Sunday, May 31, 2009

Call for Papers: 2010 National Council on Public History in Portland

The National Council on Public History is having its annual meeting in Portland next year. The conference is March 10-14, and is being held simultaneously with the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Society for Environmental History.The Call for Papers is here.

This is a great conference and I hope we can get a good representation from northwest public historians and history institutions. Drop me a line if you would like to put something together! The deadline for proposals is just a moth away--June 30, 2009.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

New Perspectives Issue Focused on Digital History

The May issue of Perspectives, the monthly magazine of the American Historical Association, is titled Intersections: History and New Media. It is a nice, accessible round-up of brief articles on topics such as blogs, teaching with digital objects, narrative challenges of online exhibits, etc. Many of the articles are of the "hey look at what I am doing" genre, but still very useful.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Death of Scholarly Publishing?

The University of Michigan Press has announced that they will be "redefining scholarly publications in the digital age"--by which they mean they will no longer print books. Rather they will shift their resources to "digital monographs." You to have give them props for the positive spin in the press release. "Freeing the press, in large part, from the constraints imposed by the print-based business model will permit us to more fully explore and exploit ever-expanding digital resources and opportunities," Phil Pochoda, director of U-M Press, quotes himself as saying. Pochada also refers to his team and himself as "visionaries."

There is much fussiness in the academic community about this move, but it is not like we did not see it coming. Scholarly publishing of monographs has been on its death bed for years, with press runs of many books dropping below 1000, then below 500, then into the low hundreds even as prices have soared and subventions have become almost respected.

But as the guys over at Digital Campus pointed out in a recent podcast, the vital element of scholarly publishing is the peer review, not the physical form of the end product. Though no one seems to be noticing, academic articles have already made the leap. I am willing to bet the average article in the Journal of American History gets far more digital readers via the commercial databases such as the History Cooperative and JSTOR than through actual subscribers who crack open a physical copy.

And the digital versions of the articles are far superior to the printed ones. First of all you can actually find relevant articles via search engines. Then you can do keyword searches to take you to a relevant passage. You can store the articles you are working on in your laptop and mark them up with various tools. Within five years most of all of our history journals will cease publication in the dead-tree format.

But even I have to admit that the book poses special challenges.

First of all, we have no good delivery format for digital books. The Kindle solves many of the readability problems of digital publications, but it also locks away your content into a closed proprietary system. You don't actually own your books on a Kindle, you just pay Amazon for permission to read them. The Sony Reader does not seem to be catching on, and there is no open source reader that I know of. (Update: Not so fast...)

Second, will anyone buy digital scholarly monographs? Grad students are too broke and their professors too deep in their print fetish to buy digital books. And books have a somewhat different revenue model than scholarly journals, depending more on individual and less on institutional purchases. Journal subscription costs are largely borne by institutions, but books still generate some of their revenue via sales to individuals.

Third, authors who have a choice will go to publishers who print physical books until the last one closes shop. After all, what kind of gift to grandma is a digital book? The answer here is print-on-demand (POD) services to turn digital books into hard copies. One can imagine a bookstore that has exactly one hard copy of each title on its shelves. When you make a selection you bring the book to the clerk who punches a few buttons and a machine in the back spits out a lovely bound copy. In fact you have to imagine such a store, because none currently exist, despite developments such as the Espresso Book Machine. There are quite a few online POD vendors, and I was pleased with my experiment with one of them, but I don't think they represent any significant fraction of the book market.

So the transition to digital is apt to be trickier for books than it has been for journals. As university presses pull back and are closed down in the current economic crises (is LSU press next?) the search for a new model of scholarly publishing grows more urgent.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wyoming Newspapers Project

Friend Pecay (of BibliOdyssey fame) tipped me off to a great resource: Wyoming Newspaper Project. "Available through this website are all the newspapers printed in Wyoming between 1849 and 1922, in an easily searchable format." All Wyoming newspapers through 1922! I mean, we know that Wyoming is sparsely populated but that is still an amazing feat. Half of the 900,000 images are online right now with the rest to follow over a few months.

This digital archive has a plain but useful user interface with strong search and browse features. You can search or browse, including browsing by city (and it is fun to see what little hamlets once had newspapers). In my experience the site is still a bit shaky, so if your search fails just come back later and try again.

All the newspapers for an entire state! What a resource this is for historians of Wyoming and the American West.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No Stimulus for You!

As the official numbers on the 2010 Obama budget request are released it is clear that history largely missed out on the stimulus. For most of the programs that benefit history, funding is flat or only slightly increased over previous years. The exceptions are the NEH and the National Park Service, but even there the increases are far short of the billions and billions of stimulus infrastructure being doled out around the country. Some examples from the National Coalition for History:History would have been a natural for stimulus funding, with so many worthy digital and oral history projects in need of funding. Some of us called for a new Federal Writer's Project just as Obama came into office. Unfortunately our national organizations remained on the sidelines as the stimulus bill was drafted. We missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mapping Historic Sounds at the British Library

An unanticipated effect of the digital turn in history is a resurgence of historical geography. Maps are a visual organization scheme that everyone understands instantly. And tools like Google Maps make it easy to display metadata in a geographic format.

A beautiful example of this trend is the Archival Sound Recordings page at the British Library has a neat feature--several series of sound recordings mapped on a Google map so you can explore the collections geographically, based on where each recording was made. "Explore selected collections of spoken word, and human and natural environments using our interactive maps," the library promises.

Pictured is a screen shot of the Accents and Dialects sound map, featuring "700 recordings from the Millennium Memory Bank and the Survey of English Dialects." Clicking on a balloon brings a popup with information about the interviews available from that location. Clicking on an interview description takes you to a new window with an audio player and metadata. Also available in this mapped format are wildlife and soundscape recordings from Britain, music from India and Uganda, and a whole mess of noisy frogs.

You can read more about the Archival Sound Recording Project here or on the project blog. This post comes via the JISC Digitisation blog.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Image Browsing at WA Digital Archives!

The latest upgrade to the Washington State Digital Archives (my employer, BTW) makes all the photographs and audio records browseable for the first time. Hooray! Here is a list of the photographic collections we currently have online. If you click on any collection you will be taken to a collection description and a search page. From the search page click on "Browse all records in the collection" to open a browsable page of the photographs. Though browsing also works in any results for a search for photographs.

The browsing interface--designed by WSDA employees Adam Miller and Bryan Smith--is slick. Click on any image and it pops up with a descriptive caption, a link to a page with all the meta data and a larger image, and arrows to browse forward or back in the collection. The old system produced only text results for image searches, and you would have to click through two screens to see the images, and two back to return to the search results.

Browsable photographs make the Digital Archives more usable to the citizens of Washington State. And to your humble blogger. As I explore the collections I will share additional photos such as the one above.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pushaluck's Romance, a Story in Three Acts, Yet Incomplete

I was doing some research this week on Buffalo Bill and the Indians (more on that later) and came across a delightful story in the New York Times that I want to share.

In the summer of 1886 Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show set up camp at Erastina, Staten Island. (The picture on this page is some members of the Wild West show at the Erastina camp in an 1888 tour.) Cody was just back from a triumphant tour of Europe and announced the arrival of the Wild West show in New York with a Manhattan parade. "Everything is on a big scale," The New York Herald enthused, "The arena is like a monster circus ring. Around it the long rows of seats rise high one above another. Gleaming in a grove at one side are the white tents of the Indians, painted over with fantastic designs."

Among these fantastic Indians was a Pawnee man whom the New York Times identified as "Pushaluck." (The name might be comic invention--I can no other references to the man outside of these articles in the Times.) Pushaluck was described as "the best looking fellow in the camp, not excepting the Europeans and Americans." He spoke, the Times noted, "a little English and a great deal of Indian."

Enter romance.

"A comely damsel of 19 summers," (and from New Jersey) began to hang around the camp. She seemed to be "riveted upon the fascinating person" of Pushaluck, who in turn "lingered as near the comely young damsel as duty and fences permitted." The other performers began to fear that their companion "had fallen a victim to New Jersey's charms." But before they could intervene, the unlikely couple slipped out of camp to elope!

Cody, it was reported, was in a "towering rage" when he heard of the elopement--not out of any 19th century opposition to interracial marriage, but because it might worsen his always contentious relationship with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Cody had a contract with the BIA to return his Indian performers to the reservation "in good order" at the end of the season. "To return Pushaluck as a Benedict would not be, in Buffalo Bill's opinion, to return him in good order," the Times noted.

["A Benedict" is 19th century slang for a confirmed bachelor newly married, taken from the character Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing.]

Cody hired detectives to hunt down the lovebirds. In the interlude a Times editorialist took the opportunity to draw a historical lesson from the event in a piece titled "A Modern Indian." "Day by day," the Times declared, "new and touching illustrations of the progress of civilization are made known, and each succeeding edition of the census shows a wider spread of sweetness and light among the people . . . . Already he [the Indian] is the rival of civilized man in his capacity for firewater, and his noble devotion to aged and decrepit silk hats." The writer also praised Indians for their "enterprise in the amusement business . . . digging up the hatchet and gliding through the dizzy mazes of the war dance for a reasonable share of the gross receipts at the box office."

Taking great liberties with the paper's own reporting of the event, the editorialist praised Pushaluck who went "alone to the wigwam of a Newark white chief, sang his song under the window, won the heart of the daughter of the house, and eloped with her after the manner of his good white brothers." After a long passage contrasting this modern development with "the old-time custom as set by trusty authors in graphic tales" the editorial concludes that Pushaluck "may further fit himself for the age and country in which he lives by deserting her and running away with some other gentleman's wife."

Cody's detectives caught up with the pair three days after they disappeared--the searchers finding that "an Indian in native costume, accompanied by a white girl, was not a hard object to trace." The two had been married "in regular orthodox English fashion" in Philadelphia, where they were found honeymooning "in a boarding house on Ninth Street that is much patronized by 'freaks.'"

Pushaluck was convinced to return to the show, and the young woman to her parent's Jersey home. Their separation was a "quite affecting" sight, according to the Times, and the two made plans to reunite at the end of the season and go together to live on the reservation. "Mrs. Pushaluck is reported to have a considerable sum of money, and Pushaluck is looking forward to great honor and many ponies on the reservation," according to the Times. Pushaluck and his bride refused to reveal her maiden name accoring to the Times, and Pushaluck in particular "is not at all inclined to converse about the matter."

And there the story ends--for now. I can find no reference to a Pawnee Indian named Pushaluck anywhere except in these three NY Times articles, and a few secondary sources in Google Books that cite the times articles. Tomorrow I will explore the meaning of the story a little more.

NY Times article #1: Pushaluck's Romance
NY Times article #2: A Modern Indian
NY Times article #3:Won a White Bride

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The TimesMachine Returns, Universal Rejoicing

Note: This post was originally made on February 25, 2008. Then within a few days, the resource disappeared. Just today I noticed that the TimesMachine is back so I am reposting this. Enjoy!

Never mind that whole thinly-sourced-story-about-McCain-
and-the-blond-lobbyist thing. The New York Times has just redeemed itself, by introducing the TimesMachine. "TimesMachine can take you back to any issue from Volume 1, Number 1 of The New-York Daily Times, on September 18, 1851, through The New York Times of December 30, 1922. Choose a date in history and flip electronically through the pages, displayed with their original look and feel."

The Times opened its archives a few months ago, apparently deciding that the potential revenue from click ads would outweigh the loss of access fees to the old Times Select system. The Times archives are a magnificent resource, but the search and navigation features left a lot to be desired. and the articles were served up one at a time. The reader never got the heady sense of exploring a historic newspaper that one gets from rolling the microfilm in the library. (Of course, microfilm is not key word searchable . . . ) TimesMachine presents the newspapers they way they were meant to be read, as a unified whole. It also makes it easier to put events in context.

(Oooops--TimesMachine seems to be down right now, I will post this anyway and perhaps return later to flesh out the post with some specific PNW content.)

UPDATE: It is gone!
I can't find out what happened to TimesMachine, but I am guessing it was just overwhelmed by users and the Times took it off line. Here is hoping that the service will return soon.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Ye Olde Pandemic Roundup

I just wanted to point out this great roundup of materials relating to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic at the AHA Today blog. The post includes primary sources, pictures, video and lesson plans.

Here is Washington State we too are doing our part to promote swine flu hysteria historical understanding with an outstanding front page article at ("the free, online encyclopedia of Washington State history"). Also at see "The Spanish Flu in Spokane." My friend and colleague Bill Youngs has a website with some interesting newspaper articles on the flu in Spokane as well. The United States Department of Health and Human Services has a website titled "The Great Pandemic: The United States in 1918-1919" which features a section on Washington State.

A search through Google Books with the keywords "spokane" "influenza" and "1918" turns up a bunch of good stuff, including this 1918 report from a labor union organizer about the difficulties of organizing when public meetings are prohibited because of the flu.

Cover your mouths when you sneeze, readers!

[Photo: Street car conductor in Seattle not allowing passengers aboard without a mask. 1918. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.]