Goose Commerce

Unacceptable by goosecommerce
July 30, 2009, 9:24 pm
Filed under: Archival Follies | Tags: , , ,

Or, They Got the Letter, but not the Spirit


From the microfilm room of the National Archives, Washington DC branch. It’s a recycling bin, I think.

On a related note: archives are fun, but so are days where you don’t have to empty your pockets and have all your personal effects X-rayed to go get a cup of coffee.

(Also: sorry for the poor image quality, but I didn’t want to use a flash in a dimly-lit microfilm room, and possibly incur the wrath of whatever humorless troll made this sign)


Just a normal phone, no?


Oh but wait there is a helpful danger list! (click to embiggen)


From another (undisclosed) high-risk government office, where they keep moldy papers from 19th-century amateur science clubs. Woot!

Comments Off on Unacceptable

The Engine of American Diplomacy by goosecommerce

Or, Choo-Choo! Goes the Tariff Negotiation


One of the clichés of East-West relations in the early modern era was the attempt to use representations of Western technology – especially maps and model machines – to awe non-Westerners into submission. Perhaps hoping for a repeat of Columbus’s trick with the lunar eclipse, Euro-American statesmen and diplomats apparently thought that the mere suggestion of the advanced state of Western civilization would be enough to persuade proud sovereigns to open ports, lower tariffs, and alienate land for the benefit of the major Atlantic-basin powers.

Needless to say, things rarely went down that way. In developed parts of Asia – and especially in China – these attempts repeatedly failed. The most famous of these faceplants was probably Great Britain’s 1793 embassy to China, led by Lord Macartney. The Chinese emperor declared the fancy clockwork the Brits brought – lugged across the world at great expense, and costing many man-hours to assemble – as “good enough to amuse children.” Bafflingly, the stopped cogs and wheels the Brits brought as gifts failed to make the gates to the Middle Kingdom fly off their hinges.

However, this failure – as in so many other instances of cross-cultural contact – did not impede others from flattering through imitation.
Continue reading

Comments Off on The Engine of American Diplomacy

Kickass Whig Letterhead by goosecommerce
July 26, 2009, 11:50 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Or, Goodness that looks expensive and full of republican virtue

So, in digging through various (endless) letters about the election of 1840, I’ve come across a couple of examples of extreme dedication to the Whig cause: William Henry Harrison letterhead.

Here’s one of a coin apparently minted in Harrison’s honor (click to embiggen):


Here’s one with WHH in profile, with a vignette at his famous log cabin, complete with hard cider (click to embiggen):


How’s that for showing your dedication to the cause, eh? Buying reams of stuff stamped with ‘Ole Tip’s noble schnoz?

Sad thing is, these guys were probably stuck with it well after WHH’s untimely demise. Hopefully they had the tact not to use it …

I don’t know if the Democrats had similar stuff, though I’d expect so (but with, y’know, the Little Magician on it).

Comments Off on Kickass Whig Letterhead

How did knowledge drop in Early America? Part II by goosecommerce
July 26, 2009, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Knowledge Droppings, Our Glorious National Heritage

Because I know you were dying to find this out


Further reading in Cushing’s papers gives us some info at least approaching an answer to this query:

Dear Sir

I take an early opportunity to write to you on the subject of the Historical Society, agreeably to your obliging request. It was incorporated by the Legislature of this State, in the year 1809, when Clinton, Tompkins, Brockholst, Livingston, Bishop Moore, & other eminent men of that day, were among its active members. Its corporate name is, “The New York Historical Society.”

The Congressional Journals & Documents are regularly sent to the Society, but there are other publications to which we may be entitled – such as – the American State Papers, Diplomatic Correspondence, Gale & Seaton’s Debates, the Madison Papers, the Catalogue of the Library of Congress & of the State Department, &c.

I need not add, that should it be in your power to procure for our Library copies of any of these or other works published by Congress, you will confer a great obligation upon the Society.

The Library now contains about 12000 volumes, chiefly books of great value in connexion to the history of our country. Since my accession to the laborious office of Librarian, now nearly two years, more than a thousand volumes have been added, of which a great part have been donations; and it is my ambition to render it the most complete collection of books relating to America to be found in our country. …

~George Folsom to Caleb Cushing, New York, 11 Dec 1840, in Caleb Cushing Papers, Mss Division, Library of Congress

So: the New York Historical Society (or, as it affects itself to be now, the “New-York Historical Society“) was considered a “public” library eligible to recieve Congressional documents, though not by any means all government documents (hence the letter to Cushing).

Interesting. So “public” in the sense of being “public spirited” not, say, “open to the rabble,” like the later Carnegie-funded libraries would be. Now the next question is, how deep did this distribution go? Did libraries without the ambition to become the best collection of Americana also get government reports?

(Also: thanks to those who commented; I haven’t gotten a chance to do any secondary reading, but Alan Taylor’s William Cooper’s Town is on my list)

More to come.

Image cite: marsi, “packing papers,” Flickr, CC License

Comments Off on How did knowledge drop in Early America? Part II

Bloggitty blog blog blog by goosecommerce
July 25, 2009, 8:20 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

Or, My Navel is Quite Interesting, Thank You


As far as solipsistic synopses of premature punditry go, this, by Scott Rosenberg (author of Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It’s Becoming, and Why It Matters) is pretty damn sharp. (h/t)

It starts off with some throat-clearing repetition of conventional wisdom about technological history (of fairly recent vintage, incidentally), which initially made me a bit doubtful (which isn’t to say I disagree, precisely; it’s just history and its interpretation are a bit…elastic), but then quickly starts flinging the analytic insights fast and furious.

For example:

A blog lets you define yourself, whereas on a social network you are more likely to be defined by others. Sure, blog readers can write comments — but the blogger can delete the comments, or disemvowel them, or turn them off entirely. Sure, a blog is dependent on the links you point outward and those that others point in; but it has its own independent existence in a way that no amount of messaging and chat and interaction on a social networking site can match.


A blog lets you raise your voice without asking anyone’s permission, and no one is in a position to tell you to shut up. It is, as the journalism scholar Jay Rosen puts it, “a little First Amendment machine,” an engine of free speech operating powerfully at a fulcrum-point between individual autonomy and the pressures of the group.


Blogging uniquely straddles the acts of writing and reading; it can be private and public, solitary and gregarious, in ratios that each practitioner sets for himself. … Nothing else so richly combines the invitation to speak your mind with the opportunity to mix it up with other minds.

Now, if I were a history blogger truly worthy of being listed on the Cliopatria blogroll, I’d follow this with some kind of comparison to how people thought about the invention of the rotary printing press or the clipper ship or political parties some such thing…but I have quasi-valid philosophical objections (see above, re: history of technological progress) and besides, it’s late and I am tired, so no go. Have an orange instead, they’re cheap.

Image cite:Robert S. Donovan, “navel oranges 99¢ LB,” Flickr, CC License

Comments Off on Bloggitty blog blog blog

How did knowledge drop in Early America? by goosecommerce
July 25, 2009, 9:00 am
Filed under: Knowledge Droppings, Our Glorious National Heritage

Or, if a congressional report falls in the forest, can anyone find it?


I ran across this letter today while poking through the correspondence of Caleb Cushing, a Massachusetts Congressman and semi-influential figure in Whig politics. On the surface, it’s a perfectly normal letter, but the more I started thinking about it, the weirder it seemed.

But first, here’s the text:

Dear Sir,

I had the honor to receive the documents relative to the northeastern boundaries, & I feel truly obliged to you for your very kind & polite attention in putting yourself to the trouble of procuring & forwarding it. Our public libraries which are entitled to a copy of the Congress documents, do not generally receive them till very late, & they are often permitted to lie for a long time boxed up at the State house, because the officers of the library do not call for them – With renewed thanks for your repeated courtesies,
I have the honor to be,
very respectfully, &c
J. G. Bradford

~J. G. Bradford to Caleb Cushing, Boston, 20 July 1839, Container 20, Caleb Cushing Papers, Mss Division, Library of Congress

Cushing has a ton of letters just like this — either requests for public documents or thanks for the same. The correspondence files of most other politicians, in fact, from the backbenchers to important national figures, is just the same; at times, such request for reports almost outnumber requests for patronage gigs.

So what struck me was not that Cushing was doing such distribution, but that Bradford expected that public libraries would obviate the need for a personal request. On the face of it, that sounds perfectly commonsensical; of course Congress would distribute documents that way! But then you think…to what public libraries? They didn’t exist yet (or at least I didn’t thinks so). And then as the sheer number of requests — even from areas wading in seas of cheap print, like urban New England – attests, the reality seems to be that these documents were fairly difficult to lay hands on. Or maybe I’m only getting exposure to the lazy / motivated people.

Before seeing this letter, I had assumed that either government officials (Congressmen, et al.) distributed their alloted copies themselves, especially to their favored newspapers (which commonly summarized important reports and speeches); or people read summaries of reports in other print media. But this bit about public libraries really makes me wonder…

So my question is: what was the legislation on this? How were these documents supposed to be distributed? How were the actually distributed? And what does the daylight between these two poles mean?

I’m going to do a bit of digging on this, but suggestions (or even better, facts) welcome.

Image cite: nacaseven, “Holiday!” Flickr, CC License

The Romance of the Tapirs by goosecommerce

Also, A Blog Jubilee


To celebrate the fiftieth post on this here blog* I thought I might share a sweet little story I found today. Who’s day isn’t improved when theorists of organic American nationalism, tapirs, and romance are in the mix?

Here’s the context: Francis Lieber, famed German-American jurist and political economist is writing to his BFF** Samuel B. Ruggles to tell him that he’s safely returned home from his visit to NYC. After spending most of his letter begging Ruggles to help find him a job at Columbia College because (ironically) he hates life in Columbia, South Carolina, he lightens the tone by recounting a “ludicrous scene” he saw on the train ride home.

To wit:

… My journey was plain, hum-drum, as most [railroad] journeys are. One ludicrous scene I witnessed. You may remember that the platforms in the depot at Baltimore run a long way on both sides of the rail, and are on a level with the cars, when they come in. I was in the first and stepped out; an elderly gentleman was standing near me, waiting for some one. When the next car came in, I saw a woman looking anxiously out of one of the windows; the gentleman reached toward her, and, she protruding her lips, he tried by an equally elongated mouth to catch the proffered kiss, but the cars moved on, so did the woman and consequently her lips, which she stretched longer and longer; the elderly man ran astride on the platform and as the horses moved faster than he, his mouth in turn stretched farther and farther, as one might imagine an India rubber tube would do, if it could be attracted by some magnet.

My fancy could not help imagining some enamored tapirs, stretching their trunks farther and farther toward one another, to catch the token of love, yet without success. On this whole scene moved, car, woman, man, trunks and all until they passed me and I thought I felt the old man’s funnel, formed of his mouth, brush my occiput, while the woman’s swept my nose in front. The scene was abundantly ludicrous and yet deeply touching to me, who was hastening to his wife and children. And altogether, is not that which is touching of itself, the more so for being manifested in some thing ludicrous? Is not this the secret of many of the most moving, nay harrowing scenes of Dickens’s, e.g. all those dreadful scences at Squeer’s school?? The contrast heightens the effect, as also the part that the people not caring for the ludicrous exposure show only the depth and earnestness of their feelings. …

~Francis Lieber to Samuel B. Ruggles, October 10, 1842, Francis Lieber Papers, 1830-1872, Library of Congress

Lieber, in addition for his gift for political philosophy, had, at times, a certain way with imagery. (Remind me to show you his ode to the idea of a Panamanian Canal sometime).

And before you ask: yes, the first rail cars were indeed powered by horseflesh, not steam engines. The cars even looked like stagecoaches (sorry I don’t have a pic, but use your imagination).

I’m not sure if in this case horses were just used to maneuver individual train cars around the station, or if they were actually pulling train the whole way. I suspect the latter, as Baltimore was early in railroad development. In any case, a good reminder that one of the key innovations of railroads was the lower coefficient of friction (μ) on land –- not just the application of steam power.

* 153 days old, more or less, today. Who knew? Don’t worry, I won’t mark every anniversary like a hyperactive moonstruck tween couple.

** No but really; their correspondence is quite touching.

Image cite: guppiecat, “Malayan Tapir (Tapirus indicus),” Flickr, CC License

Comments Off on The Romance of the Tapirs