February 25, 2010

Stealing History: How to Preserve Old Documents

This post is a little late but I wanted to mention it. The Wisconsin Historical Society is trying to retrieve artifacts that were stolen by an ex-curator. They had a segment on Antiques Roadshow in an attempt to retrieve some of the 300 stolen Native American artifacts. They have only recovered about 33 of the stolen artifacts. There has been an increase of thefts of museum artifacts in recent years. I believe a lot of it has to do with the ease of auctioning off artifacts on Ebay. You can watch the 2 minute segment here.

History should be on display for everyone. There's nothing worse for researchers than when you are fact-checking and the article in question comes up "lost." It brings up a lot of questions and makes the source a lot less credible. Did the source ever really exist? Was the interpretation of the article correct? In the digital age, you would think that it would be easy to digitize museum collections, but most museums have tons and tons of artifacts. The Library of Congress receives 22,000 items every working day, but only keeps 10,000; which is still an awesome amount. The National Archives have over 7 million maps alone. A list of stolen documents from the National Archives can be found here. That list only includes well known items. Imagine all of the items that were not so popular?

Most artifacts recovered are found by researchers who have studied the artifacts in question. A really great story about two brothers who recovered stolen Civil War documents off of Ebay can be read here. It is great owning a piece of history, but it would be even better if they were preserved and available to everyone. I always urge everyone who has historical objects or documents to make them available online. This helps everyone get a more complete understanding of history as well as preserves your items for future generations. Most people do not have the money or knowledge to preserve artifacts and many items are damaged or ruined by accidents around the house. Wouldn't you know that a shelf just collapsed off of my bookshelf as I wrote this post?( There was nothing antique on it. :D)       

How to Preserve Old Documents

To Reproduce Your Document:

Wash your Hands: The oil on your hands will do a lot of damage to your documents. So make sure you clean them every time you touch your document. 
Never Display an Original Document: I know I said to let everyone admire your documents but light discolors documents, ultimately ruining them. Framing documents can  rub off ink or pencil by static electricity in the glass of the frame. Always make a copy and display the copy. Most people will not be able to tell that it is a copy anyway.(Fun Fact: Many museums display replicas to protect the originals. Some museums even have multiples of a particular object which they rotate so no one multiple fades too much from the light.)
Decide on the best way to make a copy: Photocopies are good and you have the added advantage of being able to resize the document or use contrast options to make the document more legible. Some documents are too fragile to photocopy, it is easiest to photograph these. Most digital cameras these days create very high quality images. You will most likely be able to read the document clearly. 

Reproductions are good because you can display them or give family and friends a copy. It will also prevent everyday damage (such as the bookshelf incident.) Always make reproduction.

To Preserve Your Document:

Wash Your Hands: Make sure you wash your hands and that they are completely dry before touching your document.
Clean the Document Up: Carefully dust off dirt and dust. If there are staples or paperclips, remove them.  Try not to dust off your document by blowing, you could get saliva on it. Try using a clean cotton cloth, use it very gently. Unfold the document if it is folded, even if it was given to your folded, such as a letter. The fold weakens the paper and your document will rip along the fold line. The dog-eared pages in books are the first part to fall off.
Sandwich your document: Use two pieces of acid-free paper. The paper can be bought at office supply stores and normally is not much more than $4.00 for a pack of 500 sheets. Lay one sheet on your work surface. Then place the document flat on it. Make sure no part is folded. Place another piece of paper on top.
Place in a Folder and Envelope: It seems like overkill but the folder will keep the document flat and the envelope (those plain yellow mailing ones will do,) helps keep bugs out. If your folder is too flimsy, also put the "document sandwich" on a piece of cardboard before putting it into the folder. It helps to tape off the open end of the envelope.
Find a place to store it: Wherever you decide to store it, make sure the envelope lays flat. The best places are cool, dry and dark. Finding a box your document can lay in will offer more protection. Good places to store your document are, drawers (preferably locked,) closet shelves, and the tops of bookshelves, assuming you put them in a box and keep dust off of them.

The documents I was using in the photos above are clippings from 1880. They look so good for being 130 years old! They are very beautiful etchings with calenders on the back. I found them inside of one of my antique books being used as bookmarks.

The book at the top is a Bible from my shelf. I think it is in Czech or Slovene but I really can't be sure. It is neat because there is a list of names handwritten in the back. Books take more effort to preserve. Perhaps I'll make a post on that later.

February 21, 2010

When It Rains, It Pours: Post Emancipation Proclamation Speech

The snow has severely affected the school schedule and now I have two tests and a big speech all on the same day! I have the worst stage fright. Please wish me luck. My speech is on  post Emancipation Proclamation America. Now, I know it interests me but I'm sure the whole class will be sitting there with their eyes glazed over. I will be covering the post-war economy and society, how the country adapted to the new status of the emancipated slaves and what the emancipated slaves themselves had to endure. I've included the photographs I will be using as visual aids during my speech.  I hope to help the class really see the horrid situations and how they affected living, breathing people, not storybook people who lived hundreds of years ago. I think photographs and anecdotes really help with this.
  There was a lot of concern about arming African Americans during the war. Racism existed in both the North and the South. Many thought that African Americans would be inept at fighting but most proved to be very good soldiers (Library of Congress.)

This etching was drawn by Thomas Nast for Harper's Weekly Newspaper in 1865. There was a big debate after the war about whether or not African Americans would be able to vote. Many states enabled Black Codes which prevented African Americans from voting, even the soldiers who fought for the North.


Due to the large amount of newly freed slaves and Irish immigrants  flooding into the U.S., many African Americans had to settle for bleak jobs that no one wanted. This photograph shows men disinterring bodies at Cold Harbor for reburial in cemeteries. There were so many poor Irish Americans and African Americans without jobs that Oxford history professor, Edward A. Freeman stated that "the best remedy for whatever is amiss in America would be if every Irishman should kill a negro and be hanged for it.” Photo courteous of the Library of Congress.

This advertisement is important because it shows the mixed reviews about the Freedman's Bureau. It also shows how racism existed in the North as well as in the south. This advertisement is from the state of Pennsylvania. The Freedman's Bureau was supposed to help African Americans ease into free life and help them with government assisted funds and job opportunities. Many African Americans did not benefit from the bureau.
Cruel, racist images such as this one were common from the 1870s all the way up to the 1960s! The alligator with an African American baby was a common theme based on rumors that white men in Louisiana and Florida were kidnapping African American babies and using them as alligator bait. More images with this theme can be seen here. It is a grisly thought and I can find no proof of this actually occurring. It's sickening nonetheless that people would make candies using something so vile as a theme. The photo above was taken at the traveling museum "Lest We Forget."   

I hope I can remember all of this for my speech and hopefully teach my class something new. It's a very heavy topic for 9 am.  

February 16, 2010

Guitar on a Snowy Day: Molly Malone, The Whatchamacallit Sheet Music / Blank Guitar Chord Sheets

Being cooped up in the house due to the snow has made me graciously take to music. I was given a very beautiful parlor guitar for Christmas and new silver strings for it for Valentine's Day and have been playing it nonstop. I have been particularly keen on learning a simple traditional Irish song from 1884 called "Molly Malone." There are many different renditions of this song available but one particular rendition of it on youtube.com by "Joe and Larry." I can hardly imagine how that man is still standing. It reminds me of the lyrics of a song by The Prodigals: "You dance like you're drunk but you sing like you're sober."  It is nevertheless one of the best renditions of the song I have yet heard.

Chords to the song: Molly Malone. (I like this site because it shows the fingering charts for unfamiliar chords and it can also change the key for you.)
Tin Whistle/Fife/ Irish Flute Music for Molly Malone.
There is a statue in Dublin commemorating the Molly Malone of the song but no one can be sure if Molly Malone was a real person. The statue is controversial because she is wearing 17th century clothing which is considered a bit risque today.


I made up some blank guitar chord sheets. The ones that I had were a little smaller and I can't see them so well when I am trying to play. This one has fit my needs, it is like large print books. :D

A while ago, I tried my hand at writing a traditional style Irish song. It has multiple names to mimic the Irish practice of learning songs by ear. Traditionally, as a song passed from player to player, the songs would acquire new names, adaptations and changes but would remain the same songs. My guitar "teacher" wrote the guitar chords and I think it turned out really well. I don't know how to make chords do anything but he can put them together like magic! (You know--years of talent and hard work. :D) 

*Note: I am sorry to learn that Larry, from Joe and Larry has recently passed away on February 13, 2010. Many of his videos can be found here. A traditional Irish blessing in his honor:

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

February 12, 2010

So much snow!

It has snowed so much! School keeps getting canceled, not that I miss school, but I do miss getting out of the house for something other than work :(  Although, I do not want to repeat the walking through paths filled with muddy sludge, trying to make it to my classes, I kind of wish we had classes. I also am worried about the assignments and classwork that are piling up. 
I am looking for things to keep me busy. There is only so much shoveling one can do! I was looking through Harper's Weekly Newspaper from February 16th 1861 and found a few cute etchings. I can barely ice skate normally, I can only imagine trying to skate with hoops and a dress on. I always joke that sometime I will go to the local ice skating rink, all dressed up Civil War style (We've been bowling in period dress, other bowlers are surprisingly polite to you.)  I wonder if they would allow us to skate? I'm guessing falling would be a big affair as you could end up exposing some things you'd rather not.  

Ice Skating was a popular winter pastime in the 1800s for all economic classes in the United States. Frozen ponds and lakes were commandeered by anxious skaters and many guides teaching skating were available. The rinks, being natural, were not as smooth as the ice we know today. They had to skate on all of the natural frozen bumps and the grooves of the other skaters. Some ladies brought chairs with them to be pushed about on the ice by a sweetheart or brother. A good engraving of this can be seen in The American Boy's Book (1864) as well as period instructions and diagrams for learning how to ice skate.
There is also a virtual ice skate museum which has photographs of various historical ice skates. I am partial to the Holland 1850s ice skates on the main page there. They are so dainty!

I don't know of any lakes or ponds that allow ice skating. But I think I've had enough frozen outdoor activity. :D
This is a picture of my sister, after we had successfully located the mailbox.  That was after we found the road...which took a while. See the road below? :D
This is a Harper's Weekly engraving entitled "Skating Carnival in Brooklyn" February 10, 1862. Many people watched skaters on ice, even if they didn't participate themselves. They look like they are having fun--especially the men in ladies' clothing.

 This drawing is a diagram from the American Boy's Book. I like how guys weren't afraid to be touching. Today, guys are afraid to even sit in the seat next to their friends at the movies (creating the hilarious group of guys each with an empty seat in between them.)

February 9, 2010

The Language of Flowers

Civil War Reenacting Language of Flowers
St. Valentines Day is creeping up on us which means flowers, flowers and more flowers.  During the 1800s, a time of symbolism and poetry, there were set symbolic meanings behind gifts of flowers. While certain meanings varried from place to place, many manuals existed to help people choose their flowers carefully so as to not give false intentions. So, to prevent all of the gentleman from saying "You are a sickly, ill-natured beauty with a changeable disposition" to their sweethearts, here is a short little guide for the common flowers of today.( A helpful hint: deep-red roses symbolize "Bashful Shame.") 

Common-modern-day flower meanings and etching excerpted from: The Illustrated Language of Flowers by Anna Christian Burke (1856):

Daffodils: Regard  
Roses: Love
Deep-Red Roses: Bashful Shame
Burgundy Roses: Beauty, Unconscious 
White Roses: "I am worthy of you."
Yellow Roses: Decrease of Love/ Jealousy
One Single Rose: Simplicity
Thornless Roses: Early Attachment
Red and White Roses, together: Unity
White Lilies: Youthful Innocence 
Imperial Lilies/ Oriental Lilies: Majesty 
Red Tulips: Declaration of Love
Yellow Tulips: Hopeless Love
Variegated Tulips (Tulips with more than one color on each petal): Beautiful Eyes
Fern (commonly "leatherleaf" today): Fascination

May everyone enjoy the holiday. I hope the flowers bring joy and color to this bleak snowy February. I do not personally like the commercial nature that has evolved, although I do admit the world needs more love. I strongly urge :D everyone to make their own Valentine's Day cards. Handmade cards are the best and they can mean so much more than a card picked out from the store. In past times valentines were given anonymously. It would be very fun and romantic to bring back that tradition! 

Some thoughts on Valentine's Day from 1864 can be read in The Book of Days. It is interesting to read about.   

February 6, 2010

Winter Storm: Civil War Snowball Fights

A winter storm started last night as small fluffy flakes floating down and disapearing on the pavement. This morning it has colected into a superb winter storm. The trees have a layer of snow accenting their branches and the world is silent. Snow has a way of silencing the air and cold snow makes people consider the act of hibernation. Many of us wrap up in blankets and sit by the fire or watch the snow fall as if we were living in our own little snow globe. 

During the Civil War, snowball fights were a pastime of many children and also many soldiers. Snowball fights sometimes just occurred between members of the same company but occasionally one or more companies would fight each other. Soldier letters and memoirs tell us that snowball fights were sometimes just as dangerous as real battle, many men suffered from broken teeth and bones from snowballs filled with ice or stones. One "snow battle" took place in 1864 near Dalton, Georgia. During this snow battle, two whole divisions participated, took prisoners and were commanded by real commanders to the calls of buglers. Can you picture your boss leading your coworkers into "battle?" After the battle one general even gave his men a ration of whiskey, a rare item in the south usually reserved for hospitals. It is no wonder, one Arkansas soldier described the snow fighting: “Such pounding and thumping, and rolling over in the snow, and washing of faces and cramming snow in mouths and in ears and mixing up in great wriggling piles together.” 
 This picture illustrates The Great Snowball Fight of Rappahannock Academy on February 25, 1863 which 10,000 Confederate troops are reported as participating in. More on this snowball fight can be read here.

These soldier snowball fights sound crazy! A hint as to how dangerous they could be can be gleaned from these students from Princeton who participated in the Freshman-Sophomore Snowball Fight around 1892. The three boys, Darwin R. James, John P. Poe, and Arthur L. Wheeler were from the class of 1895. I love this picture! Are these anyone's great-grandparents?

(*Note:Photo courtesy of Princeton University Archives)

Today I am enjoying the snow and plan to make hot chocolate for when we are finally able to shovel our driveway. My bunny, Boo is in hibernation mode; all she wants to do is cuddle. here she is, sleeping in my mother's arms. She falls right asleep and loves to be wrapped up in a blanket. I hope everyone enjoys the snow and is careful during snowball fights! 

February 1, 2010

Making Onigiri : Japanese Rice Balls

A few nights ago my little sister and I made Onigiri (o-NI-gi-ri.) I bought her a Japanese cookbook for her birthday that specialized in "Bento Box" food. Bento Boxes are pretty much Japanese style lunch boxes. Many come with chopsticks in the lid. Packing a Bento Box is an art, traditionally you are supposed to use five different colored foods when you pack them (an old-fashioned way to make sure you were getting all of your nutrients. All food was meant to be eaten at room temperature.

Making animals and fun shapes and pictures with the food in the boxes are an old tradition and many Japanese mothers compete with each other to make the prettiest food displays for their children's lunches.  The boxed lunches are making their way into other countries as a way to make healthy food more fun for children.  Processed foods are rarely included in bento boxes.

Here is a gallery of Bento Boxes: Air and Angels
And here are galleries of fun food displays (Really, check some of these out!):
Bento Box Art
Henny (Scroll down a bit)

Onigiri are rice balls which are typically wrapped with nori (toasted seaweed) and lightly salted. Some onigiri have fillings or are sprinkled with spices. We were going to eat them all by ourselves, so we only used 1 cup of rice.

We first filled a small saucepan with one cup of rice and one cup of water. We poured out the water and added a new cup 3 or 4 times until the water became clear. We then heated the rice on medium heat until it boiled up, then turned the burner on low and let the rice simmer until all of the water evaporated (about 20 minutes.)[ I thought I'd just point out, before I got comments about it: We aren't druggies, our mother has diabetes.]   

After the water had evaporated completely, we flipped the saucepan upside down (we did this over the sink, not trusting ourselves,) and held it that way about 3 minutes.

We placed a peice of plastic wrap over a glass measuring cup.

We then scooped the rice into the plastic wrap. We picked formed the plastic wrap into a satchel shape and molded the rice through it into triangle shapes. Test it to make sure it isn't too hot to handle-ours cooled quickly.

We cut nori (toasted seaweed) into one inch strips with scissors. Nori is available at most supermarkets. We wrapped on strip of nori around the bases of each rice ball. 

Finished rice balls. These were yummy. My sister liked them but thought we put too much seaweed on them.

There are much more detailed instructions on making onigiri at Just Hungry.

*Please forgive the photo of me, that's what you get when your sister wakes you up after you have gone to bed sick and says "I'm making rice balls!" and when you say "Good, have fun!" and roll over, she starts with the puppydog face and "I thought you were going to help me... I can't do it by myself..." I am feeling much better today.

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