Monday, December 28, 2009

Know Your War

Following up on my post about the importance of getting history right:

The poster is from this photoshop contest at Something Awful (warning--lots of vulgarity, might be NSFW). And I totally stole this post from Katrina Gulliver.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Myths of the American Revolution

A nice article from historian John Ferling at Smithsonian Magazine--Myths of the American Revolution: "We think we know the Revolutionary War. After all, the American Revolution and the war that accompanied it not only determined the nation we would become but also continue to define who we are. The Declaration of Independence, the Midnight Ride, Valley Forge—the whole glorious chronicle of the colonists’ rebellion against tyranny is in the American DNA. Often it is the Revolution that is a child’s first encounter with history. Yet much of what we know is not entirely true. Perhaps more than any defining moment in American history, the War of Independence is swathed in beliefs not borne out by the facts. Here, in order to form a more perfect understanding, the most significant myths of the Revolutionary War are reassessed."

Among Ferling's points--Saratoga was not that decisive, Washington was not a particularly good general, and the war could easily have gone the other way. A nice review of the war and a good introductory reading for high school or college courses. For other good popular history articles at Smithsonian, browse the History and Archeology section.

And for another myth-busting view of the war, check out Bunker Hill Bunny (1949):

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Disappearing Jobs in the Humanities

Another reason to study public history in this piece from Inside Higher Ed: Disappearing Jobs: "The Modern Language Association's annual forecast on job listings, being released today, predicts that positions in English language and literature will drop 35 percent from last year, while positions in languages other than English are expected to fall 39 percent this year. Given that both categories saw decreases last year, the two-year decline in available positions is 51 percent in English and 55 percent in foreign languages." The article goes on to note that "the declines in each of the last two years are the largest ever recorded by the MLA, since it started tracking the trends in the association's Job Information List 35 years ago. The list has also never had fewer notices of openings."

Though the MLA is about English, the academic history job market tracks quite closely with the broader humanities market. And it should be remembered that these markets were terrible before the current economic crisis, with literally dozens and occasionally hundreds of qualified applicants for every opening. Now the market is at least twice as bad as that.

And there is no reason to expect it ever to improve very much. The end of mandatory retirement means that many teach on much longer than in previous generations (in part to keep the health insurance). Those that do retire are more often replaced by adjuncts and other contingent faculty than by tenure track positions. And the number of undergraduate history majors continues to decline. 

As a professor it is flattering when a student wants to follow in your footsteps. But that path has so narrowed in recent decades that it is effectively closed. Those of us who teach in the humanities have an obligation to firmly tell our charges to forget it. We need to steer them towards alternate careers, such as public history.

[Image via The Tombstone Generator.]

Monday, December 14, 2009

Book Review: First Contacts

[The following review is in the current issue of the Western Historical Quarterly.]

Jon Sutton Lutz, ed., Myth & Memory: Stories of Indigenous-European Contact (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2007) 236 pp.

In this anthology of articles about first contacts between native and European peoples, editor Jon Lutz shares a description by one of Captain Cook’s officers of an evening encounter on the Northwest coast. One Indian man sang “a few words in tune” accompanied by the beating of canoe paddles, “after which they all joined in a song that was by no means unpleasant to the Ear.” The English answered with a “Fife and drum” tune. “Not to be outdone in politeness” the native sang another song, which the English followed with a song on the French horn.

Myth & Memory challenges us to reconsider the phenomena of first contacts, on the Northwest Coast and around the world. The ten essays analyze their respective contacts, from Jamestown to the Kalahari, from a variety of novel perspectives: a genre of stories, a set of performances, and a group of cultural productions. The authors admirably give equal weight to native memories and traditional European-authored primary sources. Many have more than a whiff of the linguistic turn, dissecting the accounts in terms of “cultural currency,” “extravagant ambiguity,” “imaginary productions” and, as in maritime concert above, “spiritual performance.” (11, 30)

The approach is frequently rewarding. Patrick Moore examines the use of humor in contact narratives of the Canadian Kaska tribe to make the larger point that native groups often had different story-telling traditions with different purposes, traditions that need to be understood by scholars using the stories. In an important chapter, I.S. MacLaren explores Paul Kane’s writings on Chinook Indians. He shows how the published texts that many of us have relied upon as primary sources were heavily adapted, altered and even invented by a variety of editors working sometimes from Kane’s field notes, but more often from other published sources on the Chinook and perhaps from their own imaginations.

This linguistic turn can also take the reader down some dark alleys before we emerge into the light of day. In an otherwise fascinating chapter about “narrativity and the lost colony of Roanoke,” Michael Harkin takes us through “topoi,” “iterations and reiterations,” “the mode of theatricality,” the “erotics” and “politics” of representation, “poetics of ambiguity,” “epitomizing events,” and, most unfortunately, “(ab)originality” as we take a learned tour of four centuries of writings about Roanoke. The combination of Harkin’s postmodern rigor and his modest conclusion—that it is exactly the racial and other paradoxes of the story that invites constant reinterpretation—leaves the reader feeling as if he had listened to a shaggy dog story at the MLA.

Myth and Memory is an important collection for anyone studying first encounters, native peoples or colonialism. It is hoped that many of the essays here will grow into monographs on their topics.

Myth and Memory may be purchased here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Good Will Hunting and Amazon Reviews

This is fun--watch this classic scene from Good Will Hunting, in which Matt Damon schools a Harvard graduate student, then peruse the customer reviews of a book mentioned in the scene: Daniel Vickers' Farmers & Fishermen: Two Centuries of Work in Essex County, Massachusetts, 1630-1850.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Public History Has to Get the History Right

The explosion of digital technologies, falling prices for equipment, and the development of an online audience interested in history has allowed everyone to get into the business of public history. Anyone with a netbook and perhaps a Flip video camera can produce original history content, put it online via Blogger or Facebook or dozens of other free platforms, and publicize their wares with Twitter or listservs or whatever. But what good does this do us if they get their history wrong?

Exhibit A: This podcast on the Whitman Tragedy by what appears to be a one-man outfit, US History Travelcast. I very much admire what Jeff Linder, the author of this podcast series, is trying to do. His fledgling site has podcasts on topics as diverse as Plymouth Rock, Seth Bullock (of Deadwood fame), and a 1959 prison riot in Montana. Many of the topics are drawn from Linder's travels and his website includes photographs of many of the featured locations. Unfortunately the content, at least for this episode, is pretty weak.

The problem with Linder's podcast is that he tells the story of the Whitman Mission exactly the way historians of a hundred years ago told the story--of saintly missionaries who headed west and were murdered by superstitious (and faceless) Indians who did not know any better. Linder begins his story with the missionaries at their homes in the northeast, rather than with the Cayuse and Walla Walla peoples along the Columbia. He carefully recites the the full names of each missionary, while mentioning no native person by name until he drops the names of two of the individuals who killed the Whitmans. Indeed the first mention of Indians at all is when he says that the Whitman's joined a fur brigade for safety against "raiding bands of Indians." He repeats the idea that part of the importance of the missionaries is that their party included the "first white women over the Rockies," which is one of those racialized "firsts" that makes modern historians cringe.

The important back story to the mission--the fur trade, the native journey to Saint Louis, the religious changes before the Whitman's arrival--are absent. Linder has Lewis and Clark "discovering" the Columbia River, which would have been news to the American and English sea captains who had sailed up its mouth a generation earlier, let alone the native peoples who had lived there for a hundred generations. He repeats the old myth that a wagon train of immigrants gave measles to the Cayuse, an idea disproven by anthropologist Robert Boyd a decade ago. And Linder has the mixed bloods Joe Lewis and Nicolas Finley as instigators of the killings--a popular 19th century theory but one not widely accepted today.

In his introductory episode Linder explains that he was never interested in history until a recent visit to Washington D.C. where history really came alive to him. "I am not a historian," Linder explains, "I don't have a degree in history." And yet he does have a podcast about history, and his lack of historical training undermines his efforts.

I have spent too many words picking on this poor podcaster who wanted nothing more than to share his love of history.  Let me turn to the real culprit here--the historical profession, which has been slow to adopt new technologies and has left the digital path open to well-meaning but untrained amateurs. Most of us could easily create a podcast and some blog posts on some of our favorite topics. It isn't that hard. But we fail to embrace the new opportunities to reach a public that is hungry for history, and others fill the vacuum.

[Illustration: This diorama of the killing of the Whitman's used to be on display at Whitman Mission National Monument. It was eventually removed because of its factual inaccuracy and because it was offensive to the tribes. Photo courtesy of the Washington State Digital Archives.]

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

404, A Cautionary Tale

Don't ever create an extensive list of hyperlinks on your website. Just don't do it. It is so easy to get caught up in the excitement of cataloguing all the wonderful websites you find on your topic. Then you create your own website with a links page to these resources. And then--it falls apart. URLs change, websites go down, what was good becomes bad or redundant in the light of other new sites, and you have a mess on your hands.

Witness the unfortunate state of this University of Idaho site: Repositories of Primary Sources. It sounds so promising:

A listing of over 5000 websites describing holdings of manuscripts, archives, rare books, historical photographs, and other primary sources for the research scholar. All links have been tested for correctness and appropriateness.

Woohoo! A worldwide guide to all the websites for archives and special collections. This is exactly the kind of resource we need to keep track of all the other digital resources. So I eagerly navigated to the section for the Western United States and Canada and then to Washington and then to Central Washington University:

No problem. Lets try a different link. The East Benton County Historical Society? "Oops! This link appears to be broken." The Echoes of the Past Archive sounds interesting. "This domain is for sale. Please contact for more information." Nevermind, let's try my own Eastern Washington University--no, another 404 page. Of the first 15 links for Washington State, 11 are broken.

I do not mean to slam on the fine people at the University of Idaho, who obviously put a great deal of effort into creating this resource. No doubt they meant to maintain it, and no doubt more pressing matters have directed their attention elsewhere. This is just what happens to such endeavors.

So kids, never create extensive links pages. Or if you must, make them a wiki and leave a note asking users to fix anything they find that is broken.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Nothing to Do with Anything...

Here is mashup of New York City being destroyed in different apocalyptic films, set to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue:

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Whitman College's Online Northwest Archives

Whitman College has put online a small but well-chosen set of books and documents from its excellent northwest history collection. Some of the highlights include a 1913 picture of an "Indian War Dance," a handwritten Journal of Lieutenant John Mullan, and Marcus Whitman's missionary certificate, pictured above.

Whitman College has one of the most impressive collections of source material for early Northwest History (check out the collections guide), and it is great to see some of it going online. I had the pleasure of meeting Whitman archivist Michael Paulus at THATCamp PNW in the fall and he is forward-looking archivist who understands the new digital realm. This is a site for PNW historians to keep an eye on.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Digital Updates at the Washington State Library

The Washington State Library has been adding items to its excellent digital collections. This entry at the WSL blog describes the updates, which includesuch items as Authentic account of the murder of Dr. Whitman and other missionaries by Fr. J.B.A. Brouillet, Reminiscences of Washington Territory by Charles Prosch (pictured below), and Seattle General Strike , an "account of the Seattle general strike from the point of view of the unions, written by the History Committee of the General Strike Committee."

I have just begun dipping into these resources, but I will share with you this excerpt from Prosch's memoir of early settlement and the Civil War in the territory:

At an early stage in the great civil war it became appar-
ent that there were in California, Oregon and Washington,
men ready to aid in the destruction of the Union by every
means within their power. They were creatures who had not
the courage to face the dangers of the battle field, else their
zeal would have led them to remain at the east or induced
them to go there and openly espouse the Confederate cause
by taking up arms in its defense. They were northern cop-
perheads and doughfaces, (so called then) far more despicable
and treacherous than the worst of those in open rebellion
against the best government on earth. Here, thousands of
miles from the theater of war, it was safe to hatch treason, and
they lost no time in availing themselves of the opportunity
their isolation afforded. In secret they plotted, here and
elsewhere on the coast, to dismember the Union, with a view
to aiding their confederates in the Southern states.

If you want to see where this story goes you will have to read it yourself!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

First Thanksgiving in the Washington Territory

I was browsing the wonderful Washington Historic Newspapers project looking for some historical Thanksgiving cheer to share with you, Dear Reader, and came up with this curious piece from the November 9, 1860 edition of the Pioneer and Democrat [PDF], marking the first official Thanksgiving Day in the Washington Territory. It is a sentimental piece, as the author recalls Thanksgivings past with family in the east. How different it must have been on the gray and often impoverished Washington frontier. The piece is also interesting for some the obscure 19th century language.  What on earth does it mean when the writer says that after dinner "came the 'feast of reason and flow of soul' we all remember with delight?"

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Internet Scare Article of the Day

The NY Times had a ridiculous article the other day designed to make parents afraid of the internet all over again.

"Guardians of Their Smiles" dared to ask the question "Is it safe to post children's images on online photo sites?" You just know what the answer is going to be from the illustrating photo--a grim-faced mommy clutching her Macbook tightly to her chest, while in the soft-focus distance behind her a child peers into another laptop. Danger Will Robinson We Must Help the Mommy Protect Her Young!

The article is pure parenting hysteria (cyber edition). It contains exactly two examples of the horrors that can result in putting children's pictures online. The first is of the sternly visaged Jessica Gwozdz, whose picture illustrates the article. It seems that some Brazilian teenaged girls, in a "gut-churning prank," took pictures of her daughters to create “paper doll” profiles at the social networking site Orkut, "giving each other 'sexy' ratings depending on the quality of their work." Gwozdz found out when a family friend saw the profiles. She notified Orkut and profiles were removed. "Such is the stuff of parents’ nightmares," the Times intones.

The remainder of the article contains no evidence of danger from putting children's photos lonline. It does however have a steady stream of parents expressing a weird kind of smug paranoia. Quote after quote:

What’s to stop a pedophile from putting two and two together?

To me, a picture posted on the Internet is a big piece of information. I cringe when I see what people post.

I wouldn’t even post a picture of my son from behind if he were naked.

You should not have any photos of your children on the Internet at all!

If you want to post pictures of my kids online, you’d better ask me first (so I can say no!)

Near the end of the article there are some brief quotes from people who have actually done research on things like the internet and pedophilia who point out that these fears are completely unfounded:

“Research shows that there is virtually no risk of pedophiles coming to get kids because they found them online,” said Stephen Balkam, chief executive of the Family Online Safety Institute. While the debate makes this crime seem common, he said, all the talk is really just “techno-panic.”

So why isn't the title and tone of this article "Irrational Techno-Panic Frightens Helicopter Parents?" Because after all, the Times was not able to come up with a single instance of anything bad happening as a result of posting pictures online!

There is so much paranoia and misinformation out there about privacy and the internet. It is sad to see our leading newspaper adding to people's fear and ignorance.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Northwest Indians in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Historical Society has a new online exhibit, Photographs of Native Americans:

What are photographs of Native Americans from the central and western parts of the United States doing in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society? The portraits in this web presentation were collected by four Bostonians during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Charles W. Jenks and Francis Parkman collected carte de visite and tintype portraits of American Indians during the 1860s as historical records of tribal groups and their role in contemporary American politics.

Those Bostonians--don't turn your back on them and count the silver when they leave! My favorite part of the exhibit is Photographs from the Wanamaker Expeditions, 1908-1913. The photographer of the Wanamaker Expedition was Joseph Kossuth Dixon, who might most kindly be described as imitative of Edward Curtis. Among Dixon's photographic stunts were putting on an all-Indian stage production of Hiawatha and bribing a number of chiefs to come to an "old-time Indian council" his boss hosted at the Crow Agency. Dixon's photographs (like those of Curtis) tell us a lot about white attitudes towards Indians at the turn of the last century, but almost nothing about the Indians themselves.

[Photo: "The Sunset of a Dying Race" Photogravure by Joseph K. Dixon, 1913.]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lahal: A Close Look at the Bone Game

Lahal: A Close Look at the Bone Game is a charming low-key brief documentary by Matthew Lulua about a popular northwest Indian game, also known as the stick game. Accounts of Indians playing the stick game and gambling for high stakes are common in the literature of the encounter, and archeology has revealed stick game pieces thousands of years old. And yet I have to admit that I never quite understood how the game is played until I watched this film. I don't know much about the film or its maker--let me know if you do!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

High Country Archeology

A neat newspaper article: Unearthing secrets of the ancient Cascades:

Archaeological digs in two Washington national parks continue to reveal artifacts that debunk the myth that indigenous people didn’t gather food and plants from the upper reaches of the Cascades. A dig near Cascade Pass in North Cascades National Park has revealed evidence that humans used the area 9,600 years ago. At Mount Rainier National Park, a site on the northern slope of the mountain has produced artifacts dating back 7,600 years.

I am not sure why archeologists have been slow to accept the idea that precontact Indians might have ventured into the high county on a regular basis. Why wouldn't they? Mountain goat horns are useful for bowls and spoons, the summer flies are not so thick up there, and fresh glacier lilies are mighty tasty. And I think I disagree with this passage, from anthropologist Bradford Andrews:

Although today it’s more recreational, in the past they were more worried about finding food to eat.

Why couldn't it have been both? That 20th century Americans find the Cascades high country beautiful is not some modern refinement. We have abundant evidence that American Indians had a highly developed aesthetic sense for the outdoors as well. Maybe the Indians who left the fire pits and tools that archeologists are finding in the high county were there on vacation!

(I don't normally link to newspaper articles but this one is bringing back memories. I worked for four seasons in the North Cascades National Park, the last few on trail crew, and frequently hiked across Cascade Pass and similar places. I have fond memories of feasting on huckleberries and blueberries at 6000 feet.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How Screwed Are We?

On a non-historical note, but of interest to anyone who works (as I do) for the State of Washington: Governor Christine Gregoire today issued The 2009-11 Budget Story [PDF]. The short version: We in Washington State have lost $9 billion in expected revenue in a state budget of $31 billion. Even after wrenching cuts this year, we face a shortfall of another $1.7 billion, which has to come out of the $9.3 billion portion of the budget that is not "protected" by federal requirements or contracts or such. Sample graphic:

Pretty screwed.

What I Learned from Twitter Today

"What the hell is up with Twitter? What is that all about?"

So said a friend recently as we were discussing social media and the academy. This person was no Luddite--she is a digital librarian at one of the preeminent universities in the Northwest. And I might have said the same thing six months ago. So let me answer by way of illustration with a few things I learned from various tweets (and retweets) today:

  1.  From HistoryLink, I learned that the Everett Public Library has podcasts devoted to Northwest History, including a historical musical about and by the Wobblies and the Everett Massacre. (The library also hosts a digital photo collection on the topic.)
  2. Dan Cohen tipped me off to a blog post by Mark Liberman which uses text mining to cast doubt on that old chestnut that the before the Civil War people spoke of the United States in plural ("these United States") and after the war they spoke of the United States in singular terms (the United States).
  3. Steven Lubar pointed me at this alarming article about a messy legal battle between a historian and big tobacco. Lubar also shared this fun article about how the Smithsonian tries to decide which artifacts of the digital revolution are worth collecting.
  4. I saw that Kevin Levin continues to slay vast legions of imaginary black Confederates at his righteous blog Civil War Memory.
  5. Suzanne Fischer shared this wonderful 1906 document from New Zealand recording recent carrier pigeon messaged delivered to Great Barrier Island. (She also had unkind words for the New York Times).
  6. I learned a lot about what various Twitter friends had for dinner, or thought about the news, or that their dog has fleas. But the odd thing is that I find myself caring about these things, sometimes, as people who I began following because they tweet interesting stuff become something more like friendly acquaintances. Thus the social of social media.

Type rest of the post here

Monday, November 9, 2009

Regional History Presentation at Gonzaga this Sunday

Here is an interesting upcoming event! Professors Bob Carson and Tom Edwards of Whitman College will be appearing in Spokane this Sunday afternoon, Nov 15, to talk about their book Where the Great River Bends: A Natural and Human History of the Columbia at Wallula. From the publisher's website:

A significant location from time immemorial, Wallula Gap is that narrowing of the mighty Columbia River halfway between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Loaded with color illustrations, this book covers the geography, geology, biology and history of an area symbolized by a unique geologic feature, the Twin Sisters. Here the Ice Age floods rushed through, Native Americans lived, fur trappers traded and railroads thrived, making it an important historical and cultural landmark in the West’s awesome landscape.

My understanding is the Edwards will talk about the history Wallula and Carson will show some of his stunning photos from the book. The event is free and open to the public, but it is requested that guest register online at the first link in this post.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Alexander Hamilton Rap

This rap was part of a recent White House performance. It is really good, though marred somewhat by the nervous laughter of an audience that was having trouble getting their heads around a serious rap song about Alexander Hamilton. But why not? The most interesting thing to me is how artist Lin-Manuel Miranda sees Hamilton--as a lower class striver who made good, a kid from the 18th-century 'hood. Rather than as an oppressive reactionary, you know.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Michael Finley on Native America Calling

I am listening to the Chairman of the Colville Confederated Tribes, Michael Finley, on the nationally syndicated radio program Native America Calling. (Click here to play the October 28 show, Gonna Paint the White House Red.) Finley is the youngest ever chairman of the Colville Nation, the co-author of the excellent volume Finding Chief Kamiakin: The Life and Legacy of a Northwest Patriot. Finley also holds an MA in history from Eastern Washington University. He appeared on Native America Calling to discuss the upcoming Tribal Nations Conference at the White House that he will be attending.

As a faculty member at EWU it is exciting to watch Finley's progress. Though I wasn't a member of the department at the time I am told he was one of the most impressive students to come through our graduate history program in recent years. He has published a number of interesting articles recently as well as the biography of Kamiakin. And a few months ago he was elected tribal chairman. Finley is at his best on the program, for example describing the Grand Coulee dam as "an example of what the tribes have had to pay for what some call progress" and "the concrete monolith that . . . is like a tombstone for us" because it blocked the salmon runs. Check it out.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Anyone Using Open Source Collections Management Software?

I recently tweeted the question "What free/open source solutions exist for small museums looking to to create collections inventories?" In my role coordinating the Public History program at Eastern Washington University I often work with very small rural museums and heritage groups. These organizations are run by volunteers (often elderly volunteers at that) have budgets that are more often in the hundreds of dollars a year than the thousands, and have no one in the organization with any museum, historical, or technology training. However they are passionate about their local history, and often have unique and substantial holdings of records, photographs, and objects. How can they organize their collections? The software has to be free and extremely easy to use. It should also have web capabilities and use universal standards so data could be exported to another software package in the future.

Some twitter friend suggestions and a bit of gooling revealed at least four choices. But I don't have time to test them all and can't find a good compare-and-contrast article. If anyone has experience with any of these systems, please let us know what you think:

  • Museolog "is a software system, developed by EUROCLID within UNESCO HeritageNet project, and localised by NGO Open Systems where initial functions of input and editing of museum catalogues are provided by a modern intuitive graphical interface using forms and menu." Wikipedia page here.
  • "CollectiveAccess (formerly known as OpenCollection) is a full-featured collections management and online access application for museums, archives and digital collections. It is designed to handle large, heterogeneous collections that have complex cataloguing requirements and require support for a variety of metadata standards and media formats." Also web based. Here is a Slideshare presentation about the software.
  • CollectionSpace "is focused on developing solutions for museums and related heritage organizations that want to address this information gap and re-define the ways in which collections information is collected, managed, preserved, leveraged, and published. CollectionSpace partners will develop software with an open and extensible architecture, that is community-based and technologically robust." It appears to be in the early stages of development.
  • Omeka (of course): "Create complex narratives and share rich collections adhering to Dublin core standards with Omeka, designed for scholars, museums, libraries, archives, and enthusiasts." My only hesitation with Omeka is that lead developer Dave Lester has described it (at THATCamp PNW) as more of a web publishing platform than a collections management tool.
  •  Open Office version of Access (or Access itself if they already have it?) 
If you have experience with any of these systems, or suggestions for other ways to get this done, please weigh in!

[Image from Flickr user Brunngrrl and used via a Creative Commons license.]

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Henry V Less Virile than Previously Believed

Interesting article in the NY Times--Historians Reassess Battle of Agincourt: "Agincourt’s status as perhaps the greatest victory against overwhelming odds in military history — and a keystone of the English self-image — has been called into doubt by a group of historians in Britain and France who have painstakingly combed an array of military and tax records from that time and now take a skeptical view of the figures handed down by medieval chroniclers."

The revisionist historians have determined that rather than facing thousands of heavily-armed French nobleman, Henry's troops actually fought a couple of char women, a rabid cow, and perhaps a killer rabbit. But what is most interesting in the article is the description of the "new science of military history" that has produced a reevaluation of Agincourt: "The new accounts tend to be not only more quantitative but also more attuned to political, cultural and technological factors, and focus more on the experience of the common soldier than on grand strategies and heroic deeds . . .The approach has drastically changed views on everything from Roman battles with Germanic tribes, to Napoleon’s disastrous occupation of Spain, to the Tet offensive in the Vietnam War. But the most telling gauge of the respect being given to the new historians and their penchant for tearing down established wisdom is that it has now become almost routine for American commanders to call on them for advice on strategy and tactics in Afghanistan, Iraq and other present-day conflicts."

For those wishing to dig further this 1991 article by Peter Paret titled "The New Military History" provides a background.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Five Take Aways from THATCamp Pacific Northwest

THATCamp Pacific Northwest was a great success, thanks to the hard-work of Julie Meloni and others at Washington State University. Unconferences such as THATCamp are said to be "user generated" but that is only true of the sessions--someone has to reserve the space and pay for the coffee and make sure everyone can get online and a hundred other things to make a successful meeting. Anyway, I learned so much and have a lot to think about. Here are a few random insights/resources/ideas that I am mulling over:
  1. There are a LOT of us doing interesting work in digital humanities in the Pacific Northwest and we never meet one another. More than 40 people gave up a Saturday to travel from Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and the Puget Sound to Pullman (Pullman!) for the chance just to talk about digital humanities.
  2. We should not waste effort recreating resources that are already out there. As Dave Lester of the CHNM said create scholarship, not destinations.
  3. Apparently some digital projects that were created with public funds have since vanished behind pay walls! This is both obscene and easy to understand--as public money ran out and institutional support eroded, digital projects were adopted by commercial entities that could at least keep them alive. (I am eager to learn of specific examples of this phenomena, so email or tweet me or whatever if you know of any.)
  4. Humanities scholars working on digital projects should reach beyond their disciplines to their natural allies in libraries, museums, the genealogical community,  teachers, the open-source movement, and elsewhere.
  5. Michael Paulus of Whitman College made an important point: The Northwest needs a digital humanities center. Such a center could help prepare grant proposals, host meetings, form collaborative networks, sponsor digital projects, etc. We can start small--perhaps the center begins as an email list. Michael, I'm looking at you!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Interview with Iraqi Archivist Saad Eskander

Archivists in the United States have to deal with declining budgets, political interference, and technological challenges--but we have it easy! Check out this fascinating interview with Saad Eskander, Director-General of Iraq’s National Library and Archives. He has worked to rebuild a scattered national archives admidst car-bombing, assassinations and kidnappings. His inspiring story comes via WBUR and NPR's On Point radio program with Tom Ashbrook.

Eskander seems to be doing a media tour to put pressure on the U.S. government to return some Iraqi documents taken after the war. You can read an Guardian profile of him here and his diary is online at the British Library.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Crowdsourcing Redux

In an amusing twist, Flickr user Heather Falk discovered my post "Lick This": LOC, Flickr, and the Limits of Crowd Sourcing and said hi (actually she said "LOL"). It was of course Falk who posted "lick this" to the forehead of a 1942 woman aircraft worker at the Library of Congress Flickr photostream, a comment that I held up as illustrating the limits of historical crowdsourcing. In any case, Falk has a Flickr photostream and appears to be a perfectly nice person with a cute cat.

This reminds me that I had promised to follow up with another post about crowdsourcing showing some of the triumphs of this approach. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

Historians Must Organize to Take Advantage of a Second Stimulus

Calls Grow for More Relief: "WASHINGTON – Eight months after enacting a massive economic stimulus package, the Obama administration is facing rising pressure from some congressional Democrats to move more aggressively to jump-start the moribund job market and try to spur a housing recovery."

If there is another stimulus, will history miss the boat again?

The last stimulus was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity--and we blew it. Some of us on the fringes of the profession called for a new federal writers project. We noted that history was scanner ready. We envisioned hundreds of millions (of the hundreds of billions) of stimulus dollars flowing into oral history, digitization, historic preservation, and history education. Stimulus money spent on history would not need a year to eighteen months to hit the economy--we are ready to go. Give us a sack of dollars and a stack of unfunded NEH proposals from the past five years and we will get people to work by Christmas.

Why did we get nothing? Because our professional organizations failed us. So far as I know there was no effort by the OAH, the AHA, the NCPH, or any other history organization to rally its members for a major push for a share of the stimulus. They sat on their hands while lobbyists from the other sectors of the economy elbowed their way to the trough. (I apologize if I am mischaracterizing anyone here and welcome correction.)

It looks like we might be about to get a second chance. Will we sit on the sidelines again? I invite ideas on how to mobilize the historians, genealogists (who are legion after all), preservationists, and teachers to channel some stimulus money into history. How do we do this?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mapping Seattle's Lost Landscapes

Founded on Indian ground by American settlers in 1851, Seattle is one of the most dramatically engineered cities in the United States. Its shorelines have been extended, lagoons filled, hills flattened and rivers re-routed. Built on an active geological fault near a large volcano, Seattle has also been jolted by huge earthquakes, washed by tsunammis, covered by volcanic mud and ash, fluted by glaciers and edged by rising seas. Enter here to glimpse this history through The Waterlines Project.

This attractive site from the Burke Museum takes a geographical approach to Seattle history.  At the core of the project are some neat GIS layers of traditional and historical shorelines, rivers, and other geographic features along with historic maps and place marks for significant sites. But GIS and the web are like oil and water, so the maps are rendered in flash (at least that is what I think is going on). I am not fond of flash but this site is really well-done, at least once you give up on trying to download anything and realize that the right click is no longer what you think. Fortunately a Maps and Images section provides downloadable copies of many (though not all) of the images used in the flash site.

The Duwamish River section (I would link, but it's Flash so I can't) has the richest collection of map overlays. On a modern map of Seattle you can click boxes to superimpose important native sites, maps of the shoreline at different eras, and maps showing how the rivers have been rerouted. Each layer brings up new interpretive paragraphs and a map key.

Waterlines is an ongoing project and will be more than a website: "In planning stages now are physical exhibits to be placed at sites in downtown Seattle and electronic broadcasts to handheld devices." Sounds great!

[Top Image: Plan of city during Battle of Seattle, 1856, Courtesy of University of Washington Libraries Image number: 2002.3.54.]

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Story by Sherman Alexie

The current New Yorker has a magical story by Sherman Alexie, "War Dances." I won't try to describe the story, but it does contain this previously published poem by Alexie:

Mutually Assured Destruction

When I was nine, my father sliced his knee
With a chainsaw. But he let himself bleed
And finished cutting down one more tree
Before his boss drove him TO EMERGENCY.

Late that night, stoned on morphine and beer,
My father needed my help to steer
His pickup into the woods. “Watch for deer,”
My father said. “Those things just appear

Like magic.” It was an Indian summer
And we drove through warm rain and thunder,
Until we found that chainsaw, lying under
The fallen pine. Then I watched, with wonder,

As my father, shotgun-rich and impulse-poor,
Blasted that chainsaw dead. “What was that for?”
I asked. “Son,” my father said. “Here’s the score.
Once a thing tastes blood, it will come for more.”

Here is a brief interview with Alexie about his new book, War Dances.

Friday, October 2, 2009

What if the Apollo 11 Astronauts had Died?

One of the finest speeches that William Safire ever wrote for his boss Richard Nixon was never delivered. It was this contingency speech, prepared in July of 1969 in case something went wrong and the Apollo astronauts died on the moon.“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace," the speech begins. "These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery.”

Wait--just Armstrong and Aldrin? What about the third Apollo crewman, Michael Collins?  Well Collins did not go down to the surface, he was to pilot the command module orbiting the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin took the lunar module down--and presumably back. But it was that last part that was considered tricky, as Safire explained in a fascinating 1999 essay: "The most dangerous part of the trip was not landing the little module on the moon, but in launching it back up to the mother ship. If that failed, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin could not be rescued. Mission Control would have to ''close down communications'' and, as the world agonized, let the doomed astronauts starve to death or commit suicide."

This speech was rediscovered in 1999 and has been kicking around the internet ever since. I was inspired to post it here when I saw it over at the Teaching American History in SW Washington blog, which rightly points out that the speech is a great classroom resource.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Susan Armitage at the MAC

A quick announcement of an upcoming event at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. This should be excellent, Dr. Armitage is a terrific scholar and speaker:

Suffrage in Spokane
Public Lecture by Dr. Susan Armitage
Thursday, October 1, 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Dr. Armitage is Distinguished Professor of History, Emerita, Washington State University. Part of MAC’s Teachers’ Night program. Free to the public.Sponsored by Spokane Teachers Credit Union and a Teaching American History grant administered by Educational Service District 101 and Eastern Washington University.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Two Lightly Animated Cats Discuss Museums

I have mixed feelings about this video--it is amusing and might be a good starting point to discuss museums and their significance with students. But it has the flavor of an essay by a very bright undergraduate who mistakenly believes she has single handedly invented critical thinking about her topic. This flavor because that is exactly what the video is, with the addition of cats. The YouTube description reads:

Recently Kim's been obsessing over museums, her new "hobby." Here she reads from her latest report, "The Creation of Value: meditations on the logic of museums and other coercive institutions." Mildly unpleasant Dead Pinky Story also included (free poster available for download at (

[Hat tip to Twitter friend Steven Lubar.]

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Promise of Mobile History

Look closely at the image of the iPhone--see the app with the letter H icon? That is a mock up of an iPhone app that would use the GPS system in the iPhone to help users to find historic sites when they travel. It is the brainchild of Twitterer DriveByHistory, known to you squares as Cynthia Sengel. Click here to play with the mockup and see how it would work.

I blogged a while back about the Duke Digital Collections iPhone app. But what is really promising about mobile devices is the promise of making history, well, mobile. Imagine being a road trip where you were alerted not just to historical markers but to museums that are currently open, historic trails along the way, old cemeteries, buildings on the National Register, etc., in each case with some pictures and a quick text blurb to tell you more. My immediate thoughts are 1) that would be amazing, and 2) I'd never get anywhere.

The next step would be to develop location-specific content for such mobile devices. How about a geotagged podcast that would take you on a walking tour of a historic site without having to have a set route? Or a virtual museum guide who knew what room you were in and which painting you were looking at? Or being able to see your location on a historic Sanborn or other map, or compare historic photos to the present-day house or building in front of you.

There was recently an interesting post over at Wired about a "Bionic Eye" iPhone app that produced "augmented reality." It looked to me like a good way to get hit by a car. But these augmented reality apps that overlay data from the internet on the scene in front of you have obvious uses for creating historical tours. In a few years you will see people standing at the edge of the Gettysburg Battlefield and holding their smart phones in front of their faces to see Pickett's charge reenacted on a 3" screen.

Also, it would be nice to see a way for historians to develop mobile content in a platform neutral way. I cannot see having my public history students develop content for a proprietary device that they cannot themselves afford.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

...for example...

As a sort of addendum to my post about the OAH below, take a look at this conference website: Archives & Museum Informatics: Museums and the Web 2010: Call for Participation. They have unconference sessions and a variety of other session formats, active discussion boards to promote pre-conference dialogue, even a room mate finder. Nicely done!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More Cowbell: My Plan to Revive the OAH

So I was looking at the Organization of American Historians new 2009 Draft Strategic Plan and their request for member comments. The OAH is suffering the fate of many professional organizations--an aging and declining membership, fewer subscribers for its journal, less interest in its annual conference. I was typing out a long email response when it hit me: I have a blog.

I have only occasionally been a member of the OAH, usually when I go to the annual conference to present or to listen. I respect the organization, but it has never seemed very relevant to me. The articles in the Journal of American History tend to be narrow and densely written--which is fine when they publish something in one of my subfields, but of course this doesn't happen very often. The OAH conference consists largely of people in suits reading fledgling JAH articles out loud. I have drawn on the valuable OAH Speakers Bureau when designing a Teaching American History grant, and I do like the Magazine of History that they began putting out a few years ago. I always thought the OAH should be more of an
advocacy organization for funding for history programs but they don't seem to do much (correct me if I am wrong). So I have supported the OAH intermittently, sometimes feeling guilty for not doing more. Anyway, here is my plan:

1. Drop the print journal. The declining readership of the JAH is not a reason to "continue and further develop" that journal. There is simply a declining public and even professional interest in this sort of scholarship. Eliminate the print edition entirely and make it a digital publication to save money (à la the University of Michigan Press). The Magazine of History on the other hand is pretty good and should continue.

2. Reboot the conference. The conference needs an overhaul! 3 panelists + 1 commenter + passive audience = snooze fest. (The accompanying picture is of the audience at my last OAH presentation.) So
me changes:
  • Ban the reading of papers and shorten presenters time to ten minutes.
  • One-half of each session should be dedicated to discussion with the audience.
  • Ask presenters to summarize their evidence and arguments on a conference blog in advance of the conference. Allow others to comment and engage the presenters.
  • Ditch the roundtables, which are actually even more of a snooze than the traditional panels because no one prepares anything new to say. The majority of roundtables come off as the most forced and awkward imaginable sort of cocktail party conversation.
  • Free wireless throughout the session, and encourage use of a Twitter hash tag to open another channel for conversations. This is important.
  • In short, make the conference a bit more like THATCamp. Try including some "unconference" sessions at the 2010 meeting.
3. One blog to rule them all. Establish a year-round OAH community blog and discussion forum. Community blog means that any member of the OAH can create a post! Have some loose guidelines (no advocacy except for historical advocacy, no pictures of your cats) and name some moderators (and yes I am volunteering). The H-NET lists are largely moribund and online historical discussion has been atomized across a hundred different forums. The OAH can bring some of it together and gain scholarly energy and relevance. The closest model for what I have in mind is the general interest community blog MetaFilter, except limited to historians and requiring users to post under their real names.

(BTW, Katrina Gulliver and I have been discussion this at considerable length, mostly via email but here is a post where she elaborates on some of the ideas.)

4. Build up from the grassroots. Encourage smaller regional informal gatherings--OAH Pizza, Beer and History nights, OAH historical tours, the OAH History Book Discussion groups, etc. These could draw in school teachers, folks who majored in history in college but work outside the profession, and others.

5. A lifeline to independent scholars. Offer a home to independent scholars and public historians. And by a home, I mean access to the scholarly databases that are the 21st century life blood of our profession. Academic discussion boards are full of plaintive pleas from unaffiliated historians who lost access to these resources when they left graduate school and whose scholarship is hamstrung because of the fact. Work out a deal with JSTOR and MUSE and the Evans Collection and to give OAH members access as part of their paid memberships. (I see that the American Economic Association is already on it, at least with JSTOR--why not the OAH?)

6. Get on the grants train. The OAH should try to offer it services as a partner in more grant activities--especially the Teaching American History Grants. And industry of history content providers has arisen in response to the more than $800 million that the Department of Education has pumped into this program so far. Some of these content providers are frankly shady shallow commercial outfits with marginal qualifications. ( Why isn't the OAH getting on board? Its expertise is sorely needed, and could be generously rewarded.

The OAH was founded in the early 20th Century on a 19th Century model. Can it make the leap into the modern era? Can any of our professional organizations?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dan Cohen on The Future of the Digital University

Here is an interesting talk from Dan Cohen, Director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. (He also has a blog and tweets and is one of the hosts of the Digital Campus podcast.) Despite the video presentation this is largely a talk with few illustrations and you can play it in the background while you play World of Warcraft or whatever.*

*I have never played World of Warcraft.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Building the Digital Lincoln

Journal of American History - Building the Digital Lincoln: "This special resources site offers a snapshot of how historians andBlogger: Northwest History - Edit Post "Journal of American History - Building the Digital..." digital humanists have helped to build a new understanding of Abraham Lincoln with a series of innovative and powerful Web-based tools. Their contributions during the decade preceding the Lincoln bicentennial have significantly altered the landscape of Lincoln scholarship by widening and deepening access to a vast array of primary sources. The result has been a more finely detailed portrait of President Lincoln, his relationships, and his career’s most pivotal moments."

This interesting site from the Journal of American History uses the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln as the thread that brings together a variety of approaches to digital history. In fact it is a fine introduction to some aspects of digital history--from word clouds to GIS layers to 3D modeling (using Google Sketchup!) to an interactive online essay to a brief documentary created using Photostory. What I like about the Building the Digital Lincoln site is that it is not all bleeding-edge technology, but uses well-known and widely available software packages. A visitor to the site thinks "Hey that is really cool--and I can do it!"

By the way, I will buy a drink for the first person who can identify the origin of the animated GIF on this page. (Hint: It is not from the JAH!)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Great Archival Find

Archives are like treasure rooms that have not been fully explored. This article from the Winston-Salem Journal reminds us of the importance of funding and programs to develop archival holdings and make them public.

Cherokee Revealed - Translated Moravian records disclose a forgotten history: In front of the house stands a long, open shed covered with clapboards adequately provided with benches and other seats, as well as a raised plank for writing on. The Talk was held under this shed. At a short distance from this stands a tall pole. A designated Indian took his position at this pole with a drum, and beat the drum as a sign of the beginning of the meeting. He kept drumming until Indians were seen coming in lines. In the heat, the Indians used turkey wings in stead of fans to make a breeze for themselves. -- Report from Abraham Steiner, a Moravian missionary to the Cherokee at Springplace, Ga., May 22, 1801, translated from the German.

The Moravian Archives in Winston-Salem have a website, but unfortunately none of the translated documents are available. A tip of the hat to Suzanne Fischer for making me aware of this story.

Picture is from the linked story, where it has this caption:
"This map showing the settlements of the Cherokee Nation was drawn by Moravian missionary John Daniel Hammerer and is dated to 1766."

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bootylicious, and Other Piratical Links

I am getting a jump on Talk Like a Pirate Day with a roundup on decidedly non-Northwest links.

First, and the impetus for the post, a charming New Yorker essay by Caleb Crain: Bootylicious: A History of Pirates. Like much of what Crain does, it is a model of how popular history should be written. "On the evening of April 1, 1719, an English slave ship came to anchor near the mouth of the Rokel River, off the coast of what is now Sierra Leone. In the hold were linen and woollen goods that could be traded for slaves, fava beans to feed them, and, for the officers, cheese, butter, sugar, and Westphalia ham, as well as live geese, turkeys, ducks, and a sow. The captain, a devout man named William Snelgrave, was apprehensive, because the west coast of Africa was rife with pirates . . ." You know that Snelgrave is in a world of trouble. Crain offers a review of pirate historiography, a sweeping history of piracy, explanation of pirate society, and a review of a new book by Peter T. Leeson, The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates. (Preceding links includes a video interview with Leeson and a sample chapter.)

The blogosphere is swarming with black-hearted piratical content right now. Crain's fine blog, Steamboats are Ruining Everything, has a series of pirate posts. Start with this one. And A Lively Experiment, the excellent blog of the Rhode Island Historical Society, is running a series of posts on the pirate-related items in their collections.

(On a personal note, my 9-year-old son, a bright boy and a fan of Captain Jack Sparrow, became fascinated with these 300 year old directions to pirate treasure. As I write this he is pouring over an atlas map of the Caribbean trying to match up the cryptic "J L" and "B O" to some modern feature. I am impressed by the way he is thinking historically--"Dad! Do we have a map of the Caribbean that was made in 1719? Because the names might be different now!" "Dad! Is there a biography of the guy who wrote the directions? Because then we could see where he went and narrow it down." The poor kid is ruined.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Google's Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars?

Your humble Northwest History blogger is sometimes accused of being a Google fanboy. A fair cop. But you know who is not a Google fanboy? Geoffrey Nunberg, that is who. Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education Nunberg has a witty jerimiad, Google's Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars.

Nunberg's beef is with Google's sloppy and commercially driven metadata schemes. He demonstrates that even with such a basic item as date of publication, Google Books very frequently gets it wrong. This in turn often corrupts search results: "A search on 'Internet' in books published before 1950 produces 527 results; 'Medicare' for the same period gets almost 1,600." By comparing Google's data to that found in the catalogues of the contributing libraries Nunberg shows that these errors do in fact belong to Google, not to their partners.

Nunberg also whacks Google for the classification errors where books are placed in the wrong categories: " H.L. Mencken's The American Language is classified as Family & Relationships. A French edition of Hamlet and a Japanese edition of Madame Bovary are both classified as Antiques and Collectibles . . . An edition of Moby Dick is labeled Computers; The Cat Lover's Book of Fascinating Facts falls under Technology & Engineering."

Worst of all to Nunberg is Google's adoption of the Book Industry Standards and Communications categories for Google Books, which he describes as a modern commercial invention used to sell books, rather than a scholarly system of classification like the Library of Congress subject headings: "For example the BISAC Juvenile Nonfiction subject heading has almost 300 subheadings, like New Baby, Skateboarding, and Deer, Moose, and Caribou. By contrast the Poetry subject heading has just 20 subheadings. That means that Bambi and Bullwinkle get a full shelf to themselves, while Leopardi, Schiller, and Verlaine have to scrunch together in the single subheading reserved for Poetry/Continental European. In short, Google has taken a group of the world's great research collections and returned them in the form of a suburban-mall bookstore."

I think that Nunberg has a number of good points--point he gathers together to form a molehill, from which he conjures up a mountain. Google's metadata may be everything he says (and I think he is probably right) but how great a problem is that really? This scholar at least uses Google Books either 1) to locate a digital copy of a book I already know about, or 2) via a string of search terms. In the first case, it is not relevant to me that Google has classified Adventures of Huckleberry Finn under "wild plants" or whatever. I know perfectly well what it is, and just wanted to find a quote I remember.

In the second case, I might search for mentions of the Columbia River in books published before 1860. And suppose a faulty date in Google's database brings me to something written after 1860. So what? Surely when I click on the link and find myself reading Sherman Alexie instead of Lewis and Clark, I will notice the fact. (Actually I just did the search and on the first 10 pages of results I don't see any errors at all. Take that, Nunberg.)

So for which scholars exactly is Google Book Search a "disaster?" Nunberg cites "linguists and assorted wordinistas" who are "adrenalized" at the thought of data mining to "track the way happiness replaced felicity in the 17th century, quantify the rise and fall of propaganda or industrial democracy over the course of the 20th century, or pluck out all the Victorian novels that contain the phrase "gentle reader." But who does this? OK, I know that people do it, but most data mining of this type has always struck me as more of a parlour trick than actual scholarship.

The other thing Nunberg ignores is that metadata is not that hard to fix. Google already provides a "feedback" button on every virtual page so readers can report unreadable or missing pages. If we howl loud enough we could easily see similar feedback mechanisms on the "More book information" page so we could correct names and dates and categories.

Nunberg is absolutely correct to recognize the monumental importance to scholars of the Google Book Search project. It is vital that scholars take a critical stance that will push Google to improve the project and make it even more useful. His article is a valuable push in that direction.

UPDATE 9/3/09: Reader Ed points out that Geoff Nunberg also posted a nicely illustrated version of his article on the blog Language Log, and got a brief response in the comments from
John Orwant, who manages the metadata at Google Books.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Date Announced for THATCamp Pacific Northwest

THATCamp Pacific Northwest: "THATCamp Pacific Northwest will be held on the campus of Washington State University in Pullman, WA on Saturday, October 17, 2009. For more information, visit the schedule and location pages, e-mail the organizers at, or just apply now."

If you are in the PNW and are interested at all in the digital humanities I strongly recommend that you apply. The glory of THATCamp is that it invites people of all different levels of knowledge, experience and training. I came away from THATCamp at George Mason full of ideas and enthusiasm. My post about the event is here.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Historic Spokane Newspapers Online!

Wow--when did this happen?

Google and the Spokesman-Review have scanned and placed online a huge run of the Spokane Daily Chronicle. It appears that they have digitzed the paper from about 1890 through its demise in 1982. The articles are full text, searchable, and free. They are also deeply buried, so pay attention boys and girls.

The path to the newspapers is: Google News => Advanced News Search => Archive Search => Advanced Archive Search. At the last page, be sure that you enter Spokane in the "source" box.

I had a lot of fun trolling the archives for Spokane history, A search for "Chief Joseph" before 1920 (to screen out articles about Chief Joseph dam and such) turned up some wonderful primary sources, such as Old Foemen Met Again .Chief Joseph And General Howard Sat Side By Side--Famous Red Warrior Talks to Young Folks. The 1904 article reports that Joseph gave a speech to the graduating class of Carlisle Indian school. Also of interest were Spirits Helped Chief Joseph Outwit Whites, Says Indian, and an article entitled Howling In The Hills. The latter is something of a racist rant by the Chronicle devoted to complaining that the some regional tribes were planning a powwow, "a copper-colored carnival of dancing, horse-racing, gambling, getting drunk, and painting the forest a primeval a bright carmine tint, spotted with purple and vermilion."

Surprisingly, the Chronicle seems not to have reported Joesph's death, which occurred on September 21, 1904, six months after his Carlisle speech.

Some other finds include this account a 1912 Spokane speech by Theodore Roosevelt, an 1898 story about a doctor arrested for performing an abortion, and a 1908 editorial about a development plan that would alter the falls on the Spokane Falls.

We are lucky indeed, as Spokane appears to be one of only a handful of cities available for free in the Google News archive. A bit of thrashing around in the archives reveals digitized historic content for St. Petersberg, Florida and a bunch of newspapers in New Zealand that seem to have been digitized as part of an independent project and are merely indexed via Google.

(Hat tip to the often-useful Eastern Washington Genealogical Society blog for discovering this resource.)