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 dlangdon@seanet.com
Lorraine McConaghy  lmcconaghy@wshs.wa.gov

1 comment:

exlibriscat said...

This sounds so cool. Too bad I live out of state.