The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

March 25 2016 12:17 PM

Tickets to Dissections and Lectures, Purchased by 18th- and 19th-Century Medical Students

For more than one hundred years after the founding of America’s first medical school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1765, faculty members personally peddled tickets to their classes in order to fill lecture halls. So if a prospective surgeon, like Samuel Gartley, whose name appears on this delightfully morbid ticket featuring dancing skeletons, wanted to study anatomy under W. S. Jacobs at U Penn, c. 1800, he would seek out Jacobs and buy a ticket to attend his “dissection class.”

March 23 2016 12:42 PM

A Vivid 1937 Map Imagining How Japan Might Attack the West Coast of the United States

Four years before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Los Angeles Examiner published this full-page map by artist Howard Burke, outlining a potential Japanese strategy for attacking the West Coast and "demolishing" its cities. The map is online as part of the Cornell University Library's Persuasive Cartography digital collection. 

March 21 2016 1:23 PM

A Quickly Made Uncle Tom’s Cabin Tie-In Card Game, From 1852

One of the many Uncle Tom's Cabin–themed bits of culture that made their way onto the market after the book's publication in March 1852, this card game, sold that same year in Providence, Rhode Island, shows how the audience that read Harriet Beecher Stowe's superpopular book adapted its fictional world for its own purposes. 

March 18 2016 2:16 PM

Remembering Hundreds of Years of Deadly Gun-Related Accidents in the United States

In a new book, Melancholy Accidents: Three Centuries of Stray Bullets and Bad Luck, Peter Manseau collects American newspaper notices of tragedies involving firearms from 1739 to 1916. The book's title comes from the terms newspapers often used to tag news of mishaps, listing these gun accidents alongside "drownings, horse tramplings, or steamship explosions," Manseau writes. 

March 16 2016 1:52 PM

A Plea on Behalf of Immigrants, Written (Most Likely) in Shakespeare’s Hand, Now Digitized

The British Library has recently digitized part of a multiauthored play, "The Booke of Sir Thomas Moore," written between about 1596 and 1604. Three pages of this draft of the play are apparently written by William Shakespeare, and they represent the only available sample of his handwriting in a play script. 

March 14 2016 3:10 PM

Pages From Theodore Roosevelt’s Field Notebooks Record Animals Seen—and Killed

From the time Theodore Roosevelt was 8 years old and saw a dead seal in an open-air market in New York City, he was fascinated by the natural world. Theodore Roosevelt in the Fieldthe recent book by Michael R. Canfield, includes images of pages from many of the notebooks Roosevelt used to record his trips to watch—and hunt—birds and animals. 

March 11 2016 2:24 PM

Late-19th-Century Business Maps of San Francisco’s Chinatown, Used to Determine Immigration Status 

Walking through San Francisco's Chinatown in 1894, immigration officer John Lynch recorded the nature of the small businesses lining the ethnic enclave's streets and alleys. The National Archives has digitized the maps Lynch and other immigration investigators used to track the fish vendors, tailors, and restaurants found along streets like Washington Alley, which is mapped below.

March 9 2016 1:39 PM

Illustrated Propaganda for Elementary-School Students in Mussolini’s Italy

American student Barbara Donahue (then Barbara Finlay) lived in Italy between August 1937 and March 1938, when she was 7 and 8 years old. She attended a Catholic school, the Istituto Vittoria Colonna, in Milan. There, she was issued these small soft-covered government-produced student notebooks, decorated with colorful, dramatic illustrations. (The Donahue family are long-time family friends; Barbara's son Bill showed me her collection of notebooks and allowed me to scan them.) 

March 7 2016 3:11 PM

Interactive Map Lets You Track How 19th- and Early-20th-Century American Newspapers Covered Any Topic

This interactive map, put together by the Georgia Tech Research Institute and the University of Georgia's eHistory initiative, uses the Library of Congress' database of historical newspapers, Chronicling America, to track frequency of keywords in newspapers and visualize the results across time and space.  

Feb. 26 2016 10:16 AM

Timeline Lets You Browse Hundreds of Historical Documents From the Vault Blog

Something that’s always bothered me about the Vault has been the way posts can end up feeling unconnected to a bigger historical picture. Sure, I try as hard as I can to write about the way each document fits into its period of origin, but the Internet is a relentless decontextualizer. If you found this blog through one of its popular posts, like the medicinal plants map of the United States or the CIA’s guide to workplace sabotage, it’s unlikely that you were able to browse documents from the same time period that I’d written about in the past—unless you were killing a lot of time at work that day.

READ MORE STORIES