Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Update, with life-hacks

Unlike The Great Blog Silence of 2006, my recent lack of posts has not been planned and cannot be traced to a single cause. I've been busy traveling to Denver to find a place to rent (mission thankfully accomplished!). I've been busy visiting some archives around Baltimore that I still want to see before moving 1,700 miles away from them. And right now I'm on vacation, so I'm busy being not busy.

My recent archive trips have gone very well, and I've already spoiled myself by using my new digital camera to take pictures of manuscript documents. I was using a Canon Powershot A620 on a small 12-inch tripod with a panning head. Evan Roberts' tips on amateur digitization for historians proved very useful in this regard. I would add a couple of tips to his list that I stumbled upon through trial and error on my first day of full-time digitization:

1. Take your photographs at the highest possible resolution, especially if you are working with manuscripts. I was tempted to skimp on resolution the first day in order to keep the file sizes down. But this made some of the images essentially useless and over-pixelated when I zoomed in far enough to be able to read them. You can always resize the images to a smaller resolution once you've transcribed the documents at home, so buy a large memory card and max out the image size while you're in the archive.

2. A camera with "remote shooting" capability makes life a lot easier. On my first day in the archive, I found myself getting quite a work out jumping up from my seat for each document in order to frame it in the LCD screen and close the shutter. After that first day, I read a little more about my camera's capabilities online and discovered that it comes packaged with software that allows me to control the camera from my Powerbook. That meant I could stay seated at the table, slide documents under the tripod-mounted camera, frame the image using a viewfinder window on my computer, and then close the shutter using a hotkey on my keyboard. The A620 software is seamless and allows you to control any setting on the camera from the computer. Best of all, it downloads captured images directly to your hard drive using the standard USB cord, bypassing the camera's internal memory card altogether. From the very beginning you can control how the computer will name your files and where it will store them. So if you're in the market for a camera that you want to use in the archives, I'd recommend inquiring about this feature, which seems somewhat rare. (The Canon A610, for instance, doesn't have it, even though the A620 does.)

As long as I'm talking gizmos, I also want to recommend a useful website called Map Builder, which lets you easily create your own annotated Google Map and then display it dynamically on a webpage. I found this extremely useful when I was house-hunting a week and a half ago because my wife was unable to join me in Denver. Map Builder enabled me to "flag" rental properties I was looking at along with links to ads. I was also able to take photos of places, upload them to the web, and include links to the images in the map itself. This made it much easier for my wife and I to discuss the properties at the end of each day, with a color-coded map and all the properties in front of us. A similar map might be useful if you're planning a long distance move and want to keep track of where different houses or apartments are.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


The latest on Emma Dunham Kelley Hawkins

Early in 2005, as you may recall, there was a ripple of press interest in nineteenth-century author Emma Dunham Kelley Hawkins.

For years, Hawkins had been considered an African American author, and her novels were spotlighted in the Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. But on February 20, 2005, Holly Jackson, a graduate student at Brandeis University, published an article in the Boston Globe revealing that Hawkins never identified herself as an African American, and was consistently identified as white in contemporary census records.

Hawkins' inclusion in the black literary canon now seemed to hinge on a single piece of evidence: a photograph in the frontispiece of her first novel, Megda, in which she appeared to have a dark complexion. Pressured by Jackson's findings, Gates readily conceded that a mistake had apparently been made regarding Hawkins' identity:
Asked for his guess as to why anyone believed that Kelley-Hawkins was black, Gates offered what seems the simplest explanation. ''I think it was the picture," he said. The two novels show the author's shadowy photograph, which could easily be perceived as that of a light-skinned African-American.

''You put that picture up in my barbershop," Gates said, ''and I guarantee the vote would be to make her a sister."
When I posted on the Hawkins story here and here, I received a comment from Katherine Flynn, an independent researcher who reported that she had the goods on Hawkins before Jackson and was proofreading a peer-reviewed article on the subject when the Boston Globe piece came out. (Flynn's work was also cited by Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed.) This news made my fellow Cliopatriate Tim Burke "desperate to know what Katherine Flynn's article is going to say when it comes out."

We need wait no longer. Dr. Flynn was kind enough to mail me an offprint of her article, "A Case of Mistaken Racial Identity: Finding Emma Dunham (nee Kelley) Hawkins," which appeared in the March 2006 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. Flynn's article is a heroic piece of detective work, which includes all the decisive census data that Jackson cited and much more besides. Flynn has traced more than four generations of Hawkins' family through census, probate, and newspaper records, definitively establishing that there is no evidence to believe that Hawkins ever identified as an African American or had ancestors who did. And in case Professor Gates is still looking for a photograph to test in his "barber shop" experiment, the cover of the Quarterly also features another more light-complexioned photograph of Hawkins in Flynn's possession.

Flynn also includes her painstaking research into the origins of the idea that Hawkins was an African American author, some of which I'll quote below without Flynn's extensive footnotes:
Who first identified Emma as African American and when? The presence of an original copy of Megda in the Schomburg Collection is often noted. [From Flynn's footnote: "The Schomburg Collection was founded by the 1926 donation of the personal collection of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg."]
Flynn was unsatisfied by that answer, not only because Schomburg and other "contemporary black bibliophiles" like Alain Locke never mentioned Hawkins in their writings, but also because there is no conclusive evidence that the original Schomburg donation included Megda. Citing correspondence files from the Schomburg's archive and conversations with archivists, Flynn reports the following:
The Schomburg's oldest extant catalog is dated 1962 with supplements in 1967, 1972 and 1974. Not until the 1975 update, published in 1976, were Megda and Emma Dunham Kelley indexed with the annotation "Negro author."

The Schomburg reported no acquisition record extant for its original copy of Megda, which lacks the distinctive bookplate for Arthur Schomburg's personal collection. The volume bears the bookplate for the "Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture," a name not used until 1972. A bookplate for one of the Schomburg's previous names is not evident.

Emma Kelley is also absent from studies of African American literature through 1948. Her earliest appearance in this context is in the 1955 first edition of the landmark chronology, A Century of Fiction by American Negroes 1853-1952: A Descriptive Bibliography, by Maxwell Whiteman. Whiteman's letters to Schomburg Collection curator Jean Blackwell ask for feedback on an early draft of this book. It is highly likely that it was Whiteman who first assigned Emma Kelley to the African American canon after finding the 1892 edition of Megda in 1953. It may be Whiteman's own copy of Megda that is in the Schomburg Collection today. Whiteman's papers at Temple University are sealed and documents by and about [Jean] Blackwell Hutson yield no further clues.

Although identified as a black author in 1955, Emma's place in the canon was not secure until Megda was accessioned into the Schomburg Collection in 1976. Emma's second novel, Four Girls at Cottage City, was unknown to African American literature studies until its discovery in 1983 by Henry Louis Gates Jr., and ironically it inspired the compilation of the Schomburg Library of Nineteenth Century Black Women Writers. To scholars the actual setting of the novel was another coded clue to the black heritage claimed for Emma. Cottage City, on Nantucket [according to an enclosed errata strip, this should read "on Martha's Vineyard"], had been a popular resort for the rising black middle class. That demographic shift did not begin until the 1920s, however, more than thirty years after Kelley wrote her novel.
There you have it. The idea that Hawkins was a black woman can be traced to one Whiteman.

The whole story inspires newfound appreciation for good librarians and archivists, since it shows how damaging an ambiguous accession record can be to scholarship. One mistake is hard to root out of the literature and even harder to root out of popular consciousness. Indeed, despite all the media attention to this story last year, and despite the claim of Brandeis University's PR people that Jackson's work had inspired the removal of Hawkins' work from the Schomburg collection, the mistaken identity of Hawkins lingers on the Internet. Flynn's footnotes also alerted me to the fact that the digital edition of the Schomburg Collection still features The Photograph of Hawkins on its splash page. And the online Collection also still includes Megda. Granted, the webpage reports that the digital collection was copyrighted in 1999, before all this news broke. But it may be time for an update.

(Cross-posted at Cliopatria.)

Friday, June 02, 2006


Wherein some advice is offered, and some advice is sought

1. Advice offered: You should buy your next briefcase from Lands End. About ten (10) years ago I received a Lands End Square Rigger Deluxe Attache as a gift. It proved to be the most rugged bag I had ever used; since the canvas for the bag is actually the same material used in sails, it is entirely waterproof and can take quite a licking. The only part of the bag that succumbed to the beating I gave it was the fabric loop that connects the shoulder strap to the bag. In college, that loop broke off while I was crossing a street with the book-laden bag. But this brings me to the reason why you should buy your next bag from Lands End: when they offer a lifetime guarantee on their products, they mean it. I simply returned my bag in the mail and had it repaired and sent to me quickly by UPS Ground. That repaired loop lasted me about six years, until I broke it again two weeks ago. This time, I was skeptical about the guarantee and called Lands End. But, true to their word, they told me that while they no longer repair luggage, they would accept my old bag for an even exchange with a new one. They weren't lying: after sending them my beat up, ten-year-old, broken bag, a brand spanking new bag arrived today from UPS -- at no charge and with no questions asked. Better yet, the sholder strap loops on the new bag are made of leather, so this one should be even more indestructible than ever.

2. Advice sought: I've recently purchased a new digital camera and have been looking into various online photo servers like Flickr. I like Flickr a lot, but before shelling out $25/year for the "pro" upgrade, I thought I'd ask whether any of you, gentle readers, think that this upgrade is worth the money. I'm also uncertain whether Flickr is the best service for allowing family members and friends to order prints of my pictures. I know Flickr does have an ordering option, but since I've never used it, I'm curious whether it works well.

3. Advice offered and sought: I see I'm not the only one trying to plan a move. As Sameer notes, finding a good rental at a distance is difficult--even more so when you'd prefer a house or duplex for rent over an apartment. (I have nothing against apartments, you understand, but my wife and I would like to close the apartment chapter of our lives if we can.) Like Sameer, I've posted ads on Craigslist and the lesser-known Backpage, but I've also found Rentclicks to be an extremely useful site, particularly for non-apartment rental properties. Setting up email alerts for particular searches is very easy to do, and the individual property pages have handy links to Google Maps and images. (Downloading Google Earth, by the way, has been extremely helpful in researching the move. Not only does it give you satellite images of particular addresses like Google Maps, but it also allows you to see what kinds of stores, parks, restaurants, etc., are nearby, which can be helpful for making sense of a neighborhood. You can also measure distances more easily in Google Earth than you can in Maps.)

I'm a bit more at a loss when it comes to deciding on a moving company. It's pretty clear that hiring professional movers is out of the question for us, but I'm still trying to decide between renting a truck from Penske and hiring a "You Pack, We Move" service like ABF U-Pack or Door-to-Door. I probably wouldn't be considering these latter options at all if I were not so stunned by the high price of rental trucks these days, which is only compounded by the high price of gas. The prices I've been quoted by Penske and U-Haul are over twice as high as the price I paid to rent a truck when I moved to Baltimore. Still, I'm not sure the "you pack" options are worth the hassle, especially since the price difference seems to be marginal unless you're moving a small amount of stuff. Thoughts?

I've discovered, by the way, that where you rent your Penske truck can make a big difference in price. If I rent my truck here in Baltimore, it will cost me upwards of $1600. (If I were renting a truck in College Park, it would cost another $600 more.) But if I'm willing to drive forty-five minutes to York, PA, I can take about $400 off the Baltimore price. If you're willing to veer off the beaten path to pick up your truck, it's worth looking at some of the smaller towns in your area. Mileage on a Penske truck is unlimited and you have eight days to use it, so it won't cost you much to make a short road trip to pick it up.


History links

The latest edition of the History Carnival, Part I, is up at Aqueduct. Amy Stevens has also posted a list of all the nominations for the Carnival ... perhaps with the unintended effect of shaming those of us who have been derelict in our nominating duties, like yours truly.

J. L. Bell has started a new blog on Boston during the Revolutionary War, which promises "history, analysis, and unabashed gossip" on the subject.

Last night while poking around in Podcasts on iTunes, I discovered a video podcast for "History 7B," the second half of the American history survey at UC-Berkeley. (Subtext: my extremely generous parents bestowed upon me a brand new video iPod for graduation!) Crooked Timber notes the availability of other such podcasts, which come free of charge. Mills at Edwired has already noted the iTunesification of higher education and is blogging the revolution.

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