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.