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.>>>

Scraps of History

I was searching for something else entirely and came across this little item from the December 3, 1940 issue of the Spokesman Review:

What a proud and handsome young man! I had to wonder though--what fate befell this young man who entered the Army Air Corps a year before Pearl Harbor?

The Army Air Corps was expanded by Congress in 1939, and Croteau, a recent graduate of Gonzaga University, was one of hundreds of new pilots being recruited. Kelly Field was a training base in San Antonio. As Croteau went to Kelly Field, Europe was awash in war, the Japanese Army had conquered much of China and southeast Asia, and the United States was preparing to enter the global conflict. So what happened to our smiling lad from Wallace?

Croteau was assigned to the 83rd Squadron, 12th Bomb Group (M), of the 9th United States Army Air Force at Ismailia, Egypt. He piloted a B-25 in support of allied troops at the Battle of El Alamein. I know this because of this web page that describes the wartime service of Roland Rakow, the lower turret gunner on Croteau's bomber. Let's let Rakow tell the story:

On September 1, 1942, as our B-25 was returning from its second completed mission—dropping its bomb load on tanks, trucks and troops on the front line at El Alamein—it was struck by a German anti-aircraft 88 mm shell on the left side of the aircraft, adjacent to the top turret gun position. The shell made a gaping hole, which caused the aircraft to break open and go into a 30-or 40-degree dive. 

The bombardier, navigator, and the top turret gunner were unable to leave the aircraft. The pilot, co-pilot, and I (the radio operator) parachuted to the ground. We sustained wounds and injuries. “The aircraft crashed in the desert. Capt. Croteau—who was slightly injured—and Lt. Biers located the crash site and found the bodies of Lt. McPartlin and Lt. Archer still in the aircraft. Not wanting to leave their bodies, they buried them at the site. Sergeant Andersen’s body was not found. 

I had parachuted to a different location. Within a short period of time, Capt. Croteau and Lt. Biers were discovered and taken prisoner by the German Army. Subsequently, they were transported to a German POW camp and they remained there for the duration of the war.

Rakow was sent to a prison camp in Italy from which he eventually escaped, making his way back to Allied lines and was returned to the States for medical treatment. At the end of his narrative he notes: "I have never been in contact with Capt. Croteau or Lt. Biers, the remaining survivors of my B-25 crew. However, I did hear from other members of our 83rd Squadron that Capt. Croteau had passed away."

B-25s of the 12th Bomb Group over North Africa, 1944.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Croteau had not passed away, however. He survived the war and returned to the Northwest. Croteau married, had a child, worked for Uniroyal and Delta, and lived until 2006, when he died at the ripe old age of age of 87 in Beaverton, Oregon. Here is his grave. His obituary notes that he was a prisoner of war for 32 months. Croeau lived for over 64 years after he was shot down, wounded, and taken prisoner in 1941, and more than 60 years after his crew mate Rakov reported his death.

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!