The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Sept. 16 2016 1:56 PM

Stark, Spare, Beautiful Midcentury British Safety Posters

This solemn group of posters teaching safety to British citizens comes from the archive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. The images are from the Wellcome Library's website; I first saw them on the blog the Passion of Former Days.

Sept. 7 2016 1:31 PM

Salvaged Photos Capture the Rugged Life of Pennsylvania’s Late-19th-Century Lumber Camps

This series of gorgeous, detail-packed photographs, by itinerant photographer William T. Clarke, records the faces and landscapes of the lumber industry in north-central Pennsylvania during the late 19th century. In the span of a few brief decades, lumber companies rapidly processed large areas of old-growth forest, employing men—and some families—who lived in the backwoods in thriving, temporary camps and towns. A book out this month, Wood Hicks and Bark Peelers: A Visual History of Pennsylvania's Railroad Lumbering Communities, collects 131 of Clarke's images.

Sept. 2 2016 2:17 PM

The First British Newspaper in India Was a Hilarious, Irreverent Quasi-Tabloid

Started in 1780 by Irishman James Augustus Hicky, Hicky’s Bengal Gazette was the Indian subcontinent’s first newspaper. The Gazette was a weekly publication, typically running at a length of four pages, with three columns of text.

Aug. 26 2016 1:16 PM

A Nazi’s Documentary Photographs of the Forced Removal of Polish Jews, 1940

Historian Julia Werner discovered this set of photos in the Jewish Museum in Rendsburg, Germany, and they constitute one of the only visual records we have of the construction of an open-air ghetto. Taken on June 16, 1940, by German soldier Wilhelm Hansen, the 83 images (a selection of which can be seen below) track the forced movement of the Jewish population of Kutno, Poland, from their homes to the grounds of an abandoned sugar factory, where they were ordered to set up camp.

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.

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