As a college librarian, I often hear stressed-out students searching for primary sources say, "I'll take anything." Don't settle for just anything. There is a treasury of primary source material available electronically. Peruse my selection of 200-plus primary source sites by conducting a keyword search, exploring the tag cloud at left, or browsing by historical era. You can also visit my Delicious and Diigo sites to review my bookmarks. Here's hoping you find what you're looking for.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Resource for Spenser Scholars

My inaugural post this academic year features a resource created by the students I work with at Stonehill College. Spenser's "Faerie Queene" in the Archives is a repository of original research on Spenser's Faerie Queene (1590, 1596); the essays presented on the site have been written by members of ENG304: "Spenser's Faerie Queene in the Archives," a course taught during the spring semester of 2012, at Stonehill, by Professor Helga Duncan. The essays included are intended as a scholarly resource for readers and students of Spenser's poem, and offer reflections on the cultural contexts in which Spenser lived and worked.

While the essays are secondary sources, a look at the bibliographies will shed light on the varied primary sources the students examined as part of their research. Some of those works are: Elizabeth I: Collected Works, Sir Thomas Malory’s Le morte d’Arthur: King Arthur and the Legends of the Round Table, Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain, Spenser's A View of the State of Ireland, and Chinigchinich: A Historical Account of the Origin, Customs, and Traditions of  the Indians At the Missionary Establishment of St. Juan Capistrano, Alta-California.

Take a look at the site. Leave a comment if you wish. These Stonehill authors are eager to receive comments on their work.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Uncle Sam yourself. You might be amazed at what you find.


The National Archives and Records Administration yesterday released individual records from the 1940 Census. Packaged together with fascinating extras, such as videos from that time period and visualization tools allowing you to better understand population changes, this online data set provides users with a wealth of historical information. It might also provide you with a detailed snapshot of your ancestors’ lives 72 years ago

I took a look at the records for my mother’s kin – the McDonalds. Sadly, the 1940 census provided a last glimpse at an intact family. Months after the census was taken in April of 1940, my grandfather, James, died. He left behind his wife, Anna, and their four children, among them my 13-year old mother.

The census data provided me with some primary source verification for tales I heard as a child. I recall my mom telling me that her mother had to stand in bread lines as the McDonalds, like so many families, struggled during the Depression. Indeed, the 1940 census data shows that my grandfather reported no income from his job as a cotton salesman during the previous year. With her husband dead and the family in difficult financial straits, my grandmother became the head of the household.

The census data doesn't tell what came after. Anna McDonald saw two sons off to war - one served with the Army in France and another with the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. She welcomed both home. Her eldest daughter went overseas during the war as well, teaching the children of servicemen. My mother stayed in Massachusetts, finished high school and went to work as a telephone operator. All four of Anna's children eventually married. Between them, they gave her 12 grandchildren. There were better days, and many opportunities to make wonderful family memories. And while the numbers released yesterday don't describe those good times, the 1940 census helps provide insight into the strength she possessed that saw her, and her family, through the bad times.

Getting this information wasn't without difficulty. Interest in the 1940 census was so great yesterday that the millions of hits to the National Archives website crashed the system.  This morning things were working much more smoothly. Once on the site, you'll likely have to do a bit of exploring to find what you're looking for. As the 1940 Census has no names index, you have to first find the enumeration district in which your ancestor resided. If you have a specific street address, or even a town, that isn’t a difficult search as The 1940 Census page provides clear directions and online tools for tracking down that data.

The image at top  is a family photograph showing my grandmother, Anna, surrounded by her family. My mother, Mary, now 84, is the second from the right. The image below comes from the National Archives and shows the page of census data that tells the McDonalds' story. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Noble Portraits, Controversial Representations

This week, the Smithsonian’s Past Imperfect blog featured a fascinating post on famed photographer Edward S. Curtis. A Wisconsin native, Curtis moved to Seattle, bought a camera and became a partner in a photography studio. In 1898 he met anthropologist George Bird Grinnell and the two forged a friendship which would ultimately lead Curtis to his vocation - photographing Native Americans.

Grinnell invited Curtis to accompany him on an expedition to Alaska in 1899 and an excursion to Montana the following year. It was there, in the land of the Piegan Blackfeet, that Curtis's efforts to capture Native Americans on his glass negatives began. He lobbied for and received the financial backing of J.P. Morgan. By 1930 he had taken more than 40,000 pictures and created the multivolume The North American Indian, described by the Library of Congress as “one of the most significant and controversial representations of traditional American Indian culture ever produced.” That work is available digitally from the Library of Congress’s American Memory project.

By 1930 Curtis has also fallen on hard times. He was divorced, facing financial ruin and in poor physical and mental health. The Smithsonian blog notes that when Curtis passed in 1952 at the age of 84, the last line of his New York Times obituary noted, “Mr. Curtis was also widely known as a photographer.”

The blog also pointed out that Mr. Curtis’s work has been the subject of much criticism, specifically for his manipulation of subjects and practice of having those subjects pose and reenact ceremonies. Despite that, his work is still a collection of magnificent, noble portraits.

The image of Curtis at top comes from the University of Washington portraits database.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Remarkable Creatures, Pioneering Scientists

 I recently finished reading Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier and was sorry when I reached the final page. Set in Dorset, the book tells the story of 19th century fossil hunters Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Anning and describes the impact their finds had on the scientific community’s study of paleontology and the question of creationism.

It wasn’t until I finished the book that I learned this work of historical fiction was based on real individuals. Back in the 1800s, Misses Anning and Philpot combed the dangerous, fossil-laden cliffs near Lyme Regis seeking specimens. They made an
odd pair. Miss Philpot took to fossil hunting as a diversion after moving to the coast from London. Miss Anning gathered fossils as a means to help support her destitute family. They were hugely successful in their quest. Mary Anning was credited with the discovery of the first plesiosaur and was responsible for finding a number of ichthyosaurs. Much of the novel is devoted to the struggle the women had in gaining respect for their knowledge and expertise. In fact, Mary Anning did become a well-known fossil hunter and paleontologist who was consulted by and corresponded with some of the most renowned scientists of the day.

Given my interest in primary sources, I imagined there must be a wealth of material available about Mary Anning and her work. JSTOR’s Early Journal Content provides access to an article written by noted British anatomist and paleontologist Sir Richard Owen that appeared in the in the 1844 edition of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.

In it, Owen writes:
One of the specimens discovered by Miss MARY ANNING of Lyme…has been presented, since the reading of the present memoir, by the Earl of Enniskillen to the College of Surgeons.
Mary Anning died of breast cancer in 1847. But prior to her passing, her contributions to the field of paleontology were acknowledged and she was presented with a small annuity from the Geological Society in recognition of her work. You can read the decision to grant that financial support in an 1848 edition of the Quarterly Report of the Geological Society of London. That work is available from Google Books.

The photo above of Mary Anning comes from the Natural History Museum in London.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Kony 2012 - The Story in Documents


A fascinating article in yesterday's New York Times deconstructs the Kony phenomena, explaining how the launch of a social media campaign brought immediate worldwide attention to the horrific deeds of Joseph Kony – leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
As of today, more than 70 million people have viewed Kony 2012 , the viral video about Kony – the Ugandan warlord who is accused a litany of atrocities including murder, rape and abducting children and forcing them to serve as soldiers. He is the subject of an arrest warrant issued in 2005 by the International Criminal Court. That documents reads, in part:

“…the LRA has engaged in a cycle of violence and established a pattern of
“brutalization of civilians” by acts including murder, abduction, sexual
enslavement, mutilation, as well as mass burnings of houses and looting of
camp settlements; that abducted civilians, including children, are said to have
been forcibly “recruited” as fighters, porters and sex slaves to serve the LRA
and to contribute to attacks against the Ugandan army and civilian communities...
The Kony 2012 film was produced by Invisible Children – a San Diego-based activist group. As the video’s reach has grown, Invisible Children has come under increasing scrutiny and Kony 2012 has faced growing criticism. This CNN story outlines the concerns of those who charge that Kony 2012 exaggerated the scope of the LRA’s atrocities and points out that Kony himself has not been in Uganda for many years. The fact that he is a merciless tyrant doesn't seem to be in question.

There is a wealth of primary source material available regarding Kony, The LRA, and the atrocities in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Among the items you’ll find are the arrest warrant issued for Kony by the International Criminal Court, The United Nations Working Paper on the six grave violations against children during conflict, and information about the UN Security Council’s condemnation of the continued use of child soldiers in armed conflict.