resources of nearby institutions such as the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, the Spokane Public Library's Northwest Room, the National Park Service, and the many Indian peoples in the region, and the possibilities are endless.

That my scholarship is about this region is an added bonus.

It is funny how life works out. When I began this blog I was living in Missouri and expected to remain there. I thought the blog would help maintain my profile as a northwest historian and force me to keep abreast of the latest developments in digital and northwest history. Now that I am back in my beloved inland northwest I expect to bring things up a notch, with more posts, more digital projects, and hopefully a wider readership.

Enough with the personal note, let us get back to the history.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

History as an Advertisement

I quite like this ad from Hovis Bread, with one boy running through 122 years of English history:


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Free Historic Pictures for Teachers

NEH Announces Second Picturing America Application Period: "The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced today that a second round of applications for Picturing America will be accepted online through October 31, 2008. Picturing America is a free educational resource that helps teach American history and culture by bringing some of our nation’s greatest works of art directly to classrooms and libraries. In June, the NEH awarded Picturing America to over 26,000 schools and public libraries nationwide."

You can learn more about Picturing America and view some of the pictures and teaching materials at their website. The images are both historically important and visually arresting, as with George Caleb Bingham's painting of antebellum electioneering above. And the website includes a wealth of teaching materials for each. These would be a fantastic addition to any history teacher's classroom.

It is not clear how the NEH is going to sort a few tens of thousands of applications, but if I were them it would be first-come-first-serve. Get cracking!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Marco! Polo!

Here is fun project at the blog Indulgence & Sin: A Historian's Craft.

Blogger and grad student Rachel Leow has a copy of Marco Polo's Travels, and an internet connection and she is not afraid to use them. The result is a fun use of Google Maps, an illustrated journey of Marco Polo with photographs and illustrations pulled off the web and links to relevant websites for many of the places mentioned by the explorer. Here is a direct link to her full scale Google map.

This approach has a lot of potential, especially for teachers. So many history topics could be explored geographically--exploration, famous journeys, wars and battles, historic trails, historic sites in a community. Google Maps offers a way to have students work on a collaborative project that is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Inlander Article on Indian Wars of the 1850s

A Beginning and an End: "Hangman Creek' received its name from an incident that took place 150 years ago this month in a little meadow 25 miles south of Spokane. The name, which the state Legislature has been trying to abolish (to be replaced by Latah Creek) by proclamation for more than a century, persists for a good reason. Like many pioneer names ('Leadville,' 'Tombstone,' 'Crazy Woman Creek' 'Dead Man's Gulch,' 'Death Valley'), it's an honest reminder of a gritty past."

This is a nice historical article by William Stimson in the Spokane weekly The Inlander. There is no new ground here but rather a solid and well-written summary of the White-Indian wars of the 1850s.

(The illustration is Sohon's painting of the Battle of Steptoe Butte.)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Google to Digitize Newspaper Archives -

According to this article in the NY Times, Google is set to begin digitizing back issues of newspapers to add to its Google News Archives Search feature. "Google said it was working with more than 100 newspapers and with partners like Heritage Microfilm and ProQuest, which aggregate historical newspaper archives in microfilm. It has already scanned millions of articles," according to the Times. Google will handle the digitization for free and Google advertisements will appear alongside the search results.

It is not clear if the digitized articles will be available for free. Currently Google News Archives Search includes both free and pay-to-view articles. A quote from the editor of the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph--“We hope that will be a financial windfall for us.”--seems to indicate that the articles may not be free.

Frankly I was not even aware of Google News Archives Search until I spotted this article, though apparently it has been around for two years. There is not that much there yet--it indexes the New York Times archives, but those articles are already available from the newspaper website for free. And the Google News Archives Search links to the Times articles don't work--du'oh! Other links lead to paid archives at newspaper websites or to commercial services such as In fact a search for "Spokane" limited to newspapers before 1880 turns up only New York Times and articles.

Google News Archives Search could eventually expand into something useful. It would be nice to go to one place to search across different digital newspaper collections, even if many of those searches led to walled subscription sites. You could still order microfilm of a newspaper once you identified it via Google News Archives Search, or go to a research library that held subscriptions to the digital database. Or even, God forbid, pay for the article you need!

But so far Google News Archives Search does not even access many existing digital newspaper sites. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the Chronicling America sites for example do not seem to be included. Google News Archives Search is a very beta project so far.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Local History from the Spokesman Review

The Spokesman Review today has a really excellent article, "Common Knowledge" about the 1921 murder of a Chinese miner in the Columbia River community of Daisy. The article, by reporter Bill Morlin, is not only an interesting story from our region's past, it is a model of how history journalism should be researched and presented.

The article details how Wong Fook Ah Nem was murdered for his gold and how nothing in particular was done about it, despite the eyewitness testimony of his brother and widespread knowledge of the identity of the killers. Of course this sort of event was far too common in the early Northwest--the most dramatic example being the murder of over 30 miners in Hell's Canyon in Idaho in 1887. That case too was never solved.

Morlin did a nice job in the article of combing through old newspaper accounts, hunting down the few primary source records that remain from the case, and interviewing residents of the area to pick up the fading oral history, which brought valuable new information. The Spokesman has even put some of the primary sources online, including the coroner's inquest (which includes riveting testimony from the victim's brother, Wong Fook Ah Tai), historical newspaper articles, and excerpts from secondary sources.

This rich story, along with the collection of online documents, would make a fine teaching unit for a school teacher, or a good added reading in a college history class.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Exploring Washington's Geographic Past

Interesting article this week in the Washington Post. The Beginning of the Road looks at a project to digitally recreate the topographic history of Washington DC. A (slightly) interactive map allows viewers to compare the outline of the city today with the geography of 1791. The most striking change is that the Potomac is half as wide today as it was in the time of Thomas Jefferson, and that the World War Two, Lincoln and Jefferson memorials are all located on land reclaimed from the river--as we see on the graphic above. The green rectangle represents the mall. (See also the little video embedded in the body of the first story.)

The effort to digitally explore the geographic history of Washington is similar to what the The Mannahatta Project is doing in in New York (see this post). As the digital tools become less expensive and awareness of the possibilities increases we can expect to see similar projects across the nation. In fact you can get similar results with digital image of an early city map and Google Earth by using the overlay function.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Searchable Eyewitness History

FIRP Home: "In the First Person is a free, high quality, professionally published, in-depth index of close to 4,000 collections of personal narratives in English from around the world."

An interesting (unfortunate?) twist to FIRP is that it indexes both free and subscription databases. A quick search for "Oregon Territory" brings us to 55 documents, every one of them part of the subscription only North American Women's Letters and Diaries database. Other searches for PNW topics also brought me to password walls more often than to freely accessible documents. Fortunately you can go to an advanced search screen and limit your search to free documents.

Digital history geeks will be impressed by the range of options on the advanced search page. You can search by the age of the person person writing or being interviewed, for example, or their year of birth, or for only unpublished sources. Setting up such a search is not great technical feat (I am told), the hard part is entering all the metadata.

There isn't a lot at this site yet for the Northwest historian, but it is worth keeping an eye on as its collection expands.

Next: Other Online Sources of First-Person Accounts