Historic Maps and Digital Mapping Roundup

Historic Maps and Digital Mapping Roundup
"Was your street bombed during the Blitz?" Telegraph, December 6, 2012

The year-long mapping project, devised by geographer Dr Kate Jones of the University of Portsmouth, uses red bomb symbols to illustrate where each bomb landed.>>>

Neal Conan, "'A History Of The World' Through A Mapmaker's Eyes," WWNO npr, November 26, 2012

World maps help us make sense of the world around us, and our place in it.

While mapmakers may portray their world maps as accurate, scientific and neutral, every single one describes the world from a certain worldview and culture. From ancient Babylonia to the Renaissance, cartographers have been driven by politics, religion, emotion and math.

Edel Howlin, "World Wants A Little Piece Of Texas On A Map," KUHF npr, November 29, 2012

The Texas General Land Office has been selling map reprints since 2002 with sales numbers jumping around November and December. James Harkins is with the Land Office and says many of their holiday orders come from customers across the pond.

“And that’s because during the 19th century there was a mass immigration movement into Texas from Europe and there are dozens of maps of Texas that were written in German that talked about what a great place Texas is. That the hills in the hill country remind Germans of what it’s like back in Germany.”

Bill Bowden, "Researchers pinpoint historic Prairie Grove sites," Atlanta Journal Constitution, December 9, 2012

The locations were found using a combination of old and new technologies — everything from ground-penetrating radar to shovel tests. Historical descriptions, a map drawn by a Union soldier and aerial photographs from 1941 also provided valuable information.>>>

The Meaning of “When”

Aaron Astor

I was recently asked to join a local committee to plan the centennial celebration of our local school district. The City of Maryville, Tennessee's public system was poised to commemorate its 100th anniversary in 2013 with lots of festivities and a nice, photo-filled book fleshing out the district’s long and storied past. But then the project hit a strange snag.  It came to the attention of the centennial committee chair that 2013 might not actually be the centennial of the Maryville City School system after all.

In somewhat of a panic, the chairwoman sent me an email detailing her extensive search for the “true” date of the school system’s founding. The first schoolhouse appeared in Maryville as early as 1797.  Still, 1913 was important. It was the year Tennessee passed a compulsory education law (southern states were quite late in the game).  It was also the year that Maryville High School first planned its four-year curriculum, though the first class would not graduate until 1919.  However, the state approved a “special school district”, with taxing authority, for the city as early as 1905.  And the first major schools were not built until 1911.  Adding to the confusion is the fact that there had been some semblance of schooling on the site of Maryville High School as early as 1867. Interestingly enough, it was known as the Maryville Freedmen’s Institute, and it served the relatively small ex-slave population of the county. As a final irony, the high school’s nickname is, you guessed it, the Rebels—despite the staunchly pro-Union leanings of Maryville and East Tennessee during the Civil War. The commemorative volume will surely delve into that oft-controversial piece of history.

But the question of dates persisted.  Before we could get into the thorny questions surrounding the school’s nickname, or the warm and fuzzy memories of graduating classes in years gone by, we had to determine if this was even the right time to do it.  And if we “discovered” that 1913 was the wrong founding date, should we then change our school district seal, which has the 1913 date on it?

And so the question boiled down to the meaning of “when”—as in, when was the school system founded? And more importantly, why does that matter?

Amusingly, this very same question—the meaning of “when” —came up when an old friend and colleague from grad school—Greg Downs of City College of New York—came down to the University of Tennessee and delivered a fascinating lecture on the “Ends of the Civil War.”  As he pointed out in colorful detail, the question of “when did the Civil War end” is a very difficult one to resolve. Lee’s surrender? What about Johnston’s surrender? Or a General in Texas who surrendered? Or when President Johnson declared an end to the state of war (in 1866)? Or myriad other times in between? (See Heather Cox Richardson’s recent post on a related matter.)  As Downs pointed out, this was not a mere antiquarian question. It had real legal consequences. After all, if a state of war still existed, the US government could still apply martial law.  Local court systems could still be suspended. And so on. The question of “when” was inextricably bound to the question of “why”, “how” and, of course, “so what?”

Maryville's first school, founded in 1797
My answer to the Maryville City Schools Centennial Committee chair, then, was to declare that it is up to us, as historians, to declare “when” the school system was founded. As long as we could make a compelling argument for why that date made sense, then there was no reason we couldn’t stick with that date. The chairwoman was clearly relieved to hear from a professional historian that it was OK for us to “pick” a date. Any date, as she also concluded, would be somewhat arbitrary.

Much of the historical profession focuses on how events unfold, why they take the shape they do, what their significance is for later history, and how people of the time—and perhaps later on in the collective memory—make sense of those events. But it is quite rare that we really interrogate the “when” part of history, except insofar as we “complicate” earlier chronologies.   The reality is that every time we select a set of dates to bookend a historical phenomenon—a war, a revolution, a religious awakening, the establishment of the Maryville City School district—we are making a profoundly important argument about the very significance of the event itself.    

Aaron Astor is Associate Professor of History at Maryville College in Tennessee, just a few miles from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  He is author of Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation, and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri, 1860-1872 (LSU Press, 2012), which examines the transformation of grassroots black and white politics in the western border states during the Civil War era.  He earned his PhD in History at Northwestern University in 2006 and lives in Maryville with his wife, Samantha, and two children, Henry and Teddy.

The Day the Archives Walked in the Door

Eric B. Schultz

Alan Lomax (left) with Richard Queen of Soco
Junior Square Dance Team at the Mountain
Music Festival, Asheville, North Carolina,
mid century. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
I loved Randall’s latest post, which mixed music and archives, and reminded me how tricky it can be to capture and preserve historic “sound.”  It also brought to mind the story of Alan Lomax (1915-2002), one of America’s great music folklorists and archivists.  From 1937 to 1942, Lomax was a director in the newly-formed Archive of Folk Song in the Library of Congress, eventually collecting and preserving thousands of important and unique field recordings.

In 1938, Lomax sat Jelly Roll Morton (Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe 1890-1941) down in a small auditorium at the Library and asked him if he knew how to play “Alabama Bound.”  Morton was in the twilight of his career, many years removed from his formative days in New Orleans, and prone to invention—including a birthday that made him old enough to have, as he proclaimed, “invented jazz.”  Lomax was skeptical of Morton in particular and of jazz in general, which he saw at the time as a destructive force threatening to overwhelm his beloved American folk music. 

Morton began playing “Alabama Bound” and Lomax was stunned, saying later that Morton “played me the most beautiful ‘Alabama Bound’ that I had ever heard.” 

Recognizing suddenly the talent that had walked into his archives, Lomax charged up-stairs, secured fifty blank aluminum discs from his boss, the Chief of the Music Division, grabbed a bottle of whiskey in his office to place on Morton’s piano for motivation, and returned to the auditorium.  Lomax’s next question, “Jelly Roll, where did you come from and where did it all begin?” would result in over twelve hours of recordings that included tales of New Orleans, names of the many musicians Morton remembered (or wanted us to think he remembered), and wonderful, marvelous music.  The recordings today can be purchased in an award-winning CD boxed set, or on-line in digital form.

Those who listen will know that Morton was not only a fount of knowledge and a gifted musician, but most appreciative of the whiskey, commenting throughout his interviews on its high quality.  (Ah, for the days when one could grab a loose bottle of whiskey from his office for the unexpected guest.)

The following year, Frederic Ramsey and Charles Edward Smith published Jazzmen, the essential building block for much of the written jazz history to follow.  Interviewing “every living jazz musician who could contribute factual material,” the authors collected stories and first-hand accounts, all of which turned out to be colorful and instructive, and some of which even turned out to be true.  They were diligent in their quest, moving from “the dives of Harlem, Chicago and New Orleans, to the rice fields of Louisiana, to Storyville, the now legendary red-light district of New Orleans, to reform schools, even to the last stopping place of at least two jazz pioneers, a hospital for the insane.”  In particular, they located and relied heavily upon Willie Geary “Bunk” Johnson, a brilliant early New Orleans cornetist who was rediscovered driving a truck for $1.75 a day during rice season in Louisiana, and nearly starving the rest of the year. 

It was the creation of this oral history by Ramsey and Smith that also led to the rediscovery of “King” Buddy Bolden, acknowledged by some of the very early New Orleans musicians as the first to play music that would come to be called jazz.  Morton’s famous assessment of Bolden: he was “the blowingest man since Gabriel.”

It seems clear from Lomax’s writings that in 1938 jazz had not yet attained status as a great American art form.  By 1950, however, he had begun to appreciate its power, writing, “Perhaps nothing in human history has spread across the earth so far, so fast as this New Orleans music.  Thirty years after its genesis it was as popular and understandable in New York, Paris, Prague, and Shanghai as in its own hometown.”

Thanks to Lomax’s fine ear and musical open-mindedness, and Morton’s superb rendition of “Alabama Bound,” we can download today on iTunes (speaking of things that spread rapidly across the earth!) Jelly Roll’s history and recordings of the great American art form.  Then, unlike Randall’s “cold basements with little sunlight,” we can sit in our sunny family rooms or apartments and enjoy selections from one of America’s finest musical archives.

Historic Photos from Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area

[Update 12/10/12: I added a few lines beneath some of the photos to answer a few questions.]

Friday was a good day, I got to watch one of my public history graduate students, Clayton Hanson, defend his MA project and complete the requirements for graduation.

Clayton has combined his studies at Eastern Washington University with a series of seasonal positions with the National Park Service, where he has specialized in helping parks use new media to better serve the public. His MA project was a portfolio of some of the digital work he has done, including interpretive guides for the NPS on the use of social media, some clever historic site interpretations at Spokane Historical, quire a few Facebook posts for Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, and quite a bit else. One of his digital media projects was to organize the Lake Roosevelt's photo collection put the highlights online, which he did at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area's photosets on Flickr.

There are some wonderful historic images there, and I wanted to share a few here:

'Dr. A. D. Snyder and daughter Hope' from the Indian Tuberculosis Hospitalset.
Fort Spokane was established in 1880. By 1898 it had become a boarding school for American Indians, and in 1909 it was converted to a tuberculosis sanitarium for American Indians.

Footbridge over Spokane River narrows, 1910

Augustine (?) and Augusta (?) Williams at mourning ceremony at Kettle Falls, June 1938
The "mourning ceremony" was held by Indians as the slack water of the Grand Coulee Dam rose and covered Kettle Falls, where Indians had fished for salmon for thousands of years. To thousands of Indians, construction of the dam was then end to a traditional way of life.

Lafferty Transportation Company docks at Kettle Falls, 1955
Fort Spokane Baseball Club, 1894

There are so many additional wonderful images, go ahead and explore a while. And congratulations Clayton!

A Leadership Legacy: Happy 138th, Winston

Philip White

November 30 was Winston Churchill’s birthday. 138 years after his birth, historians, politicians and the public are still as fascinated as ever about this most iconic of British Prime Ministers. Of course, as with every major historical figure, the
Ivor Roberts-Jones statue of Churchill, Oslo, Norway
amount of one-sided deconstructionism has increased over the past few years, no more useful to the reader than one-sided hagiography. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle–a deeply flawed (aren’t we all!) larger-than-life figure who botched a lot of decisions–notably his resistance to home rule for India and well-meaning but ill-conceived support of Edward VIII during the 1936 abdication crisis–who got the big things right.

Among the latter was Churchill’s foresight over the divisions between the democratic West and the Communist East. Since the inception of Communism and its violent manifestation in the Russian Revolution, Churchill had despised the movement, calling it a “pestilence.” Certainly, his monarchial devotion was part of this, but more so, Churchill believed Communism destroyed the very principles of liberty and freedom that he would devote his career to advancing and defending. Certainly, with his love of Empire, there were some inconsistencies in his thinking, but above all, Churchill believed that the individual should be able to make choices and that systemic freedom–of the press, of religion, of the ballot, must be upheld for individuals to enact such choices. That’s why he vowed to “strangle Bolshevism in its cradle,” though his plan to bolster anti-Communist forces was quickly shot down by Woodrow Wilson and David Lloyd George as another of “Winston’s follies.”

In this case, his plan to oppose Communism was indeed unrealistic. There were a small amount of British, Canadian, and American troops and a trickle of supporting materiel going to aid the White Russians toward the end of World War I, but once the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, the Allied leaders wanted to get their boys home, not commit more to a seemingly hopeless cause.

But over the next three decades, Churchill’s ideas on how to deal with Communism became more informed, more realistic and, arguably, more visionary. Though he reluctantly accepted Stalin as an ally when Hitler turned on Russia in the fateful summer of 1941, Churchill’s pragmatism and public admiration of the Marshal did not blind him to the ills of the Communist system. The Percentages Agreement he signed with Stalin in a late 1944 meeting has since been blamed for hastening the fall of democratic Eastern Europe, but what Churchill was actually doing there was essentially recognizing that the Communist takeover was a fait accompli, and guaranteeing Stalin’s agreement to largely leave the Greek Communists to their own devices in Greece after World War II. Though Moscow did supply arms and it took the Marshall Plan to prop up the anti-Communist side in Greece, Stalin largely honored this pledge.

He was not so good on his word with many other things, however. Among the promises he made to Churchill and FDR were to include the London Poles (exiled during the war) in a so-called representative government in Poland. In fact, the Communist puppet Lublin Poles ran the new regime after the war, and the old guard was either shunned or killed. In fact, horrifyingly, many of the leaders of the Polish Underground were taken out by Stalin’s henchmen, and others were held in former Nazi camps that the Red Army had supposedly “liberated.” At the Potsdam Conference in July 1946, Stalin showed that his vows at Yalta were mere lip service to the British and American leaders.  He made demands for bases in Turkey, threatened the vital British trade route through the Suez canal and refused to withdraw troops from oil-rich Iran.

Churchill, still putting his faith in personal diplomacy, believed he could reason with Stalin, particularly if Harry Truman backed him up. But halfway through the Potsdam meeting the British public sent the Conservative Party to its second worst defeat in one of the most surprising General Election decisions. Churchill was out as Prime Minister and Clement Attlee was in. Off Attlee went to Germany to finish the dialogue with Truman and Stalin. Churchill feared he was headed for political oblivion.

Yet, after a few weeks of moping, he realized that he still had his pen and, as arguably the most famous democratic leader of the age (only FDR came close in global renown), his voice. And so it was that he accepted an invitation to speak at a most unlikely venue in March 1946 – Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri – not least due to the postscript that Truman added to Westminster president Franc “Bullet” McCluer’s invite, offering to introduce Churchill in the President’s home state. There he described the need for a “special relationship” between the British Commonwealth and the United States, which was needed to check the spread of expansionist Communism and the encroachment of the “iron curtain” into Europe. 

As I explained
Philip White speaking at the National
Churchill Museum, Fulton, Missouri, Nov 11, 2012
when I spoke at the National Churchill Museum on, fittingly, Armistice Day, last month, this metaphor entered our lexicon and was embodied in the Berlin Wall–the enduring image of the standoff. Yet the “special relationship” outlived this symbol, as did the principles of leadership Churchill displayed in his brave “Sinews of Peace” speech (the real title of what’s now known as the “Iron Curtain” address). Churchill was willing to speak a hard truth even when he knew it would be unpopular and then, a few days later, after a police escort was needed to get him into New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel as demonstrators yelled “GI Joe is home to stay, Winnie, Winnie, go away,” to boldly declare, “I do not wish to withdraw or modify a single word.” His critics again called him an imperialist, an old Tory and, in as Stalin said, a warmonger. The same insults he had endured when sounding the alarm bell about Hitler in the mid- to late-1930s. And in 1946, just as in the 1930s, Churchill was right.

Not only did Churchill define the Communist-Democratic divide, he also had a plan for what to do about it. Though his more ambitious ideas, including shared US-UK citizenship, did not come to fruition, the broader concepts were embodied in the creation of NATO, European reconciliation, and the Marshall Plan. He also understood not just the Communist system he criticized but the democratic one it threatened, and, the day after the anniversary of Jefferson’s inaugural address, gave a memorable defense of the principles that were, he said, defined by common law and the Bill of Rights. This is something leaders of any political persuasion must be able to do–to articulate what they and we stand for, and why.

As I think of Churchill just after his birthday, that’s what I’m focusing on: vision, understanding and bravery. Such leadership principles will be just as valid 138 years from now as they were on that sunny springtime afternoon in Fulton.