Monday, October 31, 2011

Creepy Vintage Halloween Pictures

Modern Halloween is a holiday full of fake chills--plastic vampire teeth, puny fog machines, and pumpkins carved to look like Simpsons characters. You grandparents, on the other hand, knew how be really scary. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Burton Holmes Archive of 20th Century Travel Films

Check out this charming silent travel film of a 1920-something visit to Glacier National Park:

The film is part of the Burton Holmes Archive:

The Burton Holmes Archive is the world’s largest repository of films, photographs, programs, scrapbooks, and other ephemera related to the life and career of Burton Holmes, the “Father of the Travelogue”, and that of his cameraman and associate, Andre de la Varre.  If you’d like to see more of this collection, take a look at our Photostream, our Photo Sets, or watch a slideshow of the entire collection. In addition, you can watch films made by Holmes at: Burton Holmes Films, as well as those by de la Varre at Andre de la Varre Films.

The above film appears to be the only one from the Northwest, however there is also a film of a 1920s visit to the Grand Canyon (check out the clothes on the tourists!) and such exotic destinations as Bits of Life In Japan 1920s or Nine Glories of Paris - 1920s. The casual racism of some of the captions are striking to the modern eye (the Japanese entertainers are "charmingly childlike") but overall the films are striking and intimate glimpses into the world of 90 years ago.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Two Sides of Buffalo Bill

For the last two years I have been an Associate Editor at the William F. Cody Papers Project. The goal of this project is to encourage scholarship and public understanding of William F. Cody--Buffalo Bill to most of us. Cody was the most famous American in the world for much of his life, and you can explore nearly any topic in late-19th century history through the lens of the Wild West, from the formation of gender to transportation to white-Indian relations.

Part of the project is to gather together as much of the vast contemporary writing by and about Cody that we can. There is also a YouTube channel for sharing video as we find it--such as this snippet below:


My current project within the Papers is to gather and edit the writings of Cody's business partner Nate Salsbury. Viewing the Wild West through Salsbury's eyes is showing me that Cody was a hard guy to work with. Below is my preliminary transcription of a letter that William F. Cody wrote to Salsbury in 1884. I have not yet located the letter by Salsbury to which Cody was responding, but you can get the idea:

My Dear Salsbury, 

 Your very sensable [sic] & truly rightful letter has just been read. And it has been the means of showing me just where I stand. And I solemnly promise you that after this you will never see me under the influence of liquor [.] I may have to take two or three drinks to day to brace up. That will be all as long as we are partners. I appreciate all you have done [.] Your judgement and business is good. And from this on I will do my work to the letter. This drinking surely ends today. And your pard will be himself. And be on deck all the time. 

 Yours always, W.F. Cody

[The original letter is at the Yale Beinecke Library]

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mark Twain, Failed Blogger?

Roughing It has long been my favorite work by Mark Twain.  Of his autobiographical works, it is more mature and less contrived than Innocents Abroad and A Tramp Abroad, more vital than Following the Equator, and less sloppy than his Autobiography. For some reason the following passage, about his brief stint as an editorial writer for the Territorial Enterprise, has been stuck in my head for years. Tonight I recalled the passage again and suddenly realized--he sounds like a struggling blogger:

    In the Editorial Chair 

     I wanted a change. I wanted variety of some kind. It came. Mr. Goodman went away for a week and left me the post of chief editor. It destroyed me. The first day, I wrote my "leader" in the forenoon. The second day, I had no subject and put it off till the afternoon. The third day I put it off till evening, and then copied an elaborate editorial out of the "American Cyclopedia," that steadfast friend of the editor, all over this land. The fourth day I "fooled around" till midnight, and then fell back on the Cyclopedia again. The fifth day I cudgeled my brain till midnight, and then kept the press waiting while I penned some bitter personalities on six different people. The sixth day I labored in anguish till far into the night and brought forth--nothing. The paper went to press without an editorial. The seventh day I resigned. On the eighth, Mr. Goodman returned and found six duels on his hands--my personalities had borne fruit.

Twain being a bad ass (1901)

     Nobody, except he has tried it, knows what it is to be an editor. It is easy to scribble local rubbish, with the facts all before you; it is easy to clip selections from other papers; it is easy to string out a correspondence from any locality; but it is unspeakable hardship to write editorials. Subjects are the trouble--the dreary lack of them, I mean. Every day, it is drag, drag, drag--think, and worry and suffer--all the world is a dull blank, and yet the editorial columns must be filled. Only give the editor a subject, and his work is done--it is no trouble to write it up; but fancy how you would feel if you had to pump your brains dry every day in the week, fifty-two weeks in the year. It makes one low spirited simply to think of it. The matter that each editor of a daily paper in America writes in the course of a year would fill from four to eight bulky volumes like this book! Fancy what a library an editor's work would make, after twenty or thirty years' service. Yet people often marvel that Dickens, Scott, Bulwer, Dumas, etc., have been able to produce so many books. If these authors had wrought as voluminously as newspaper editors do, the result would be something to marvel at, indeed. How editors can continue this tremendous labor, this exhausting consumption of brain fibre (for their work is creative, and not a mere mechanical laying-up of facts, like reporting), day after day and year after year, is incomprehensible. Preachers take two months' holiday in midsummer, for they find that to produce two sermons a week is wearing, in the long run. In truth it must be so, and is so; and therefore, how an editor can take from ten to twenty texts and build upon them from ten to twenty painstaking editorials a week and keep it up all the year round, is farther beyond comprehension than ever. Ever since I survived my week as editor, I have found at least one pleasure in any newspaper that comes to my hand; it is in admiring the long columns of editorial, and wondering to myself how in the mischief he did it!

EWU History Department Offering Prize

The History Department at EWU is running competition for high school students, Commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Thanks to a generous private donor, there are cash prizes for $400, $300, $200 and $100. This is the first year of what we hope will be an annual contest in historical writing for regional high school students.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Notes Towards a Guidebook for Attending Scholarly Conferences

What are your rules of thumb when you go to a scholarly conference? In recent years I have done a fair bit of conference-going and I think I have it partially figured out. Some of my rules are:
Do not approach
  • Leverage the technology to improve your conference experience. Twitter is a powerful (and for history conferences, under-utilized) tool to extend scholarly discussions and also to meet people.
  • Bring a graduate student or two to the conference if you can. Encourage your institution to fund graduate student travel, even if they are not presenting. "As long as grad students keep showing up this organization has a future,” a friend told me.
  • Avoid round tables, plenaries, “wither our field” sessions, and other sessions where the presenters are allowed to talk about themselves, because they will talk about nothing else. Some academics see the world as a movie in which they are both the star and narrator. Ugh. 
  • On a related note, don't try to approach or make eye contact with the senior scholars in your discipline--the silver backs. Though they might be nice enough if you met them anywhere else, at the disciplinary conference they must stay focused on their elaborate rituals--chest-thumping, mating displays, and grooming one another's luxurious academic coats.
  • Also to be avoided are panels where all of the presenters are linked by a single institution or all of the presenters are graduate students.
  • When in doubt, sit in back near the door so you can skip out to a different session.
  • If you don’t know many people at the conference, the breakfasts, luncheons, and banquets are a good if expensive way to meet some. But once you have attended a few years, it is more productive and fun to go out to dinner with your conference friends. 
  • Dine arounds are good. A dine around is where a set of lists are created according to sub-disciplinary interest--women's history, mining history, advanced footnoting--and folks sign up to go to dinner with the group. If the conference organizers do not set this up you can do it yourself and put the word out through your disciplinary mailing list.
  • Stay in the conference hotel if you possibly can. A lot of the best networking happens in the elevator, the book displays, and the conference bar. And by networking I mean drinking.
  • Some presses sell their display copies of books at a steep discount on the last day of the conference--thought I don't see this as often as I used to.
  • Explore the city! Don't hesitate to blow off the afternoon sessions and rent a bicycle or something. When you are on your deathbed you will not say "If only I had listened to more historians read their papers out loud!"
What about you guys--what are your conference rules of the road?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Western History Association Conference in Oakland

I am in Oakland for the WHA conference. I love this organization. The WHA is one of the more vital scholarly organizations--by the way such things are normally measured. Attendance at the meetings is good, the journal comes out on schedule and with interesting articles, and...

Well, that is it. Like most of our professional organizations, the WHA consists almost entirely of a conference and a journal. Its members include academic historians and a scattering of other history professionals such as Park Service historians, archivists, and editors.

There was some discussion at last night's plenary session about the disappearance of history buffs from the organization in the last decade or so. Nobody was sure where they have gone, but we were assured that they are fine. I think they are living on a farm in the countryside or something.

Maybe this is not a problem--there is tremendous value in historians talking with other historians. I certainly enjoy learning what my friends and colleagues are working on, in formal sessions and hallway conversations and drinks at the hotel bar. ($10 for drink!) I just wish we were a part of the public of the public conversation about western history. There is a huge public interest in what we do.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Digital History in the Public History News

Posted: Visualizing US expansion through post offices. from Derek Watkins on Vimeo.

Public History News is the newsletter of the National Council on Public History. Back issues are here. A regular feature of the newsletter is "Worth Another Look," which offers capsule introductions to various articles and public history projects. In the latest issue it is striking to me how many of the public history projects are digital projects. Some interesting examples:

  • The World Memory Project is a partnership between the Holocaust Museum and to utilize volunteers to index some of the museums 170 million documents. So far 3000 volunteers have indexed over 600,000 records. 
  • Speaking of Crowdsourcing, Scripto is "a lightweight, open source tool that allows users to contribute transcriptions to online documentary projects." It is the latest digital tool from the folks who brought us Zotero and Omeka.
  • Visualizing US Expansion through Post Offices (seen above) is a straightforward project that scraped some public databases and added some computer magic to create a neat video showing what we might dub the Post Office Frontier. The link in this paragraph will take you to an interactive map where you can sort the results by date range and zoom in on a region. Did you know that the first PO in eastern Washington was established at Colville in 1862?
  • What Big Media Can Learn From the New York Public Library is an Atlantic Magazine article that highlights how the library is doing "some of the most innovative online projects in the country." These include "Biblion, a storytelling app whose iPad icon features the lion head, is the flashiest of these efforts...Then there is the library's slick crowdsourcing projects, which allow users to digitize beautiful old menus from New York's restaurants and plot historical maps of the city onto the GPS-enabled digital maps of today. Both projects are both useful and feature user interfaces that best most commercial crowdsourcing applications. The library is even improving its basic infrastructure to keep pace with the big social networks, announcing this week that they are launching a new log-in system through Bibliocommons that will bring simplified and more powerful catalog and account services to the library's users.
  • 4Humanities is a Canadian digital humanities site offering digital tools, news, and a valuable Humanities Showcase.
A few years ago I was at a ThatCamp where one of the participants proudly announced that "Public History is Digital History!" This is a silly overstatement. But it might not be too much to say that Digital History is Public History.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Shushwap Films about Native Culture

I don't know much about this excellent short film of a native elder giving a tour of a Plateau winter house.  A series of similar films were uploaded to YouTube by user SCES about a year ago. The films look to me like they were made a few decades ago and have been converted to digital. From internal evidence they were made by members of the Sushwap Nation. If anyone knows more, please tell tell me!

In any case, the films are wonderful--straightforward tribal-centered descriptions of various aspects of traditional life on the northern Plateau. Subjects include Tanning a Hide, Smoking Salmon, Making Moccasins, and Secwepemc Worldview. There are ten of these films in all. They would make a great addition to any educational unit on the native peoples of the Columbia Plateau. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Data Visualization: Journalism's Voyage West | Rural West Initiative

The Growth of US Newspapers, 1690-2011 from Geoff McGhee on Vimeo. Here is neat project from the Rural West Initiative at Stanford: Data Visualization: Journalism's Voyage West
. The patterns are about what you would expect--newspapers spread west with white settlement, filling in the rural areas for most of the 20th century, and declining in those same areas in recent decades. Clicking on the circles links you to the relevant page over at the Library of Congress's Chronicling America website, from which the data is drawn. It is a fun site to play around with and familiarize yourself with the history of newspapers in your region.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What was the Odor of Early Spokane?

...or anywhere else? This newspaper article about history and smell has been making the rounds. “It seems remarkable to me that we live in the world where we have all the senses to navigate it, yet somehow we assume that the past was scrubbed of smells,” says "sensory historian" Mark Smith. The article discusses current attempts to preserve, for example, the scents of certain endangered plants. It also discusses the difficulty of reconstructing the olfactory worlds of our ancestors. The latter relies on written accounts, chemical traces, and a lot of educated guesswork.

The nose knows, or knew
The article made me wonder if it is possible to know the odors of early Spokane? A quick search through the Google News Archive for Spokane turned up hundreds of stories with the keywords "smell," "odor," and "scent." After sorting out the advertisements and articles clipped from other newspapers, we do get some hints:

  • An 1894 article reported that some of the milk sold in Spokane "smelled like a stable" and was "full of dirt." Bad meat was often detected by its foul odor. A typical article was titled "It Didn't Smell Nice" and documented the discovery and destruction of a entire warehouse full of rotting bacon and hams in downtown Spokane.
  • Stories about alcohol often mention smell, usually as a means of detecting when someone had been drinking. In 1895 Spokane Fire Chief Winebrenner was being investigated for drinking on the job with testimony from various citizens who apparently were asked if they had smelled liquor on his breath. No wonder a 1909 advertisement for a patent medicine to cure drunkenness promised that users would "look better, fell better, and smell better" upon taking the cure.
  • Similarly, a teacher in Indian Prairie was fired when his students detected the smell of tobacco about him.
  • An 1896 Chinese New Year celebration was notable to the American reporter as much for its scents as its sights, including the large quantities of incense and the delicious smells of the exotic food. Yet a few weeks earlier the Chinese quarter or Spokane was described as "Vile Dens of Vice." The article continued: "In every place entered the air was reeking with the foul smell arising from the fumes of opium and the crowded condition of the ill-ventilated rooms."
  • On the other hand, two culinarily-challenged Spokane police officers in 1912 falsely arrested two black residents when the policemen mistook "the smell of garlic cooking with a roast in the oven" for opium smoke. The article dwells on one of the arrested pair, "Phil Chapman, colored dandy." In an apparent effort to justify his suspicions, Officer Edwards "declared that Chapman, a negro barber from Butte, had the finest trunk and array of clothing he had ever seen carried about by a black man." 
  • One also finds a greater use of bad smells as a metaphor than is common today. Judges would "smell out evil" while the Italian government was "in bad odor." The greater use of such language suggest that smell was a more important part of the sensory landscape than it is today.
  • There were good smells as well. A 1916 article "Spring, Lovely, Smelly Spring" enumerated the intoxicating scents: "There is the pleasing smell of wet asphalt and damp earth after a shower or sprinkling. From the river comes air cooled by the spray from the falls. From Hangman Valley the south wind breathes a perfume that no laboratory but nature's could mix..."
Not a cookie jar, despite what the
tag at the antique store might say.

Since newspapers only publish items considered newsworthy, they are a very imperfect source for discovering the smells of early Spokane. Photographs of the early city show a steady stream of horses on most streets, we know that bathing and clothes washing were less common than today, and chamber pots were a common household appliance. These were typical smells, and have to be added to list of atypical smells that produced news stories. Newspapers are only the beginning of exploring the history of smells.