Sunday, May 11, 2008

More on "Digital Images at the Beinicke"

Howling Wolf, Sketchbook, Bison Hunt
Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinicke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

I've just followed up on Larry's post on digital images at the Beinicke Library (see just below), and I agree that it is a superb resource.  Following his suggestion, I clicked on his Beinicke Digital Images Online link and entered the search term "bison." The image above is one that appeared. Not only are the images quite wonderful, but the metadata is excellent. For Example, under "Summary/Description" for this sketch you can read this information about artist Howling Wolf:

"Cheyenne warrior and son of Cheyenne chief Eagle Head. He was imprisoned from 1875 to 1878 at Fort Marion, Saint Augustine, Florida, with other 'hostile' Prairie Indians.  Their jailer, Captain Richard H. Pratt, encouraged the artistic talent of the Indians."

The metadata also includes "Subject" -- useful for more searches -- "Genre/Form" and, in this case, a link under "Multi-Image set" allowing you to choose to "See all Images in this set." This brings you to 20 sketches by Howling Wolf.

One of the marvels of the web is the way that it can help us find connections between so much data of so many kinds. After reading the note above about Howling Wolf's "jailer," Richard H. Pratt, I immediately liked the man.  Here is someone who respected the Indians so much that he encouraged them to express themselves and their lives in art. I wondered how long he could have lasted in those days as a culturally sensitive benefactor to the Indians.  A quick Google search, suggests that his story is much more complex, for Pratt, it turns out, is responsible for one of the most notoriously ethnocentic statements ever uttered about educating Native Americans:  "kill the Indian, save the man." Building on his success at Fort Marion he became a leader in Indian education and persuaded some of his Indian pupils, once free, to recruit young Indians to attend the Carlisle Indian School, which he founded.

There is much more to this story, of course.  For the moment the point is simply to illustrate the power of the Beinicke digital images, backed up with excellent metadata, to drive historical inquiry.

Thanks for the "heads up," Larry.

1 comment:

Larry Cebula said...

Great post, and an important point about the meta data. One of the things which distinguishes great digital history projects is the quality of that data, which is so important for searching, manipulating, and citing the information.

And isn't Pratt a fascinating figure? He is at the center of the excellent American Experience documentary In the White Man's Image. Pratt is a man who dedicated most of his adult life to "helping" the Indians, by stamping out their culture. The large number of writings (including Pratt's autobiography Battlefield and classroom: four decades with the American Indian, 1867-1904, photographs, and reminiscences make it an excellent research topic as well.