Monday, July 28, 2008

Why Come There Ain't No Black People In Mayberry?

This is another post that is not about the Northwest, but I found something too good not to share!

There is a real historical point to be made here. The Andy Griffith Show ran from 1960 to 1968, at the very height of the Civil Rights movement. For millions of white Americans part of the appeal of the show was its nostalgic portrayal of an idyllic South, one without bus boycotts or sit-ins or indeed any black people at all.

How did I find this? Well, today Kevin Levin over at Civil War Memory posted a little clip from The Andy Griffin Show in which it is revealed that no one in the town of Mayberry seems to know what the Emancipation Proclamation might be. Well why should they, I thought, there were no blacks in Mayberry. Suddenly it occurred to me how strange it was that the most popular TV series ever set in the American south didn't have any black people. Or did it?

I Googled up this defensive fan FAQ: "There are MANY towns in the south without black people. Also, you are wrong that there were no blacks in Mayberry. If you watch the people in the background, you'll see several black townspeople walking down the sidewalk and being a part of town."

That FAQ included a link to the delightful African-Americans in Mayberry page, where some fellow posted a bunch of screen captures, mostly of street scenes in which some black person is walking past the main character. Red arrows helpfully point out the passing blacks, as we see below:

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Podcasts from the Smithsonian

Smithsonian Podcasts is a rich source, featuring over a dozen podcasts and vidcasts from the many branches of the Smithsonian, including the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Portrait Gallery, and the ZooGoer podcast from the National Zoo. The podcasts are available as MP3s or via iTunes, the vidcasts only through iTunes.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bring Me the Head of Stephen Burroughs!

[An exploration in Google Book Search]

Illustration from The American Phrenological Journal and Miscellany.

Some years back I published a little piece in The Historian about the life of Stephen Burroughs, infamous early national counterfeiter and con man and author of one of the great picaresque accounts of American Letters, Memoirs of the Notorious Stephen Burroughs. As I described Burroughs in the article:

Outraged Pelhamite
Burroughs Memoirs lead the reader in a delightful romp through early America. Burroughs is expelled from Dartmouth for pranks, enlists as a sailor on a privateer in the Revolution, dabbles in counterfeiting, is imprisoned at and escapes from Castle Island prison in Boston Harbor, impersonates a minister, seduces school girls, and gets involved in an early censorship dispute on Long Island, and takes part in the Yazoo land fraud in Georgia. HisMemoirs were an early national best-seller, going through something like 30 editions before the Civil War.

The article was great fun to write and I have maintained an interest in the charming rogue ever since. So tonight Burroughs popped into my head and I suddenly thought--"Google Book Search!" When I wrote my article in 2002 Google Book Search did not exist. What could I find about Burroughs in Google Book Search?

As it turns out, a wealth of information that I had not uncovered for my article. There were of course multiple versions of the memoir. I also found mentions of Burroughs by other 19th century writers, most of them using Burrough's infamy to make a larger point. "I doubt if the best informed of those who have devoted their lives to Public Libraries have ever heard of Stephen Burroughs as being one of their founders,"wrote Charles Francis Adams in 1879, introducing a story about how Burroughs helped to start a library on Long Island. To Frederic Palmer Wells, author of a 1902 history of Newbury, Vermont, Burroughs' story "is the history of a woefully ill-spent life. But he was a man of talents, and his narrative possesses considerable historical value."

"We do not regard Stephen Burroughs as very high authority, in ethics; nevertheless, it is true that even Satan himself may be compelled to testify to the truth," writes a reforming busybody in The Moral Reformer and Teacher on the Human Constitution. The truth that Burroughs testifies, according to the unsigned author, is the deleterious effects of "novel reading" on the character of the young. He quotes Burroughs: "Reading and dwelling so much on those romantic scenes, at that early period of life when judgment was weak, was attended with very pernicious consequences, in the operations of my after conduct."

And there is so much more! Burroughs was often written up in the obscure 19th century histories of the little New England villages where he played his pranks and committed his thefts. He was regularly denounced by moral reformers as an example ofwhatever bad habit they are railing against. and by 1873 Burroughs merits a biographical entry in The American Cyclopaedia, which politely describes him as "an American adventurer." In all, a Google Book Search for "Stephen Burroughs" limited to books in full view produces 458 results, more than half of which are our Burroughs.

My favorite and least-expected discovery is this article from the 1841 volume of The American Phrenological Journal and Miscellany"PHRENOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS AND CHARACTER OF STEPHEN BURROUGHS." Capitalizing on renewed public interest in Burroughs (who had died a year earlier), thePhrenological Journal works from a recent bust of Burroughs (pictured at the top of this post) to take measurements of his skull and analyze the man:

"The middle lobes of the brain, giving width between and above the ears, are very full, indicating great strength of the selfish propensities, which must have a marked influence . . . The crown of his head is very high, giving independence and determination of mind, joined with smaller Approbativeness and Conscientiousness, almost a total disregard for public opinion . . . His moral sentiments are mostly weak . . . "

Ya think? Below is Burrough's phrenological chart:

The topic of Stephen Burroughs reveals some of the power of Google Book Search. The bust of Burroughs used as in illustration in thePhrenological Journal to my knowledge no longer exists and the illustration here has not been seen by modern Burroughs scholars. The obscure town histories mostly draw their Burroughs information from the Memoirs, but many contain additional details about the man, and towns he moved through. And the frequent references to Burroughs in 19th century proscriptive literature merit an essay of their own. Google Book Search enables new kinds of scholarship.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

First Tlingit Canoe on the Potomac

Tlingit canoe makes maiden voyage ... to the Smithsonian

WASHINGTON - A traditional Tlingit dugout canoe made by contemporary Indians sailed grandly through gleaming Potomac waters in a ceremony celebrating its forthcoming inclusion in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Fun story from Indian Country Today about how some modern Tlingits carved a traditional style canoe and delivered it to the National Museum of the American Indian for display. It is especially significant that the museum specifically wanted a modern canoe made by contemporary Tlingits as a symbol of a culture that is very much alive and vibrant. Smithsonian anthropologist Stephen Loring said, "'We wanted to get away from putting up just another old boat.''

Here is a stream of a report from Alaska Public Radio. More photos and a video of the event here. And look at this--the Smithsonian has a Flickr stream that includes a set titled Launching the Raven Canoe.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Stuff and Nonsense: Myths That Should by Now Be History

Stuff and Nonsense: "Every day, stories about people or objects are told in museums that are not true. Some are outright fabrications. Others contain a kernel of truth that the years have embellished. Still others could be true, but lack the proof of documentation. Because they are catchy, humorous, or shocking, the stories stick in our memories when information less sexy slips away."

This is a fun article from the Colonial Williamsburg Journal, an excellent popular history magazine from my friends at CW. Among the myths dissected are the idea that people were shorter in the past, that closets were taxed, and that women were forever bursting into flames because of their petticoats catching fire. This is a timely article for me, because last week I led a history tour along the Missouri River in Missouri, and we heard every one of these myths presented as fact somewhere along the way. (Plus the new myth of "Freedom Quilts" along the Underground Railroad--which is not true either.)

The CW Journal is full of other fine articles, such as Rattle-Skull, Stonewall, Bogus, Blackstrap, Bombo, Mimbo, Whistle Belly, Syllabub, Sling, Toddy, and Flip: Drinking in Colonial America, and Courtship, Sex, and the Single Colonist.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

NY Times Interactive Feature on North Cascades

Going Down the Road - Places Captured in Time, but Not Frozen There: "They were still wearing Stetsons and spurs, not the tight cycling shorts you see these days, when a writer dispatched by the federal government during the Great Depression reached the end of the road here in the North Cascades." Here is an interesting piece in the New York Times that juxtaposes some towns along the North Cascades Highway (mostly Twisp and Concrete) with descriptions of the same places from the Washington State Guide produced by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. There is also a neat interactive feature with short videos keyed to a map of the North Cascades highway. This is the first a series of articles that will take the same approach.

This convergence of print newspapers, history, and the web answers several questions at once. How do newspapers make themselves relevant and interesting to a generation that gets its news from the internet? What do we do with the backlog of historical materials that are finding their way online at places like the Library of Congress? Yesterday's post about a Spokesman Review feature on the Spokane River is another example of newspapers making the most of the web.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Spokesman Review series about the Spokane River The river journey begins: "Spokesman-Review reporter Becky Kramer is taking part in a seven-day, two-weekend trip from North Idaho College to Fort Spokane organized by the Spokane River forum."

The Spokesman Review is running a promising series about the Spokane River, its history, and modern threats of development. And they have lots of neat features on the web, from an interactive map to an interview with Spokane elder Pauline Flett.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Digital Campus

Digital Campus: "A biweekly discussion of how digital media and technology are affecting learning, teaching, and scholarship at colleges, universities, libraries, and museums."

I have been enjoying this podcast for a while. Digital Campus is hosted by George Mason University professors Dan Cohen (Director of the Center for History and New Media), Mills Kelly (author of the blog and Tom Scheinfeldt (managing Director of the Center for History and New Media and author of the blog Found History). Each episode begins with a directed discussion on topics such as copyright, counting digital scholarship towards promotion, or a special guest who works on digital humanities projects. The podcast then turns to the most recent news stories about digital education and humanities and the latest releases of shiny tech toys.

Digital Campus is timely, interesting, and frequently quite funny. And it is an easy way to keep up with the changes that technology is bringing to the ways we practice history and education.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

BibliOdyssey: Campus Life in 1600

BibliOdyssey: Campus Life in 1600: "This album of thirteen engravings of university life in Germany was designed by Johann Christoph Neyffer and the plates were produced by Ludwig Ditzinger somewhere between 1589 and 1600 . . . . The trouble with the modern education system is that there is far too little attention paid to jousting and quarterstaff combat."

A typically fine post from Australian book lover and blogger Paul (aka Peacay) at his site BiblioOdyssey. Paul finds cool book illustrations from online sources and presents them on his blog. The illustrations are enchanting in their own right, and also serve as a nice introduction to some of the resources, especially European sites, that are available online. He even has a book.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Everyone's a historian now

Everyone's a historian now - The Boston Globe: "So far, only a handful of professional historians have begun to exploit crowdsourcing, which remains a relatively crude tool for gathering and organizing knowledge. But as the power of crowds meets the practice of history, these online repositories represent a remarkable change not only in how historical materials are gathered and organized, but, perhaps most important, in how deeply and broadly the past can be understood."

Fascinating article by historian Stephen Mihm about the ways that digital history, online archives, and social networking are transforming historical practice.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Montana: The Magazine of Western History Online

Montana: The Magazine of Western History Articles: Readers of this blog will likely be familiar with this wonderful publication. Published by the Montana Historical Society, Montana does a nice job of bridging the divide between scholarly and popular writing, with well-researched articles written in an accessible style and presented in a lavishly illustrated magazine format. It turns out all of the articles from 1999 to the present are available online at

The presentation of the articles leaves much to be desired. They are hosted on a commercial site which is plastered with advertising. The crude search function is useless. Though each article includes a citation to the year and month of publication, but important bibliographic information such as the volume and number, and original pagination, are not included. And there are no illustrations.

Interestingly, however, the MHS itself has a site for the magazine that makes up for some of the faults of the FindArticles site. The MHS site for Montana has a few of the articles online with the original illustrations--though there is no way to find these without clicking through each of the back issues. There is however a searchable index that could be used to identify articles that could then be found at the FindArticles site.

As my mom would say, What do you want for nothing? Nine years of the best popular western history magazine are now available online. Enjoy.