Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Jan. 7 2015 10:43 AM

The Beautiful Geometry of 18th-Century Forts, Built by Britain in the American Colonies

The Twitter feed @bldgblog recently shared some of these images of plans for eighteenth-century British forts in the Americas, from the online exhibition “The Geometry of War.” The exhibition, curated by Brian Leigh Dunnigan, associate director and curator of maps at the University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library, contains maps from the library’s collection.


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Jan. 6 2015 11:30 PM

So, What Was In That Boston Time Capsule? 

Tonight, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, conservators opened a box that was buried beneath the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House in 1795. Samuel Adams, then governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, installed the box with the help of Paul Revere, then the Grand Master of the Freemasons of Massachusetts. The deposit contained two layers of historical material: one from 1795, and another from 1855, when the little repository was opened and cataloged, then re-assembled and augmented with new material from that time.

Jan. 6 2015 1:05 PM

A List of Diseases and Afflictions Suffered By Young Factory Workers in Chicago, 1895

This list from the 1895 book Hull-House Maps and Papers, put together by workers at Jane Addams’ Hull House, catalogs the results of medical examinations done on a group of Chicago children applying for certificates to continue their factory jobs.  

Jan. 5 2015 12:11 PM

How Photographers Tried to Capture the Terror of Night Zeppelin Raids During WWI

This “record” of a 1915 zeppelin raid on London is a fabrication, put together by an enterprising photographer looking to sell commemorative postcards to a British public understandably preoccupied by the airships’ attacks. Cameras of the time would have had difficulty capturing a zeppelin in the night sky, especially since the ships had to fly at high altitude to escape anti-aircraft fire.

Dec. 31 2014 10:18 AM

A Beautifully Illustrated Costume Catalog From 16th-Century France 

These pages are from a small 23-page book of costumes, Figures et fleures peintes, published in France around 1500. The whole book—which is text-free, featuring only illustrations—is available in digital form through Harvard University.  

Dec. 30 2014 12:58 PM

Five More Digital Archives and Historical Exhibits We Loved in 2014

Here are five more great digital history sites and archives, new to me in 2014. (To see the first five on my list, click here.)

Dec. 29 2014 2:21 PM

Five of 2014’s Most Compelling Digital History Exhibits and Archives 

Like 2013 before it, 2014 brought us a wealth of new digital archives and document-rich historical websites to peruse. Here, in no particular order, are five of the best such sites I saw this year. I’ll recommend five more tomorrow.

Dec. 24 2014 11:35 AM

A Senator’s Open Christmas Letter to the Racially Divided City of Boston, 1974

Published in the Boston Herald-American on Dec. 25, 1974 and in the Boston Globe on Dec. 26, this open Christmas letter from Massachusetts Sen. Edward Brooke asked a city divided over school busing to remember its tolerant heritage, and to reach deep to recover an empathetic spirit of cooperation. The letter came after months of bitter strife over school integration in the city.

Dec. 23 2014 10:57 AM

Hopeful Hand-Embroidered Christmas Cards, Sent Home From the Front During WWI 

A recent post on the photo blog The Passion of Former Days alerted me to the Australian War Memorial’s large digital collection of embroidered Christmas postcards, sent home from Europe during World War I. The items, which feature cheerful and patriotic messages worked out in silk floss, reminded me of the soldier-stitched sweetheart pincushions I featured on this blog last year.

Dec. 22 2014 12:00 PM

Blind Kids’ Experiences at the Early–20th-Century Museum of Natural History, in Photos

In this group of photographs taken between 1914 and 1927, students who were blind or had diminished eyesight partook of special instruction at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. In 1929, the museum’s Department of Public Education reported that teachers of public school classes for such pupils had their pick of 10 museum “talks” in “natural history, geography, history, civics, and health.” Students could touch and hold the props used in the lectures, and examine them closely. Photographs like these advertised the museum’s good works in official publications, like Natural History, which were sent to its donors.