The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Aug. 12 2016 1:43 PM

How One 19th-Century Scientist Recorded the Diversity of Enslaved Africans in Rio

The day after Thanksgiving in 1838, a group of American scientists and sailors docked in the port of Rio de Janeiro. They were the members of the United States Exploring Expedition, and thanks to the detailed notes of one of its members, Horatio Hale, historians can unravel one of Rio’s enduring historical mysteries: the diverse origins of its African slaves.

Aug. 3 2016 1:04 PM

How Left-Handed Penmanship Contests Tried To Help Civil War Vets After Amputation

This eight-page handwritten letter by Private Franklin H. Durrah describes his service as a private in the Union Army during the Civil War, which ended with the loss of his right arm. The letter’s neat cursive—and the story it tells—is part of a collection of entries into left-handed penmanship contests for disabled veterans, recently digitized by the Library of Congress. The William Oland Bourne Papers holds nearly 300 letters, photographs, and various recollections, offering an unprecedented look at the stories of heavily wounded soldiers.

July 29 2016 4:03 PM

New Histories of the Texas Tower Shootings, 50 Years Later

A graduate class at the University of Texas at Austin has put together a new website about the mass shooting at the university, which took place 50 years ago Monday. On Aug. 1, 1966, Charles Whitman, a student and former serviceman, occupied the tower at the center of campus, shooting 14 people and wounding more than 30, before he himself was killed by police.

July 22 2016 12:36 PM

A 19th-Century Board Game Made to Teach Young Germans About Colonialism

This Deutschland's Kolonien-Spiel, or “Game of Germany's Colonies,” toured child players through German territories abroad. Images of the game were recently digitized by the Getty Research Institute, which holds a surviving example.

July 15 2016 12:59 PM

When Not to Get Married: Some Late-19th-Century Advice

This fun book, which offered young lovers advice on wise courtship, was one of a series of dime novels printed and sold cheaply in New York City by the J.S. Ogilvie Publishing Company in the late 19th century. It's recently been digitized by Villanova University's Falvey Memorial Library.

July 6 2016 1:50 PM

At the Start of the Civil War, Few Union Army Surgeons Had Ever Treated a Gunshot Wound

In this three-page, handwritten document, Baltimorean P.J. Horwitz, who served as surgeon general of the Navy for the Union during the Civil War, tries to get his fellow medical officers up to speed on the presentation and treatment of gunshot wounds.

June 29 2016 1:07 PM

Adorable Midcentury Posters Teaching Kids How to Use the Library

Here are eight sweet posters from a 32-poster book, first published in 1965, Using Your Library: 32 Posters for Classroom and Library, by Mary Joan Egan and Cynthia Amrice. The posters guide baby-boomer children through the processes of research, book discovery, and borrowing.

June 16 2016 1:15 PM

A Visa for Che, the Young Traveler

This printed pink travel visa with an attached passport photo of a brooding Ernesto (Che) Guevara was issued on Sept. 9, 1953—after the trip made famous in The Motorcycle Diaries but before he became a Marxist leader. He was a 25-year-old Argentine doctor, restless and radicalized by his experiences on the road in Southern and Central America.

June 8 2016 1:57 PM

Browse Nearly 1,000 Photo Postcards of Late-19th-Century Stage Productions of Shakespeare

A newly redesigned website from Emory University, Shakespeare & the Players, displays a collection of nearly a thousand photo postcards of actors depicting Shakespearean characters on stage, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The site is browseable by actorcharacter, and play

June 3 2016 12:11 PM

How Two Artists Turn Old Encyclopedias Into Beautiful, Melancholy Art

I find few things sadder than a print encyclopedia. Encyclopedias were once so stalwart and useful, sold as a stable repository of knowledge that would carry a family through life for years; the relic sets are now utter dead weight. I see them sometimes at library book sales and spend a minute opening up a random volume, thinking about the night I wrote a fifth-grade paper on the Aztecs that relied overmuch on our old World Book. But despite a wave of nostalgia, I never take the orphans home. Who has the shelf space?