The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

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Timeline Lets You Browse Hundreds of Historical Documents From the Vault Blog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

Feb. 24 2016 1:15 PM

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. 

Feb. 22 2016 11:50 AM

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."

Feb. 19 2016 11:50 AM

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. 

Feb. 17 2016 3:08 PM

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. 

Feb. 15 2016 6:00 AM

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."