Saturday, March 29, 2008

Blogging John Adams

A heads-up for my readers--J.L. Bell over at Boston 1775 has a been crafting a wonderful series of posts about the HBO series John Adams. Bell seems to be enjoying the series but is quick to use his comprehensive knowledge of the topic and the time period to poke holes in many of the details of the TV show, as Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam notes in this appreciation of both the series and of Bell's blog. What Bell is doing is a model of historical blogging at its best and most relevant.

I promise to do a similar set of posts when HBO launches it blockbuster dramatic epic Spokane Garry--the Red River Years.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Free Online Lectures from WGBH

WGBH, the magnificent public TV and radio network from Boston, hosts these Free Online Lectures. The link goes to the history category, but there are others as well. Most are available in a choice of streaming audio or video or MP3 downloads (are you listening, Library of Congress?). A glance at the topics will quickly show that Bostonians still consider their town to be the hub of the universe--there are lectures on the Salem Witch Trials, Transcendentalism, John and Abigail Adams (including this delightful and humorous public reading of the Letters of John and Abigail Adams), et. al. There are broader topics as well, such as Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky.

There are also dozens of podcasts to which you can subscribe,
Open Vault, an archive of "unique and historically important content produced by public television station WGBH for individual and classroom learning," and Teacher's Domain, which features lesson plans and "high-quality multimedia from Nova, American Experience, and other public television productions."

A fine set of digital resources!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Come to the PNW History Conference!

Mary Schaff of the Washington State Library, Tamara Georgick of the Washington State Historical Society and I will offer a session on digital history at the 2008 Pacific Northwest History Conference in Corvallis April 17-19. Our chair is Dr. Charlie Mutschler of Eastern Washington University. This regional conference is always a pleasure, it has a homey family feel to it and the presentations are generally very good. Below is the proposal for our session, the complete conference schedule is here [PDF].

Digital History and the Pacific Northwest

Overview: History is not what it used to be. The internet and related digital technologies are changing the ways we study, write and share our history. At the same time, the very speed of technological change threatens to create a “digital divide” in the historical profession—not between those who have and those who have not, but rather between those who know about the new technologies and resources and those who know not. This panel proposes to introduce historians to the perils and promises of digital history. This panel has a natural progression from researching, to organizing, to developing online historical materials.

Presentation 1: Larry Cebula, Missouri Southern State University “A Northwest Historian’s Tour of the Internet”

Abstract: The explosion of digitization projects in the last five years has for the first time made it possible to do substantive primary-source historic research online. Organizations as diverse as the Washington State Digital Archives, the Library of Congress, Washington State University, and Google Books have placed literally millions of pages of primary source material online. This includes not only obscure printed material but tens of thousands of historic images, handwritten manuscripts, one-of-a-kind maps, and printed ephemera.

This wealth of digital sources makes it possible to duplicate much (but not all) of what used to be library research from anywhere in the world with a personal computer and an internet connection. It also permits new kinds of research through tools such as keyword searching that can uncover unsuspected connections, people, and documents that might have escaped earlier researchers. Finally, digital history is beginning to close the resource divide between students and scholars at older and well-funded research institutions with deep library stacks and strong archives and students of history at smaller schools or outside the academy entirely.

Cebula will take audience on a topical tour of some of the richest sites for Pacific Northwest history, demonstrating the research opportunities of new technologies. Many of the sites that Cebula will highlight may be seen on his blog:

Presentation 2: Mary Schaff, Washington State Library “Social Networking Tools in History Research”

Abstract: Online historical research has become easier, faster, and better than ever. But with the large quantity of information being made available on a daily basis, how do you organize your materials, share your findings with others, and publish your research in ways that will bring your work to diverse audiences? The new wave of social networking websites has the capacity to help you manage and synthesize your research, as well as make new professional connections in the wired world of Northwest history.

Writer and editor of the Washington State Library Public Services Blog, Schaff will discuss the change in focus behind the new social web, and guide the audience through some of the specific ways that historians have been making use of Web 2.0. Site explorations will include history blogs, map mashups like Platial and Picasa, history-themed wikis, citation organizer CiteULike, personal cataloging tool LibraryThing, and historic photographs on Flickr.

Presentation 3: Tamara Georgick, Washington State Historical Society The Digital Projects Avalanche: How to Cope One Snowball at a Time

Everyone has an idea for a project or bit of information that should be on the web. Multiply that by an entire agency full of people with good ideas and your staff can be easily overwhelmed. Its not enough just to have a proposal about the content of what you would like to present, its essential to have a plan for organizing the information digitally.

The focus of this discussion will be on presenting information, images, multimedia or any other type of web content in a database driven environment. Making choices up front about platforms, coding, software and standards will help any project achieve greater success. What questions should you ask? What options are available? How do we prioritize? How much will this cost? Whose code can I steal? Is open source right for this project? Are there grants or other funds available?

As Director of Information Technology for the Washington State Historical Society, Tamara is helping her agency make the transition from static pages to database driven web content. She’ll be sharing tips, checklists and stories to help others along the path.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Authentic Music of the Oregon Trail

Here is a fine introduction to the music of the Oregon Trail:

Other YouTube videos of historic fiddler Truman Price include "Wait for the Wagon," "Uncle Sam's Farm," "Mississippi Sawyer," and "June Apple."

By the way, the racist lyric to Oh! Susanna can be found at the Wikipedia page. Though we might today think of the song as some kind of traditional Appalachian folk ballad it was in fact a brand new hist song at the time of the Oregon Trail and California Gold Rush. It was penned by Stephen Foster in 1847 for a blackface minstrel show.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The MAC has Podcasts!

One of the great things about living in Spokane is the cultural programming at the MAC--the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. They are now podcasting some of their presentations. These are genuine podcasts--downloadable onto your hard drive or MP3 player--not some RealAudio presentation that you can only enjoy at your computer. The audio quality is not very good, but there are still a wonderful resource that should grow over time. I am going to listen to Jack Nisbet talk about the Willamette meteorite right now.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Champlain Collection

Champlain Collection: "The collection contains eighty-three of the Champlain Society's most important volumes (over 41,000 printed pages) dealing with exploration and discovery over three centuries. It includes first-hand accounts of Samuel de Champlain's voyages in New France as well as the diary from Sir John Franklin's first land expedition to the Arctic, 1819-22."

There are some important sources for early PNW history here, including the narratives of Gabriel Franchére, George Simpson, and David Thompson. And the collections are searchable across the volumes. Just as a quick example of the riches in the Champlain Collection, here is this 1843 letter from Archibald McKinlay at Fort Nez Perces, reflecting on the American invasion of the northwest that was just beginning to arrive via the Oregon Trail:

"Although the Columbia is becoming quite a stirring place I do not know of much news that might be interesting to you[.] Americans are getting thick as Mosquettoes in this part of the world-- A party of about 300 individuals, Men, women, & children came up from the States last year for the Willamette and a much greater number are expected ensuing season.-- That Colony in increasing very fast and Yankee industry will I have no doubt make it a very thriving settlement ere long.--"

And also the following, from the journals of Alexander Henry, concerning the death of a slave woman who was held by the Chinooks and sold to service white traders and Indian men alike in the early 19th century. I used the quote in an article about native women and exploration that I never managed to publish. I think it is the most sad thing I ever read:

"Mr Franchere went down to desire Calpoh's family to come and remove the body of their deceased Slave Girl, and bury it, least the Hogs might devour it. They did so accordingly, but removed it in a most barbarous Savage manner, by dragging it down to the water, by fastening a cord about the neck, and perfectly naked, and towed it along the beach for some distance, where they squeezed the body in a Hole, pushed it down with a Paddle, and covered it over witht he Stones and Dirt. The Body was in a most wretched state of the last Stage of Venereal, black and Swollen and not the least care taken to conceal the parts from bystanders."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Platial: Demolished Buildings of PDX

Check this out: an interactive map of historic photos of now-demolished buildings in Portland. (I don't know why it is not centered!) Platial is a "social mapping" site where users can add photos and other items to an online map. A layer can be created by a single or by multiple users. Forsome other examples of how Platial can be used for interactive Web 2.0ish maps, see the Platial 2006 Map Awards.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Eye of the Storm: Online Historical Storytelling

"In 1994, a dealer specializing in Southern works approached the Virginia Historical Society with four tattered scrapbooks containing some five hundred vivid Civil War watercolor drawings and maps by Union Soldier Private Knox Sneden . . . An equally remarkable series of events led to the discovery of a diary/memoir which accompanied the artwork. Together these constitute one of the most important Civil War documents ever produced . . . "

"Eye of the Storm takes you on an unforgettable journey through the Civil War. Through this online interpretation, you can experience the life of a Civil War soldier through Sneden's journal entries. Audio accounts of Sneden's narrative with commentary by the Director of the Virginia Historical Society, Charles F. Bryan, Jr. can be heard by visiting the movies section of this site. Also included here are forums through which visitors can discuss the work and Civil War history."

This intriguing site could serve as a model for online storytelling. I like how the little flash movies combine historical commentary, a reading of the primary sources, and images from Sneden's watercolors to tell stories. And the site is a reminder that you do not need a thousand historic images to tell a simple story. The Balloon is Loose! for example uses a single watercolor painting, cropping and animating images to produce movement and interest.

In the Northwest it is easy to imagine a similar site involving the Mullan Road or the 1918 Influenza epidemic or really any story where telling documents and interesting illustrations exist.

Musarium, the online sponsor of Eye of the Storm, has some other interesting virtual exhibits. The most powerful is Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, taken from the book of the same name. Without Sanctuary features lynching photographs from 19th and 20th century America, the flash movies of them with commentary is profoundly disturbing. See also Balkan Portraits and Border States (the later features photographs from Arizona and Sonora). Access the full Musarium archive here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Exploring Eastern Washington in Google Maps

A meandering post, as I explore some sights in Google Maps. Eastern Washington is not unusual in that the coverage is uneven, some areas have fairly high resolution and clear details, others are blurry images. I believe that the high resolution images are aerial and the lower resolution ones are satellite images. You can see the boundary between the two right on the edge of the Eastern Washington University campus. The top half of the map is in high resolution, the bottom--well, you see:

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Exploring outward from Cheney (and favoring high resolution regions) we find some pretty cool stuff. I like this snakey ribbon of wheat snaking through the hills on the north edge of Cheney. Zoom in and you can see the tire tracks where the tractor turned around:

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Agriculture leaves some of the most visible and dramatic marks on the landscape. In much of the west agriculture = irrigation, and the orderly distribution of water creates patterns of green and brown not found in nature. This is especially true in the case of the large circular sprinklers that pivot around a central point. Here is a great image of these fields near Quincy:

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Roads are another easily visible landmark. Below is my second-favorite set of switchbacks in eastern Washington, the Old Spiral Road that drops off the Columbia Plateau down into Clarkston:

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Finally, I love this image of south eastern Washington where the Blue Mountains meet the Palouse farm country:

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Note: I found each of these images by browsing with Google Earth. But since Google Earth requires you to install a very large and resource-hungry program I chose the "View in Google Maps" function and copied the HTML to embed the images. The integration between Earth and Maps is excellent.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Camas Magazine, We Hardly Knew Ye

So I was googling about today as is my wont (I do it for you, dear reader) and came across Camas: A Literary Magazine at the University of Montana. "Camas is a literary magazine published in the Environmental Studies Graduate Program of the University of Montana . . . Our goals are to encourage a dialogue on environmental and cultural issues in the West, celebrate the people who work, study, write, and live here, and to provide an opportunity for students and emerging writers to publish their work alongside established environmental authors."

Unfortunately it appears that Camas only lasted for two issues. From the second issue I quite liked this article, Dying with the High Plains by Kalie Rider, in which the author compares the death of her mother with that of the eastern Montana farm towns where she was raised. It is an artful piece of writing.

It is a hard world for small literary magazines! Try to buy one next time you are in a bookstore, many deserve our support.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

NPR: Eroded Oregon Coast Yields Once-Sunken Surprises

NPR: Eroded Oregon Coast Yields Once-Sunken Surprises: "Shipwrecks, ghost forests of tree stumps thousands of years old and brilliant red formations have all been uncovered this winter along the Oregon coast after severe storms led to massive erosion."

It seems as if this winter's storms have severely eroded sections of the Oregon Coast, revealing not only ancient stumps but shipwrecks and even some Civil War-era cannons:

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Not Northwest History: A Colonial Abortion Drama

Today I am immodestly showing off a web page of my own teaching-oriented research: A Colonial Abortion Drama. The page is a collection of grand jury testimony surrounding a 1741 Connecticut incident in which an unmarried young woman named Sara Grosvenor became pregnant and . . . well, you can read what happens. It is sadly fascinating tale.

I became aware of the Pomfret case from reading Cornelia Hughes Dayton's groundbreaking article, "Taking the Trade: Abortion and Gender Relations in an Eighteenth-Century New England Village," which appeared in the William and Mary Quarterly in 1991 (here is the JSTOR link). It was Dayton who uncovered the case and she uses it to show us how gender relations and attitudes towards illegitimacy were changing in 18th-century New England.

Dayton quotes from the grand jury testimony only selectively, but it was clear from the article that the full testimony was riveting. I am from a village in Connecticut a few towns over from Pomfret, so on a trip home I visited the cemetery and made a couple of trips to the Connecticut State Archives to photocopy the documents and do some additional research.

After months of transcribing and editing from the testimony I finally got the webpage up--and discovered that very day that Woody Holton at the University of Richmond had beaten me to it with his own excellent site on the trial. It is interesting to me how we differed in presenting the material. Holton provides not only the testimony but also a "cast of characters" and chronology page. I didn't do these because I want my students to figure out those things for themselves. And yet I hold my students hands with a historical introduction to frame the documents, and an after word about what happened to some of the major characters and how I became interested in the story. I even managed to get George Washington in there.

My page on Sara Grosvenor was to a part of a larger project, tentatively titled Voices from the Margins: A Multicultural Reader for United States History. The idea is to create a primary source reader for college history classes that highlights documents from peoples, regions, and events that are either neglected or misrepresented in standard textbooks. Also, the book is meant to go heavy on sex and violence. I created three chapters about five years ago before I was distracted by my involvement in Teaching American History grants. I hope to get back to the project soon.

(I will feature my other two completed chapters in subsequent posts.)