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, January 25, 2011

Re-writing history: a criminal offense (too bad the statute of limitations is up)

This morning a co-worker pointed out this startling story about the Abraham Lincoln researcher who admitted to altering a document housed in The National Archives. Specifically, Thomas Lowry altered Abraham Lincoln's Presidential pardon for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army who was court-martialed for desertion. Using a fountain pen, Lowry changed the date of Murphy’s pardon from April 14, 1864, to April 14, 1865, the day Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Lowry then claimed the pardon had historical significance, because it could be considered one of, if not the final official act by President Lincoln before his assassination.

According to a press release from The National Archives, the matter was referred to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution; however the Department of Justice informed the National Archives that the statute of limitations had expired, and therefore Lowry could not be prosecuted.  Lowry has been permanently banned  from all of  The National Archives' facilities and research rooms.

Besides just being a fascinating read, this story poses an interesting question. Those involved in the digital humanities strive to make resources more accessible to students, educators, researchers, and the general public. In doing so, will they also help safeguard those materials from theft, alteration or mis-use? We'll see.

The photo above is a close-up of the altered date on the Lincoln pardon. It comes from the National Archives.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Did 'No Child Left Behind' forsake elementary/secondary history education?

CNN today featured an interesting and troubling article about the state of history education in elementary and secondary schools. That piece raises the question of whether history education is suffering, in part, due to the fact that standardized testing in history is not required under the provisions of “No Child Left Behind". One of the primary goals of that legislation is to ensure that all children are proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014 and some claim that the focus on those subject areas is coming at the expense of others.

History educators quoted in the CNN piece discussed their frustration over teaching what one referred to as “trivia” and their inability to delve deeper into important subjects. I was struck by one particular quote from a Texas high school teacher. “I think they learn information by itself, in isolation," Jeff Frazer said of his students. "But putting the big picture together is not happening."

Primary sources are essential tools for putting together that big picture. Staff at the National Archives describe the value of such materials as learning tools on a page devoted to teachers' resources. “Teaching with primary documents encourages a varied learning environment for teachers and students alike. Lectures, demonstrations, analysis of documents, independent research, and group work become a gateway for research with historical records in ways that sharpen students' skills and enthusiasm for history, social studies, and the humanities,” it reads.

I get some of the greatest satisfaction from my job when I’m able to help a student find that primary source that helps them build that big picture. That’s why I created this blog. Here’s hope you find something that helps you better understand the past and how it might impact your future.

The photo above is a page from The Book of the General Laws of the Inhabitants of the Jurisdiction of New-Plimouth. Housed at the Library of Congress, it is one of the oldest items in the Library's collection of American law.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Digital Camelot: Access to a Legacy

I spent far too much time today browsing through the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s digital archive. I scanned digitized copies of Kennedy’s Harvard’s notebooks and perused family photos taken at Kennedy’s Hyannis compound. These, and much more, are part of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s digitization project – Access to a Legacy.

That project is massive in scope. According to the Kennedy Library website, in constructing Access to a Legacy, staff digitized, described, and made available three entire textual collections or subcollections. Those collections included photographic and audio components (the President's Office Files, the White House Central Chronological Files, and the John F. Kennedy Personal Papers); one collection of audio files (the White House Audio collection); one moving image collection (the White House Film collection); one collection of museum artifacts (the State Gifts); and a portion of the White House Photograph collection, which consists of over 35,000 photographs.

You can read more about the collection in this Washington Post article. The photo above comes from Access to a Legacy and shows a casually dressed Kennedy clan gathering in their Hyannis compound on Cape Cod in September, 1963 to celebrate the birthday of family patriarch Joe Kennedy.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Twain was clear; don't mess with his dialects.

Commentators from The Atlantic, the National Review and the Colbert Report are just a few of those who have weighed in about the publication of altered versions of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The single-volume, NewSouth edition of those works was edited by Professor Alan Gribben of Auburn University and will be available next month. In that monograph, the editor changed the word “nigger” to “slave”. The word “injun” was changed to “indian”.

The intent, according to the editor, was to produce versions of the classics for young readers and others offended by the originals’ language. He acknowledged some “textual purists” would not view his changes as benign. And indeed, some argue the new versions of Twain’s works could cause serious damage to the collective memory. That belief was summed up well on the editorial page of yesterday’s New York Times. That piece reads in part:

We are horrified, and we think most readers, textual purists or not, will be horrified too. The trouble isn’t merely adulterating Twain’s text. It’s also adulterating social, economic and linguistic history. Substituting the word “slave” makes it sound as though all the offense lies in the “n-word” and has nothing to do with the institution of slavery. Worse, it suggests that understanding the truth of the past corrupts modern readers, when, in fact, this new edition is busy corrupting the past.
I'll leave the debate to others, but I will point readers to two particularly rich Twain resources. The ultimate aim of the Mark Twain Project, according to the website, is produce a digital critical edition -  fully annotated -  of everything Mark Twain wrote. That site, which is part of the California Digital Library, features more than 2300 letters writing by Twain. Additionally you’ll find access the full text of Twain’s autobiography as well as the full Text of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. More digitized texts will be added in the future.

Mark Twain in His Times is a collection compiled by the English department at the University of Virginia. That collection features dozens of texts and manuscripts, scores of contemporary reviews and articles, hundreds of images, and many different kinds of interactive exhibits.

The picture of Twain above right comes from the Library of Congress. The image at left is the explanatory note Twain provided for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It appears in a digitzed volume made available by the Internet Archive. In light of this ongoing debate, that note is definitley worth a read.
In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary “Pike County” dialect; and four modified varieties of this last.

The shadings have not been done in a hap-hazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.

I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.
Just some food for thought.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Piecing together the stories of Afro-Louisisan slaves, 1718-1820

CNN this morning featured an article on the African slave trade by David Eltis and David Richardson. The two are co-authors of the "Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade" and their article highlights a number of finding and features of the Atlas. For example:

• From 1492 to 1820, four enslaved Africans for every European left the Old World

• The authors contend little was known of the largest forced oceanic migration in world history

• Their research draws on five decades of record keeping and describes a number of slaves' stories

• Their research did not reveal any moral outrage. It did reveal that half of the ships set out from the Americas

This piece jogged my memory and reminded me of a fascinating site I had stumbled across and filed away, waiting for a chance to add it to my bookmarks related to the African slave trade. The Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy: 1718-1820 provides users with a look at the background of more than 100,000 slaves who were brought to Louisiana during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The site is the work of Dr. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, a New Orleans writer and historian who used historic data to create a database containing information about African slave names, genders, ages, occupations, illnesses, family relationships, ethnicity, places of origin, prices paid by slave owners and emancipation.

Users can search the database by slave name, master’s name, gender, time period brought to the United States, racial designation and plantation location.

The photo at left and depicts a cluster of slave quarters near Bunkie, Louisiana. The one at right shows a slave collar. Both come from the Louisiana State Museum.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Johnson's vision of a Great Society

Forty-five years ago President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered the State of the Union address in which he described the legislative action needed to make turn his vision of a “Great Society” into a reality. While world events created diversions from those efforts, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum features a host of digital resources that speak to Johnson’s efforts in the fight for Civil Rights and the War of Poverty.

In this collection you will find the text of Johnson’s Dec. 4, 1965 State of the Union address as well as remarks made upon the signing of the Voting Rights Act, the Medicare Bill and the Elementary and Secondary Education Bill, successes of his administration that were overshadowed by the escalating war in Vietnam.

In addition to the texts of selected speeches and addresses, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum also provides access to the President's daily diary and a photo archive.

The image at right is of a portrait of President Johnson painted in 1967 by artist Peter Hurd. It comes from the National Portrait Gallery.