Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Romance of the Archives: The Charlotte Cushman Papers

Greetings from Washington, D.C.! Rather than subject you to touristy pictures, here are some musing from the archive. Lest the exiting stories I tell suggest otherwise, allow me assure you that archiving is not all CSI-level excitement.  ~Dr. L

Today I found something I had never seen before. While wading through endless folders of newspaper clippings charting the career of 19th-century actress Charlotte Cushman, I came across two rectangles of newspaper carefully stitched together. I had to look twice before I noticed the tiny stitching in a white thread, turned brownish with age.

(Stitching? you ask. They didn't have scotch tape in the 19th century!)
Someone, perhaps Cushman, more likely her partner, Emma Stebbins, or perhaps Cushman’s black maid, Sallie Mercer, who worked for Cushman from the age of 14 on, sat down one day and, after carefully cutting out the notice from the pages of a New York paper, threaded a needle and stitched the two rectangles together. Perhaps she put it in a folder or a box or slipped it into the pages of a scrapbook to be glued down later.

Over the next one hundred and fifty years the little column would wind up in a stack of other such clippings, carefully deposited between acid-free paper in an archival box in the chill and dusty corridors of the James Madison Building of the Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave. This bleary-eyed historian would take it out, read the notice, marvel at the delicate stitch work, make a note on her computer, take a digital image with her Canon, and put the little stitched clipping back into its dry, dark mausoleum for the next researcher to discover.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sunday in St. Louis

Greetings from St. Louis, the "Gateway to the West." I'm here doing research at the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center for my book, but even historians need a break to do some site seeing! I was particularly excited to visit Cahokia and the Gateway Arch, so I thought I'd share some of my photos with you.

The Mounds of Cahokia
The Cahokia Mounds are what survive of a major metropolis that grew up and thrived from 900 to 1200 in the heart of the American Bottom, the flood plain region of the Mississippi. There were many mounds builders who constructed massive earthworks, and the largest can be found here. At its height, scholars estimate, Cahokia was home to close to 30,000 people. It was a major center of trade, served by networks that reached either end of the great Mississippi. While scholars don't know why Cahokia was abandoned, they suspect it may have had to do in part with the devastation that much a large urban center ultimately had on the surrounding environment.  To learn more, check out Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi by Timothy Pauketat.


Ridge and conical mounds, like this, were constructed over burial sites or used to marked significant locations.