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.