Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


Early American Newspapers and the Adverts 250 Project: Integrating Primary Sources into the Undergraduate History Classroom

In January 2016 I launched the Adverts 250 Project, a daily blog that features an advertisement published 250 years ago along with analysis and historical context.  This project grew out of my current research, a book tentatively titled Advertising in Early America: Marketing Media and Messages in the Eighteenth Century.  Publishing a blog as a supplement to the book offers several advantages, including the ability to share more of my work more frequently and to broader audiences.  It also opened up new opportunities for integrating my research into the undergraduate classroom, enriching both my scholarship and my teaching.

 

 

Early American Newspapers and the Adverts 250 Project: Integrating Primary Sources into the Undergraduate History Classroom


Excavating Antebellum Black Politics via America’s Historical Newspapers

I am finishing a history of antebellum black politics, a little-studied topic for which many of the usual sources are unavailable: white politicians did not record their correspondence with black men, and the latter rarely donated personal papers to libraries, for obvious reasons. However, America’s Historical Newspapers (AHN), used with precision, can produce extraordinary insights into the quotidian fabric of American politics and culture, evidence otherwise unavailable. 

Three examples illustrate its unique capacities.  First, AHN can be extremely productive in combination with another archival base—the decennial manuscript census of the U.S. The latter can be searched online to locate name, state, county, and municipality going back to 1790 (I use archives.com, but there are other genealogical databases).  Prior to 1850, the information is very limited, in that only heads of households were named, with numbers of household members distributed by sex and age range; race is indicated in various ways. Starting in 1850, however, much more information is available: full names of all family members, house numbers, exact ages, employment, real property, literacy, place of birth, and more. The census, combined with hundreds of individual name searches in AHN, has allowed me to construct a prosopography of the black political class in Portland, Maine; New Bedford, Massachusetts; Bucks County, Pennsylvania; and Providence, Rhode Island.

Excavating Antebellum Black Politics via America’s Historical Newspapers


The Mysterious Mr. Carter: Transatlantic Adventures in Early American Finance

In August 1799, as partisan antagonism heated up in advance of the forthcoming U.S. presidential election, the Republican press worked hard to paint the Federalist establishment in the colors of an imperial court. Drawing comparisons with Caesar’s Rome, these newspapers pointed out that leading figures in the political and business elites of the new nation were tied to each other by more than just their shared social position.

“General Hamilton,” wrote a correspondent to the New London Bee, “is married to the daughter of Gen. Schuyler, of New York sister of Mrs. Church. Mr. Church then called Carter, was co-contractor in the army with col. Wadsworth, both of whom made great fortunes by the war. And the son of Mr. C.,” the writer went on, “is about to marry the daughter of Mr. Bingham of Philadelphia, the federal Senator. Thus are our advocates for war cemented together.”

The article was soon reprinted in the Philadelphia Aurora. Its message was clear: if the Quasi-War with France were to escalate, as men like Hamilton seemed to wish, it would be ordinary folk doing the fighting and the dying, while the Federalist aristocracy would be the ones to benefit.

The Mysterious Mr. Carter: Transatlantic Adventures in Early American Finance


Runaway! Recapturing Information about Working Women's Dress through Runaway Advertisement Analysis, 1750-90

Indentured and enslaved women in the American colonies provided domestic, agricultural, and commercial labor, but left behind little documentary evidence of their lives. Some women chose to abscond from service. In Figure 1 below, a runaway woman’s master has recorded details of her appearance in a newspaper advertisement which seeks her return. Written from the master’s perspective, such runaway ads often state the name of the woman, describe her visual appearance, record the clothing she wore when she eloped, and occasionally mention personality quirks and aptitudes. These ads offer intriguing glimpses of women whose story is otherwise difficult to tell through other documentary sources.

Runaway! Recapturing Information about Working Women's Dress through Runaway Advertisement Analysis, 1750-90


The Muslim World in Early U.S. Texts

About a decade ago, I began researching representations of Islam in early national American literary texts; when someone would ask what the subject of my dissertation was, and I gave this answer, I often received responses along the lines of, “Was there any literature about Islam in the early U.S.?” 

Oil painting of Decatur Boarding the Tripolitan Gunboat
during the bombardment of Tripoli, 3 August 1804.
Source: Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy, Washington Navy Yard

The Muslim World in Early U.S. Texts


Finding John McKinley: Fresh Discoveries about a Forgotten Supreme Court Justice

When I moved to Alabama in 1998 to take a faculty position with Auburn University’s Department of Political Science, I already knew a great deal about two of the nation’s most notable Supreme Court justices appointed from that state. John Archibald Campbell resigned from the Court at the outset of the Civil War only to return later as an attorney to argue several important cases before his former colleagues. Hugo Black, the first Supreme Court appointee of Franklin Roosevelt, spurred an expansion of the protections contained in the Bill of Rights against state and local government infringement. Upon arriving in Alabama, however, I was surprised to learn of a third justice from the state—a man named John McKinley—who was the first Alabamian to serve on the United States Supreme Court upon his appointment in 1837. McKinley intrigued me. For much of the next decade, I kept my eye out for material about him, but my own academic research and writing took me down a different path.

By early 2007, I had started to devote more time to McKinley, but quickly learned that this justice was forgotten in part because so little information was available. In all of the books and journal articles discussing McKinley that I could find, the cumulative record of his life amounted to approximately one hundred pages, and much contained in those sources was duplicative. I resigned myself to completing no more than a short article on McKinley’s life and legacy.

Finding John McKinley: Fresh Discoveries about a Forgotten Supreme Court Justice


“Suitable To The Season”: Using Historical Newspapers to Help Reproduce 18th-Century Clothing

Cinnamon, nutmeg, claret, coffee and chocolate are not just spices or beverages; they were adjectives commonly used in the 18th century to describe the color of cloth. Easily visualized today, colors like cinnamon and coffee help us form a picture of goods on the shelf of an 18th-century New England shop.  As a costumer specializing in the accurate reproduction of Colonial Era clothing, I have found Early American Newspapers an invaluable reference source on early American garments.

Source: Hallie Larkin

When studying Colonial Era clothing, naturally the primary source is the original garment. As a first step in the research process, nothing can compare to personal examination of an extant artifact.  From these we can learn how the 18th-century tailor or seamstress constructed the garment, what thread and sewing stitches were used, how the clothing fit on the body, and the textiles used in construction.

As a second step in clothing research, 18th-century portraits should be examined. Oil paintings enable us to see clothing as it was worn, accessories used, changes in fashion, and the physical posture of the 18th-century woman or man. Also we are often able to know who the sitter was, where they lived and when the portrait was painted.

“Portrait of Anne Willing Bingham” by Gilbert Stuart (1797)

“Suitable To The Season”: Using Historical Newspapers to Help Reproduce 18th-Century Clothing


“The Great Upheaval”: Tracking Jim Thorpe’s Swift Fall from Grace after the 1912 Olympics

Click for larger imageOne hundred and one years ago this past summer, American Indian athlete Jim Thorpe was acclaimed around the world for winning, by huge margins, both the classic pentathlon and the decathlon at the Fifth Olympiad in Stockholm. The King of Sweden famously declared him “the most wonderful athlete in the world.”

Six months later, on January 22, 1913, a newspaper scoop in The Worcester Telegram in Massachusetts revealed that Thorpe had played minor league professional baseball in 1909 and 1910. Back then, “professional” was a dirty word because it meant money had changed hands. Only “simon-pure” amateurs were allowed to compete in the Olympic Games. Thorpe had signed the official International Olympic Committee (IOC) Entry Form, attesting that he had never played any sport for money and therefore qualified as an amateur.

At a time when so many organized sports were in their infancy, the ensuing reaction and repercussions, worldwide, would cause the Thorpe revelation to be dubbed the mother of all sports scandals. The modern Olympic movement was brand new; its first Olympiad had been in 1896. The identity and credibility of the struggling IOC as an amateur organization were seen to be at stake.

“The Great Upheaval”: Tracking Jim Thorpe’s Swift Fall from Grace after the 1912 Olympics


The Tallest of the Tall Tales: Using Historical Newspapers to Unearth the Secrets of the Cardiff Giant's Success

Over the years, the Cardiff Giant has been called America's greatest hoax as well as the world's most successful scientific hoax. England's Piltdown Man—a purported evolutionary missing link—also lays claim to the latter distinction, but, really, in a head-to-head match, who's not going with a 10-foot, 3,000-pound giant?

Here's the story: In 1867, George Hull, a small-time rogue and avowed atheist from Binghamton, New York, got in a heated argument with a Methodist preacher, who maintained that every word in the Bible was literally true. Hull subsequently came up with a scheme to make pious Americans look like fools—and perhaps make himself some money along the way. Drawing inspiration from the passage in Genesis that “there were giants in the earth in those days,” Hull and his collaborators sculpted a giant out of a block of gypsum and staged its discovery on a relative's farm in Cardiff, New York.

 

(Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

The Tallest of the Tall Tales: Using Historical Newspapers to Unearth the Secrets of the Cardiff Giant's Success


Hymns Without Hymnbooks: Tracking a “Late Puritan” Practice

When researching a topic such as the history of eighteenth-century hymnbooks, databases such as America’s Historical Imprints can greatly enhance access to rare materials, but I recently found that research questions also lurk in the digital archive.  Out of curiosity, I did a search for materials listing Isaac Watts (the century’s most popular hymn writer, starting in 1707) as an author in Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800, to see how early an American edition of Watts would be available in images.  The literature on American hymnody had led me to expect one or two printings in the 1720s, a few more in the 1730s, and an explosion in the 1740s in the wake of the Great Awakening.  My search, however, returned hits going back into the 1710s—with Cotton Mather listed as the author!  I was prepared for the bibliographies to miss a few titles, but how could the database think that Mather had written Watts’s hymns?  By the time I had answered this question, I was well on my way to an article.[i]

Hymns Without Hymnbooks: Tracking a “Late Puritan” Practice


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