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.