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United States History



Top Resources

America: History and Life

Covers U.S. and Canadian history from prehistory to date, published in various languages, but abstracted in English. The most important index to contemporary journal literature, but also covers book and media reviews, collections, and dissertations published from 1954 to date.  More Info
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Google Scholar

An easy-to-use, web-based database that indexes and and searches peer-reviewed journal articles, books, theses, preprints, and technical reports from all areas of research. Although Google Scholar holds much potential, it should NOT replace the UB library Catalog or subject-specific databases when conducting library research.  More Info
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The American Historical Association's Guide to Historical Literature

Mary Beth Norton, general editor; Pamela Gerardi, associate editor. 2 vols. 3rd edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Lockwood Reference D20.A55 1995 What are the most important books and articles on a topic? This briefly annotated but extensive and carefully organized bibliographic guide to the world's history is a place to begin finding an answer to this question. Note that it is now outdated. Articles, books, reference sources, and primary sources are included. The United States receives extensive coverage.

Project Muse

Journals in the humanities and social sciences, many of which often include pertinent material, including several major American history titles.  More Info
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JSTOR

Full-text searching of the journals of many disciplines, including major history journals. Dates covered exclude the most recent three years.  More Info
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ALCS History E Books Project

Major previously published monographs that may be read individually or searched as a group. Includes new titles specifically designed for electronic presentation.  More Info
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Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

The major source for biographical information on individuals - engaged in all areas of activity -- who have lived in or had a special relationship with the British-dominated world. The later is important to note because individuals who lived in the colonies, the Commonwealth, or 'associated' places are included. Therefore, included are biographies of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and Gandhi (India), Diefenbaker (Canada), and Hadrian (Rome). Coverage extends from the 4th century B.C. to 2000.  More Info
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American National Biography

American National Biography (ANB) "offers portraits of more than 17,400 men and women -- from all eras and walks of life -- whose lives have shaped the nation." Contains full-text articles which usually include bibliographies and hyperlinked cross-references to related articles in ANB and other Oxford reference sources. Many articles include illustrations or photographs, and some link to recommended websites with additional information.  More Info
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Dissertations & Theses

Dissertations & Theses provides title, author, and subject access to virtually every U.S. dissertation; the database also provides access to thousands of Canadian dissertations and U.S. master's theses, and since 1988 selected access to British and European dissertations.  More Info
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Periodicals Archive Online

Full text access to hundreds of scholarly journals is provided through Periodicals Archive Online (PAO). PAO may be searched directly through Periodicals Index Online (PIO). In PIO select Article Search and then Search citations with linked full text on the upper far right. Periodicals are in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and other Western languages. Within PAO, Article Search offers the standard PIO interface. PAO may also be searched and browsed by journal from the PAO interface. PAO is similar in structure and intent to JSTOR.  More Info
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Periodicals Index Online

Periodicals Index Online (PIO) , formerly PCI - Periodicals Content Index, indexes over 5,000 academic and popular periodicals published from as early as the late 17th century through 1995 (or last date of publication) in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.  More Info
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Archive Finder

Many will want to begin primary source research here. Over 5,600 repositories located in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland are listed and partially indexed in this resource which identifies over 220,000 collections. Some material in Austira is also covered. It brings together the once separately published ArchivesUSA and the cumulative index to the National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the UK and Ireland. Combinable search options include collection name, repository name, repository location, subjects and more. Records repository contact information includes: phone and fax numbers, hours of service, materials solicited, and email and home page URLs.  More Info
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Google Books

Over 15,000,000 books and magazine issues may be searched in Google Books. The numbers grows daily as Google moves forward with its mission of scanning literally all the world's books and magazines. Even materials that are not readable full text are nonetheless searchable. Some texts (pre-1923) may be read in their entirety; while others may be read across a limited number of pages (20% of the book) in 'preview' mode and some are only viewable in snippet view. The latter is the least useful to researchers.  More Info
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HathiTrust Digital Library

Over 8.7 million scanned items, all described by precise metadata, are currently in the HathiTrust (one word) database. About 73% of the items in the HathiTrust catalog are copyrighted; 27% are in the public domain. The copyrighted items are generally inaccessible, even to institutions associated with the project. 48% of the catalog's items are in English, although 400 languages are represented.  More Info
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WorldCat

WorldCat is a mega-library catalog containing more than 100 million records contributed by 20,000 libraries around the world. It contains full bibliographic descriptions and cataloging information for the following types of materials: books, serials, manuscripts, sound recordings, audiovisual materials, maps, music scores, and computer-readable files  More Info
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New York Times (1851-2010) with Index (1851-1993)

The nation's "newspaper of record". Contents may be browsed by complete issues (that is, article-by-article), searched by article types, keywords, or subjects and printed or downloaded in PDF format. Citations can be exported to EndNote. To be a power searcher, review search help accessible by clicking the Help link on the upper right of the search screen. At the top of the search screen, select the heading News & Newspaper databases. Selecting this heading will allow you to search across the four newspaper databases to which we have access. These are: Ethnic NewsWatch, GenderWatch, Chicago Defender (1910-1975), and New York Times (1851-2010) and Index (1851-1993). Selecting Publications will retrieve a list of publications included in these resources. For a graphic display of when most articles were published on the topic searched, look to the right for a bar chart. Click on the bar for a period to retrieve associated entries.  More Info
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Databases

American Periodicals Series (APS) Online

Searchable access to the full-text images of 1,100 American periodicals, across many disciplines and intended audiences, published from 1741-1900.  More Info
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Cambridge Histories Online

Publication of the Cambridge Histories began in 1960 and today there are over 250 volumes. Authored by distinguished scholars, they are an excellent place to begin research. They offer a contextualized overview - respecting history as evolution and continuity across time - suggesting how one event or thing is related to another. They give the BIG picture. They are a natural complement to such resources as Gale Virtual Reference (a huge collection of scholarly encyclopedias) and Blackwell Reference (a large collection of scholarly handbooks and dictionaries). Entries conclude with bibliographies.  More Info
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Dissertations & Theses

Dissertations & Theses provides title, author, and subject access to virtually every U.S. dissertation; the database also provides access to thousands of Canadian dissertations and U.S. master's theses, and since 1988 selected access to British and European dissertations.  More Info
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Early American Imprints I

Full-text searchable and an exact image of the original: Textual research in 17th and 18th century American studies has been transformed! Based on the renowned 'American Bibliography' by Charles Evans and enhanced by Roger Bristol's supplement, Early American Imprints is a definitive resource for researching every aspect of 17th- and 18th-century America.  More Info
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Early English Books Online

Photographic images of the texts of over 125,000 works published in England and the English-dominated world (including the North American colonies) - in English and other languages -- between 1475 and 1700.  More Info
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Eighteenth Century Collection Online

Use Eighteenth Century Collections Online to access the digital images of every page of books published during the 18th Century. With full-text searching of millions of pages, the product allows researchers new methods of access to critical information in the fields of law, history, literature, religion, fine arts, science and more  More Info
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European Views of the Americas, 1493-1750

A comprehensive guide/bibliography to printed records about the Americas written in Europe before 1750 taken from European Americana: A Chronological Guide to Works Printed In Europe Relating to the Americas, 1493-1750.  More Info
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GUTENBERG-e

Scholarly digital books, not all on American topics, that present information impossible to convey in print or traditional print format. Textual components may be printed. A collaboration of the American Historical Association and Columbia University Press.  More Info
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History Matters: WWW History

An annotated guide to hundreds of the most useful web sites for teaching U.S. history and social studies. Searchable by topic and time period. Visit the homepage of the overall History Matters Web site at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/.
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H-Net Reviews

Complements standard review sources: Timely reviews published online, often among the first to appear, offering an opportunity for exchanges between authors, readers, and reviewers.  More Info
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Index to Military Periodicals Air University Library

Indexes English-language military journals. History, strategy, tactics, technology, weapons, and diplomacy are covered. The Air University Library (AUL) has produced the index since 1949. Access from 1988 forward is available on the Web.  More Info
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Military & Government Collection

Full- text coverage for nearly 300 journals and periodicals, including full text for 245 pamphlets and indexing and abstracts for nearly 400 titles. Included material covers all aspects and branches of the military and government. Though the focus is the United States , topical coverage is across all time periods and global. Among included publications are: Journal of Cold War Studies, Journal of Electronic Defense, Journal of Military History, Journal of Strategic Studies, Naval War College Review, and Army Reserve Magazine.  More Info
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Periodicals Archive Online

Full text access to hundreds of scholarly journals is provided through Periodicals Archive Online (PAO). PAO may be searched directly through Periodicals Index Online (PIO). In PIO select Article Search and then Search citations with linked full text on the upper far right. Periodicals are in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and other Western languages. Within PAO, Article Search offers the standard PIO interface. PAO may also be searched and browsed by journal from the PAO interface. PAO is similar in structure and intent to JSTOR.  More Info
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Periodicals Index Online

All subject areas, especially useful for its indexing of many state historical journals. Use for coverage from 1770 to 1995.  More Info
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ProQuest Dissertations and Theses

A listing of dissertations back to 1861, including many full-text dissertations from 1997 to the present, including those done at UB.  More Info
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Social Sciences Citation Index

Web of Science (Social Sciences Citation Index and Arts and Humanities Citation Index) Incidentally, to cover history journals both citation indexes must be used.  More Info
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Web of Science Core Collection

The Web of Science is a collection of multidisciplinary databases. It includes Arts & Humanities Citation Index, Science Citation Index, and Social Sciences Citation Index.  More Info
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Primary Source Materials

AccuNet/AP Multimedia Archive

Consists of several databases: International Photo Archive, Euro/Asian Photo Archive, Audio Database, Text Database, and Graphics Database. It is searchable by subject, date and location. More Info
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African-American Newspapers: The 19th Century

The complete transcribed text of several 19th century African-American newspapers. More Info
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American Memory

Primary source materials, largely drawn from the collections of the Library of Congress, in a diversity of formats and on a diversity of topics. More Info
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American Periodicals Series (APS) Online

Searchable access to the full-text images of 1,100 American periodicals, across many disciplines and intended audiences, published from 1741-1900. More Info
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American Slavery: A Composite Autobiography

Over 2,000 autobiographical narratives of formerly enslaved Africans commonly known as the Federal Writers Project's WPA Slave Narratives. More Info
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Archive Finder

Many will want to begin primary source research here. Over 5,600 repositories located in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland are listed and partially indexed in this resource which identifies over 220,000 collections. Some material in Austira is also covered. It brings together the once separately published ArchivesUSA and the cumulative index to the National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the UK and Ireland. Combinable search options include collection name, repository name, repository location, subjects and more. Records repository contact information includes: phone and fax numbers, hours of service, materials solicited, and email and home page URLs. More Info
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ARTstor Digital Archive Collection

The ARTstor Digital Archive Collection contains nearly one million images and associated catalog data from notable art and architecture collections worldwide. Many images familiar to students of American history are included -- and all periods are covered. More Info
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Chicago Defender (1910-1975)

The Defender is one of the most important African-American newspapers. The Defender is famous for its encouragement of African Americans to move from the rural South to the urban North, especially Chicago, in the early 20th century. During many of the years of publication, it has been far more than a regional paper. The Defender is noted for its fearless reporting of lynching as well as other crimes and injustices. It has long covered the arts as well as politics and in its earlier years it promoted the careers of Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks. More Info
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Civil War, The : A Newspaper Perspective

Full text of major articles from The New York Herald, The Charleston Mercury, and the Richmond Enquirer. More Info
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Early Encounters in North America

Letters, diaries, memoirs and accounts of early encounters between Native Americans, Europeans, Americans, and Africans. More Info
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Early English Books Online

Photographic images of the texts of over 125,000 works published in England and the English-dominated world (including the North American colonies) - in English and other languages -- between 1475 and 1700. More Info
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Partial Full-Text

Eighteenth Century Collection Online

Use Eighteenth Century Collections Online to access the digital images of every page of books published during the 18th Century. With full-text searching of millions of pages, the product allows researchers new methods of access to critical information in the fields of law, history, literature, religion, fine arts, science and more More Info
UB ONLY
Full-Text

European Views of the Americas, 1493-1750

A comprehensive guide/bibliography to printed records about the Americas written in Europe before 1750 taken from European Americana: A Chronological Guide to Works Printed In Europe Relating to the Americas, 1493-1750. More Info
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Google Books

Over 15,000,000 books and magazine issues may be searched in Google Books. The numbers grows daily as Google moves forward with its mission of scanning literally all the world's books and magazines. Even materials that are not readable full text are nonetheless searchable. Some texts (pre-1923) may be read in their entirety; while others may be read across a limited number of pages (20% of the book) in 'preview' mode and some are only viewable in snippet view. The latter is the least useful to researchers. More Info
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HarpWeek

The entire contents of Harper's Weekly (1857-1865), perhaps 19th century America's most influential periodical. More Info
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HathiTrust Digital Library

Over 8.7 million scanned items, all described by precise metadata, are currently in the HathiTrust (one word) database. About 73% of the items in the HathiTrust catalog are copyrighted; 27% are in the public domain. The copyrighted items are generally inaccessible, even to institutions associated with the project. 48% of the catalog's items are in English, although 400 languages are represented. More Info
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In the First Person

Provides in-depth indexing of more than 2,500 collections of oral history in English from around the world. More Info
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Making of America

A searchable digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through Reconstruction which currently contains approximately 8,500 books and 50,000 journal articles. More Info
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New York Times (1851-2010) with Index (1851-1993)

The nation's "newspaper of record". Contents may be browsed by complete issues (that is, article-by-article), searched by article types, keywords, or subjects and printed or downloaded in PDF format. Citations can be exported to EndNote. To be a power searcher, review search help accessible by clicking the Help link on the upper right of the search screen. At the top of the search screen, select the heading News & Newspaper databases. Selecting this heading will allow you to search across the four newspaper databases to which we have access. These are: Ethnic NewsWatch, GenderWatch, Chicago Defender (1910-1975), and New York Times (1851-2010) and Index (1851-1993). Selecting Publications will retrieve a list of publications included in these resources. For a graphic display of when most articles were published on the topic searched, look to the right for a bar chart. Click on the bar for a period to retrieve associated entries. More Info
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Pennsylvania Gazette, 1728 - 1800

Referred to as 'The New York Times of the 18th century.' Benjamin Franklin was owner and publisher from 1730 to 1750. More Info
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Readers' Guide Retrospective, 1890-1982

An easily used portal to the past and a detailed account of U.S. culture and history through the lens of 'middle' America. Designed as the single index that might be available in a library the diversity of periodicals covered ranged from the American Historical Review to Mademoiselle to Retirement Living to UNESCO Courier. More Info
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U.S. Serial Set Digital Collection

The Congressional Serial Set is a compilation of reports and documents published by Congress since 1817. Reports are statements that describe bills section by section, or sometimes present results of Congressional investigations. Congressional documents include . . . More Info
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WorldCat

WorldCat is a mega-library catalog containing more than 100 million records contributed by 20,000 libraries around the world. It contains full bibliographic descriptions and cataloging information for the following types of materials: books, serials, manuscripts, sound recordings, audiovisual materials, maps, music scores, and computer-readable files More Info
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Encyclopedias

Blackwell Reference Online

For those lucky enough to find them, Blackwell companions have long been a powerful resource for serious researchers, whether students or seasoned scholars. Not designed for ready reference, they are comprised of extended essays which present a synthesis and overview of a topic and conclude with bibliographies. More Info
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Cambridge Histories Online

Publication of the Cambridge Histories began in 1960 and today there are over 250 volumes. Authored by distinguished scholars, they are an excellent place to begin research. They offer a contextualized overview - respecting history as evolution and continuity across time - suggesting how one event or thing is related to another. They give the BIG picture. They are a natural complement to such resources as Gale Virtual Reference (a huge collection of scholarly encyclopedias) and Blackwell Reference (a large collection of scholarly handbooks and dictionaries). Entries conclude with bibliographies. More Info
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Daily Life Online

Daily Life Online provides information regarding the daily lives of people from the past. The content is from numerous reference works, monographs, and primary documents. More Info
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Dictionary of American History

Dictionary of American History. Stanley I. Kutler, editor-in-chief. 3rd edition. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003. 10 v. Also available in hardcopy as Lockwood Reference E174.D52 2003. This edition is a comprehensive revision of the classic set, originally published in 1940, and long considered the best general dictionary/encyclopedia for American history. More Info
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Gale Virtual Reference Library

Gale Virtual Reference Library offers complete content of more than 100 book titles from the Gale Group of publishers. The collection includes subject encyclopedias, almanacs, and specialized reference works in more than 20 subject areas. Broad topics include literature, history, environment, philosophy, life sciences, business, sociology, law, political science, popular culture, country studies, and more. More Info
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New Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Begin with this source to trace the evolution of an idea. It is an encyclopedic encapsulation of the ideas and concepts that define civilization and the individual's role in it across the globe. Entries are by a distinguished team of international experts and explore a huge diversity of topics. Each entry explores the origin, cultural interpretation, and history of an idea and concludes with suggestions for further reading. Illustrations are distributed throughout. A reader's guide offers users the option of reading systematically across conceptual groupings. Volume I features an extensive historiographical essay on the concept of 'history' covering all time periods and major cultures. More Info
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Reference Universe

For concise but scholarly discussions on any topic, search article titles and/or back-of-the-book indexes for over 4,000 reference books (subject encyclopedias, handbooks, etc.). While historical information may appear in any source, many titles are explicitly historical. More Info
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Guides to Websites

  • History Matters (George Mason University)  “. . . annotated guide to the most useful websites for teaching U.S. history and social studies. We have carefully selected and screened each website for quality and provide a paragraph annotation that summarizes the site’s content, notes its strengths and weaknesses, and emphasizes its utility for teachers. Information is provided on the type of website (Archive, Electronic Essay, Gateway, Journal, Organization, Syllabi/Assignments) and the type of resource (text, images, audio, and video). Browse sites by topic and time period or look through a list of some of our favorite sites on this page.”
  • WWW-VL: History: U.S. An enormous unannotated but carefully organized in outline form list.  Part of the larger WWW-VL: History Network.
  • AcademicInfo: History “. . .  an online education resource center with extensive subject guides and distance learning information. Our mission is to provide free, independent and accurate information and resources for prospective and current students (and other researchers).”

Course Guides

 Topical Guides

Exhibits and Exhibit Resource Guides

 

Travel Across Time and Place by Gazing into a Photograph

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“FOUND is a curated collection of photography from the National Geographic archives. In honor of our 125th anniversary, we are showcasing photographs that reveal cultures and moments of the past. Many of these photos have never been published and are rarely seen by the public. ” Visit it at: http://natgeofound.tumblr.com/.  Or remember the 1960s, (what the late ’60s really looked like) I do, at: http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/05/living/irpt-real-60s/index.html?hpt=hp_c3.  Or reflect on the carnage and humanity of the American Civil War at: http://www.metmuseum.org/en/exhibitions/listings/2013/photography-and-the-american-civil-war.  Fifty-one examples are available online.

The University Libraries have preserved and presented photographs of some UB faculty at: http://digital.lib.buffalo.edu/cdm/

If you have nore expansive interests, be sure to try Google Image Search http://www.google.com/imghp?ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tab=wi.

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How Does Google “Google”? (Hey, Can I Google That?)

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Ever wonder how Google Search works?  Now there’s an innovative infographic that explains it all, from crawling and indexing to algorithms, to the war against spam as well as the policies that guide all of these efforts.  Simply visit http://www.google.com/insidesearch/howsearchworks/thestory/ and scroll.  As you scroll, there are things to click on to learn more.  Hover over the images with your mouse as you scroll and additional information will be given and you’ll see what happens as Google processes a search.  Be sure to explore the headings in the two search bars at the top of the screen.  And don’t miss the movie (well, video) at http://www.google.com/insidesearch/howsearchworks/crawling-indexing.html.

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Nonfiction Books (primarily) that Made the Lists: The Best of 2012

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Introduction

Below are the lists of books — primarily nonfiction — that contain titles selected by editors or booksellers as the best of 2012.  To keep up with best sellers throughout the year, visit the New York Times Best Sellers site.  The lists below do not all contain the same titles: different folks have different tastes and different publications and organizations have different perspectives on what is important. These lists complement one another.  C-Span 2′s BookTV has done a wonderful job of finding these lists (I have added some); but I hope I’ve made them more accessible.

Once you find a book that interests you, you might want to find something out about it before you begin to read.  Or you might want to sample it: samples of books are accessible through AmazonBarnes & Noble,  and Google Books (for the latter, see previews when available). To read a sample, you’ll need an account (not with Google play, though); but you never need to make a purchase.   For instance,  I often read samples provided by Amazon on my Kindle, tablet, and computer.   Amazon and Google Books also offer “search inside the book” capabilities for many titles.  To find a video of an author discussing his or her book visit BookTV and also search on YouTube and Google Videos.  To learn about an author, search WikipediaContemporary Authors, or simply do a Google search  Wonder what he or she looks like, search Google Images.  Reviews can be found in many ways by the  UB community, for recent books, the best general all-around index is Academic Search Complete   Of course, you can also simply type the title of the book into our search engine Everything!

Best Book Lists: Newspapers

Christian Science Monitor 15 Best Nonfiction Books 2012 

Financial Times Best Books 2012 

Globe and Mail 43 Nonfiction Books Worth Reading 

The Guardian Best Books of the Year 2012 

The New York Times 100 Books 2012 

Newsday 12 Best Books 2012

St Louis Post Dispatch 50 Favorite Books 2012 

The Seattle Times 25 Best Books 2012 

The Telegraph Best US Political Books 2012 

USA Today 10 Best Books 2012 

Wall Street Journal Best Nonfiction Books 2012 

Washington Post 10 Best Books 2012

 

Best Books Lists: Periodicals

Atlantic Best Books 2012  

Economist Best Books of the Year

Fast Company Best Business Books 2012 

Foreign Policy Magazine Must Read 2012 

Huffington Post Best Books 2012

Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction 2012 

New York 10 Best Books 2012 

The New Yorker 10 Best Political Books 2012

Progressive Best Books 2012 

Publishers Weekly Best Books 2012 

Slate Top Picks

Time 10 Best Nonfiction Books 

Vanity Fair the Best Books of the Year and Whom to Give Them To

Best Book Lists: Other Sources

Amazon Best 100 Books 2012

Barnes & Noble Best Books 2012 

Google Play Best Books 2012

BookPeople’s Bookstore Best Books 2012 

Los Angles Public Library’s Best Nonfiction Books 2012 

NPR (National Public Radio) Best Books of 2012  

San Francisco Public Library’s “Librarian Favorite Books 2012” 

Read Only Award Winners

For those who prefer to read the very best across the years, rely on award winners.  The best and deepest lists of these are found in Wikipedia, visit List of Literary Awards

Sometimes You May Just Want to Listen Instead of Read

For some suggestions for the best audiobooks of 2012, read or listen to the NPR post Listen Up! Audiobooks for Every Taste.  All the major online book vendors – Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Google — offer audiobooks and samples of audiobooks.  The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library offers its members download options for many popular fiction and non-fiction titles.  The University Libraries do not collect contemporary fiction and non-fiction in audio format.  If you own a Kindle that has “text to speech” functionality you can turn many digital texts into audiobooks; but you will be” tied” to your Kindle.  Warning: The newest Kindle models (Kindle and Kindle Paperwhite) lack this capability!

Have You Recently Become an eReader or Tablet Owner

Congratulations!  I bet just about every book appearing on one of the lists above is available as an ebook — although most are not available in an ebook format through the University Libraries.  Check the catalog for availability through the Libraries.  If you’re new to your ereader, begin by reading the documentation that came with the device. Usually advanced documentation is loaded on the device itself.   You will also want to visit e-books at UB and the pages it links to.  You’ll get some general guidance and ideas on how to use your device and you’ll specifically receive some guidance on using your device with material owned by the University Libraries or borrowable from the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library.  Also, don’t forget our Kindle lendng program (the Kindles are preloaded with books); including the 48 Good Books selected by members of the University community.  Read about the project.  And for even more advice on finding a good book, visit the University Libraries Pinterest site.

Now for a Little Whimsy

If you’ve clicked and read your way this far you’ve learned a lot.  Decompress by contemplating the intimacy of reading, enjoy The New Yorker blog post by Jessie Wender entitled “Books As Muses.”  

Finally, if you know of a list I’ve missed, please let me know — I’ll add it!  If you’d like to recommend a title for purchase, please use our Purchase Request form.

Picture credits: Casey Fleser, “Books” April 28, 2009 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.  Nate Steiner, “Weekend Book Binding” October 28, 2006 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.  Cloud 2013, “Mary Jo’s Bookcase” December 4, 2011 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.  Sarah Barker, “Clever Emmy” March 20, 2011 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.   Catunes, “Cats Are Reading a Book” July 16, 2011 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

25 December 2012

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What Are the Books That Shaped America?

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Librarians at the Library of Congress have some suggestions. They’re listed, described, and many can be read as ebooks.

Visit: http://www.loc.gov/bookfest/books-that-shaped-america/ 

Visit the exhibit online: http://myloc.gov/Exhibitions/books-that-shaped-america/Pages/Overview.aspx

Listen to a pertinent interview that was aired on National Public Radio (NPR).

Visit:  http://www.npr.org/2012/08/14/158771705/-books-that-shaped-america 

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Welcome to Academic Year 2012/2013!

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Another academic year begins, lots to do, to learn, to experience, to survive, to enjoy, and to grow from and into. The Libraries have changed A LOT over the years to reflect financial and pedagogical changes and, of course, there’s TECHNOLOGY. If you’re new to UB you can’t really appreciate how different things are and look from even a year ago.  Even our Web face — our homepage — is different.

There’s so much more than ever before to help you with your course work and to complement formal instruction and your intellectual curiosity. Through this blog and this Web site, I’ll do my best to help you throughout the year. Take a scroll through what’s here — go exploring. It’s so easily done now — a few clicks and you’re in a new world.  You can even get lost — but you won’t get hurt.

OK — here’s some real advice (an assignment if you will)  regardless of your place in your educational journey, make a point of exploring these links:

Best Basic Resources (Learn what’s here and you’ll be dangerous — in a good way): http://library.buffalo.edu/findlibrarymaterials/databases/bestbasicresources.html

Research Tips: http://library.buffalo.edu/help/research-tips/

You can always call me: 645-7745 or email me lclcharl@buffalo.edu.  I’m here to help.  Help me help you by asking for help.  I can provide answers to specific queestions and give research advice.  You can also meet with me in person.  That’s right — I can be your “personal librarian” — to hire me you only have to contact me.  The best thing about all this is — it’s free!

Don’t underestimate how confusing all this (the electronic library) can be.  Even we (librarians) struggle to keep up on everything.  So don’t ever be embarrassed – I mean really, you paid for this!

 

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The Hunger Games

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Read the entire trilogy! We have some paper copies and copies on each of our six loanable Kindles. Even with these multiple copies, you may be unable to get a copy from the Libraries; but we also have two e-books, available for use by many readers simultaneously, that offer commentary. There are also other resources that will enhance your enjoyment of the books. Here are the details:

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games Trilogy, Book One) Lockwood PZ7.C6837 Hun 2008

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games Trilogy, Book Two ) Lockwood PZ7.C6837 Cat 2009

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games Trilogy, Final Book) Lockwood PZ7.C6837 Moc 2010

Kindle-ready! We supply the books and the Kindles, visit: Amazon Kindle.

Movie trailers (and more), for the soon to be released “The Hunger Games” (a film based on book one of the trilogy), are viewable here and at the official Web site. See also the film’s Internet Movie Database (IMDb) page.

Learning more about The Hunger Games is easy with many interviews with its author Suzanne Collins accessible on Google Video. Most are short; but there are some longer ones. Search the terms interview “Suzanne Collins” for starters. As in most matters of popular culture, Wikipedia will not let you down, visit entries devoted to general commentary and a guide to the characters.

Read the entire trilogy!  We have some paper copies and copies on each of our six loanable Kindles.  Even with these multiple copies, you may be unable to get a copy from the Libraries; but we also have two e-books, available for use by many readers simultaneously, that offer commentary.  There are also other resources that will enhance your enjoyment of the books.  Here are the details:

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games Trilogy, Book One)  Lockwood PZ7.C6837 Hun 2008

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games Trilogy, Book Two )  Lockwood PZ7.C6837 Cat 2009

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games Trilogy, Final Book)  Lockwood PZ7.C6837 Moc 2010

Kindle-ready!  We supply the books and the Kindles, visit: Amazon Kindle.

Movie trailers (and more), for the soon to be released “The Hunger Games” (a film based on book one of the trilogy), are viewable here and at the official Web site.  See also the film’s Internet Movie Database (IMDb) page.

Learning more about The Hunger Games is easy with many interviews with its author Suzanne Collins accessible on Google Video.  Most are short; but there are some longer ones.  Search the terms interview “Suzanne Collins” for starters.  As in most matters of popular culture, Wikipedia will not let you down, visit entries devoted to general commentary and a guide to the characters.

E-books on The Hunger Games offer ways of thinking about the ideas exploredSee: The Hunger Games and Philosophy: A Critique of Pure Treason.  Edited by George A. Dunn and Nicolas Michaud.  Click here for access.  “Katniss Everdeen is ‘the girl who was on fire,’ but she is also the girl who made us think, dream, question authority, and rebel. The post-apocalyptic world of Panem’s twelve districts is a divided society on the brink of war and struggling to survive, while the Capitol lives in the lap of luxury and pure contentment. At every turn in the Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss, Peeta, Gale, and their many allies wrestle with harrowing choices and ethical dilemmas.”  The Girl Who Was on Fire: Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy.  Edited by Leah Wilson.  Click here for access.  Essays discuss the major themes, characters, and social and political commentary contained in the trilogy.  If all this makes you hungry try: The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook from Lamb Stew to “Grossling” – More than 150 Recipes Inspired by The Hunger Games Trilogy.  By Emily Ansara Baines.  Click here for access.   – “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

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Abraham Lincoln’s Impact Soars Across Time and Place

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In an academic world obessed with “counting” citations to measure the productivity and the impact of individual scholars — and sometimes the importance of topics and ideas — it is good to see a clear winner. In the latter instance, Abraham Lincoln is a clear winner. With one exception, he now — symbolically as well as literally — towers above the competition. To be specific, like the stele of old erected to commemorate a ruler or his triumphs (generally erected by that ruler), a group of Washington, DC historians has built a tower of books devoted to the 16th president which is 8 feet round and soars 34 feet. [For the story and images see NPR’s Forget Lincoln Logs: A Tower of Books to Honor Abe It might have climbed higher, since it includes only 7,000 of the 15,000 books that are estimated to have been written about Lincoln. And not even included are the legions of journal and magazine articles, dissertations, and enumerable other formats considering his life and influence.

Nor is Lincoln merely a topic for Americans. He has been “constructed” as a historical topic across the globe as well as across time. His global significance is explored in the recently published The Global Lincoln (Lockwood E457.8 G53 2011 and as an ebook), edited by Richard Carwardine (Lincoln, Lincoln: A Legacy of Purpose and Power, and Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World) and Jay Sexton (The Monroe Doctrine: Empire and Nation in Nineteenth-Century America).

When reflecting on Lincoln — and the attention he continues to command — I feel the same way only when watching a brillant performer or viewing a magnificent work of art — then the simple phrase “That’s the way it’s done” — says it all. When really in the prersence of greatness — finely tuned statistical measures are not needed. Of course, Lincoln was not universally revered or always so recognized in his own time.  For most of past and present humanity, identifying greatness or impact through statistical analysis can be useful and interesting and it has been done for certain aspects of the past, most notably by Charles Murray in Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 (Lincoln is not included).  Murray is the author, most recently, of the troubling Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 and co-author of the hotly debated The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.

So as we celebrate Presidents’ Day (celebrating the birthdays of Lincoln and Washington), it is appropriate to appreciate the importance of Lincoln’s life and the power of our memory of him. Working in a milieu of paper and citations on a lighted screen, it is profoundly moving to so palpably experience Lincoln’s importance through the paper trail his life and legacy have inspired.

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The Wikipedia, Possibilities and Opportunities

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Jimmy Wales, co-founder of the Wikipedia, has been interviewed by Charlie Rose (a Wikipedia fan) several times. You’ll learn a lot about the Wikipedia quickly if you watch videos of these interviews and you’ll appreciate the idealism behind the effort.  A Stephen Colbert-Jimmy Wales encounter (there’s a lot of Colbert-Wikipedia history) will alert you to the most persistent complaint against the resource: its accuracy.  Colbert ends this 24 May 2007 interview saying: “It’s the first place I go to when I’m looking for knowledge, or when I want to create some.”  Incidentally, if I were looking for biographical information on the men mentioned above, I’d turn first to the Wikipedia, wouldn’t you?  I occasionally drop into the Wikipedia from my Kindle while reading.

The point is that the Wikipedia includes an enormous number of entries on a huge and expansive diversity of topics, and often achieves comparatively acceptable levels of accuracy through the ongoing efforts of anyone who wants to pitch in. The Wikipedia has been studied a lot: as of 24 August 2010, over 200 monographs and 50 dissertations had pondered it in some way (Taemin Kim Park, “The Visibility of the Wikipedia in Scholarly Publications,” First Monday 16, no. 8 (1 August 2011).  It would be difficult to find someone in academia who has not heard of the Wikipedia, let alone not used an entry found through a Web search.  The peer reviewed open access internet journal First Monday has featured many articles on the Wikipedia and I’ve reviewed several for what follows.  The Wikipedia has become part of contemporary culture; see the Wikipedia’s own Wikipedia in Culture.

You can watch the Wikipedia grow as its edits pop up across a map of the world .  It is not especially hard to learn broadly about the Wikipedia because the source tells you about itself through, what else, Wikipedia entries.  Potential contributors can start by clicking on Help on the left frame of any entry or enter Wikipedia as a search term.  For the Wikipedia’s accuracy see the entry Reliability of the Wikipedia, potential contributors should read Contributing to the Wikipedia and contributors who want to have an enduring and identifiable presence (based on their chosen user name) should read Why Create An Account?  At least one professor was awarded tenure based on his Wikipedia contributions.  A search in Amazon turns up some guides/manuals for anyone who is considering contributing or simply interested, see John Broughton’s Wikipedia: The Missing Manual (2008) and How Wikipedia Works: And How You Can Be a Part of It by Phoebe Ayers, Charles Matthews, and Ben Yates (2009).  There’s much about the Wikipedia that should appeal to scholars and instructors and some things that will be frustrating and frightening as well.

The Wikipedia is not exactly the Wild West; there are many policies and guidelines – and eventually (quickly, someday, maybe) even consequences and corrections when they are violated – what’s lacking is a controlling editorial and curatorial presence. Featured Content and Good Articles are the best of the Wikipedia, meeting its standards for citing sources, what constitutes a reliable source and neutral point of view; but the pieces that do not meet these standards vastly outnumber those that do. Neutral point of view is something that might confuse many academics, as well as student contributors. Taking a stand or expressing an opinion in a Wikipedia entry– or including original research that cannot be footnoted — is not desired. Everything is supposed to be documented.

Studies have been conducted that suggest that students realize the Wikipedia’s information should be corroborated; but its credibility does not trump its many advantages: it’s free, it’s easily searched, and it covers just about every field of study or endeavor.  Some studies argue that it is a bridge between the really unreliable and traditional scholarly sources.  And students, in some studies, state what is the obvious: it’s a good place to begin, for assessing the lay of the land and acquiring the vocabulary to proceed further; but it is never a good place to end.  If we’re honest, many of us reading this will admit that we’ve used a Wikipedia article in these ways; but will counter that we know just how far to trust.  Knowing that so many people use the Wikipedia — and that many of them may not know how certain such trust should be – has led to calls for scholars to contribute to and monitor entries in their areas of expertise.

The Wikipedia has actively courted academics for a while.  For instance, there is the Project United States Public Policy/Campus Ambassadors program. Ambassadors, a concept born of and tested in the above project, may be students, faculty, staff, anyone really who “provide[s] face-to-face Wikipedia training and support on university campuses, particularly in classes where the instructors are interested in incorporating Wikipedia-editing into the curriculum.” They are also available to students regardless of the student’s affiliation. Perhaps UB should have a campus ambassador?  Most recently the American Sociological Association has encouraged its members to improve the Wikipedia and use it in teaching: “The ASA is calling on members to use the power of Wikipedia to represent the discipline of sociology as fully and as accurately as possible. Additionally, we seek to promote the free [link leads to supporting material for the initiative] teaching of sociology worldwide.”  See the 6 January 2012 Research Blog of the American Sociological Association.  The American Historical Association, according to reporting in the 18 November 2011 Inside HigherEd, may also consider the issue and reported the ASA’s action in its blog AHA Today, 24 November 2011. The Association for Psychological Science also has an initiative as does the Wikimedia Foundation with the Public Policy Initiative; see also Public Policy Initative Learning Points. From this Initiative and Wikipedia’s Education Program, see: Information for instructors, Wikipedia Ambassadors’ portal on English Wikipedia, and Wikipedia United States Education Program.  See especially the useful collection of online tutorials.

The Wikipedia offers many instructional possibilities as well as ways, of varying intensity and nature, to contribute to the resource’s growth in size and quality.  This is beyond telling students not to cite the Wikipedia, something that is widely done across academia and even made a rule by Middlebury College’s history department in 2007. Although many scholars contribute to encyclopedias, it is not uncommon for them to discourage encyclopedia citations in college-level papers.  This is despite the fact that such sources we pay for as Gale Virtual Reference Library (or more precisely the sources in it) are far more reliable than the Wikipedia. But this content is not as easily found as Wikipedia content.  A student perspective on the Wikipedia issue, which is still discussed at Middlebury, can be found in the college’s student paper The Middlebury Campus, 5 December 2011.  What some instructors have spurned; others have embraced.  For some examples of instructional use, in addition to what already has been mentioned in the above paragraphs, see Wikipedia: school and university projects and Wikipedia:FAQ/Schools.  I personally find compelling the suggestion that having students write and load a Wikipedia entry as part of their course work dignifies the work by giving it a value beyond a grade. Monitoring what happens to the entry can also be instructive and has been part of some instructional designs.  In addition to students in courses, libraries (the University Libraries has done this in some instances), and really any institution, can contribute to the Wikipedia by simply adding footnotes and links for its collections and works to appropriate articles.  The collaborative work of the British Museum with Wikipedians is a stellar example of entry creation and in June 2011 the National Archives announced selection of a Wikipedian in Residence.

Roy Rosenzweig, in many respects the father of digital history, founded the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, now the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.  He saw the promise as well as the challenges and deficiencies of the Wikipedia in “Can History Be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past” Journal of American History 93, no. 1 (June 2006): 117-46.  Insightful and detailed, it is essential reading.  Focusing on history, he observes that Wikipedia material is uneven, that biographical entries are usually well done and better than the far more problematic thematic entries and that accuracy comparisons with traditional works are favorable.  He tentatively concludes that professional historians should join with “popular history makers” in writing history in the Wikipedia.  The Wikipedia is also taken up in the first episode of the podcast Digital Campus, maintained by members of the Center, entitled Wikipedia: Friend or Foe? (start in the middle and for ongoing Digital Campus Wikipedia commentary click here).  The podcast considers the ability of the Wikipedia to teach students how knowledge is constructed by recounting a specific course assignment.

Future scholars — and historians in particular — will be indebted to the Wikipedia as a primary source.  It will be used with care; but it will suggest changing perceptions and interpretations and capture the broad and minute nuances of change across time because entries are works in progress.  It can do this because every Wikipedia article can be reconstituted to reflect a version at any point in time.  It is an encyclopedia with a restore key and every edit is a restore point.  To accomplish this, select “View history” on the upper right of any entry.  To view what often amounts a historiographical conversation about an entry or elements of an entry, select “Talk” on the upper left of any entry.  For instance, a 7,000 page 12 volume book was published showing the edits for the entry on the Iraq War, December 2004 – November 2009.  For a discussion of this effort at the conference dConstruct 2010 listen to The Value of Ruins.  The Wikipedia is discussed half way through this enlightening and humorous 12 minute recording; but it’s worth listening from the beginning.

In protest of the feared passage of the Senate’s Protect IP Act (PIPA)  and the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), on 18 January the English-language Wikipedia went dark.  Links are to the respective Wikipedia entries, which are semi-protected.  Foreign-language versions, which in some instances serve needy parts of the world, and of course their governments are not considering this legislation, remained up.  The duration of the blackout was surely too brief for many to realize how weak the Web would be without the Wikipedia.  How to survive the blackout was a topicAlone, the Wikipedia stands as an immensely powerful tool and, in addition, many sites depend on the Wikipedia for their content.  Wikipedia is not the most authoritative of sources; but it is free.  Free to access, freely contributed to, and its content may be freely used.  As Dan Cohen observed on 20 December 2005 “anyone can download the entirety of Wikipedia and use it and manipulate it as they wish .”  In fact, the Wikipedia is the corpus for many text mining projects, see DBpedia and H-Bot.  Free is a very powerful thing.  And it is free not only fiscally, it is free intellectually.  Wiki software, invented by Ward Cunningham, makes the Wikipedia possible and allows it to be democratic, even if despite its impressive organizational efforts it sometimes seems teetering on the edge of chaos and its overall quality is definitely uneven.

Wikipedia serves a purpose beyond academia; it provides an opportunity for individuals, possessing varying levels of expertise, to contribute to the public good.  When the process works as it should, this is done through dialogue and cooperation. The Wikipedia is the product of an inclusive and welcoming community. Useful and inspiring, it’s free to everyone – and all indications are that just about every kind of person uses it – although not all in the same way.   For reflections occasioned by its 10th anniversary, visit Sue Gardner’s Blog, 14 January 2011.  Gardner is the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit charitable organization that operates the Wikipedia and other wiki projects.

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Thanksgiving: Reflections on a Holiday Just Past

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Thanksgiving means different things to different people.  The ultimate source for learning and teaching about Thanksgiving is teachinghistory.org’s Thanksgiving Web site .  Now that Thanksgiving 2011 is a memory, the leftovers have probably been consumed (or certainly frozen), and most food poisoning victims have fully recovered (food safety is very important), there’s some time for reflection.

Since 1970 Native Americans have mourned the day as a National Day of Mourning and November is Native American Heritage Month . Considering the travail of native peoples, this can be an inspiring but invariably depressing story.  Learn how sadly the New England Indians miscalculated in their help, kindness and diplomacy with the Pilgrim settlers by watching We Shall Remain: After the Mayflower  .  The People of the First Light, the Wampanoag, were rewarded with darkness!  For the Wampanoag, it really did turn out to be about who gets the stuffing (aka stuff)!  To the Pilgrims, it was a harvest festival to thank God for a bountiful harvest and a survival which seemed providential and miraculous (of course, harvest celebrations were familiar to Native Americans. too).  To 19th century Americans it was an affirmation of their nation’s special place in God’s eyes; to later immigrants, who were not Protestant, it became a customization and acceptance of a new nationality; and, to nearly all of us today, Thanksgiving is a family holiday – with a predictable menu and sequence of activities – that unite us as a common people.  While some holidays, as we’ve become and continue to become multicultural, can actually divide us or at least make some folks less than comfortable – Christmas, for example – Thanksgiving can be celebrated by everybody.  But things are never so simple; because at the turn of the century Catholics and Jews actually needed assurance from their religious leaders that they could join in what was initially viewed as a Protestant holiday.

In 1622, Edward Winslow (1595-1655) wrote a letter which describes the event and it was printed in a pamphlet that historians commonly call Mourt’s Relation . But the description was soon lost, then rediscovered in the 1820s and reprinted in  Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers (1841).  The event also became known by an account written by Governor William Bradford (1590-1657)  — for biography see the American National Biography and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography — titled Of Plimoth Plantation .  It was reprinted in 1855.  Thanksgiving wasn’t made a fixed and recurrent national holiday until 1941 by the hand of FDR. Here’s the text of FDR’s 1939 proclamation  , not a very good year, to be sure.   It was made a national holiday by proclamation by Abraham Lincoln (and annually by subsequent presidents until FDR).   Even in the midst of unparalleled bloodshed (the Civil War killed and wounded nearly 650,000 Americans, North and South), Lincoln reminded Americans of how blessed their country was and looked to a happy, prosperous, and certain future (even when others might have dwelled on uncertainty).  The 1863 proclamation (there were actually two, the first after the Union victory at Gettysburg) said the nation was being punished for its great sin – slavery.  Lincoln’s proclamations was the result of a long Thanksgiving  observance campaign carried on in one of America’s most influential “domestic” magazines of the period, Godey’s Lady’s Book .   Godey’s may be read in the American Periodical Series , and the Libraries also hold some original copies – some hand-colored.   Lincoln’s October 1863 proclamation, which was almost certainly not written by him, but by Secretary of State William H. Seward, is beautiful and poignant.  People, including government officials, could really write back then. 

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

So the Thanksgiving we celebrate today had its genesis in ancient harvest festivals and in what ultimately became an exercise in civil religion, that is an ostensibly religious celebration divorced from a single faith.  For a quick Thanksgiving history, minus the dark ironies, virtually visit where it all began,  Plimouth and read the History of Thanksgiving .

Today’s Thanksgiving has some salient characteristics.  For instance, when it comes to food, abundance is more important than delicateness and a turkey is more or less mandatory (for some who can’t afford one “a turkey will be provided” is actually part of Thanksgiving history) – unless of course celebrants are vegans or vegetarians – in which case a tofu turkey is generally substituted.  This doesn’t look like a turkey; it’s generally a voluptuous roundish mass, sort of like a turkey breast.  Another irony: Even if no turkeys loss their lives in the preparation of this meal – they are eaten as symbols or unmistakable turkey substitutes. You’d think vegetarians and vegans would want to forget the whole sad custom (at least from the turkey’s perspective); maybe the practice is just to allay the guilt of other diners and make everyone comfortable.  Incidentally, turkeys once held an honored placed in America’s bird pantheon.  Ben Franklin actually wanted to make the turkey the national bird .  And he had good reasons but mostly he disapproved of the bald eagle because he thought it had bad moral character and was a traditional imperial symbol, not at all appropriate for the young republic – he wasn’t trying to be funny.  Well, not totally.  We’ve so changed the nature of the domestic turkey (the turkey mom on the right is wild) that it doesn’t make sense at all anymore.  And being called a “turkey” is guananteed to hurt your feelings and is obviosuly indicative of the low esteem in which some hold the bird.  We’ve opted for and stuck with the bald eagle — even if we almost managed to kill the national bird off with lead shot in carrion and pesticides and rodent poisons.  The turkey though is the undisputed symbol of Thanksgiving – even used by Google during the holiday above its query box.  This year you could change feather colors.  But I digress, a lot: the preparation of the turkey has always received a lot of attention in cook books and on television, how about this 1956 television American Dairy Association tutorial/advertisement.  By the way, the word is butter!  Now this is a perfect blend of advertising and instruction.  Butterball is to turkey what Google is to searching the Web.  And, of course, there’s the turkey hot line – so that turkey cookers don’t give their families food poisoning by under cooking.  Pumpkin pie is another certain offering, along with potatoes and a dish reflecting the ethnic cuisine of dinners as complements to traditional fare.  An Italian American family might add a pasta dish and stuffed artichokes to its Thanksgiving table.

The ambience of Thanksgiving gets a lot of attention.  What did your Thanksgiving table look like?  Martha Stewart, America’s domesticity maven, suggests how it might look. And Yankee candle (there’s a scent called Be Thankful!) and other companies are more than willing to help you make it smell just right, too.  And, for many, Thanksgiving ambience includes the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and a cavalcade of football games.  You can watch clips on Google Video and get background in the Wikipedia.  Neither was a part of my Thanksgiving, which focused on catching up with family and playing with a four-year-old pretty much non-stop.

Time for popular culture, whether you approve or not, it’s part of our culture.  Of late there have been many satirical accounts of the Thanksgiving story; one favorite of mine is the South Park History of Thanksgiving .  By the time you read this, you should be able to view the episode in its entirety online, but while once this was possible on the Web, as of this writing it is no longer.  This kind of knowledge simply can’t be given away for nothing!  I bet there’s a little more than irony is this observation!  Get over the nuttiness and crudity and the satire is, to my mind anyway, right on.  Fun is poked at the History Channel, expertise (and especially how the History Channel uses it), the imposition of theories on evidence, and the very meaning of critical thinking, as well as the ironies of Native American history.  But were the Pilgrims and Indians really aliens from outer space?  If South Park has only whetted your appetite, try Family Guy . The focus is different and not historical, see what you think.   Ready for something simpler?  Real hardcore traditional history?  The Charlie Brown Origins of Thanksgiving  (click here for part two) is great as far as it goes; but doesn’t touch the irony of the historical event for Indians.   It was all sweetness and light, as they say — and they all lived happily ever after.  Unfortuntely, we know that’s not true.  In fairness to the event, the Wampanoag thought they had a good thing going at the time — it just didn’t last very long. 

Who were the Pilgrims anyway (the Puritans, in a sense, hijacked Thanksgiving)?  You can read some very good  encyclopedia articles (and this piece from a project at the Univesity of Virginia is helpful). For most of us , the period will come more to life by reading the recently published historical novel The Pilgrim ,  but remember, it’s historical fiction.    It was featured on National Public Radio.

So, as always, I ask: What’s the point of all this?  Let your mind wander on the Web and in the library, who knows what you’ll find out and what connections you may make?  Wander and wonder . . . what’s the connection?

Olly Benson, “Mayflower II” October 13, 2005 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Computejoe, “Wampanoag” June 27, 2005 via Flickr,  Creative Commons Attribution.

Onlinewoman, “Abraham Lincoln” August 30, 2007 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Allan Gatham, “William H. Seward” September 11, 2010 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Wade Franklin, “Turkey Family” June 2, 2005 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Master Philip, “Thanksgiving Turkey” November 23, 2006 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Benjamin Chun, “The Table” November 22, 2007 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

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Pumpkins Invade Europe (and a lot of other places, too)

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It’s shockingly true: Pumpkins are aggressive!  And I’m not taking about shark-toothed Jack-o’-Lanterns, either.  Pumpkins got their start in the New World; but something so potentially big, showy, prolific, and sexy simply couldn’t be constrained.   Yes, pumpkin (properly prepared) is an aphrodisiac — at least there’s a 1998 scientific study that says so.  How does this happy chemical concoction work on mind and body?  Search in Academic Search Complete and listen to a Johns Hopkins physician.   As you would expect, there’s actually a pumpkin perfume (neither advertisement nor endorsement intended).  But I digress. 

From the fields and farms of pre-Columbian America the arrival of Europeans unleashed a monster that would soon sink roots into the fields of every continent and find a place in most cuisines.  Cristofooro Colombo (Italian) — our Christopher Columbus (the Anglicized version of his name) — and his bosses Ferdinand and Isabella (he was Colon to them) would have found the use of pumpkins in Chinese food understandable; but with 21st century eyes we find it ironic. By the way, Columbus thought the planet was a pear with a nipple on top – not a pumpkin and certainly not perfectly round.  And there is no evidence that Columbus ever eat a pumpkin!   Come to think of it: Were there even pumpkins on Hispaniola?   

 Why is pumpkin in Chinese food ironic? Alfred Crosby is famous for coining the phrase “Columbian Exchange,” drop into Google Books to sample his  The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 and you’ll find that by the end of the 19th century pumpkins had even overrun Macedonia.  And The Worlds of Christopher Columbus by William D. Phillips Jr. and Carla Rahn Phillips (Cambridge University Press, 1993) makes the same observation.  In fact, the spread of the pumpkin, along with other plants and animals, is eatable evidence of the way the discovery of the Western Hemisphere changed cultures and global economics forever.  In this regard see 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann (Knopf, 2011). 

Pumpkins are easy to grow, nutritious, and easy to force into obesity.  What else can you call an over 1,000 pound pumpkin, the product of countless annual pumpkin growing contests across the land?  These huge pumpkins are an annual demonstration of the effectiveness of down-home genetic engineering.  Pumpkin is such a great food, why you can even drink it: not only as a soup; but as beer and wine.  And of course, pumpkins are staple autumn and Thanksgiving fare (pumpkin pie was not served at the first Thanksgiving — it takes more than pumpkin to make the pie).  You’ll find many old recipes using pumpkin in the cookbooks that comprise the University of Michigan’s Feeding America.  Here you’ll find recipes from historic American cookbooks: pumpkin pie recipes abound, candied pumpkin, canned pumpkin, preserved pumpkin, pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, and cream de poturons (cream of pumpkins). The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink shows pumpkin pie recipes in American cookbooks in the early 19th century and in English cookbooks in the 17th century.   Google Book and Amazon.com (look-inside-the-book)  are also good places to look for free recipes.  Of course, if you want to just smell like a pumpkin there’s perfume and pumpkin shampoo and teeth brushing time can be more fun with pumpkin flavored toothpaste.

For a quick rundown of pumpkin history, lore, and practicalities and gastronomical applications check out the Gale Virtual Reference Library (search pumpkins, you’ll find entries in the Encyclopedia of Food and Culture) and two recently published food encyclopedias: The Cambridge World History of Food http://histories.cambridge.org.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/uid=1675/book?id=chol9780521402149_CHOL9780521402149 and The Oxford Companion to Food (Lockwood Library: Reference TX349 .D38 1999).  From the former, concerning the ancient peoples of Mexico (pp. 1248-1249):

Another important food for the sedentary people of Mexico was squash, by which we mean a number of plants belonging to the genus Cucurbita, which includes pumpkins, squash, and zucchini, among others.  All were fully employed as food sources. Their stems constituted an ingredient of a soup now called sopa de guias; the tasty yellow flowers have also long been a part of soups, stews, and quesadillas, and the fruit itself can be boiled. In recent times, brown sugar and cinnamon have been added to form a thick syrup that transforms the boiled fruit into calabaza en tacha, the classical dessert for the Día de los Muertos.  Pumpkin seeds are usually left to dry in the sun and then are toasted and eaten with a dash of salt. By weight, they have a higher content of isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, ryptophan, and valine than maize, beans, amaranth, and even egg whites.  These seeds are also known as a medicine to get rid of tapeworms.

But it is not  and was not all good.  Life is cheap when you reproduce so quickly and easily and countless pumpkins continue to loose their lives to simple pranks or as ammunition in the recreation of medieval warfare.  The trebuchet was a medieval artillery piece capable of chucking objects — from stones to corpses (early biological warfare) — over or into castle walls a pretty good distance away.   Today reenactors like to chuck pumpkins.  This could easily lead to “death by pumpkin” if you were walking by at just the wrong (right?)  time!  Smashing Pumpkins is so popular that there’s a famous musical group called The Smashing Pumpkins http://www.myspace.com/smashingpumpkins.  Whoever knew pumpkins could sound so good?  With all the decaying pumpkins around, communities have to dispose of them somehow – so some hold composting and “smashing pumpkin events.”  Is it legal to smash a pumpkin in the street? Why doesn’t such a nice vegetable get more respect?  And though people aren’t generally called pumpkins — except perhaps as a form of endearment — as in “my cute little pumpkin” — bumpkin http://libweb.lib.buffalo.edu/pdp/index.asp?ID=305 has just gotta (but maybe not) be related to pumpkin — not an often used term of late, but popular once — as in “country bumpkin” or rube.  For other negative terms try pumpkin-head, pumpkin-headed, and the now really obsolete pumpkinism.  But while it’s not all good, Cinderella always arrives in a pumpkin coach in the very height of elegance and, if imitation is the highest form of flattery, then all those plastic pumpkins in stores must mean something good.  And Charles Schultz’s Charlie Brown’s wait for the “Great Pumpkin” must have meaning.

Pumpkins are good citizens as well as a cultural icon.  For men of a certain age – well, really any age — research indicates that pumpkinseed oil – rich in zinc and unsaturated fatty acids — is especially helpful in reducing an enlarged prostate.  So for all those baseball players who have spit a seed into the air or into the ground (or into their hand) — good for you!  Vitamins, minerals, beta-carotene, vitamin C and potassium also promote artery health. 

As a cultural icon pumpkins have been praised in poetry.  Incidentally, The Smashing Pumpkins don’t really seem to care at all about pumpkins!  Use the Columbia Granger’s World Poetry Index (available on the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library http://www.buffalolib.org/ Web site) and you’ll see that pumpkins have been poeticized about for hundreds of years: “Peter, Peter pumpkin eater, Had a wife and couldn’t keep her”; “What calls back the past like the rich Pumpkin pie?”; “bumpkin Amused himself by offering these Reflections on a pumpkin”; “There’s turnip in my pumpkin pie and ashes in my pepper”; and “golden bombs on all the farms Now burst in pumpkin pies!”. 

With Halloween upon us, thoughts turn to Jack-0’-Lanterns; but these scary forms were not first carved into the flesh of pumpkins; instead the horror goes to turnips, among other things.  In fact, the custom is from the British Isles (England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland) and the pumpkin was unknown when it emerged.  I personally don’t care much for turnips.  A carved turnip (or other vegetable) was placed at an entry way on All Hallows Eve to ward off evil spirits.  A pumpkin is much easier to carve than a turnip and the New World produced the easily carved pumpkin in almost shameful abundance.   Picture yourself in a bog or swamp at might, that’s scary, and then strange lights start flickering in the marsh gases.  You’re in the setting in which the Jack-o’-lantern story was born.  In a prescientific world, the explanation is memorable and in the best ghostly tradition.  But vegetable carving predates it.  The Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack-o’-lantern offers two explanations from folklore, cutting to the chase, visit the Wikipedia for the beginning of the tale.  The Devil agrees not to take Jack’s soul; but Jack is far too sinful to go to heaven; but his deal with the devil saves him from going to hell.  With nowhere to go or call home, he must wander.  He asks the Devil for a light and he is tossed an eternal ember from hell.  He carves out a turnip (Jack loves turnips), places the ember safely inside, and begins an endless wandering of the Earth as “Jack of the Lantern” or Jack-o’-Lantern (or even Jack-a-Lantern).  Was Jack really just a night watchman?  Who are those wandering souls in the foggy night?  “Jack-o’-lantern” (Jack-with-the Lantern) wanders into recorded English usage and the Oxford English Dictionary in 1663.  The pumpkin and American Halloween  became associated probably also because of Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hallow http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/41 (1819).  The ghost of a Hessian soldier throws his head at Ichabod, knocks him off his horse, and the next morning Ichabod’ hat is found with a smashed pumpkin beside it. 

So what’s the point: Let your mind wander on the Web and in the library, who knows what you’ll find out and what connections you may make?  Wander and wonder . . . what’s the connection?

 Kam Abbott, “Pumpkin Patch” October 24, 2011 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

 Patti Gravel, “Big . . . Pumpkin” October 24, 2011 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

 Wigwam Jones,  “Lake Onion Pumpkin Launch 2001″ October 24, 2011 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

 William Warby,  “Jack-o’-lanterns” October 24, 2011 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

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