Timeline Lets You Browse Hundreds of Historical Documents From the Vault Blog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.
Wistful Memories of the Confederacy, 50 Years After the Civil War
These two very similar posters, copyrighted in Atlanta and published in Iowa around 1910, commemorate the Confederacy 50 years after its founding. Distributed as a promotional item by the First National Bank of Gainesville, Georgia, the first poster below incorporates portraits of Confederate leaders, a map, images of currency and memorials, and (on its reverse side) the lyrics to Confederate poems and songs.
A Colorful Late-19th-Century Map of Native American Languages
John Wesley Powell, explorer, geologist, and scientist, produced this map while he was the head of the Bureau of American Ethnology, as part of an 1890 Annual Report. According to Powell's description of the project, the map plotted "linguistic stocks of American Indians," as they were situated "at the time when the tribes composing them first became known to the European."
The Hundreds of Life Stories Found in Coroner’s Reports From the 19th-Century South
CSI:Dixie, a beautifully conceived and profoundly mournful new digital history site, holds 1,582 digitized coroner's reports from six counties in 19th-century South Carolina. You can search by keyword or read lists that organize inquest files by the act that killed the person (homicide; suicide; infanticide; accident natural causes), clicking through to individual cases that fit that description. Three "Chronicles" tell deeper stories of individual inquests. Historian Stephen Berry, who created the site, offers extensive commentary and context throughout.
A Treasure Trove of Awkward Early-20th-Century Infographics
This group of infographics comes from the Scientific American Reference Book of 1913, compiled by Albert A. Hopkins and A. Russell Bond, which is available to read on the Internet Archive. They're a delightful snapshot of the concerns of readers of the magazine a hundred years ago, as well as an interesting tour through infographic design strategies au courant at the time.
George Washington, Lifelong Mapmaker
George Washington studied surveying, practiced it on familiar lands owned by his family, and was appointed as official surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia, by the young age of 17. The maps below, which date from different phases of Washington's lifelong involvement with surveying and cartography, are from the collection of the Library of Congress. "Throughout his life as a soldier, planter, businessman, land speculator, farmer, military officer, and president," writes the Library's Edward Redmond, "Washington relied on and benefitted from his knowledge of maps."
A 19th-Century Relief Map That Let Students Explore the Roman Empire by Touch
The tactile map, an innovation of the 19th century, allowed both blind and sighted students to feel their way across a given geography. Writing for the digital archive 19th-Century Disability: Cultures and Contexts, where I first saw this item, Leah Thomas notes that this L.R. Klemm map was made decades after the first tactile maps were printed in Europe and the United States. While the waterproof map could be used to teach students without sight, Klemm believed that relief maps like this one could also fruitfully engage sighted students through the sense of touch.
Exercise Advice for Flappers, in Gorgeous 1920s Prints
In this beautiful little book titled La Culture Physique de la Femme Elegante, published in France in the 1920s, 12 plates offer exercises that a woman could do at home in order to stay fit. The book illustrates the kinds of fitness routines French women might have pursued in a decade when fashion demanded more form-fitting, less supportive dress. It's also gorgeously printed, with each frame allowing a peek into a colorfully decorated domestic scene.
How Documents Buried by Jewish Prisoners at Auschwitz Tell the Story of Genocide
The Scrolls of Auschwitz comprise a variety of documents written by members of the Sonderkommando or Special Squad, a group of predominantly Jewish prisoners who were forced to work in the crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau. (Son of Saul, which has just been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, was inspired by the Scrolls.) These writings were buried in the grounds of the crematoria in 1944. Between 1945 and 1980, eight caches of documents by five known authors were discovered, mostly by chance; few who knew their whereabouts had survived. As our recently published book, Matters of Testimony: Interpreting the Scrolls of Auschwitz, shows, the documents buried at Auschwitz provide important new insights into the Sonderkommando and into Holocaust testimony in general.
A Cheerier Vision of the Depression Years, in Hyperbright Postcards of Recreation Spots
Although we now associate the "look" of the Depression with the stark black-and-white photographs of Dorothea Lange or Walker Evans, for people who lived then, the superbright linen postcard was a staple of the visual landscape. Between 1931 and 1950, many imitators followed Chicago's Curt Teich & Company, the inventor of the printing process that made the linen postcard possible, into the marketplace. American souvenir shops and drugstores filled with racks of the intensely colored cardstock rectangles, often sold for a penny apiece.