Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Briefly Noted

These items seem worthy of further investigation. So get to it and report back here:
  • WhatWasThere (see below) is a website (and iPhone app) that allows users to put historical photos on a Google map. It is not all that different than HistoryPin or similar services, but has a superior interface that integrates Google Street View to give you instant "before and after" views. Play with the slider on the image below!

  • My local newspaper the Spokesman Review now has a good local history tag. Local history is a staple of many newspapers and the reporting is often quite good, but finding the articles can be a chore. Glad to see this.

So, what are you reading?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lessons in Reciprocity: The Return of a Clatsop Canoe

It seems some descendants of the explorer William Clark have donated a replacement canoe for one their ancestor stole from the Clatsops in 1806. "Some of Clark’s descendants and a few donors stepped forward to pay for the canoe, which was custom built in Veneta, Ore. The five-hour ceremony on Saturday included songs, gift exchanges and the maiden voyage of the replica canoe. Ray Gardner, chairman of the Chinook Nation’s tribal council, said the return of the canoe is a 'good place to begin healing.'”

"Hopefully this will lift that family
curse I told you kids about."
The theft is rather a famous incident in stories of the Corps of Discovery, and is related by even the most shameless hagiographers as an example of something bad that the Captains did to the Indians along their path. The finest historian of the expedition, Jim Ronda, calls the incident "a blot on the expedition's honor." The theft was planned in advance, as related by Clark in the expedition's journal for March 17, 1806:

we have had our perogues prepared for our departer, and shal set out as soon as the weather will permit. the weather is so precarious that we fear by waiting untill the first of April that we might be detained several days longer before we could get from this to the Cathlahmahs as it must be calm or we cannot accomplish that part of our rout. Drewyer returned late this evening from the Cathlahmahs with our canoe which Sergt. Pryor had left some days since, and also a canoe which he had purchased from those people. for this canoe he gave my uniform laced coat and nearly half a carrot of tobacco. it seems that nothing excep this coat would induce them to dispose of a canoe which in their mode of traffic is an article of the greatest val[u]e except a wife, with whom it is equal, and is generally given in exchange to the father for his daughter. I think the U' States are indebted to me another Uniform coat, for that of which I have disposed on this occasion was but little woarn.— we yet want another canoe, and as the Clatsops will not sell us one at a price which we can afford to give we will take one from them in lue of the six Elk which they stole from us in the winter.

You can see the need for self-justification in Clark's writings: "in lue of the six Elk which they stole from us in the winter." Historians often point to the incident as a product of the troublesome and declining relationship the Corps had with the coastal peoples over the long winter, "part of a larger pattern of growing distrust of Indian relations" as William Lang describes it.

This is true but I would go a step farther to say that the theft of the canoe by the Americans might be read not as a rejection of native rights but rather an adoption of native trading patterns. Anthropologists describe native trade as taking place within rules that were determined by the level of reciprocity between the two parties. If you were on good terms with the other party (or wished to be on good terms) the exchange would often be framed in terms of gifts. One party might give another party something of value as a gift, but with the unspoken assumption that a gift of equal value would be forthcoming from the recipient. (Whites often missed this lat part.) This is called generalized reciprocity.

"This canoe? We, uh, we found it. Yeah, found it."
If you were on neutral terms with the other party, it was traditional to haggle over the exchange. This process is called balanced reciprocity and most closely resembles trade as understood by 19th century Americans. Under balanced reciprocity, each side drove the hardest bargain it could. Thus the explorers were forced to part with a "uniform laced coat and nearly half a carrot of tobacco" for one canoe.

Hardest for the modern reader (and Americans of the time) to understand is the exchange of goods that took place between peoples who were on bad or distrustful terms. This negativity reciprocity resembled stealing. Heck, it was stealing, but it was also more than that. If you were on bad terms with another tribe you might steal their horses or food caches or whatever. At the same time, you might want to keep the door open to future trade, and so you might leave something of value behind, or make good the theft with some items of value at some point in the future. The Clatsop had been introducing the Americans to the concept of negative reciprocity the entire winter by pilfering small goods from the explorers and hardly bothering to cover it up.

Equals six elk.
An example is the aforementioned Case of the Purloined Elk. In February some Clatsops took the freshly killed animals from an American cache. When the captains complained to Chief Coboway about the stolen ungulates, he sent the expedition three tasty live dogs. (It is to be noted that some members of the expedition particularly savored dog meat, and the the Corps consumed at least 200 dogs on their two-year journey.) This is a classic exampled of negative reciprocity in action.

Did the Clatsops interpret the theft of their canoe as an example of negative reciprocity? There is some suggestive evidence that they did. In 1814 the Clatsops were visited by a new set of imperialists, the British Northwest Company. When Chief Coboway met with expedition leader Alexander Henry (to return some British goods that Indian people had stolen), the Indian leader produced a certificate of good conduct that Lewis and Clark had left with him. That Cobaway apparently valued this certificate enough to have kept it all that time, and considered it worth producing to the British trader, may indicate that he considered the Americans not so much thieves as troublesome trading partners.

Henry, an experienced hand in the fur trade, gave the chief some clothes, and "gave him a writing in lieu of the American one, which I threw in the fire before him."  Unlike Lewis and Clark, Alexander Henry understood the rules of reciprocity.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How many photos have ever been taken?

How many photos have ever been taken? About 3.5 trillion according to Jonathan Good, in a fascinating piece. I particularly liked this graphic of the world's largest photo libraries:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hacking the Academy, a Publishing Experiment

A brief essay of mine has appeared in a new volume, Hacking the Academy. I am excited because this is not just a book but an experiment in digital publishing, backed by some of the most respected names and institutions in the field of digital humanities.

Hacking the Academy is edited by Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. In May of 2010 they used social media networks to put out a call for contributions to the volume, giving would-be contributors only a week to submit their essays, "the better to focus their attention and energy." They received "329 submissions from 177 authors, with nearly a hundred submissions written during the week-long event and the other two-thirds submitted by authors from their prior writing on the subject matter." One-sixth of the submissions were accepted for the volume, including my "How to Read a Book in One Hour."

Hacking the Academy is interesting for both its content and its approach to publication. The content focuses on "how the academy might be beneficially reformed using digital media and technology," particularly "writing that moved beyond mere complaints about the state of the academy into shrewd diagnoses and potential solutions." The essays are organized into three broad categories: "Hacking Scholarship," "Hacking Teaching," and "Hacking Institutions." The essays alternate between provocative big-picture, "this is how we ought to start doing things" pieces (such as David Parry's Burn the Boats/Books and Jo Gildi's terrific "Reinventing the Academic Journal") and more immediately practical pieces such as "Unconferences," a how-to guide by Ethan Watrall, James Calder, and Jeremy Boggs.

Hacking the Academy will be published in two ways--a free, digital publication available right now and a forthcoming print edition. The publisher is the University of Michigan Press, via their digitalculturebooks imprint. UM Press attracted a lot of attention when they announced a shift to predominantly digital publishing in 2009. The digitalculturebooks series now features over two dozen titles, available online and in print as either cloth of paper editions.

Hacking the Academy is something of a test case for a new model of producing a scholarly anthology. Coming out under the imprimatur of some of the most respected names and institutions in digital humanities, and with an timely topic and high-quality content, this book should have an impact. It will be interesting to see if the work is adopted in classrooms, cited in the literature, blogged and tweeted and run through the social networks. It will also be interesting to see if people will buy print editions of what they could read online for free.

If this is successful it could be a first step into a new publishing world.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Brief Exploration of the History of Post Offices of Rural Washington

Former PO  in St. Andrews, WA (photo by Panoramio user Chris Metz)
The U.S. Postal Service is in crisis right now. The most frequent cost-cutting proposal is to close thousands of rural post offices. The proposal has led to a spate of stories from little towns across America who protest that in many cases the Post Office is the only thing keeping the town alive.

You can explore the rise and fall of rural post offices in the Northwest online. Maps of postal routes were common. For example, compare this 1897 map (at the Washington State Library) and this 1905 map (at Washington State University). Let's zoom in on a section of rural eastern Washington:

This 1897 map show the prevalence of POs in some of tiny hamlets of the Columbia Plateau.
Just 8 years later in 1905 some of the locations have changed.
A handful of 1897 post offices such as Buckingham and Ophir have disappeared by 1905, but many additional POs (Mansfield, Withrow, Mold) have been created as the countryside filled in. The Great Northern Railroad reached Douglas County in 1893, and the population boomed from 3,161 individuals in 1890 to 4,926 in 1900 and 9,227 by 1910. The very existence of such detailed maps of postal routes for this period shows how important the institution was thought to be for rural development. Oddly enough, I cannot find equivalent maps for the late-20th century.

By the mid-20th century the population of places like Withrow and Mansfield began to decline, and for the most part has declined ever since. Only a handful are open today--and soon there will be even fewer.

Bighorn, a Film about Custer and Football

BIGHORN from Alfred Thomas Catalfo on Vimeo.

Bighorn "is a 15-minute, supernatural historical fantasy based on a true fact: that General Custer's bandmaster, Felix Vinatieri -- an Italian immigrant and the great-great-grandfather of Super Bowl-winning kicker Adam Vinatieri -- was ordered to stay behind at the 7th Cavalry's Powder River camp and missed the Battle of the Little Bighorn." It is a fun piece. A quick Google uncovers an archive of Vinatieri's compositions, where you can listen to General Custer, Last Indians Campagne March, a song Vinatieri wrote for Custer in April of 1876, months before the general's death at Little Big Horn.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Back from Summer

My summer Google Latitude locations
I am back from the longest blogging hiatus since I began Northwest History in 2007. It was not a planned break--as you see from my Google Latitude locations, I got busy. The summer included working with teachers in Teaching American History projects, meeting with the other editors of the William F. Cody Papers Project,  family reunion and a couple of road trips. Also a major grant proposal and supervising two MA thesis defense and three internships. 

On the professional front, the Spokane Historical app should be available pretty soon and I will be in Oakland this fall for the Western History Association, and I am teaching two public history classes this fall--Research Methods in Local History and Historical Writing and Editing. And I will be blogging again. Nice to see you.