The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

April 1 2016 11:07 AM

A ’70s Board Game Designed to Teach Players About Race, Housing, and Privilege

In May 2012, science-fiction writer and blogger John Scalzi published a post titled "Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is." "I've been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word 'privilege,' to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon," Scalzi wrote. His solution: an extended metaphor drawn from role-playing games.

March 28 2016 1:17 PM

100-Year-Old Frost Maps Show How Climate Change Has Shifted the Growing Season in the United States

Published in a 1936 Atlas of American Agriculture, put together by the United States Department of Agriculture, these 1916 maps of the average dates of first killing frosts in fall and last killing frosts in spring were initially intended to help farmers plan their planting schedules. Now, the maps offer a rough gauge showing how much these dates have shifted over a century. 

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.) 

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