Thursday, December 31, 2009

Scenery and History

View of Cayuga Lake, taken near the Taughannock Falls Overlook, December 29.

I am home from the Great White North (which I cannot type without thinking of Bob and Doug McKenzie (those tuque-wearing hosers!) and hearing the theme song in my head...). I stopped, both on the way up and on the way back, at one of my favorite places, Taughannock Falls near Ithaca. What a difference a few days makes! For other pix of the falls posted on the blog, clicky here and here (it might just need it's own label...).

Taughannock Falls, December 24th. The rime really was blue.

Taughannock Falls, December 29. Misty!

Ice Flow, December 29.

Ice Falls, December 29

I also have two drunken photos of one of the last hand-operated elevators (and perhaps the first to be electrified) in the City of Toronto. The photos are not drunken, but I pretty much was. Yay for old friends, wine, and walking to the bar so no-one had to drive. Boo for digital cameras that don't compensate for inebriated users.

The Elevator at the Gladstone, December 28.

Elevator controls, Gladstone Hotel, December 28.

The elevator is even cooler than it looks; the ironwork is really amazing (hand-wrought, twisted, and in a basket-weave, with embellishments). We got a ride in it, which was a treat! To visit it, hit the Gladstone on Queen Street West. And don't forget to check out the very cool gargoyles on the exterior of the building. They have great food, too... including poutine. Alas, the kitchen was closed, so we didn't get to enjoy.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Local Eats: Great White North Edition

I'm north of the border visiting family for the holidays. I'm not in Quebec, though I do have childhood connections to La Belle Province. I miss it terribly. [Mental note: really, there isn't anything stopping me from running up there for a few days; maybe in the spring.] Much of the food I think of as Canadian is Quebecois. The three I think of most are poutine, sugar pie, and tourtiere. I was also offered another very Canadian food over the holiday -- Nanaimo Bars. I really don't like them, but it was very homey to see them!

Poutine: Fries. With gravy. And cheese curds. The best poutine comes from snack trucks on the side of the road, with the fries fried in lard. The cheese curds must be FRESH. I mean, so fresh they squeak (unfresh cheese curds do not squeak. Never eat a cheese curd that doesn't squeak; they get gross). Is it a heart attack on a plate? Yes, it is. Is it a hella delicious heart attack on a plate? Yes, it can be (really good poutine is worth it, imo). Is it the same as fries with cheese and gravy? Not even close.

Sugar Pie: Not the same as shoo-fly pie. So sweet your teeth will hurt. I don't have a sweet tooth, but, as horrifically sweet as it is, I will eat more than one piece.

Tourtière: A traditional meat pie, served mostly around holidays. I've tried making it, but haven't found a recipe as good as I remember the pie of my youth. Pork, beef, onion, spices... the recipes I've linked to don't include them, but some recipes include nutmeg and cloves. I will have to try again, when I finally get an oven that has enough temperature control that I can bake in.

Nanaimo Bars: These are so Canadian. I would love to like these, but I just don't. They turn up on all holiday cookie platters up here though... and every time I see them, I wish I liked the damn things.

I am trying to schedule some time with a dear friend before I leave; it will involve poutine; photos may follow.

Edit: thanks, lephysiologiste, for the spelling correction!

Friday, December 25, 2009


It's really nice to see family. I haven't been home for the holidays in at least 8 years. First time I've been in the same place as all my sisters in a long time. There are five of us, so it's a challenge to get everyone together in one place. So, despite the drama (there is always drama) I am very happy. Now on to Xmas dinner #2...

There was also stunning scenery on the drive up, which I'll post when I return (mental note: when traveling with digital camera, travel with thingy that reads the data off of it...) I will also be posting another Local Eats: Great White North Edition.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Almost Done!

I am in grading jail... though it *is* only 20 essays. Then I give my final exam at... wait for it... 7pm, Wednesday, December 23. Nice, yes? I will be returning essays that night, and be happy to see the backs of them. Then I put my butt, my ungraded finals, and assorted holiday presents in the car, and high-tail it North of the Border for holiday dinner on the 24th and a few days with old friends and family. Thankfully I can submit my grades online while I'm up there!

Good holidays to all, if I don't manage to post before then.

PS: Current vice: Hell's Kitchen, via my new nemesis, Hulu.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Margaret Atwood and The Science Scouts

Yes, I am aware that the title sounds like some horrible composition class attempt at B-movie science fiction... if there were composition classes that actually covered that, that is.

But... it is true. Margaret Freaking Atwood (who I completely adore in a total Geek Fandom way, and who my sisters freaking MET, and I am still jealous...) consulted, via Twitter, on the creation of a Science Scout badge.

I'm not sure which makes me happier... the fact that Margaret Atwood twitters, consults on Internet silliness, or that Science Scouts has a batch of new badges out...

Unfortunately, I cannot claim any of the new badges. :(

For the historians, though, I leave you a link to Margaret Atwood's poem, The Loneliness of the Military Historian. It's not just military dead bodies that get you dis-invited to dinner; archaeological dead bodies and researching dead bodies also qualify.

And... I must also leave you with Margaret Atwood's Goalie School. Yes, goalie. As in hockey. Look, just watch it, ok??

Sunday, December 6, 2009

We can not talk about it, but don't tell me it never happened.

Heart-to-heart intimacy, the arbiters of social conduct were beginning to believe, had no place in a courtesy code designed for the smooth social intercourse of the urban middle classes. Sentimental sincerity could not govern face-to-face conduct among strangers and near strangers in an anonymous social world. .. And sincerity was no longer seen as the summum bonum of the polite world because, etiquette writers were increasingly convinced, "if every one acted according to his heart, the world would soon be turned upside down."
From: Halttunen, Karen (1982) Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830-1870, p. 167.

Hum, yeah. Kind of weird reading this today after events of last week. If the memo's been around since the mid-19th century, where's my copy?

In sum, in response to a request, I was told "
No thanks, that won't work for me, lets not speak of this again" followed shortly by, "And regardless of what was actually going on (of which we shall never speak again), we shall all agree that this other thing is what was going on, even though it is made up of 98%-whole cloth. And, I shall insist that it is the only truth of what was going on, and in this I shall speak for everyone, and your truth shall be null and void. Kthxbye." (Yes, I am paraphrasing.) Except I disagreed with the null and void bit. I was ok with the framing of it as whatever... but not ok with the complete denial of what actually happened. Seriously, don't tell me I don't know what I know. And don't insist you didn't do what you did... HELLO, I was there. And I'm not crazy. And it hits all kinds of buttons that I keep wrapped up in my personal baggage.

The "No thanks, that won't work for me, lets not speak of this again" was really sufficient and ok with me. I really didn't think the whole thing was this big a deal. That last bit though, the whole cloth fiction, denial thing? Pissed me off, and I called bullsh!t (only without saying bullsh!t; I believe I used "disingenuous" -- maybe bullsh!t would have been better). Which resulted in an angry email about social pleasantries. Hopefully, the other parties will get that I was pissed at the attempt to deny and erase what happened, not at the necessity of social pleasantries following what apparently -was- a big deal to make it ok and grease the social wheels.

Can I also just say that I don't much like it when people's anger is directed at me. But really, I had to say something...

Next post will be a book review, with no personal drama, honest!

Edit: one more quote from the above book: "Finally, they could rest secure in the knowledge that heart cannot meet heart in a world of strangers, and in the recognition that the uncloaked heart is the most dangerous acquaintance of all." (p. 188)

Saturday, November 28, 2009


I've been on my ass for a week with the flu. It is not fun, but at least now I won't need to get the shot (because I really don't like shots).

Thanks in advance for humoring yet another bullet list of personal, self-indulgent crap.

  • The blog received it's first spam last week. At least they made a half-assed attempt to be relevant... well, at least right up to the part where they left a link to some scam or pr0n or something (I didn't check where it went). I was so proud!
  • I really hate being sick. And very fortunate to have someone around who kept an eye on me, even though things between us are not good. Critical thinking skills go out the window when fever hits 103.5, which should only be seen as a radio station call number, and not a body temperature. And by critical thinking skills, I mean remembering to drink water.
  • I think someone I know has stumbled on the blog. I hope they respect my pseudonimity; I'd be happy to discuss it with them in person or via email, but won't bring it up in case I'm wrong.
  • The thing about not getting what you want if you don't ask for it that I mentioned in my last TMI RBOC... well, I asked (yay me). I did get some clarification, and it wasn't the clarification I was hoping for, but at least the situation isn't muddy anymore.
  • I think I just watched an entire season of Ice Road Truckers today on History Channel. I need to not be sick anymore...
  • Contra Dancing is way too much fun!
  • I have real posts pending, I promise!

Monday, November 16, 2009

I do not knit...

I cannot knit. My mother tried to show me when I was young; I ended up with an oddly shaped bundle of knots that could not even pretend at being a scarf. I *do* do other needlework, but that's irrelevant. Because there are people who can not only knit a pair of socks simultaneously (as in, one process = 1 pair of socks, not two separate sock-making incidents = 1 pair of socks)... but will share how they do such magic, and recommend quantities of chocolate as part of the process.

I was agog. And now I want stripy socks. And chocolate.

h/t a stitch in time (nice sox, btw!)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Really RBOC

I'm just a jumble right now, so I figured I'd share, put it out there, and maybe, just maybe, it will help. At least grumping will make me feel better.

  • Dear all 6 recipients of various emails over the last two weeks. I understand that the world does not revolve around me, and that perhaps you have other things to attend to. But really, could even ONE of you respond? The things that I contacted you about are quite important to me for various personal, work, and The Book related reasons. I am especially irked at Site Associated With Federal Department; I finally received an answer to an email (my third or fourth attempt), after having to send it to the top rung of the ladder, and was very excited. Then, two weeks of nothing happening, and no response to my follow-up requests. It's just a graphics request, folks!
  • Not happy about same-sex marriage being defeated in Maine. Since when are civil rights voted on in a referendum?
  • I am PISSED that a woman's right to choose was horse-traded to get the votes for the health care plan. Yes, we are in dire need of health care reform. But quit pitching me under the damn bus and trading away bits of me.
  • The Uni where I teach is presenting a Professional Development workshop called "Exceptional Customer Service in Higher Ed" about how to improve student retention... I mean, customer satisfaction. WTF, y'all, this isn't McDonalds...
  • I don't know how to do the fancy strike-through text on Blogger.
  • Personal relationships are confusing. Especially when the messages I'm getting seem mixed.
  • I have mid-semester feedbacks waiting to be looked at. Why does this make me nervous? Probably because everything else lately seems difficult. I should just bite the bullet and look at them, maybe they'll be good news.
  • If I am unclear about what I want, or fail to request it, I cannot be bent when I don't get it. I have to remind myself of this.
  • My kitchen is full of my bathroom, or what will become my bathroom once they put it back together. Folks, if you're getting water behind your tiles, DO NOT WAIT to fix it. Gross. And expensive.
  • I don't have a name for my car, but I know others who do. I wouldn't even know where to begin picking a name for my car.
  • Finally, for Ink, because is still makes me smile: CHEE!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Local Eats: Michigans

There is a thing in Northern Upstate New York called a Michigan. All I was able to sort out was that it involved some sort of sauce and a hot dog. If the nice folks at the local eatery in the crossroads town missed the out-of-state license plates on my car, they sure knew I wasn't local when I ordered 2 Michigans (thinking I was so smart by not being redundant and ordering Michigan Hot Dogs), then didn't understand the presentation options.

"You want those buried?" (The server actually asked about at least 2 additional variations, but I was stuck at buried, and didn't register the other two).

"I don't know what any of those mean..." (OH HI! I AM SO FROM OUT OF TOWN RIGHT NOW!)

"Oh. Well, they're usually served with mustard and onions, and usually served buried, so everything is under the sauce..."

"Um. Ok, I'll take them buried. With a Diet Coke."

"Pepsi ok?" (As well as being the Land of Michigans, Northern Upstate New York is also the Land of Pepsi).

What I got was a steamed hot dog on a white-bread bun. Underneath the dog were mustard (I can't recall if it was yellow or deli, but I think it was deli mustard) and chopped raw onions. On top of the dog, burying everything, was a tomato-based meat sauce with lots of chopped beef. It wasn't a chili dog... there was no chili spice or anything like that, and it wasn't like a spaghetti sauce, either. Served with pickles and potato chips on the side. Very tasty.

If you're ever out by Keeseville, New York... Tuesdays are 99c Michigans at the local joint. Have one for me (but hold the onions!)

Graphite Mine

Graphite Mine Entrance

One of the things I did last weekend was visit an old, abandoned graphite mine along Lake George. It is on private property, but my friend and I had permission from the owners to go check it out, as long as we didn't go too far inside. I love caves, but I'm not a spelunker, nor did I have any kind of safety equipment on me, so that was not a problem!

The mine entrance was very near the top of the mountain, so the walk up from the shore of the lake was a trek (climbing seems to be a theme for me lately). Following the old mine road, we knew we'd found the right place when we came to the ruins. A little further up the hill, was one of the mine openings.

Ruins of a large building at the mine. Although mostly stone, there are bricks in the foundation.

We went in as far as the light. The striations in the rock were pretty amazing. I took a photo of them using a flashlight as a light source; it looks like Jupiter! Taken with a flash, you can see the patterns throughout the cave.

Mine wall pattern, taken using an LED flashlight as light source.

Looking out of the mine

This was obviously mined by hand, the miners chasing the vein of graphite through the mountain. There are other openings to this mine, but we didn't get to them. They may have laid rails to carry carts of ore for initial processing - historic photos of graphite mining elsewhere in the area show this. I didn't see any evidence of rails either in the mine or along the road. Mules and carts were probably used to carry the ore down the mountain.

Once we got home, I looked up the history of graphite mining. This area is home to the main graphite deposits in New York State. Graphite deposits had been unearthed as early as 1815 in the Ticonderoga area. Commercial mining began in 1832. Several small works subsisted for a while, but by the 1860s, the American Graphite Company had incorporated and become the dominant player. Separation and concentrating processes devised by the firm aided its success.**

Mine road

This particular location has deposits of graphite ranging from 3 to 13 inches thick, with alternating layers of graphitic shale or schist. Overall, the graphite bed is about 9 feet thick. Sandstones form strong ledges above and below the graphite (thank goodness!). Once mined, the ore is carted for processing. In this area, it was done either by pulverizing it in drop stamps and then washed to remove the impurities, or crushed and dried and then purified using air.* The original dock on the shore of Lake George, at the foot of the mine road, is long gone, but locals told us that it had a wide end, so that the mules could turn the carts before heading back up the mountain for another load. The ore was then shipped up the lake to Ticonderoga for further processing, then to Jersey City, New Jersey for manufacturing.***

Manufacturing into what? Well, Dixon's Ticonderoga Pencils, of course! Graphite was also used as a lubricant and an ingredient to gunpowder, but the primary use was pencil leads -- once Joseph Dixon convinced Americans to use pencils, that is! Before Dixon was successful at marketing graphite pencils, he manufactured stove polish and crucibles for iron ore processing from the graphite mined along Lake George.** He would have found a ready market for his crucibles; there are a ton of old iron deposits and forges in the area as well.

American Graphite was bought out by Dixon's Crucible Company sometime in the mid-nineteenth century, and Dixon continued to make and try to sell his Ticonderoga pencils. During the Civil War, the use of pencils became widespread, as they were much more convenient than liquid ink and quills, and Dixon's company flourished. By the end of the Civil War, Dixon had machines that could make 132 pencils a minute; by 1872, the Dixon plant in Jersey City was spitting out over 86,000 pencils a day.** Graphite mining in the area ceased in the 1920s.

What we didn't see in the mine was any evidence of bats. Perhaps we didn't go in far enough, but this area is close to where white nose syndrome was first identified in brown bats. Not too long ago, the area at dusk would be swarming with bats; we didn't see any. Hopefully, it was because of the time of year, and not because they are gone.

* Cirkel, Fritz (1907)
Graphite: It's Properties, Occurrence, Refining, and Uses. Canadian Department of Mines, Ottawa, Ontario.

** Frost, Richard (2007) "Rock Pond's Mine History Written in Pencil"

*** Mills, James Cooke (1911)
Searchlights on Some American Industries A.C. McClurg & Co., Chicago.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Just back from some away-time in a different part of upstate New York than before. Adirondacks, this time, which is gorgeous, even when October turns to November. While I sort my photos and compose my text for the more geeky historical archaeology-themed "what I did this weekend" post, here is a little diversion.

Lets call the chipmunk Waldo. Can you find hir?

Hint: You can click on the picture to embiggen.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ah, Those Wacky Resurrection Men!

Trained in History, Kate Beaton creates comics based on historical events and people. Sometimes, she takes liberties. Sometimes, she doesn't have to. Always hilarious. I love her stuff; she's in my blogroll over there as Hark, A Vagrant! As much as I'm dying to post images of her fantastic "History is Serious" shirt, and to her Ben Franklin flying a kite shirt, I will content myself with links. Because this post is about Resurrection Men.

I posted earlier about resurrection men acquiring recently-dead bodies for use in anatomy classes. When freshly-dead bodies were not forthcoming, some resurrectionists resorted to a DIY approach, and became murderers. Kate Beaton posted a comic recently recounting the exploits of Burke and Hare, infamous providers of cadavers who weren't quite dead when Burke and Hare first met them. In her post, Kate links to the following, which was entirely too good not to share:

Edited to make the YouTube thingy not quite so enormous.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Uh, Wha?

Every once in a while, while researching, I come across something that surprises me. Sometimes it's something I thought I knew about, but didn't (i.e., I knew that Civil War soldiers were shipped back home for burial; what I didn't know is that they were often buried, then disinterred and then shipped back home*); other times, it's something written about something in such a way that I have to do a double take. For example,

Regardless of much manifestation of genuine grief at the death of colored persons during funerals, etc. the negro cemetery almost invariably presents an aspect of neglect and indifference closely bordering on the appearance of the potter's field. There is, therefore, in all probability not the aversion to a pauper burial among the negroes commonly met with among the white population.**

This is in an account relating the universal horrors of pauper burial, and how fabulous institutional insurance (read: life insurance) has been in eradicating the evils of potter's fields. There is much in this work that smacks of privilege, classism, racism, etc. There are some choice bits about the immodest excesses of Irish and Italian working-class funerals -- *especially* the Irish wakes, which are presented as exemplary examples of excess, followed by "oh, yeah... and the Italians." After repeatedly stating that humans have a universal and timeless fear of pauper burials, the author makes the above statement about African-Americans, essentially putting them in a non-human category and/or giving an example of why they are not human.

It surprised me. It shouldn't have, but it did. And I was reminded that times change, and that people have thought differently about things at different times in history. And that's not a bad thing to remember.

PS: Mr. Hoffman, the author of the work cited above, also states that "It is thus clearly shown that the persons of better character and mental or moral status made provision in a larger proportion of cases for depended survivors through insurance." Yep, only the morally superior buy insurance! No surprise, Mr. Hoffman worked for Prudential...

* Faust, Drew Gilpin (2008) This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. (Highly recommended, by the way)
** Hoffman, Frederick L. (1919) Pauper Burials and the Interment of the Dead in Large Cities.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fieldwork Shots

Carriage House

I have a couple of posts brewing, but I'm tired. The past two weeks have included several fieldwork forays to suss out project areas and to monitor ongoing construction work. It's my favorite time of year to be out and about, and the last few cold days have really brought out the colors. Hope you enjoy these!

Eighteenth/Early Nineteenth Century Brickwork

Dancing Vine
(hopefully not poison ivy)

Fall Field


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Archaeologists Don't Do Dinosaurs, but...

It is a pet peeve of mine to be asked about dinosaurs. I peeve about it more than I peeve about being asked about secret tunnels. I don't study dinosaurs; I would study secret tunnels if they existed on my sites... I don't blame the askers, I blame popular culture and the educational system. It is truly amazing how many people think that dinosaurs and people co-existed. But I digress.

The National Park Service has announced the discovery of preserved dinosaur tracks at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (located in Arizona and Utah). "The new Glen Canyon track locality may extend the ornithopod dinosaur record in North America back 20 to 25 million years earlier than previously documented." I am constantly amazed by what survives, and by how much there still is out there to discover.

I am also very pleased to see that there is such a thing as the "
Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-011)" (part of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009) under the mandate of which the NPS will be putting together a strategy to inventory and monitor non-renewable paleontological resources. It's about time, imo.

Yes, fossils are cool. So are arrow heads, coins, and other shiny objects. But paleontological and archaeological resources are NON-RENEWABLE. If you rip something out of context, then all you are left with is the thing. All of the contextual information - dates, associations, etc. - is gone, and with it, just about everything that we could learn from them about the past. There is absolutely a place for knowledgeable avocational folks; there is no place for looters and other collectors interested in only the thing, context be damned. And unfortunately, more and more looting is motivated by financial gain, and not even the coolness of the things. If there is a hell, I hope the latter group finds themselves in a nice, uncomfy corner of it.

Random tangents:
  • Glen Canyon is over 1.2 million acres. Holy crap. (I've never been out west; my ideas about large spaces are defined by east coast standards.)
  • To find any National Park's website, take the first two letters from each of the first two words of the park name and jam them at the end of ... so, Glen Canyon is Women's Rights National Historic Park is If the name of the park is only one word, use the first four letters; so, Independence National Historic Park is
  • I lifted the above picture from the NPS press release. Original tag and credit line: "Ornithopod-like dinosaur trackway preserved in a block of Navajo Sandstone at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. NPS photo."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mark Twain and the Totenhauser

A few days ago I posted about Totenhauser (aka hospitals for the dead, aka waiting mortuaries). In the comments, Ink recalled a Mark Twain story involving a guard at one of these establishments. I don't want to spoil the story, which I thought quite a good one, called "A Thumb-Print and What Came Of It," part of Twain's Life on the Mississippi (pp. 232-247 of the linked edition)... but I will share Twain's description of the Totenhaus:

Toward the end of last year I spent a few months in Munich, Bavaria... One day, during a ramble about the city, I visited one of the two establishments where the Government keeps and watches corpses until the doctors decide that they are permanently dead, and not in a trance state. It was a grisly place, that spacious room. There were thirty-six corpses of adults in sight, stretched on their backs on slightly slanted boards, in three long rows -- all of them with wax-white, rigid faces, and all of them wrapped in white shrouds. Along the sides of the room were deep alcoves, like bay windows; and in each of these lay several marble-visaged babes, utterly hidden and buried under banks of fresh flowers, all but their faces and crossed hands. Around a finger of each of these fifty still forms, both great and small, was a ring; and from the ring a wire led to the ceiling, and thence to a bell in a watch-room yonder, where, day and night, a watchman sits always alert and ready to spring to the aid of any of that pallid company who, waking out of death, shall make a movement -- for any, even the slightest, movement will twitch the wire and ring that fearful bell. I imagined myself a death-sentinel drowsing there alone, far in the dragging watches of some wailing, gusty night, and having in a twinkling all my body stricken to quivering jelly by the sudden clamor of that awful summons! (pp. 233)

Ignoring for a moment Twain's literary turns, comparing watches dragging, the night wailing, and his body "in a twinkling" (all evidences of paranormal activity) stricken to quivering jelly (invoking decomposition)... how many Americans had this as their first introduction to the Totenhaus? How many wondered what Twain was smoking, or pooh-pooh'd those wacky Germans? Now I'm curious if Totenhauser were ever described in Godey's Ladies' Book. (Oh hush, I love me a good tangent...)

Edit: Apparently I've not been using the correct plural for -haus, which should be -hauser not -hausen which is the verb -to dwell, -to reside, -to live. Shame on me for forgetting my high school German! Though the verb form is sort of interesting, particularly in this context.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It's not all morbid, honest...

My writing soundtrack lately belies the occasionally morbid topic of The Book ... I've been listening to some rollicking folk music. Just TRY to keep your toes from tappity-tapping.

Music from the Contra-Dance, a series of podcasts (currently 73 of them) available free online courtesy Robert Cox. Obviously a labor of love for him, and I'm grateful!

Right, then... anyone up for contra-dancing? (I've never been, either. Perhaps we should wear our steel toes?)

Body Snatching and Being Buried Alive

[S]ome politician whispers to me, "The intelligent part of the community understands perfectly your professional necessity; and these penal enactments [against bodysnatching] are a dead letter - intended merely as an offering to popular prejudice. You doctors should set about overcoming that prejudice, and we statesmen will quickly remove such inconsistencies from the statute-book. If it was our affair, we could persuade the people that it is pleasant to be dissected, just as we so often persuade them that it is profitable for them that we should put our hands into their pockets." - JW Draper, An Appeal to the People of the State of New York, to Legalise the Dissection of the Dead (1853).

From Sappol, Michael (2002)
A Traffic of Dead Bodies: Anatomy and Embodied Social Identity in Nineteenth Century America.

I've been doing some research on nineteenth century bodysnatching in order to beef up (a bit) a portion of The Book. Essentially, the availability of legally-obtained cadavers for medical instruction was severely limited relative to the number of individuals receiving medical training. As an example, in one instance, approximately 400 cadavers would be necessary to train physicians at a medical school over a twenty-year period, in a location where perhaps 40 would be available legally (Shultz 1992: 15). The result was a black market for bodies, which had to be relatively recently deceased to be useful.

The topic is relevant to The Book, but not in a huge way... not in any way that I can justify the amount of reading I really want to do here. The problem is, I find the subject fascinating. I have to promise myself that, if I get my word count in today, that I can read more of these books, and not just the relevant bits I need to cite.

Sappol's book goes heavily into the social identity and meaning that people have had around cadavers, dead bodies, anatomy training, etc. and how issues of class, ethnicity, politics, money, &c. have played into that. He has also included lots of very interesting images. Fascinating stuff, and a worthy read for those interested in the history of medicine, death, cemeteries, identity, and embodiment.

I also have Suzanne Shultz' 1992 book Body Snatching: The Robbing of Graves for the Education of Physicians in Early Nineteenth Century America. Shorter than Sappol's book, this focuses much more closely on the snatching itself and on the snatchers (aka Resurection Men). This is an engaging and deceptively quick read, chock full of historical background, as well as anecdotes and individual stories.

The fear of having one's body snatched actually resulted in the manufacture and sale of burglar-proof coffins here in the US. Several patents were issued, and they appear in undertakers' catalogs at least through the 1890s. Burglar-proofing ranged from simple bands of iron encircling the entire coffin, to elaborate one-way latches, locks, and soldering.

On a related note, check out Jan Bondeson's 2001 book, Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear. Physicians and medical ethicists continue to argue about where the line between living and dead is. In the past, physicians readily admitted to being uncertain whether their patients were alive or dead, and there were examples of people being prematurely declared dead. This became the source of an hysteria in Europe in particular, where huge waiting mortuaries were built from the eighteenth through mid-nineteenth centuries (some surviving into the mid-twentieth century). The presumed-dead would be housed at these Totenhausen connected to an alarm system triggered by movement. Individuals were considered actually dead when putrefaction began. There is mention of a waiting mortuary in New York in the 1820s, but this particular phenomenon was largely European. There were, however, several American patents for coffins with alarm systems. Perhaps changing ideas in America regarding an actual, physical resurrection of the body in Heaven and the accompanying horrors of decomposition limited the acceptance of waiting mortuaries here. I don't know enough about changing ideas of death in Europe to say for sure...

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Had some urban fieldwork this past week, along a river that has a long history. The city also has a very long history, but has definitely seen better days. The area along the river is largely light industrial, with medium and very high density (read: project) housing. Amazingly, most of the businesses were up and running, with only one boarded up structure -- certainly encouraging in these economic times.

This riverbank used to be heavily trafficked, with ships pulling up alongside sturdy wooden wharfs and piers built on pilings. These ships carried in raw materials for the thriving industries located along the river, and embarked full of the resulting manufactured goods. This particular stretch of river specialized in ship spars, fine metalwork, and beer.

A few lonely pilings and bulkhead remnants are all that's left from the waterfront's heyday. The riverbank is strewn with broken bricks, rocks, and mountains of flotsam and jetsam washed up on the tides. A solitary goldenrod picked an old piling here to call home. Perhaps the riverfront isn't dead, yet.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Banned Books Week

It is banned books week. While I think the freedom to read is always important, I like Banned Books Week because it shines the spotlight on the issue. I encourage everyone to read a banned book this week; there are no shortages of titles to choose from!

Have a look at the "Frequently Challenged Books" page at the American Library Association website; by clicking about in the sidebar, you can see banned and challenged books by year, author, books by authors of color, by decade, and classics on the list.

11 Banned Books I have Read and Was Surprised to Find They've Been Censored (in no particular order):

  1. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
  2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  3. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
  4. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
  5. Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling
  6. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  7. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  8. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
  9. James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl
  10. Where’s Waldo?, by Martin Hanford
  11. Farenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Check out the Banned Books Challenge for reviews of banned books and some smart discussion about book censorship.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Plural of Anecdote...

The plural of anecdote is not "data."

From a post at Fannie's Room.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Weekend of Contemplation and Remedial Geography

I had to get away this weekend; to think, to ponder, to just be. So, I high-tailed it to the Finger Lakes region of New York State, which must be one of the most incredibly beautiful places I've been. It is stunningly spectacular in autumn; if you want to see fall colors and geography so incredible that you might actually cry, and you're heading north on Interstate 81 (I have no idea what the directions are if you're heading south...), take Exit 15 towards Dunmore/Throop and follow Route 20 West (it will become the concurrency of Routes 5 and 20 at some point, don't worry about it, and keep driving!). You'll pass through some breathtaking valleys and several towns, including Skaneateles (pronounced approximately as Skinny-Atlas), Seneca Falls (home in 1848 of the first Womens' Rights Convention), and Auburn (home of Harriet Tubman and William Seward).

But, I didn't go that way this time. I drove up via Ithaca, and meandered the western shore of Cayuga Lake. Tons of wineries and an apple cider-y (worth a stop; who knew there were so many different flavors of apple cider), and some fine, FINE ice cream. None of which I partook of this trip, alas. Though some may contemplate best over ice cream and adult beverages, I opted for the great outdoors.

Which is how I encountered my lesson in remedial geography. I've posted about visiting Taughannock Falls before. I went again. Here's the thing: there is a lovely, mostly-flat, groomed, three-quarter mile trail along the bottom of the gorge that takes you to the base of the falls, which looks like this:
The falls are about 33 feet taller than the ones at Niagara. The falls there, in the left of the picture? Are falling about 215 feet. And are beautiful!

But something possessed me to take the rim trail. I did not make the connection between the bottom of the gorge and the rim and the vertical distance between them. Somehow, I forgot that up = climbing. Note the rim is well above the water fall.

There were stairs. Many, many, many stairs. Witness (and this is not all of them!):

I am not in the best shape, so the equivalent of approximately 2o stories of stairs were a challenge. But, up I went. Thankfully, there was a bench at the top!

Down was easier. And I am a little more sane than I was last Friday.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Word Count and an Industrial Revolution Bleg

This book chapter is hard, ya'll. It's the "why this happened" chapter, and several very eloquent folks have had opinions. And I think their opinions have been good, but not the whole story. I think the whole story is... well, the whole story. It's a mess of all the things people have said about why, and then some more. Ideological and religious shifts, check... status declarations and negotiations, check... professionalization and specialization of the industry, check... urbanization, check... development of the American Middle Class (however you define that), check... but also? Trains. Post office rates and structure. Wood-pulp paper. Thing is, they're not all discrete bits that I can summarize and move on; several are deeply inter-related, which makes this chapter challenging. Why I'm wrassling with this one now, and not a "what happened" chapter (infinitely simpler), I don't know. Call me a masochist.

Right then. The point of the post:

Word count today: 390 so far. I expect to pound out a few more in the next half hour.
Word count update: 672. I have more longhand, but I'm only counting what's in Word. Maybe I can squeeze some more in before bed?
Word count update 2: 1,018. Much is repetitive; much needs more fleshing out; much needs much, much reworking. But, in the spirit of Shitty First Drafts, I have something. And it seems to kind of be coming together. I hope I feel the same way in the morning!

Yay also for Shitty First Drafts. [h/t Clio Bluestocking and Notorious, PhD]

Bleg: Can anyone recommend a good overview of the American Industrial Revolution that touches on the social aspects? I'm not interested in when the cotton gin was invented (well, I am, but not for this particular project...) I'm interested in urbanization, rise of the middle-class, link with evangelicalism and religious reform movements, etc. I've seen things tossed out there as though they're related to Book Topic, but would like to take a step back before I go there and check out what scholars of the IR have to say, yanno?

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Labyrinth of Copyright, Continued

This is a follow-up to my post a bit ago regarding Orphaned Works.

The Copyright Advisory Network (sponsored by the American Library Association) has a handy tool online that gives quick-and-dirty copyright information based upon date of first publication and whether copyright is asserted. Worth bookmarking, y'all (requires Javascript):

Digital Copyright Slider

[h/t BookofJoe]

Thursday, September 10, 2009

All That Remains

And, actually, not even that.

Fieldwork shot: What was left this morning of the nineteenth century house we excavated around earlier this summer. What's left now is nothing; bare earth. Watching the backhoe was kind of cool, but watching the house come down was not. Sometimes, fieldwork isn't fun.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Class Starts on Wednesday

I'm getting ready to start teaching again; class starts on Wed, so far there are around 30 students registered. While in the past, I've had up to 6 drop out for various reasons, that hasn't been the case with this particular course (Intro to Physical Anthro). This course seems to average 1-2 drops, so I have a big class.

I have to tweak the syllabus a bit, in part to compensate for an anticipated H1N1 outbreak (easy on the attendance, have a backup plan, etc. At least the uni has a plan to deal with it, at least initially), and in part to change up a bit how I'm lecturing. Although there is some technical stuff that they have to get (meiosis, mitosis, and the mechanics of natural selection), I'm going to try moving a little away from the text, and make them more responsible for the content. It should make things more interesting, encourage attendance, and make it easier to keep on schedule.

I think I'll also move the essay due date earlier in the semester, so I don' t have a giant stack of papers to grade right at the end.

Beloit College has a "Mindset" list for incoming students. It gives a glimpse of how different the world of my students is from my own. For example, the Class of 2013 has never used a card catalog to find a book. The KGB has never officially existed. And women have always outnumbered men in college. I've also discovered that they don't edit or compose on paper, but do everything on the screen.

I do enjoy the teaching, and I'm looking forward to it. Unfortunately, personal shit is hitting the fan, and that will likely take a lot of my energy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mail Delay

I came home to a small package in the mail. "Return to Sender" stamped on it. "WTF?" I thought, "I haven't mailed anything like this in the last few weeks..." Checked return address; yep, mine. Looked at the date on the postage meter stamp. Looked again. December 17, 2001. TWO THOUSAND AND ONE! Hello, like, almost 8 years ago? And it turns up undeliverable... NOW?

Just for fun, I entered the Delivery Confirmation number into the post office website. Below is the entire roster of information:
  • Arrival at Post Office, August 27, 2009, 6:47 am, FORT WORTH, TX 76107
  • Undeliverable as Addressed, August 27, 2009, 8:06 am, FORT WORTH, TX 76107
Where on earth has this packet been? I hope it went somewhere interesting for the last 8 years, and wasn't jammed in some machine that whole time.

Perhaps it is a message; that even where you think you know where something's been the last 8 years, it can be lost. And maybe even returned to you, even though the intended recipient went without.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Definition help? RBOC

I've seen this a few times around the blogosphere, and I cannot for the life of me figure out what it means. (I looked it up online, and all I get is "Regional Bell Operating Companies" aka the Baby Bells).

Can anyone clue me in? Thanks!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Orphaned Works... What do you do if you can't find the copyright holder?

One of the things I'm working on with The Book is wrangling permissions. This, I think, is almost harder than writing, as it involves not just my own weirdnesses, but those of other people as well.

To be fair, I have been in contact with extremely helpful people, who corresponded with me, sent digital files, copies of reports, and happily signed and returned the permission to publish form required by my publisher. Others have been happy I'm interested in publishing their materials, and promise to make the experience smooth sailing (once I decide which images I want to publish...) To those people, I am increasingly grateful.

Others responded positively up front, then vanished *poof* when the permission to publish form was sent their way. They may respond favorably to a nudge; I am planning some nudginess this weekend. There is one image in particular from this category that I *really* *really* want.

Other folks, surprisingly (to me) associated with large organizations in the heritage field, have been entirely and completely non-responsive. Verily, black-hole-like in their non-response (NPS and APT, I'm looking at you). The APT can go jump; their stuff's already out there anyway. But the image from the NPS? Another one that I *really* *really* want. For The Book and an article, really. Yeah, it's Federal, so I should just be able to take it... but that would be rude. And, I'd like to be sure to give correct attribution. And, I love the NPS, so this wall-of-black-hole-silence is driving me.

So, yeah. Enough winging about Fun With Photo Permissions, and to my point. There is a lot of stuff that I'd love to incorporate into The Book, but which falls within copyright limitations and the corporate authors of the works are long defunct (I'm not really working with much stuff that would have individual authors/creators). What to do, what to do....

This rolled through my RSS feeder today, courtesy the Blog of the American Historical Association: It is a .pdf Statement of Best Practices in dealing with Orphan Works (things in copyright where the copyright holder no longer exists or cannot be found), published by the Society of American Archivists. There is some good stuff in here about deciding whether to publish what you think are Orphaned Works or not (risk assessment), how to determine who is the creator, how to determine who is the copyright holder (they are often different), copyright heirs (yikes), Reproduction Rights Organizations (international and domestic!), how to cover your butt, and additional reading.

It sounds like a mess; or on a good day, like a boat-load of work. But it doesn't need to be; it's mostly just methodical. And probably, in certain cases, quite worth the effort. This certainly gives me a framework to consider Orphaned Works and in approaching their use. I'll also have to check with my publisher; they may prefer to steer entirely clear of Orphan Works.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Torture is not funny.

Torture is absolutely not funny. And it is a horrible thing when you become what you once despised.


This "leaked torture memo" posted over at Progressive Historians is VERY funny. I laughed my [redacted] off.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pedagogy and Working With Documents

I've been working on the book this morning (yay), and took some time out to mess around online while I switched gears (moving from checking sources to writing).

School starts soon, and I'm always interested in improving my teaching. I teach drive-by introductions to various subfields in anthropology; this semester it is physical anthropology. There is SO much to cover in one of these introductory courses, that I just can't. I want to give my students a tasting of all the various things you can do as a physical anthropologist, how it is relevant, how dynamic a field it is, a basic understanding of the processes of natural selection, the importance of biodiversity, and an overview of hominid evolution that ties together physical evolution and cultural development. Still an awfully tall order for 13 weeks of lectures. Yes, I could just yammer at them (and have... and will again, I'm sure), but I want them to think about and engage with the material. I want them to roll it around, compare it to their beliefs and experiences, play "what if," and ask questions - of themselves, their classmates, and me.

I'm always tweaking the course; modifying assignments, messing with lectures, etc. I don't want to emphasize style over substance, but would like my classes to be more engaged. As I was muddling about the 'net this morning, I found this: Secrets of Great History Teachers part of the History Matters: The US Survey Course on the Web. I've skimmed just a couple of the entries, but it looks like there are some good ideas in there, even for non-history teaching (though some have proposed that aren't all studies of the past history?; I will have more on that). I will have to pick out one or two to try.

Also part of the History Matters website is a section called Making Sense of Evidence, with tons of material on working with maps, diaries, letters, ads, speeches, newspapers, etc. I use primary documents all the time; good to get a refresher in approaching them (that, and I'm trying to incorporate more historiography into my historical archaeology).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

When Being Late is a Good Thing

The book, she is late. Very late. Deadlines long since whooshed past (real life intervened, and I have a terrible tendency to underestimate how long it takes me to do things, especially when it comes to non-job time). I keep plugging away at it, though... I need to get it done to Get. It. Done. and move on. Worst case: if my current publisher decides they don't want it after all, I will have a completed thing to shop around.

Anyway... my point. In the process of being late, I've come across recent publications that will inform bits of the book in very big ways. In one case, a book that will make an excellent hook on which to hang my "why" chapter was published just last year. In another case, a specific case study in a volume of economic/consumer history published several years ago that, had I not found it, would have left me Very. Embarrassed. There are also an increasing number of dissertations and theses dealing with the same topic as I am; mostly tangentially or in a small area, sometimes on a larger scale. I really need to get on the stick and finish before I am scooped; but it sure is helpful to have this other information.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Picture Experiement

Fieldwork today. Nothing interesting to see; piles of dirt, more dirt, and some dirt. Oh, and rocks.

I did visit a State Park at lunch, and gave a whirl taking photos with my cell phone. Posting them here to see what they look like. Behold, Place Way Up High:

Hm. Not -too- bad, especially the foregrounds, but not great either. The "hills in the distance" were pretty hazy in real life, also (90F today, and humid. Yuck). Cellphone Cam seems to have promise for the emergency oh crap I don't have my camera moments. But cannot be my first choice! Hopefully I haven't just been charged a small fortune to suck the pix off the phone...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Home Again, and A Photo

Home again. The research trip was most excellent. Research appointment at Local History Museum #1 was threatening to not pan out terribly successfully, and suddenly became unscheduled research at Nearby Research Archive #2 that rocked. It involved access to boxes of barely-processed materials in my research area. With more than twice that much material again, part of the same collection, expected to arrive in the near future.The moral of the story is, tell ANYONE who will stand still long enough what you're researching. Even when it is something weird and obscure, and the most common response is, "What?" The curator at Museum #1 said, "I don't have that much stuff, but let me make a call." Thirty minutes later, I'm in Nearby Research Archive #2.

As promised, I toted my camera around. But National Research Archives #1 (visited the day before the above adventures) had so much material, that I used up my photo card. I remembered to bring fresh batteries, but never anticipated I'd take more than 120 images. Silly me. I'll have to toss an extra photo card into my camera bag. It's little, holds maybe 30 images, but it would have tided me over!

I did, however, save a shot for a photo to share. This is Taughannock Falls (as best I can tell, pronounced Te-GA-nick, with the emphasis on A as in can), near the southern end of Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, just north of Ithaca. It is 215 feet, higher than Niagara Falls by 30-40 feet or more. The photo does it no justice -- it is just impossible to capture the scale of it. I didn't make it this time, but there is a trail you can walk to the bottom of the falls, which is spectacular as well.

Monday, August 10, 2009

On the Road

I'm on a whirlwind tour of Cross-border family types and book research on the way home.

Remember when I said I needed to learn to take my camera everywhere? Yeah. I still need to learn that. The building had HUGE DRAGON GARGOYLES and an incredibly cool early twentieth century elevator. And I didn't have my camera.

I will bring my camera, I will bring my camera, I will bring my camera... and post a pic here to prove it!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Posting Stuff to the 'Net and Getting Cited: An Experiment

Just over a month ago, Michael Smith over at Publishing Archaeology blogged an appeal to archaeologists to make our papers available on the internet. He followed up with a post citing a study indicating that Open Access papers (i.e., stuff available online) have a five-fold citation advantage over non-accessible papers.

For fun, I'd recently looked myself up in Google Scholar, a quick and dirty way to see who is citing you. And, despite several conference presentations and some publications (book and journal), I had one citation. For my MA thesis, no less. Dang it. I mean, the reason we present at conferences and publish stuff is because we think it is something valuable and useful, and we hope others will read it. Sheesh, even if folks think it's crap, at least it should still get cited... you know, SOMEWHERE.

The kicker is, there is so much literature out there, if folks can't find your stuff, they won't cite it. Conference papers are particularly problematic here; they're so ephemeral, they don't get indexed, and it is unusual for archaeology conferences to publish their proceedings. WAC-6 (Sixth World Archaeological Congress) held last year in Dublin is an exception. They have available texts from almost 200 of the presentations; these are pre-circulated papers, so they may vary slightly from the actual presentation, but what a wealth of information (anyone interested in feminist archaeology, there is some good stuff in there...). The link above goes to the WAC-6 website; this link goes directly to the list of papers available online.

So I did a little experiment. I fished out some conference papers I've given, a couple of journal articles, and a book. I posted them to four "put your stuff out there" locations online, all free:

  • Mostly a reference management tool that lets you access your .pdfs from anywhere - especially helpful when I have references that overlap between work and personal. They do also have a Personal Profile page, where you can make your own work available as downloads for anyone. The site can be slow to load.
  • CiteULike Again, mostly a reference management tool, similar to Mendeley. You can make your papers available for download by anyone. I find it kinda clunky vs. Mendely, but have found a few references I didn't otherwise know about.
  • Facebook for academics. With the ability to post papers for people to access, as well as posting research interests, joining groups of folks that share your interests, etc. Perk: you get email when someone searches on you or "follows" you, and you can see how many people have looked at your stuff. Note: it only -looks- like you need a university affiliation to be listed here. Scroll through, there is an "Independent Researcher" catagory.
  • SelectedWorks Strictly a portal to post your stuff and have it available. Folks can subscribe to get updates, but that's about it for the acasocial framework. One perk: realtime reports about how many copies of your stuff have been downloaded. They also convert your .docs into .pdfs and index them.
Time passed. The results? Mendeley and CiteuLike, from what I can tell, did squat for me in the "making stuff available" department (though I'm sticking with Mendeley for managing references). - had a few folks peek at the papers; apparently there is a trickle of visitors coming in via Google, no Google Scholar links. I give it a meh.

The real winner here is SelectedWorks. I can see people are accessing and downloading my stuff. It is totally easy to update my site. And, time to Google Scholar for everything (book, journal articles, conference papers) = 1 month. Even though I didn't provide full text for the book and one journal article, they're now indexed in Google Scholar.

If your university has an account with SelectedWorks, it's easy to get listed. But, you can be listed as an individual for free, it's just not readily apparent. From their homepage, scroll to the bottom and click "Start a Site". You will have to email them directly to get an access code (took < 1 day for me). That's it. I found tweaking my abstracts to include words others might search for was helpful (Search Engine Optimization for scholarly papers, woot!), and the realtime download stats let me track that.

This is win-win, for writers (who get their stuff out there) and for researchers (who can find more stuff). It's a little nerve-wracking to know that my stuff is being read, but I'm coping!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Cities in Cities: A Map of Philadelphia

I was in Philly recently. For a meeting, not fieldwork or pleasure... which is why I didn't have my camera with me, dang it.

I stepped out of the parking garage (I finally found one that will let you park your own car!), and onto a map of the city. Not a crumpled up tourist map... a big, stone, set-in-the-landscape map of Old Philadelphia. On the site formerly of William Penn's house, "The Slate Roof House," where he lived from 1699 to 1701. There's even a small recreation of the house on a pedestal that says, "The Slate Roof House Was Here" (shades of Kilroy?) In the center is a statue of William Penn himself, a recreation of the statue on top of Philadelphia City Hall (which is apparently worth a trip, as there is an observation post in Penn's HAT). The park is known as Welcome Park (named for Penn's ship, The WELCOME), and it's on 2nd Street just south of Chestnut.

Here is an image of Welcome Park from GoogleEarth. The four trees are located in each of the green space squares that Penn included when he laid out the city. Each of the white marble streets has the street name carved into it. I LOVE the little compass rose set in stone, there in the upper left corner. It is a very cool, interactive thing to be IN a map, in the city that it is mapping, and to stand at the location on the map that corresponds to where the map is. All kinds of coolness about space and place, representation, perception, interaction, landscape, and reflexivity.

What it looks like from the ground (image from Philadelphia.About.Com):

I need to remember to bring my own camera, EVERYWHERE.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ahhh, Lists.

I'm compiling a list of primary source materials that are available in public repositories (i.e., not private collections) in an Appendix for The Book.

The nice thing is, I have 14 new pages of stuff, some of the locations previously unpublished, none of them published all together. Progress has been made, and it's exactly the type of fussy, non-big picture progress that I could handle this week.

Of course, that leaves one less fussy, non-big picture progress item for another rough week, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

15th Century Vinland Map of North America Authenticated

From a story over at the Globe and Mail: Researchers at the School of Conservation, part of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts have studied the circa 1440 map for five years. Their conclusion? The map is almost certainly authentic, "All the tests that we have done over the past five years – on the materials and other aspects – do not show any signs of forgery" (Rene Larsen, Rector of the School of Conservation). The map shows Vinlanda Insula (way to the left, in the upper corner), the Vinland of Icelandic scholars (click here for a larger version). This area is now linked to Newfoundland and Labrador, where there is extensive archaeological evidence of Norse settlement dating to AD 1000 at L'Anse aux Meadows. The L'Anse aux Meadows site is a National Historic Site in Canada, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (sorry for the link to Wikipedia; the Parks Canada website for L'Anse aux Meadows is being fussy).

I enjoy working with historic maps, tracing the history of an area back through time. Actually, I usually trace the history forward through time. I should try writing it the other way sometime; see what that does. Anyway... the maps. More recent maps are great for me as an archaeologist, because they tend to be more accurate (not completely accurate, mind you). Using these maps, I can address very specific locations of archaeological sensitivity or areas that have been disturbed to the point that no archaeological resources are likely to remain intact. Very practical!

But I really love working with the earlier maps. The ones with pictures of whales in the water; the ones that look more like landscape paintings than maps; the ones with coastlines that make sense if you're drawing them from a boat as you pass and are helpful for other mariners, but don't seem to make a lick of sense in any other context. Despite my "Here be Dragons" romanticism, these maps also often contain good information about the relationships of things and people. To interpret these, I have to look at landmarks, and think about things that were important enough to record. Here's one of my favorites of the Delaware River, "Caert vande Svydt Rivier in Niew Nederland" by Joan Vinkeboons c. 1639 (you can see it larger here):

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Looking into the Past: Photos by Jason Powell

These are two of a series of photos by Jason Powell in which he prints out old photographs and manually overlays them on existing conditions and takes a photo (go, go look at the larger versions via the link. They're worth it! Just come back, 'kay?). I've done some digital overlays in researching sites, and those are often a pain to line up, so I'm very impressed that Jason does his overlays manually, and in the field.

I love the time-travel aspect of these photographs, like you could step right into the past. I love the sense these give that history is something you can touch, experience, and interact with. It isn't just static words in a textbook, it's all around us. And that the histories of people and places are intertwined.

I wonder if I could get away with this in an archaeology report?

Hat tip to Book of Joe.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fieldwork Shot

Excavations were done inside this building prior to demolition. I love the buckets and the lighting in this photo!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Random Snark: Confirmation Hypocrisy

Re: Sotomayor's confirmation. I know, I know... politics isn't about consistency or anything. But seriously ... for all those insisting that Supreme Court Justices shouldn't be influenced by their political views, experiences, or upbringing... why the H-E-double-hockey-sticks, then, do you get your knickers so tied up in knots about making sure Justices share your political views about things like gun control and abortion? PICK ONE!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Book Report: PROGRESS!

So, writing takes a lot longer than I'd hoped/wished/planned. I mean, I write all the time at work, but those are reports, with templates. The book? The book is different. It probably has less to do with the difference between reports with templates and books than it does with emotional attachment, personal investment, and putting myself and my ideas OUT THERE.

Still, I ABC (apply butt to chair - h/t Clio Bluestocking) on a regular basis, and sit put until I get something accomplished, fry my brain, or the day ends (usually a combination of the above). Today... today I took 20 pages of *stuff* and synthesized a chapter, which I have dutifully popped off to my editor. I am happy. And I have fodder for articles. Cool fodder for cool articles (well, for archaeologists interested in this particular corner of the field, anyway). Now I just need to secure permissions to turn certain accumulations of said fodder (which isn't mine) into an illustrated article, wherein I connect an apparently unconnected series of dots, the larger meaning of which escapes me. Perhaps article is too strong a word. Perhaps a research note.

Did I mention I got a chapter done? Damn, this thing may get finished after all.

I'm not a medievalist, but...

... here I am busy researching (briefly) the history of the College of Arms and writing about heralds and Deputy Earl Marshals. Well, ok, I'm actually poking around in the early, early modern history (ca. 1500s/1600s), but still -- my focus is mid-nineteenth century America for this particular project. And it's not even a tangent!

Research is fun.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Layers out of the Dead and Patriarchal Equilibrium

I was doing some research recently in Philadelphia, combing through early nineteenth century City Directories on microfiche. I wasn't looking for a person, but for a profession or professions. Anything that might fall under the rubric of undertaker; although they didn't catch on in the United States until later in the century, someone was peddling funeral accessories in Philadelphia in the 1810s and early 1820s. I had no luck in my search (for starters, the early directories are organized by surname, not by business type, and I ran out of time to scan all the individuals for profession).

What I did find was intriguing. Starting around 1810, some of the compilers of City Directories began listing "Layers Out of the Dead" in the same section as physicians, midwives, bleeders with leeches, bleeders (presumably without leeches), and dentists (Laderman 1996). I recorded these lists for 1816, 1820, 1823, and random entries from an 1822 "Supplementary" section from a directory without a specialized list of practitioners. These layers out of the dead were predominantly women (of the 36 entries I recorded, one for certain was for a man, three entries for the same individual was probably for a man, and two more (both for a single individual) might be for a man). None of the people in the lists I recorded were African-Americans.

Although other researchers have noted that layers out of the dead were often widows, only one of the entries I recorded specifically noted she was a widow (Rebecca Graff, 1820). There were several women who were single (no man with the same last name living at the same address), and several who were either listed as "Mrs." or who had a male with the same last name residing with them. In several examples, the woman appears only in the list of layers out of the dead, and not in the list of Philadelphia residents; only the male with the same last name is listed (presumably, these are the husbands; I wonder if brothers and unmarried sisters living together would also share a single entry, or would get separate ones). There is one example of two women with the same last name living at the same address (sisters? mother and daughter?); while I know one laid out the dead, I don't know what the other did for a living, as both women shared an entry (the usual entry takes the form of "Henderson James, carpenter, 222 South Third"; this 1820 entry reads only "Osborne Hannah & Sarah, 1 Laurel").

Some women kept their mortuary activities separate from their other business pursuits and their regular Directory entry either neglects to mention a profession (as in the case of S. Snowden in 1820 and Sarah Osborne in 1823), or lists a completely different profession (as in the case of Elizabeth Helmbold, midwife in 1816 and Sarah Snowden, mantuamaker in 1823). These women often had more than one job -- laying out the dead as well as mantuamaker (Sarah Snowden, 1823), midwife (Elizabeth Hembold, 1820), boarding house keeper (Jane Hook, 1820). Laying out the dead was apparently not terribly lucrative, as even William Adams in 1822, the only individual I recorded that was definitely male, also worked as a scrivener and teacher.

As far as my research goes, this is fascinating as it shows a specialization in dealing with the dead into the early 1800s. Could the business of laying out the dead extend further back than 1810? Possibly; the City Directories for Philadelphia in the microfiche collection I was looking at go back only to 1785, and it seems it was only a particular publisher who included lists of layers out of the dead. I did not find this profession in the 1800 City Directory that I read in its entirety -- but that could be a fluke of that particular directory rather than documenting the absence of the profession. I'd have to look at more examples of earlier directories; I looked at 1800, then skipped to 1823 and worked my way backwards, and quit at 1816.

There was also a tantalizing hint at further specialization in mortuary trades: an 1822 entry lists Richard Life, manufacturer of black bordered letter paper, and visiting cards for mourning. He appeared in a list of "Removals" (folks who had left Philadelphia), but I was unable to find him in earlier directories. I also found an 1800 entry for John Leacock, coroner.

All that background brings me to the patriarchal equilibrium part of this. In her book, History Matters, Judith Bennett describes the brewing trade in late Medieval England. It is "a story of radical change, a story of how women were forced out of the trade as it became profitable and prestigious.... In 1300, women controlled the trade in brewed drink; by 1600, it was controlled by men" (p. 72). It is also the story of continuum; in 1300, when brewsters (female brewers) controlled the trade, it wasn't much of a trade to control. It was a low-skilled, low-profit, low-status endeavor. As technology changed and profits increased, women were increasingly excluded from brewing -- either explicitly or because they couldn't afford to purchase the new equipment. They left brewing, and continued to patch together an economic existence by taking in sewing, serving the drinks they used to brew, hiring themselves out as domestics, selling eggs, and laying out the dead (aha! in England, then, it goes back to medieval times.).

By the middle of the nineteenth century, and most especially after the Civil War, the mortuary trades in the United States had become professionalized and specialized. Undertakers, embalmers, specialized coffin manufacturers, coffin hardware manufacturers, burial garment factories, all made scads of money supplying what had become the needs of death. And the vast majority of them (if not all of them) were men. Sure, women worked in some of the factories, but these were low-skilled, low-status jobs that paid miserably and were often catastrophic, health-wise. Undertakers took care of the bodies post-mortem, and women were forced out of yet another means of eaking out a living, just as what they'd already been doing became a profitable business.

I'm sure there are many other examples.


Bennett, Judith M. (2006) History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.
WorldCat Link.

Laderman, Gary (1996) The Sacred Remains: American Attitudes Towards Death 1799-1883. Yale University Press, New Haven. WorldCat Link.

Philadelphia City Directories for 1800, 1816, 1820, 1821, 1822, 1823. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Call No.: Wa .01 Link to HSP Catalog.