Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Importance of Digital Archives

Last year we hosted a film team at the Washington State Archives. They made three films about our work. Here is the first--I am really pleased with how it came out.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Superb Local History Video from the Inlander

Spokane is fortunate to have a very good alternative weekly, The Inlander. The newspaper has often run local history articles, but this is their first history video:

I love the use of oral history and reminiscences in this piece. The Park Inn is a few blocks from my home and I drive by it every week, never having an idea of the rich history.

Monday, January 14, 2013

We Know You Can Read. So Can We

Today the Chronicle of Higher Education published a column that I wrote, "We Know You Can Read. So Can We: In Which I Sit through a Conference Panel and Do Not Obtain Enlightenment." Yes, standards at the Chronicle are really slipping--what can you do? Here is a bit of the piece:
I am so excited to be at Big Annual Conference in my discipline! And now here I am at Session With Very Interesting Title. I have read books and articles by these women and men, so to have them all sitting together is a buffet of scholarly brilliance. And now the woman who is doing research on the very thing I am most interested in is about to give her presentation. This is going to be great!
Wait. Why does she have all those papers? No need to panic. Most likely those are handouts, or at worst some notes. She wrote Really Awesome Book That Changed the Field, so she knows what she is doing. There, she is beginning. ... 
Oh, God, no. She is looking straight down and reading from her paper. I spent 10 hours on airplanes and all my professional-development money for this? Maybe she is just reading the introduction before she shifts to a more conversational presentation? ... No, she is forging into the second paragraph, reading the words out loud.
The rest is here.

I love the comments--over 130 so far, sharply divided between people who think I am absolutely right that reading papers is boring and folks who are outraged at my anti-intellectualism. The same discussions are going on in some Facebook threads started by friends. What do you think, Dear Reader, do you enjoy people reading papers out loud at academic conferences?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Northwest History in British Newsreels

Check this out--a fascinating World War Two era British newsreel of the wheat harvest near Walla Walla titled "Bread for the World:"


I am surprised to see horse-powered harvesting at such a late date. The narrator says that they use horses because of the steep hillsides but I wonder if wartime efforts to save fuel had something to do with it? In any case I love the intimate look at how horse-drawn harvesters worked, right down to the stitchers sewing up the bags of grain.

And here is a charming 1950s newsreel of crews in the North Cascades measuring the depth of snow to estimate spring runoff:

Finally, animal lovers should probably avert their eyes from this story of the famous Omak Stampede Suicide Race:

Both are from the British Pathé Archive. Though the great bulk of the content has to do with the UK, a search for Washington State turns up 18 newsreels, from a naval accident in 1932 to the Seattle World's Fair in 1962.

I love finding things like this--intimate views of local history that ended up in some distant archive but that are accessible again due to the magic of technology. They convince me yet again that technology is having its greatest impact on the practice of local history.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Mossback on Why Spokane is Central

You cannot do much blogging about Washington State history without coming across the wonderful work of Knute Berger--or "Mossback" as he would prefer. Berger has been blogging and writing about Pacific Northwest history for years. His focus is usually on Seattle and the Puget Sound, but sometimes he takes a broader view as with his "Heritage Turkey Awards."

Knute Berger. Image courtesy Evergreen State College.
I had the pleasure of finally getting to meet Berger in person at the National Trust Conference in Spokane last fall. He was clearly and openly taken with our city--an unusual response from a west-sider. (I maintain that they are all secretly impressed with Spokane and would move here in a minute but for fear of the mocking from their hipster friends.)

Anyway, Berger went back home and wrote a great piece: Preserving state's heritage: Why Spokane is Central. Here is a portion:

Spokane recently played host to the prestigious National Preservation Conference, put on by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Heritage advocates from all across the country, including the storm battered East Coast, made their way to the capitol of the Inland Empire. It was a chance for Spokane to show off its preservation efforts and architectural legacy, which has been key to revitalizing its downtown.

Go and enjoy the whole piece, a powerful argument for the importance of historic preservation in reviving American cites, with Spokane as exhibit #1.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Spokane Historical: Houdini Takes a Dive

Last quarter one of my grad students, Lee Nilsson, chose the old Washington Street Bridge over the Spokane River as one of his stops for Spokane Historical. He did not expect to find much--maybe a few old photos and a newspaper story about the construction. As it happened he hit the historical jackpot:

You can view all of the historic interpretation that Nilsson developed for this site at the Washington Street Bridge stop. He also found a treasure trove of bridge construction photographs, and an amusing story in the newspsper that he turned into a "period" radio news flash. Houdini's 1905 jump is only one of the forgotten Spokane stories that my students are uncovering in their research for Spokane Historical.

The other notable thing about the video is the introduction, with the animated logo and historic music.

The original graphics for Spokane Historical were developed by Mark Tebeau and Erin Belle at the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University. It was they who developed the Curatascape platform that underlies Spokane Historical, and they host our database and offer technical support. The graphics were animated for me by XX at EWU. He also paired the graphics with various sound clips, but none of the free MP3s sounded quite right. I wanted something historical. So I sent Nilsson to the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project, where he selected a clip from a 1913 recording, Alexander's Ragtime Band Medley, to serve as the Spokane Historical theme song.

More great Spokane Historical material to follow!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Spokane's Fantastic Baby Cage

Spokane is proud of its inventors, such as Royal Riblet of the square-wheeled tractor fame and Mary Latham who invented a pessary (and did a lot of other stuff). And yet who among has heard of Emma Read?  I had not, until a great piece by Shawn Vestal in the Spokesman-Review introduced me to this Spokanite's earth-shaking invention. Behold, the baby cage--click for the video:

"How did this not catch on?" Vestal asks, "If you don’t read those words – Baby Cage – with a secret thrill, with an unspoken recognition that deep in the unexplored reaches of your mind, you always knew that cages were perfect for babies, then I suspect you’re not a parent."

What got me blogging about this topic was Vestal's frustration in trying to find out more about the inventor: "Read herself, as well as any level of detail about the creation of the cage, remains stubbornly elusive. There is no file on her in the newspaper’s archives. She is not mentioned in city histories that I could find. Google her, and you are reminded of two things: Google is not omniscient and about 80 percent of the online world is a vast cavern of echoes."

I took that as a challenge--afer all, digging up obscure Northwest History in the digital realm is the purpose of this blog. So what did I find? Not vey much, in truth, but I did come up with a few gems.

First, the newsreel report embedded above, from 1953. The views of a smoggy, gritty post-war London are as interesting as the cage itself. (Mother, that is not fresh air!) And then there is the original 1922 patent, to which Vestal alludes in his article. The patent is signed by Read, and also by a Watson E. Coleman, who turns out to have been a D.C. patent attorney who advertised his services in western periodicals of the time. From the patent we get the justification for the device:
Be it known that I, Emma Read, a citizen of the United States, residing at Spokane, in the county of Spokane and State of Washington, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Portable Baby Cages, of which the following is a specification, reference being had to the accompanying drawings:

When baby gets too big you can also raise urban chickens! Read further explains the utility of her invention:
It is well known that a great many dificulties rise in raising and properly housing babies and small children in crowded cities, that is to say from the health viewpoint. This is especially true with reference to babies and young children, who at present are being raised in large apartments... In crowded cities, where the houses are closely arranged, and in large apartments, there is no way for proper ventilation ... to permit the children and babies to receive proper fresh air from outside.
This emphasis on the importance of fresh air was a common argument made by progressives during this time period. I comes in part from the still-believed miasma theory, which held that many contagious diseases were caused by "bad air." Belief in miasma theory was a major impetus to the city parks movement of the late-19th century. But I am getting all professor on you.

There are also a lot of great images out there of baby cages--which never seem to have been widely used, but were always photogaphed on the few occasions they did appear!

You laugh, but this child grew up to be Superman!
What of Vestal's challenge to discover more about the Spokane connections of the fabulous baby cage? has an Emma K. Read of Spokane who might be our woman. If so, she at some point moved to Seattle where she died in 1956. And that--is about it. I can find no mention of Read in the digitized newspapers for early Spokane--though the common surname of Read, along with the fact that it is also a common verb ("to read a book"), makes for a messy search. There are a lot of men named Read in early Spokane, some of whom may have been relations. I don't find a birth or marriage certificate for Emma Reed at the Washington State Archives--and we would have them if they existed. She appears to have had no other patents. I could buy a subscription to and view census records and the like and come up with further information, but I am cheap.

The cold digital trail for Emma Read makes two points. One is how little historical record most people leave, even the inventor of the baby cage. The other is that you cannot do all of your reseach online. My wife was quick to point out that you could find a lot more about Read with a trip to the Northwest Room of the Spokane Public Library or the MAC. A search through old city directories will reveal when and where Read lived in Spokane, her marital status, her occupation, and who else lived in the building. (See this entry for Etta Read as an example.) Only a few years of the directories for Spokane are digitized. From there one could go to Sanborn Maps, which have richly detailed illustrations of each city block. Did Read live in a downtown apartment? And did she have a baby? And with names of relatives and dates and such, one could look for ancestors, who might have more information.

Some of my readers have proven much smarter than I am. Can anyone find more information about Emma Read?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

John Muir Biographer Coming to Aunties

This just in from Auntie's Bookstore:
You are cordially invited to a free author presentation, Q&A and book signing by James B. Hunt, professor emeritus at Whitworth University on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2:00 pm at Auntie's Bookstore 402 W. Main, Spokane WA. Before he achieved fame as an environmentalist, John Muir lost his sight in one eye, left his job as a machinist and walked across the South after the Civil War. Join us to learn more as Hunt presents his book, Restless Fires: John Muir's Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf in 1867-68.
Muir's 1867 walk to Florida was an turning point in the life of America's great naturalist, and the subject of Muir's book A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf. It is also an interesting episdoe in Muir's life in that it took place jsut two years after the end of the Civil War, and Muir trod across a South that was in many ways barely recovered from the conflict. (Muir himself had fled to Canada to avoid service during the war.)

Muir's walk can also be explored as a digital project. Here is a Google Earth file that includes a map of his route. And here is a short video of an exhibit in Oakland that overlays some of Muir's California drawings with Google Earth. And of course the Sierra Club has an extensive set of resources about Muir.

Come out and support our independent bookstore on the 12th!

Heritage Conference at the Western Washington State Historical Society

The Washington State Historical Society (or as we on the east side know it, the Western Washington State Historical Society) is hosting an interesting two-day conference February 4th and 5th. The Art of Heritage conference will take place in Olympia. The WWSHS conference page does not include a descriptive overview for some reason, but the excellent Department of Archeology & Historic Preservation blog fills the gap:
The Washington State Historical Society is partnering with the Washington State Arts Commission, the Washington State Arts Alliance and Washington Museum Association for the 2013 Heritage Conference “The Art of Heritage” at the Red Lion Hotel in Olympia on Tuesday, February 5, 2013.  
The Conference also features workshops on Monday, February 4, 2013 on Collections Care and Effective Grant Writing at the State Capital Museum in Olympia. 
At the conference on February 5th, attendees will learn how to work effectively with elected officials, how to implement social media; get an update on lodging tax; learn about initiatives to build new audiences for arts and heritage; see how other arts and heritage groups have used state grants; get some tips on board development; and enjoy a special session on “Museums, Arts and Historic Sites Synergy.”
The spotlight event will be a noon keynote address on February 5th  by noted author Carol Kammen, American Association of State and Local History columnist who writes “On Doing Local History.”  She will speak on “Clio and Her Sisters:  Integrating Arts and Heritage.”
Sounds like a worthwhile event. I find that such smaller, focused conferences are far more worthwhile professional events, both for information and for networking, than are impersonal national gatherings. I can't make this one, maybe a reader will catch me up with what happened?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Crowdsourcing Civil War History in the Northwest

Oregon and Washington Territory in 1862. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Here is an innovative public history project! The Washington Territorial Civil War Read-In is an attempt to crowd-source research into a little-understood period of Northwest history--the Civil War era. Though the Washington Territory saw no battles during the war, the whole northwest was awash in political intrigue, desertion, etc. Yet there is little in the way of published research. The Civil War era in the northwest suffers from a not-uncommon problem: Everybody knows there is nothing to find, so no one goes looking.

At last fall's Conference on Pacific Northwest History, Dr. Lorraine McConaghy, representing the Washington State Historical Society, announced an ambitious plan to crowd source historical research into the Civil War era in Washington Territory--a "read-in" that will recruit hundreds of volunteers to dig through historical collections and combine their research. Here is the FAQ from Lorraine McConaghy and Darby Langdon. At the bottom is their contact information if you want to participate!:

Washington Territorial Civil War Read-In: Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome!  If you’re interested in this FAQ, you’re considering volunteering as a reader for the Read-In.  I hope that you will read with us.  

The Washington Territorial Civil War Read-In is a project of the Washington State Historical Society to involve hundreds of citizens in documentation of the territorial experience of the late antebellum, wartime and early Reconstruction periods.  This project is an opportunity to participate in conducting basic research, in doing history from scratch.  For so long, Washington Territory’s Civil War experience was dismissed as marginal at best, beneath notice at worst.  But over the last five years, as we have moved toward the Civil War’s sesquicentennial, we’ve learned enough about Washington Territory during the wartime period to know that there are great stories waiting to be discovered in the record.  No one person could possibly read everything of interest, so we’ve invited hundreds of you to work together to frame the territorial experience of the Civil War.  Among us, we will leave a lasting legacy to the future. 

Interested?  Please keep reading….

What was the Civil War in Washington Territory?
Between 2011 and 2015, Americans commemorate the sesquicentennial – the 150th anniversary - of the Civil War.  Most Americans – including Washington residents – think of the Civil War as a war of battles.  Since there were no battlefields in Washington, they reason, there was no experience of the Civil War here.  However, a quick review of the primary sources for Washington Territory, from the Dred Scott decision in 1857 to five years into Reconstruction, 1871, shows deep difference of opinion about the issues that led to war.  Wherever settlers came from, they brought the ideas of the Civil War with to Washington Territory – they brought the war as surely as they brought garden seeds and butter churns.  Their ideas and convictions were captured in territorial words and deeds, and can be rediscovered.

Convictions about race and slavery, treason and secession, military preparedness, international relations and wartime suppression of civil liberties divided settlers in Washington Territory as they divided Americans in the Confederate States of America from those in the United States.  Washington’s governor resigned to “go South,” and so did many officers of the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy who had been stationed in Washington.  Not every settler partial to the Confederacy or opposed to the Lincoln administration left the Territory.  Those who stayed behind ranged across a spectrum from Peace Democrats to the secret, paramilitary society known as the Knights of the Golden Circle, extremists who drilled for the assassination of Lincoln’s political appointees and advocated the secession of the Pacific Republic.  

There was one celebrated fugitive slave case on Puget Sound, and at least one other African-American slave in the Territory.  Settler attitudes toward race were enormously complicated in Washington Territory, where the racial hierarchy included Asians from the “Sandwich Islands,” Native and mixed world people, blacks from Africa, and African-Americans, slave and free.  While some Republicans were abolitionists, few at any point on the political spectrum were advocates of black social, economic or political equality.  In other words, one could oppose slavery but not favor free blacks.  

As far as we know at present, no anti-war, anti-Lincoln newspaper in Washington Territory was shut down by military authority; the northernmost newspaper to be closed was the Portland Advertiser in the new state of Oregon.  Territorial residents had subscribed by mail to the Advertiser as well as a number of other Oregon antiwar newspapers; Republican appointees delivered the mail in Washington Territory and were partly responsible for the suppression of those newspapers, seen as treasonous.  And, as far as we know right now, there were no territorial instances of the suspension of habeas corpus.  

The Crown Colony of Victoria was the destination for at least one fugitive slave from Washington Territory, fleeing to a substantial black community; however, Victoria was also the haven for pro-Confederate sympathizers and Confederate agents, seeking to purchase and equip a war steamer to harass coastwise shipping. 

The Washington Civil War Read-In is intended to increase our understanding of these and other topics.  Here are some of the questions to be explored:
  • What were the political attitudes in the territory prior to the war?  How did settlers perceive the issues?
  • What issue-related or war-related evidence is there for the economic and political development of Washington Territory during the war?
  • What were the experiences of people of color in Washington Territory?
  • Washington Territory’s first governor, Isaac Ingalls Stevens, headed the national campaign in 1860 for John Breckenridge and Oregon’s Joseph Lane – the southern Democratic ticket.  Territorial residents could not vote; did they have opinions about this campaign?
  • Who “went South?”  Who “went North?”  Who left the territory and headed back east, to fight on either side?  Can we find evidence that soldiers and sailors corresponded with settlers in Washington territory?
  • What pro-Confederate activities can we document in Washington Territory during the war?
  • What was Washington Territory’s military history during the war?
  • What was the territorial effect of the Homestead Act?  The arrival of the telegraph?  The chartering of the Northern Pacific railroad?
  • What were the war-related activities of women in Washington Territory?
  • What evidence can we find for the Knights of the Golden Circle or other such extremist groups in the Territory?  Did the Knights disappear, or morph into something else?  (For instance, is there a link to the postwar Ku Klux Klan?)
  • What were the racial attitudes in Washington Territory?  Did wartime events like the Emancipation Proclamation have any effect here?
  • What evidence can we find for or against secession of Washington, Oregon and California as the Pacific Republic?
  • What was the political history of the Territory during the war?  Did the Republican appointees get along?  How about the out-of-office Democrats?
  • What effects did the Civil War have on Native people in Washington Territory?
  • How did settlers respond to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln?
  • How did settlers regard the Crown Colonies and the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1857-1871?
  • Who were the early veterans who immigrated to Washington Territory after the war?  Which army or navy had they served in?  Where did they settle?  What did they do for a living?
  • Can we find evidence that the Ku Klux Klan arrived postwar with Confederate veterans?  Or by any means?
  • How did Washington Territory’s demography change after the war?  So from census to census, 1860 to 1870?
  • Is there evidence in current or past place names to show areas of settlement by either Confederate or Union veterans in the Territory?
  • Were there any veterans’ groups or organizations in Washington Territory prior to 1871?

And many, many more questions, that we can’t anticipate because we don’t know what you will find.

What is this Read-In about, in a nutshell?

The Read-In is a statewide program of the Washington State Historical Society to recruit and train hundreds of readers throughout Washington State to carefully read newspapers, archival collections and Washington history classics to find evidence concerning Washington Territory’s experience of the Civil War.  The Read-In will take place from January through August, 2013.  The readers will build a database of citations and scanned documents, which will be hosted by the Washington State Historical Society.

How will readers be trained?

Every reader must attend a day-long training at one of the eight sites, listed below.  YOU MUST REGISTER TO ATTEND A TRAINING – PLEASE DO NOT SIMPLY SHOW UP!  The training will include a presentation sketching what we currently know about the Civil War in Washington Territory, 1857-1871.  Then, readers will work through three case studies – in a newspaper, an archival document and a classic of Washington history.  They will practice the hard work of figuring out what evidence is in the selections, and how to record the required information in the digital format.  Then, they will be trained in logging that data and uploading it to the Omeka holding queue, our online database.  At the end of the training session, each reader will receive his or her assignment.  The assignment is designed to be carefully read in a month of spare time, but the reader may take as long as two months to complete the reading and review.  There will be plenty of time at the training for questions and discussion – the Read-In is a community, not just a project. 

Here are the training dates, times, and locations – please note that the second Seattle training is on a Wednesday and the Walla Walla training is on a Sunday. 

Saturday, February 9, 10-4 Seattle
National Archives and Records Administration, 6125 Sand Point Way, NE Seattle 98115

Wednesday, February 13, 10-4 Seattle
National Archives and Records Administration, 6125 Sand Point Way, NE Seattle 98115

Saturday, February 16, 10-4 Vancouver
Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main Street, Vancouver 98660

Saturday, February 23, 10-4 Olympia
Washington State Capital Museum, 211 SW 21st Avenue, Olympia 98501

Saturday, March 2, 10-4 Tacoma
Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma 98402

Sunday, March 10, 12-6 Walla Walla
Fort Walla Walla, 755 Myra Road, Walla Walla 99362

Saturday, March 23, Yakima
Yakima Valley Museum, 2105 Tieton Drive, Yakima 98902

Saturday, April 13, 10-4 Cheney
Washington State Archives – Eastern Regional Branch, 960 Washington Street, Cheney 99004

Saturday, April 20, 10-4 La Conner
Skagit County Historical Museum, 501 South 4th Street, La Conner 98257

Choose your training, and email us to let us know! 
So that’s Darby Langdon
Lorraine McConaghy