My Day of DH 2016: or, Why I’m Not at OAH, not to mention why this post isn’t on the Day of DH blog

It’s not about OAH, it’s about the fun of scheduling an international workshop/conference. And I’ll go to OAH tomorrow. So please don’t hate me.

For the past couple of days, my colleagues and I have been deeply absorbed in discussing transcription and markup of what I’ve elsewhere referred to as historical financial records. I have been doing what I can to tweet out at least minimal information about the presenters and their titles. We have been using the hashtag #MEDEAWC.

This week’s conference follows up on one that our group held in Regensburg in October (#MEDEARGB).  And I’m enormously pleased to have been able to expand our group of participants this time to include additional historians from Europe, North America, and Asia.

The purpose of this post is only to recognize in this space the facts that we are doing DH on Day of DH and doing Digital History (perhaps as an unofficial concurrent session?) during OAH. And to note that MEDEA (Modeling semantically Enhanced Digital Edition of Accounts) is part of the larger scholarly communities concerned with accounts, history, and digital methods.


 

This project is supported jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation) is the central, selfgoverning research funding organization that promotes research at universities and other publicly financed research institutions in Germany. The DFG serves all branches of science and the humanities by funding research projects and facilitating cooperation among researchers.

The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent grant-making agency of the United States government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this presentation do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.

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Getting Started with Digital History in the Classroom

Here is the information from my introductory level workshops at this year’s Getting Started in Digital History workshop at the AHA Annual Meeting. Since WordPress and PowerPoint don’t play well together, I have distilled the pretty slides with the ink blots into an annotated list of resources.

An Important Book

T. Mills Kelly, Teaching History in the Digital Age (University of Michigan Press, 2013).

Kelly considers how digital tools can helps us teach students how to think historically and takes the reader through progressively more sophisticated questions from website analysis through “Making Sense of a Million Sources” to presenting and making.

And Catherine Denial at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, has a great handout on website analysis.

Presenting and Making: Is There a Difference?

Lying about the Past, T. Mills Kelly, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia

Hannah Atlas: Becoming African and American, Julian Chambliss, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida

Critical Making or Open Design

Matt Ratto, University of Toronto

Tools and How Some People Have Used Them

WordPress (plus…)

Michelle Moravec, Rosemont College, Rosemont, Pennsylvania

Omeka

Jeffrey W. McClurken, University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Virginia

W. Caleb McDaniel, Rice University, Houston, Texas

History Harvest, Open Access, Oral History

Jack Dougherty, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut

Neatline

An Omeka Plugin from Scholars Lab at the University of Virginia

Projects

Wheaton College Digital History Project

Kathryn Tomasek, Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts

TEI, History Engine, TAPASproject.org

Texas Slavery Project

Andrew J. Torget, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas

Visualizing Emancipation

Digital Scholarship Lab, University of Richmond, Richmond, Virginia

Pick Your Poison

Questions, Partners, Explorations

Collaborate with Librarians

Contingent Faculty Members, Host a Domain or Use Omeka.net/WordPress.com

Use this Process Checklist that Rebecca Frost Davis and I put together in 2011.

Embrace Imperfection

Fail Better

Have Fun!

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XML/HTML5 and Perpetual Learning in Public

This will be a short post with origins in humility and a sense of the value of an attitude of openness to realizing and acknowledging that there is always more to learn.

I have to admit that I had a momentary meltdown when I read the text of Melissa Terras’s inaugural lecture, “A Decade in Digital Humanities,” last week.  The provocation about text encoding and over-attachment to XML hit a nerve, especially since I’m counting down days to my departure for the first of several summer efforts to feed my brain.  On Sunday, I head to Nashville, where I will spend two weeks in an NEH-sponsored Institute on Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities focused on XML and XQUERY.

Having chosen to attend the institute is one of the kinds of activities in which I continue to engage as I consider the ways that the technologies of the present change our practice of the discipline(s) in which we study the past.  So this morning I was more pleased than I can say to come across an announcement for another learning opportunity of which I plan to take advantage this summer.

This year, the Balisage Markup Conference includes a pre-conference symposium focused on “mending fences” between XML and HTML5.  I’m particularly interested in the presentation of Alex Milowski of the University of Edinburgh; I quote the abstract here:

In the beginning, many presumed we would move to a world where XML documents and the applications that processed them would proliferate across the Web. The Web looked like a bright place for markup; technologies like XSLT made their way into the browser and linking standards were on their way. Yet, it didn’t happen. As browsers strengthened their ability to process information, render HTML documents, display media assets, and deliver applications, the role of XML was either pushed to the other side or used as a way to deliver data to applications within the browser via AJAX. The potential mismatches between the wants of the Web developer and the generic, impoverished nature of the DOM led to the development of JSON. In places where they might once have used XML, web developers have moved in droves to using JSON and HTML. XML has been removed from its role to convey data to applications, shunted to the server, and labeled legacy by many. With an uphill, generational challenge to bring it back within favor, the fundamental question is: Do we really want XML on the Web?

I’ve never gone to Balisage because the idea of “extreme markup” intimidates me more than a little.  Okay, maybe not as much as it used to now that I have sat in rooms where people have been teaching the uses of the R statistical programming language or what’s “under the hood” in Omeka.  But I think I can manage one little day of listening to people talking about the relationship between XML, the beloved tool of the text encoding community, and HTML.

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Teaching History with XML/TEI: A Contribution to Liberal Education

During the discussion period of a NITLE webinar I participated in last week, a member of the audience asked me why we choose to use eXtensible Markup Language (XML) compatible with the Guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) in the Wheaton College Digital History Project.*  And I think a response to that question merits a post here since I use this blog as a space to offer information about digital humanities methods and their use in digital history.  I focus here on the practice as part of my work as an educator.  In a future post, I will speak to the question of using XML/TEI in historical scholarship.

Fundamentally, using XML/TEI in a teaching project like ours gives students a chance to learn something about the digital tools we use every day.  I think this kind of opportunity is an important component of liberal education as defined by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) :

a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a strong sense of value, ethics, and civic engagement.

Because I am a historian, I understand the broad knowledge and transferable skills referred to in this definition as contextual, as dependent on time and place.  So in my view, the technological developments of the past twenty or so years have created for those of us who live and work in the United States a culture so mediated by digital devices of various types that a basic understanding of those devices has become an essential part of a liberal education.

That is, I think it is part of my responsibility as an educator to help students understand the laptops and tablets and smart phones of our daily lives as comprehensible machines because we use them both to consume and produce the stuff of our culture.  Because I think that a minimal understanding of how those devices work empowers students to put their values and ethics to use in the form of civic engagement and other elements of a fulfilling human life.

Now, this does not mean that I think I need to teach my students to become programmers or even that I think I need to be a programmer.  My colleagues in computer science teach students programming and machine structures and computational thinking.  And those colleagues are better able than I to speak to larger questions of the strengths and weaknesses of XML from those perspectives.

I am a historian, and my main goal in using XML/TEI in my teaching is to give students an opportunity to spend time with primary sources in a particular kind of way that is facilitated by using these tools.  But before I explain this point, I want to say just a bit more about the value of knowing at least a little bit about XML as an educated citizen of our world.  And that requires defining XML without getting too technical.  So here goes.

XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language.  You can look it up on Wikipedia , which also has a more general entry on markup language.  But those entries go into a lot of historical and somewhat technical detail.**  Boiled down to essentials, there are only a few things that make knowing a little bit about XML a useful thing at our moment in time and place:

  • A lot of the applications that we use every day store our data using XML.  If you use Microsoft Office (Word, or Excel, or PowerPoint) or analogous applications from OpenOffice.org or Apple iWork, when you save your work, the application preserves your work in XML.
  • XML is commonly used not only for storing data but also for its exchange over the Internet.

So XML is all around us.  We use it all the time.  And so do professionals who specialize in storing and accessing information.

  • XML is a very stable format for storing data and metadata (that is, information about information).
  • XML is so stable that it is a preferred archival format among libraries and other cultural heritage organizations all over the world.  This means that even if the applications you use now disappear, new software can be written to display your information on whatever new generations of devices exist at the time.
  • XML is built to be used internationally, with the facility to include characters in any alphabet.  So you can store data that uses Chinese logograms or Cyrillic characters; you need not confine your language to English or French or some other European language.

So, XML is one of the important building blocks of the way we store and exchange information every day.  We don’t usually think about it, but it underlies a lot of what we do, and thus we can say that knowing a bit about it could be part of the broad knowledge and transferable skills that make up a liberal education.

Why use XML to teach students how to do history?

A lot of teaching students how to do history involves giving them many opportunities to spend time examining primary sources, which are the evidence out of which we create historical knowledge.  As historians, we explore information that people created in the past and make arguments about what those people did and why or how their actions were significant.  We ask questions prompted by the documents, and we look for information in other documents based on those questions.  But how do we know what questions to ask?  How do we learn enough about a particular document to have a good idea of what other documents to examine next?

One way we do these tasks is through close reading, by which I mean getting to know a document, its author, its audience, its context.  And historians have been transcribing documents as a practice related to close reading for a long time.  In fact, transcribing sources is a basic research skill that students learn early in their educations; it is not a skill restricted to the practice of history.  When we do research, we take notes.  We might say that good transcription and note-taking are some of the transferable skills of a liberal education.

Teaching students to use XML as they transcribe primary sources promotes close reading.  That is, asking students to transcribe primary sources and embed information about the sources in the files that hold transcriptions gives students opportunities to get to know the sources deeply in ways that help students learn how to interpret the sources, ask questions about them, find related sources, and build arguments grounded in historical evidence.

The story I like to tell to illustrate this process comes from a time I was teaching a course on historical methods a few years ago.  I asked the students to transcribe and mark up some pages from an account book that was kept in a store in a nineteenth-century New England town with a mixed agricultural and industrial economy.  The students happened to be transcribing pages that included the purchase and sale of a lot of potatoes, and they wanted to know more.  So we talked about agriculture and the seasonal cycles of planting and harvest.  We talked about how potatoes grow and buying seed potatoes.  And we considered potato blight, the Irish famine, and the dates of the transactions the students were transcribing.  All of this discussion was fine enough, but none of it led to any particularly satisfying interpretations of the information the students had found.

So we all did some more research, this time in secondary sources.  And we finally found an article in a journal focused on Vermont history that helped us make sense of all those potatoes.***  Because in that article, we read about the need for starch in the process of textile production in New England factories.  And we also learned that around the same time we had discovered all those potatoes being bought and sold, the people who ran textile factories used starch that was made from potatoes.

Now, I do not by any means wish to claim that this anecdote is a story of professional scholarship.  If I were using the primary source my students were transcribing as part of a scholarly research project, I might or might not focus on the potato question as a significant one for the larger project.  And even if I did for some reason need to know more about those potatoes, I would probably go about the next steps in my research differently from the way that my students and I had time to do in one assignment in a semester-long course.

But I do feel comfortable claiming that this exercise in figuring out a possible story behind all those potatoes was an effective lesson for the students in the process of doing historical research.  The students had a genuine intellectual experience that arose from close reading of a primary source.  They learned that spending time with a source can lead to interesting questions and that following where those questions lead can turn up unexpected information about the past.

For me as an educator, the value of the great potato quest lay in the opportunity it gave students to practice historical research.  And I would argue that asking students to transcribe the source and embed information about the source using XML facilitated the slowing down, the taking time, the close reading that is a significant skill for the practice of history.  In this case, XML was a tool for creating the conditions that helped students learn.  And that is the only good reason to use any technology in the classroom.

I haven’t said anything in this post about the Guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), which shape the kinds of information we embed in XML files in the Wheaton College Digital History Project.  Those guidelines are part of the use of XML in research and scholarship, so I will speak to them in a future post.

_________________________________

*Michelle Moravec organized the webinar, and Georgianne Hewett managed the tools that we used to present it.  Presenters focused on using digital tools in our history teaching.   Aaron Cohen presented his work using History Pin–a tool for managing images and creating exhibits–with students at Slippery Rock University.  Michelle showed a website that she and her students created using WordPress along with images of stained glass windows and a map of the college chapel at Rosemont College.  And I offered my usual presentation about our use of   The slides from all of the presentations are available here.  Amanda Hagood, who is Director of Blended Learning at Associated Colleges of the South, asked the question that prompted me to write this post.

**For more detail and an introduction to working with XML, see Joe Fawcett, Liam R.E. Quin, Danny Ayers, Beginning XML, 5th Ed. (Indianapolis, Ind.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012).

***David Demeritt, “Climate, Cropping, and Society in Vermont, 1820-1850,” Vermont History (1991) 59/1: 133-165.

 

 

 

 

 

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How I Spent Spring 2014

I’m still working out the relationship between my blog posting and the writing I do every day.  A while back, I posted an intention of narrating my daily work during my spring sabbatical as a way to document some of the challenges of doing digital history as a mid-career academic at a liberal arts college with limited time for support among my colleagues in Library and Information Services (LIS).  I left off daily posting when I hit a snag with setting up an Omeka repository on this website and then began to write a co-authored piece about my long-term project in teaching and research, the Wheaton College Digital History Project.

That article will be published online in Transformations, a publication of NITLE’s Shared Academics, and I want to say a bit about why I chose to spend considerable time on a piece for a nontraditional publication.  Partly, my reasoning is about the respect I feel for those colleagues in LIS, colleagues without whose collaboration I would not be able to do a lot of my work in teaching our students using digital tools and methods.  I’ve written here before about how important collaboration is to many of our efforts in the project, and a co-authored article about how collaboration works for us demonstrates my respect for my colleagues and for LIS staff members in other institutions.  All too often in colleges and universities, faculty members forget the important educational work that these colleagues do in our common work with our students.  And one of the most important things I have learned in the work I have been privileged to do with NITLE has been the expertise and energy that LIS staff members bring to higher education.

Another bit of less formal writing that I did this spring appeared on the Day of DH site in April.  Every year, people who work in digital humanities take time to do a “day in the life” set of posts and tweets, and this year I posted mine to the common site that facilitates archiving of this activity.  (As a historian, I’m kind of keen on archiving.)

The Transformations piece took a lot of time, and now I’m turning to papers I’m writing for summer conferences, DH2014 and SHEAR.  Both require some work with digital methods, and I’ll try to do a better job of documenting that work here over the next several weeks.

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#FCCNetNeutrality Vote Today

It’s heartening to see that people’s interest in preserving free access to the internet seems to be having an effect.  The New York Times published an article about Columbia University law professor Tim Wu last weekend.  Wu is credited with creating the idea of net neutrality.  He has argued that the internet should be regulated like a public utility.  The article is worth reading.

So is today’s piece in the Technology section, which explains that FCC commissioners are voting today on whether to publish Chair Tom Wheeler’s proposal and solicit public comment.  Among other things, the piece includes images of folks who have camped outside FCC offices in Washington.

For information about many actions happening today, a number of organizations have put together a website with plenty of resources.

This will not be the last time people will have to come together to remind government that freedom of speech and freedom of the press require an open internet.  So it’s a good time to take time to amplify our voices.

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#FCCNetNeutrality Vote Tomorrow

Nine days ago, I mistakenly made the post below a page on this blog.  The information is still important, and tomorrow is still the day that the Federal Communications Commission will vote on the so-called “fast-lane” options that FCC Chair Tom Wheeler proposed at the end of April.

A lot has been happening in the interim, and folks are rallying at FCC offices in Washington, DC, and elsewhere to keep the pressure on commissioners to keep the internet neutral.  According to sources I have been reading, at least two of the commissioners appear to be leaning towards neutrality.  This is a particularly important issue for the free flow of information, and I will certainly be paying attention tomorrow, as will many of my friends and colleagues.

The page I intended to be a post on May 5:

Ten Days Until FCC Decision #netneutrality

Thanks to Adeline Koh and Jesse Stommel, I spent some time on the final weekend in April tweeting about the Federal Communications Commission’s plan for bringing an end to neutral access to the Internet by instituting so-called fast lanes with the alleged aim of optimizing streaming services.  Many academics of the digital persuasion responded by speaking out, and a good sampling of that response can be found in Stommel’s Storify, Net Neutrality Will Not Go Quietly.

The comment period remains open before the FCC’s decision on May 15.  The email address for messages from individual citizens is openinternet@fcc.gov .  They work for us; we need to show them what the people think about our internet.

Come back tomorrow.  I’ll be posting my letter and the FCC’s response.

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My Letter to the FCC #netneutrality

Here it is, my email to the FCC and their response (which comes first because email):

DoNotReply@fcc.gov <OpenInternet@fcc.gov>

May 2 (3 days ago)

to me

Dear Consumer,

Thank you very much for contacting us about the ongoing Open Internet proceeding. We’re hoping to hear from as many people as possible about this critical issue, and so I’m very glad that we can include your thoughts and opinions.

I’m a strong supporter of the Open Internet, and I will fight to keep the internet open. Thanks again for sharing your views with me.

Tom Wheeler
Chairman
Federal Communications Commission

——-  Original Message  ——-
From:      tomasek_kathryn@wheatoncollege.edu
Subject:   Net neutrality

Dear FCC members:

Last week’s news about proposed rules that would allow internet service providers to tier services could not have disappointed me more.  These proposed rules constitute a crushing blow to the very medium in which I educate my students and publish my intellectual work.

Tiered services would on the one hand privilege content providers who would pay for fast lane distribution and on the other disadvantage small websites like the ones on which my students share their intellectual work.  One of the primary goals of the kind of liberal arts education to which I have dedicated my life is to teach students what they need to know in order to be responsible citizens in our digital age.  On the open internet, young Americans practice the freedom of speech and access that are essential to the practice of well-informed citizenship.

The internet was built with public resources.  It is a public utility and should be regulated as such.  It should emphatically not be treated as a commodity to portioned out and sold to the highest bidder.

The proposed rules will hobble our nation’s democracy in the service of commerce.  Please act in the public interest, as is your responsibility, and keep the internet open.

Sincerely,

Kathryn Tomasek

Sent from my iPad

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When Software Fails; or, Don’t Believe Everything the Wizards Tell You

Today’s sheepish lesson learned entails a return to discussion of my Omeka installation process.  It’s sheepish because I persist in believing that I can use the relatively stable set of tools that have been developed by others to help ordinary historians do our work online.  And because computing machines still remain more of a black box to me that I might wish.  And finally, I read the former as a strength and the latter as a weakness.  I should probably give myself a break.  But back to the lesson.

Omeka installation requires the use of FTP (file transfer protocol), one of the older processes that I remember from the early 1990s.  I used to like watching the little dog animation that ran when you used Fetch…. But the point is that in order to show your work on the web if you are using a more recent version of Omeka than the one-click install that my hosting service offers, you need to be able to upload the application via FTP.  I’ve done it before, and I should certainly be able to do it again.

There are plenty of FTP client applications now (however much I might miss the little Fetch dog), and I learned from the pros at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media that FileZilla is a good one.  The hosting service I use also offers WebFTP through an application called AjaXplorer.  In fairness, I should note that the hosting service cautions users against relying on WebFTP as one’s only tool for this purpose.

In fairness because the webhost recently installed a new version of AjaXplorer that fails to see some users’ repositories.  Like mine.  When I ran into this problem a couple of weeks ago, I emailed the webhost’s support and learned I was not alone.  Which was a relief.  Sort of.

I had used FileZilla before, so I didn’t panic.  And since I wanted to proceed cautiously and limit the possibility of frustrating mistakes, I opened up documentation for FileZilla and FTP as well as  for Omeka.  Which was a big mistake.

Because FileZilla recommended running their very helpful Configuration Wizard to assure that the application would work smoothly on my machine.  That seemed like a reasonable recommendation, so I followed it.  And that’s where I got massively, frustratingly stuck and remained so for over a week.

Because the Configuration Wizard’s test repeatedly found a problem with an abrupt loss of the test connection and recommended that I adjust settings and try again.  And again.  And still again.  Ad infinitum.

And here was my real mistake.  I believed the Wizard.

So I spent hours trying various fixes.  Turning off my firewall.  Turing it back on, holding my cursor in the right place on the screen and quickly clicking “Allow” to give the application access to my machine.  Reading up on FTP and trying to figure out what the problem could possibly be.  Getting frustrated and going off to do something else.

Day after day, for many days.

I thought the problem might be the new Mac OS, so I read a lot of Apple Support discussions about the incompatibility of Mavericks (please) with various software.  Everything I saw on the forums seemed to indicate that FileZilla was working for others just fine.

So yesterday, when I didn’t really have time to carry out the full installation anyway, I decided that I would just try to connect to the remote server using FileZilla.  If it was working for other people, I finally reasoned, maybe it would work for me.

Maybe the Wizard was wrong.

I launched FileZilla, typed in the server name, my user name, and my password.  And I connected just fine.  No unexplained lost connection.  No problem at all.

The Wizard was wrong.

So my lesson, learned through massive frustration over the past two weeks, is this:

Do not believe everything the Wizards tell you.  Sometimes, they are wrong.

 

 

 

 

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Cotton Production in Antebellum Norton, Massachusetts

On February 21, I presented a pecha kucha for my colleagues in the FiberSpace at Wheaton College.  The FiberSpace is an extension of the WHALE Lab, which is Wheaton’s makerspace.  This year, Social Sciences Liaison Lauren Slingluff and Assistant Archivist Megan Wheaton-Book have teamed up to do some programming at the FiberSpace, and the event was one of a series they have been working on since classes started at the end of January.  My presentation was only a small part of Friday’s program; after a brief question period, it was followed by an opportunity to make squares for a community quilt that will decorate the space.  Hooray for making!

Below are the slides from this public event with a transcript of the narration for each, followed by a list of sources keyed by slide number.

This presentation takes its theme from a pamphlet that Laban Morey Wheaton collected when he visited the International Exhibition that opened in London on May first, 1862.  Wheaton and his wife, Eliza Baylies Wheaton, visited London in the spring and summer of 1862.

This presentation takes its theme from a pamphlet that Laban Morey Wheaton collected when he visited the International Exhibition that opened in London on May first, 1862. Wheaton and his wife, Eliza Baylies Wheaton, visited London in the spring and summer of 1862.

The pamphlet was produced by the Royal Italian Commission, and it concluded with a paragraph that offers a window on Wheaton’s position as a businessman whose interests included cotton mills in Norton, Massachusetts.

The pamphlet was produced by the Royal Italian Commission, and it concluded with a paragraph that offers a window on Wheaton’s position as a businessman whose interests included cotton mills in Norton, Massachusetts.

The slides include an example of the kinds of account books that Laban Morey Wheaton used to keep track of some of his business affairs.  And some of the slides illustrate the place of Norton’s textile mills in the overall map of textile production in Massachusetts and the United States as a whole.

The slides include an example of the kinds of account books that Laban Morey Wheaton used to keep track of some of his business affairs. And some of the slides illustrate the place of Norton’s textile mills in the overall map of textile production in Massachusetts and the United States as a whole.

I quote now from the final paragraph of the Royal Italian Commission’s pamphlet: South Carolina produces five hundred thousand bales of cotton, with a population of seven hundred and fifteen thousand inhabitants.  In Italy there is no want either of inhabitants or land to commence at once an extensive cultivation of cotton,

I quote now from the final paragraph of the Royal Italian Commission’s pamphlet:
South Carolina produces five hundred thousand bales of cotton, with a population of seven hundred and fifteen thousand inhabitants. In Italy there is no want either of inhabitants or land to commence at once an extensive cultivation of cotton,

Which might, perhaps, prevent the recurrence of one of the most fearful commercial crises which could take place, and possibly not a little contribute to the solution of that vital problem of modern civilization—the abolition of slavery in the United States.

Which might, perhaps, prevent the recurrence of one of the most fearful commercial crises which could take place, and possibly not a little contribute to the solution of that vital problem of modern civilization—the abolition of slavery in the United States.

The fearsome crisis—the so-called cotton famine of 1862—stilled approximately half of the four million spindles in mills north of the Potomac River.

The fearsome crisis—the so-called cotton famine of 1862—stilled approximately half of the four million spindles in mills north of the Potomac River.

A global shortage of raw cotton began when the Confederate government withheld the commodity from the international market in an effort to draw Great Britain into the U.S. Civil War, and the Union blockade of Confederate ports perpetuated the shortage.

A global shortage of raw cotton began when the Confederate government withheld the commodity from the international market in an effort to draw Great Britain into the U.S. Civil War, and the Union blockade of Confederate ports perpetuated the shortage.

After the introduction of power looms at Waltham and the rapid transformation of the village of West Chelmsford into the city of Lowell in the 1820s, the state of Massachusetts collected statistics on the number of factories and spindles within its boundaries.

After the introduction of power looms at Waltham and the rapid transformation of the village of West Chelmsford into the city of Lowell in the 1820s, the state of Massachusetts collected statistics on the number of factories and spindles within its boundaries.

Compared to those cities and as a proportion of the number of mills and spindles in the state as a whole, the four textile mills in Norton were so small in number at to seem insignificant.

Compared to those cities and as a proportion of the number of mills and spindles in the state as a whole, the four textile mills in Norton were so small in number at to seem insignificant.

Norton mills, however, fit into a mixed economy not unlike those of other rural towns and villages in the early nineteenth century.   Persistence of agriculture combined with industrial outwork and factory employment in such towns.

Norton mills, however, fit into a mixed economy not unlike those of other rural towns and villages in the early nineteenth century.
Persistence of agriculture combined with industrial outwork and factory employment in such towns.

Cotton manufacture had begun in Norton when the first spinning mills were erected in the town in 1810.  The manufacturers who built the mills combined the system of outwork with factory production, distributing at first the raw cotton and later the yarn from the mills to local families for the next stage of production.

Cotton manufacture had begun in Norton when the first spinning mills were erected in the town in 1810. The manufacturers who built the mills combined the system of outwork with factory production, distributing at first the raw cotton and later the yarn from the mills to local families for the next stage of production.

The cotton-spinning mill known as the Norton Manufacturing Company had been built on the Wading River in 1810, and it was incorporated in 1837.  When the failed firm was sold at auction, Wheaton joined with one of the former partners and another Norton resident to incorporate the Wheaton Manufacturing Company in 1844.

The cotton-spinning mill known as the Norton Manufacturing Company had been built on the Wading River in 1810, and it was incorporated in 1837. When the failed firm was sold at auction, Wheaton joined with one of the former partners and another Norton resident to incorporate the Wheaton Manufacturing Company in 1844.

The accounts of another Norton textile mill point to one of Wheaton’s connections to the larger Atlantic economy through the cotton industry.  In 1846, Wheaton purchased the Centre Mills, which had been established on the Rumford River in 1828.

The accounts of another Norton textile mill point to one of Wheaton’s connections to the larger Atlantic economy through the cotton industry. In 1846, Wheaton purchased the Centre Mills, which had been established on the Rumford River in 1828.

He employed his brother-in-law, Samuel A. Chapin, as his agent to run the mill, and Chapin’s accounts constitute a rich source of information about the running of a rural mill that produced cotton batting in the mid-1840s.

He employed his brother-in-law, Samuel A. Chapin, as his agent to run the mill, and Chapin’s accounts constitute a rich source of information about the running of a rural mill that produced cotton batting in the mid-1840s.

The account book identifies the operatives—men and women—who worked in the mill as well as the broker from whom Wheaton purchased raw cotton.  Providence merchant William Jones King provided cotton to Wheaton’s mills from Charleston, New Orleans, and Apalachicola.

The account book identifies the operatives—men and women—who worked in the mill as well as the broker from whom Wheaton purchased raw cotton. Providence merchant William Jones King provided cotton to Wheaton’s mills from Charleston, New Orleans, and Apalachicola.

A prominent broker on both the New York and Providence exchanges, King was also a trustee of Wheaton Female Seminary between 1848 and his death in 1885.

A prominent broker on both the New York and Providence exchanges, King was also a trustee of Wheaton Female Seminary between 1848 and his death in 1885.

As these maps demonstrate, efforts have been made since at least 1861 to illustrate the relationship between slavery and cotton in the antebellum United States.  And this relationship poses a conundrum for our view of Laban Morey Wheaton and the family wealth that supported Wheaton Female Seminary.

As these maps demonstrate, efforts have been made since at least 1861 to illustrate the relationship between slavery and cotton in the antebellum United States. And this relationship poses a conundrum for our view of Laban Morey Wheaton and the family wealth that supported Wheaton Female Seminary.

During the same years that Laban Morey Wheaton was establishing himself as a cotton manufacturer, he was also involved in antislavery activity.  In 1846 and 1848, he ran for Congress on the ticket of the Liberty Party, a single-issue party devoted to the abolition of slavery.

During the same years that Laban Morey Wheaton was establishing himself as a cotton manufacturer, he was also involved in antislavery activity. In 1846 and 1848, he ran for Congress on the ticket of the Liberty Party, a single-issue party devoted to the abolition of slavery.

The problem of opposing slavery philosophically and politically while at the same time needing raw cotton for economic success led to the production of numerous examples of the sort of thinking represented by the Royal Italian Commission’s pamphlet.

The problem of opposing slavery philosophically and politically while at the same time needing raw cotton for economic success led to the production of numerous examples of the sort of thinking represented by
the Royal Italian Commission’s pamphlet.

When Laban Morey Wheaton brought the pamphlet home from the London International Exhibition, he demonstrated the place of Norton and Wheaton Female Seminary in what Harvard historian Sven Beckert has called the “worldwide web of cotton production” in 1862.

When Laban Morey Wheaton brought the pamphlet home from the London International Exhibition, he demonstrated the place of Norton and Wheaton Female Seminary in what Harvard historian Sven Beckert has called the “worldwide web of cotton production” in 1862.

Sources

Slides 2, 3, 4, and 12: Wheaton Family Papers, M089, Wheaton College Archives and Special Collections, Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts.

Slide 5: Samuel Batchelder, Introduction and Early Progress of the Cotton Manufacture in the United States (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1863), 56, accessed 02/27/2013, HathiTrust.org, http://hdl.handle.net/2027/miun.ael6663.0001.001.

Slide 6: Batchelder, 1863, 80; George Faber Clark, A History of the Town of Norton, Bristol County, Massachusetts, from 1669 to 1859 (Boston: Crosby, Nichols, and Co., 1859), 341-343.

Slides 6-11 and 14: Tables and charts from statistics in Clark, Chapter XXII.

Slides 15 & 16: GoogleEarth, last accessed 02/20/2014.

Slide 17: Susan Schulten, “Mapping the Cotton Kingdom,” http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/28/mapping-the-cotton-kingdom/, last accessed 02/27/2014.

Slide 18: Matthew B. Hammond, The Cotton Industry: An Essay in American Economic History, Part I. The Cotton Culture and the Cotton Trade (New York: Macmillan, 1897), 60f.

Slide 19: TeachingAmericanHistory.org/neh/interactives/civilwar/lesson1/, last accessed 10/10/2012.

Slide 20: Sven Beckert, “Emancipation and Empire: Reconstructing the World-Wide Web of Cotton Production in the Age of the Civil War,” American Historical Review 109, no. 5 (Dec. 2004): 1405-1438.

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