Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


Assessing the Map Trade in 18th-Century America

The consumer behavior of 18th-century Americans has been well-documented in regard to tastes in clothing and furniture, the social acts of dining and tea drinking, and pursuits such as book buying. Benjamin Franklin, for example, records how he purchased a copy of The Pilgrim's Progress as a young man, then later sold it to buy Burton's Historical Collections from one of Boston's numerous booksellers. Yet in comparison to the study of early Americans' literary purchases, few efforts have attempted to understand how Americans acquired cartographic products, or what choices the market offered. My research has focused on determining the composition of the map trade, the vendors involved and the availability of their products, including maps, charts, atlases and globes.

Trade with England and Western Europe supplied many of the manufactured goods that populated the colonial American economy. Among those goods were prints, books and maps that appeared in prodigious numbers in American marketplaces. Several types of sources record the inventory and sale of maps, charts, atlases and globes. Account books and correspondence between merchants and their customers can be fruitful, albeit labor-intensive, avenues of inquiry in manuscript repositories. The printed catalogues of booksellers, only a handful of which include cartographic products, also offer a narrow window on the market. Far more numerous than those research staples—and now far more accessible—are early American newspapers. Advertisements and notices from newspapers provide indispensable documentation of the map trade, and America's Historical Newspapers, part of the Readex Archive of Americana, greatly facilitates the task of locating that evidence.

Assessing the Map Trade in 18th-Century America


Cultural Conflict and the Battle of the Sexes in Hispanic American Newspapers

Among the various types of writing in early-20th century Hispanic American immigrant newspapers was a genre essential in forming and reinforcing the attitudes of Hispanic communities. It was the crónica, or chronicle, a short, weekly column that humorously and satirically commented on current topics and social habits. In Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries, the crónica had already been cultivated extensively and had helped to define national identity over the course of the 19th century.

In America, however, the crónica came to serve purposes never imagined in Mexico or Spain. From Los Angeles to San Antonio and even up to Chicago, Mexican moralists assumed pseudonyms (in keeping with the tradition of the crónica) and, from this masked perspective, wrote scathing satirical commentaries in the first person. As witnesses to both American and Mexican culture, the cronistas were greatly influenced by popular jokes, anecdotes and speech, and in general, their columns were a mirror of the surrounding social environment.

Cronistas battled with religious fervor to protect Spanish language and Mexican culture against what they saw as Anglo Saxon immorality. This was done not from the bully pulpit but rather through sly humor and a burlesque of fictional characters.

Cultural Conflict and the Battle of the Sexes in Hispanic American Newspapers


Whitman in Wisconsin: Uncovering his Legacy with "Labor-Saving Machines"

No labor-saving machine,
Nor discovery have I made;
Nor will I be able to leave behind me any wealthy bequest to found a hospital or library,
Nor reminiscence of any deed of courage, for America,
Nor literary success, nor intellect—nor book for the book-shelf;
Only a few carols, vibrating through the air, I leave,
For comrades and lovers.

—Walt Whitman, "No Labor-Saving Machine," 1867.

In a rare moment of humility recorded in this poem, Walt Whitman was circumspect about his legacy. His lasting contribution to the world would be no "labor-saving machine," or act of philanthropy. Even Leaves of Grass, into which he had collected a lifetime of reflections and assertions about democracy, the body, the spirit, the physical world, seemed transient. Earlier Whitman had predicted a demand for "copious thousands of copies"1 of Leaves of Grass, but here sees no "literary success" as his lasting achievement. Whitman instead saw his legacy as a ripple in the zeitgeist, "a few carols vibrating through the air" to perhaps be tuned in later by likeminded souls.

Whitman in Wisconsin: Uncovering his Legacy with


The Digital Detective: Tracking Criminals When the Trail Runs Cold

When I began work on a history of American counterfeiting between the Revolution and the Civil War, I was faced with some peculiar research problems. With a few rare exceptions, counterfeiting during this period was a crime that was not prosecuted by federal authorities. The problem was instead left to state and local law enforcement officials who were often outnumbered and incompetent. This was partly a consequence of the fact that the paper money in circulation originated not with the federal government, but with hundreds of state-chartered banks. But it was also a reflection of the relative weakness of the federal government's policing.

And therein lay a serious problem, not only for the police of the day, but for the historian who would attempt to reconstruct this kind of criminal activity. Counterfeiting involved vast numbers of players spread out across state and even national lines. This meant that local law enforcement officials often operated in the dark as to the scope and scale of the network of manufacturers, distributors, retailers and passers of bogus bills. Local law enforcement records—what few have survived—often provide but a fleeting snapshot of an individual counterfeiter who typically posted bail and fled, never to be seen again. What, then, is a historian to do, particularly a historian who wants to reconstruct the entire criminal careers of some of these colorful individuals?

The Digital Detective: Tracking Criminals When the Trail Runs Cold


Recovering Memories of a Defining Local Event: A Revolutionary-Era Tea Burning

In the 18th century, it was not unusual for a ship to dock at John Shepherd’s landing in the tiny village of Greenwich, New Jersey. The town, located on the Cohansey River about six miles from Delaware Bay, was an official British customs port. But it was not a very busy port town, and its population was small enough to make any vessel’s arrival worthy of conversation. One ship in particular—which arrived sometime in the second week of December 1774—was even more newsworthy because of its cargo.

For the past year, the British-American colonies had been resisting England’s efforts to flood their markets with cheap tea from India. The colonists had been forced to pay a tax on tea since 1767—the year the commodity was included on a list of luxury items levied as part of the Townshend Duties. When the Townshend Duties were repealed in 1770, however, the tax on tea continued, causing the product to become the object of many colonial boycotts during the seven years that preceded the dreaded Tea Act of 1773. This spirit of resistance was not lost on the inhabitants of Greenwich. The brig that had just pulled into their port was filled with tea from the East India Company.

Recovering Memories of a Defining Local Event: A Revolutionary-Era Tea Burning


Religion and the Rise of the Second Ku Klux Klan, 1915-1922

In 1915, the second incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan was born. The second Klan, a memorial to the Reconstruction Klan and its work in the postbellum South, was to act as a restructured fraternity that supported white supremacy, the purity of white womanhood, nationalism and Protestant Christianity. William J. Simmons, a fraternalist and former minister, organized the charter for the new order and consecrated its beginning by setting afire a cross on the top of Stone Mountain, Georgia.

Simmons’s flair for the theatric (including the adoption of the fiery cross as a symbol of the Klan)—along with the order’s aggressive public relations campaign and membership boon—quickly gained the attention of local and national newspapers. Reporters commented on the Klan's platform, its stated intentions and its historical connections to the Reconstruction Klan. Some of the initial coverage, in the South especially, was favorable. The Columbia Enquirer Sun wrote, “Proof that the noble spirit that actuated the members of the famous Ku Klux Klan in the reconstruction period still lives among the sons is shown in the remarkable growth of the organization…” 1The new order seemed to have the potential to reform the region—and possibly the nation.

Religion and the Rise of the Second Ku Klux Klan, 1915-1922


Rescuing Cast Offs: The Do-It-Yourself Box Furniture of Social Worker Louise Brigham

Today's Do-It-Yourself movement is peopled with crafty types who revel in finding creative ways to reuse things instead of simply throwing the old stuff out and buying new. Evidence of this movement can be found in the popularity of ReadyMade Magazine's MacGyver Challenges; in Ikeahacker's celebration of imaginative consumers who adapt the often bland goods sold by that international chain; and in Wardrobe Refashion's encouragement to those inclined toward re-interpreting and re-thinking the value of "pre-loved" clothes.

Why do some of us go through the trouble of reusing old things instead of simply buying new? The answers vary, but common motives include environmentalism, thrift, artistic expression and a desire to find alternatives to disposable consumption. This "stewardship of objects"1 once played a much more prominent role in everyday peoples' lives, as each person mended, made do and cajoled objects into lasting as long as possible at a time when material goods were not as easily obtained as they are today. (For more on the truly fascinating history of the "stewardship of objects," read Susan Strasser's Waste and Want.) And even if today's repurposing efforts are not the result of scarcity of goods, this practice plays an important part in the story of America's material culture. One hundred years ago, Louise Brigham's box furniture played a part as well.

Rescuing Cast Offs: The Do-It-Yourself Box Furniture of Social Worker Louise Brigham


Creating the Fourth Branch of Government: The Role of the Press in Pennsylvania's Constitutional Debates

The views expressed in this article are the author's and not necessarily those of the Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State, or the United States Government.

When the meeting of the Pennsylvania State Assembly received the Federal Constitution in September 1787, the idyllic excitement that had emanated from the Federal Convention shattered. The leaders of Pennsylvania—the first state to witness a large and heated public deliberation over the Federal proposal—quickly turned to the press to gain public support. Historians have typically acknowledged Pennsylvania as a leader in the ratification debates, setting the blueprint for state campaigns to come. Historian George Graham summarized the dominant historiographical argument when he wrote, "In practical terms, Pennsylvania was the heart of the new nation both socially and economically. In symbolic terms, it was its political center. During the ratification process, this symbolic status proved to be in many ways the most significant."1 While correct in identifying the state's leadership role, Pennsylvania's most significant contribution came through its use of the press.

Pennsylvanians had long argued over many of the issues addressed in the Constitution, including representation, taxation and others. However, by its very nature, the Constitution raised the stakes of t hese debates and further polarized the citizenry. Each faction then relied upon the press to spread and court public support. George Washington confirmed the influence of the press when he commented to an associate that "[ratification] will depend … on literary abilities and the recommendation of it by good pens."2 Pennsylvania's ratification debates reveal the transformation of early American political life from one primarily dictated by personal reputation and influence to one controlled by print.

Creating the Fourth Branch of Government: The Role of the Press in Pennsylvania's Constitutional Debates


Originalism in a Digital Age: An Inquiry into the Right to Bear Arms

The quest for original intent has dominated Second Amendment scholarship, a trend further solidified in the Supreme Court's recent gun case, District of Columbia v. Heller. In the majority opinion, Justice Scalia insisted that the "normal meaning" of the words of the Second Amendment must be used to understand the Framers' intent, not "secret or technical meanings that would not have been known to ordinary citizens in the founding generation."1 But how can scholars (and justices, for that matter) determine the normal meaning of words? How can we divine what the Founders meant when they recognized the right of the people to keep and bear arms?

The debate over the Second Amendment has largely revolved around whether the right to bear arms protects an individual right to self defense or a collective right to keep arms for service in a militia. To date, most scholarship has sampled select quotations from a relatively narrow set of sources to determine the meaning of key phrases like "bear arms." Readex has now made it possible to search the historical record in a systematic and comprehensive way. Indeed, digital archives with keyword search capabilities can help us understand the meaning of historical phrases with relative certainty.

Originalism in a Digital Age: An Inquiry into the Right to Bear Arms


Using the Archive of Americana at China's Finest University

It was through my early American history classes at Colgate University that first I discovered the joys of using the Archive of Americana as a teaching tool. In those classes, I compelled my students to make use of this valuable resource by establishing citation levels for each grade. For my advanced undergraduate classes on early American and New York City history, I advised students that they needed 30 citations from America's Historical Newspapers and related collections; 50 citations qualified students for the B level; those who could cite 80 different sources could aspire to an A. Note that they could "qualify." The papers still had to include solid writing, vigorous analysis and a cogent thesis. Despite some grumbling, the Colgate students submitted to the protocol and a few earned an A in the seminar.

Then, I got the opportunity to teach as a Distinguished Fulbright Professor at Peking University (Beida) in Beijing. I was determined to introduce my Chinese students to the Archive of Americana as well. While I did not expect that Peking students had the time, skills or inclination to make such extensive research in English-language sources, I did hope that we could master some research techniques and that they might uncover evocative historical moments. But as often happens when teaching abroad, my plans met with a number of difficulties.

Using the Archive of Americana at China's Finest University


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