Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Sad Story of the Washington State Song

Over at Civil War Memory Kevin and the gang have been having sport with the controversy over the Maryland state song. It turns out that the song was written by Confederate sympathizers and denounces Lincoln as a tyrant. Several commenters pointed to other state mottoes with racist or other unfortunate content. So I started researching the Washington State song hoping to get in on the fun. Check this out:

Yes, Louie Louie could have been our state song!

This page has a thumbnail history of the 1985 effort to make Louie Louie our official state song:

Meanwhile, in the state of Washington, more impetus was brewing to push the history of 'Louie Louie' from the unusual to the implausible. Resolution No. 85-12 to the Legislature of the State of Washington by Whatcom County Commissioner Craig Cole called for 'Louie Louie' to be proclaimed the official state song. Citing Washington's need for a 'contemporary theme song that can be used to engender a sense of pride and community, and in the enhancement of tourism and economic development', Cole's resolution 'respectfully memorializes the Washington State Legislature to proclaim 'Louie Louie' as the official state song', and to name a newly created county 'Louie Louie County'.

Louie Louie is a sentimental favorite in Washington, where a Seattle band called The Wailers made it popular in the 1960s. (Here is a video of Wailers front man Jack Ely singing the song to horse.) The state instead declared a Louie Louie Day
, stating among other things:

WHEREAS, Few of our citizens are aware that there is an official theme song; and
WHEREAS, Even fewer of our citizens know the words or could carry the tune ...

So the legislature ducked the issue. But why was there a movement to change the song at all? Because the exisiting state song sounds like it was written by a committee of Girl Scouts:

Washington, My Home
Written by Helen Davis
Arranged by Stuart Churchill

This is my country; God gave it to me;
I will protect it, ever keep it free.
Small towns and cities rest here in the sun,
Filled with our laughter, 'Thy will be done.'

Washington my home;
Where ever I may roam;
This is my land, my native land,
Washington, my home.
Our verdant forest green,
Caressed by silvery stream;
From mountain peak to fields of wheat.
Washington, my home.

There's peace you feel and understand
In this, our own beloved land.
We greet the day with head held high,
And forward ever is our cry.
We'll happy ever be
As people always free.
For you and me a destiny;
Washington my home."

It sounds worse than is scans--try the MP3.

Perhaps the time has come to renew the effort to change the song to Louis Louie?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature, National Humanities Center

Here is a useful set of history teaching resources from the National Humanities Center. Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature, is a set of teaching units for American history, with framing questions, printable primary sources for classroom use (not only written sources but historic images as well), discussion questions, and supplemental sites.

The printable PDF handouts are beautifully done! See for example Maroons and free blacks, 1600s, three documents, which includes compelling primary source documents nicely formatted with period illustrations in color. This is accompanied by three other handouts--black codes from Haiti and Cuba and some period illustrations of slaves in the Caribbean.

There are seven units online so far with topics ranging from Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763 to The Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing: America, 1815-1850 to The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912.

The United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842

The United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 is a Smithsonian Institution Libraries Digital Collection of interest to historians of the northwest. (You can see additional digital collections here.)

The four-year expedition to explore and document the Pacific Ocean was by far the grandest (and most expensive) scientific endeavor undertaken by the United States government before the Civil War. This map of the expedition's route gives a sense of the scale of the project. Another way to explore the expedition geographically is to look at the "About this Book" page on Google Books Search to see a map of all the place names mentioned:

But back to the Smithsonian digital exhibit. The site has the full text of the expedition narrative and all the scientific reports, as one would expect. There are also a series of very good essays, commissioned for the project, led off by an excerpt from Nathaniel Philbrick's book Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery - The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842. There are also some excellent supplemental materials, including rosters of the crew of each vessel and a very sophisticated searchable database of "Cultural Artifacts Collected During the U.S. Exploring Expedition." The wonderful illustrations from the reports are in another searchable database and available in extremely high quality downloads. The illustration below is of "A Kalapaya lad. A native of Oregon."

This website is a nice example of a focused digital presentation that takes a very well-know set of primary sources and makes them searchable and useable in new ways, while linking the sources to other resources such as the cultural artifacts database.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Slavery and Public History

Here is a terrific post by Ann M. Little who blogs as Historiann: "Never Mind Slavery, Have You Dipped a Candle Yet?"

Little begins with a study that reveals that many plantation house museums in North Carolina "hardly mention slavery at all" even though slavery was their reason for existence. From there she riffs on other historic sites with similar amnesia (Indian missions without Indians for example). In some cases it turns out that the culprit is simply a lack of funding to update interpretations that were created generations earlier.

Which of our northwest sites suffer from similar historic amnesia?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lantern Slide Shows of Washington State: 1910-1939

Here is a fun image collection from the Washington State Digital Archive: Lantern Slide Shows from the Washington Department of Conservation from between 1910 and 1939. [Unfortunately I cannot link directly to the images--you will need to go to the DA site, then Keyword Search => choose "Photographs" from the drop-down menus => then under "Record Series" select "Show All Records."] These arresting images show Washington State at a pivotal time in the decades just before the Great Depression. We see modern scenes of battleships in Seattle Harbor, images of farming, and early highways along with beautiful scenes of nature across the state. (To the left we see Monroe Street Bridge in Spokane.)

These slides were made for use with an early version of the modern slide projector, the "magic lantern." The picture of the magic lantern to the right is from this page at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, which provides this helpful description of the devices:

Magic lanterns are an early equivalent of today's slide projectors, with a few important differences. First, magic lanterns used fire instead of electric bulbs to illuminate the slides. A second difference was the shape of the slides. Today's slides are often made of lightweight, thin plastic or glass, and come in single frames. Magic lantern slides came in strips of large, bulky pieces of glass held together with metal or wood. They often contained mechanical features that allowed limited movement of one or more slides within the projector, a feature no longer found on modern slide projectors. Lastly, many magic lanterns could display images of greater complexity than today's slide projectors.

The slides in the Digital Archive Collection feature many interesting and historically important scenes from early 20th century Washington. And many are by Asahel Curtis. Asahel was the brother of infamous photographer Edward Curtis and an important figure in his own right--but that is a subject for another post. Here are a few of my favorites of these slides:

Cattle herd at Grand Coulee:

This image has a wonderful 19th-century feel to it and is a reminder that mush of Washington State was still very rural and undeveloped in the early 20th century.

Alhambra Cabins, Soap Lake:

I love this picture of early automobile tourism!

In the loggers wake, clear cut debris:

There are a whole series of these illustrating environmental degradation, which is quite surprising for a set of slides produced by the state government.

Speed Boat Racing, Lake Chelan

The boat in the center has an almost 3D effect.

H.C. Bohlke with poultry at Grandview

Finally, a boy and his chicken:

There are over 250 of these wonderful images at the Washington State Digital Archives, so come pay us a visit!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Scanner Ready! Or, is History Missing the Stimulus Boat?

Dan Cohen has an excellent post, Scanner-Ready, over at his blog Digital Humanities. Contemplating the stimulus package and the search for "shovel-ready" projects, Cohen notes:

"But one obvious project that’s also ready to go on day one is the scanning of the contents of the Library of Congress. Today there’s a ceremonial event at the LC to showcase the thousands of books already scanned as part of the LC’s partnership with the Internet Archive, and to highlight the potential of a mass digitization project. It goes without saying that this project could be extended easily to other cultural heritage institutions."

I was making a similar point about the same time with myCall for a New Federal Writer's Project. And today I see that the AHA Today blog linked to my call in their weekly "What We're Reading" post.

Is history missing the boat on the stimulus package? I see that arts leaders recently rallied in D.C. for a chunk of the stimulus. “We wanted to make sure arts were not left out of the recovery,” said Robert L. Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, a national lobbying group. “The artist’s paycheck is every bit as important as the steelworker’s paycheck or the autoworker’s paycheck.” (So far they have picked up a $50 million line item in the stimulus bill for their efforts, though that of course might get stripped out in the Senate.) Education is making out like a bandit: Stimulus Plan Would Provide Flood of Aid to Education. (Flood = $140 billion.) But where is history in the stimulus plan?

(See also Greatest Achievements of American Socialism, a slide show of worthy New Deal projects at

Thursday, February 5, 2009

PBS Videos Online

Watch Video From Your Favorite PBS Programs: PBS is starting to put quite a few programs online in streaming video. For history fans there are a bunch of episodes of American Experience, including shows on Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill, and the excellent series on Reconstruction. They also have episodes of Independent Lens and POV, both of which often feature progams on a historical theme. PBS even put online so of Ken Burns' horrid WW2 series The War.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

BackStory, a New Radio Program About American History

BackStory - With the American History Guys : "BackStory is a brand-new public radio program that brings historical perspective to the events happening around us today. On each show, renowned U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh tear a topic from the headlines and plumb its historical depths. Over the course of the hour, they are joined by fellow historians, people in the news, and callers interested in exploring the roots of what’s going on today."

BackStory began in the spring of 2008. You can subscribe to the shows as podcasts, and download (and comment on!) older shows at the archive. This is a fun program, with compelling topics and unusually high production values. You can't even hear a telephone buzz in the interviews! BackStory is aimed at a general audience rather than historical specialists.

Backstory is not equivalent to the late lamented Talking History radio program, which featured academic historians interviewing other academics, usually focused a new book. Backstory is both more popular and more wide-ranging.