The Funeral of President Lincoln

This month marks the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's assassination. Given the historical distance, though, it's hard for us to really appreciate how traumatic this event was -- especially when, in the days preceding it, there was so much to celebrate. On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, effectively ending the Civil War. But ten days later, the colors of victory faded black as the president's hearse moved solemnly through the streets of Washington. The St. Cloud Democrat (Minnesota: April 27, 1865) ran an account of the three-mile-long procession, which I've reprinted below. As you read it, imagine for a moment what it must have been like watching the carriages move past. Though the war was over, tremulous times lied ahead. The reconstruction of a nation began with a tomb for its moral compass.

Four Newspaper Illustrations from 1914

A century ago, in 1914, war erupted across Europe following the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a conflict that by its end claimed 37 million casualties worldwide. It was four years of fighting that closed the 19th century and set the 20th into motion. Because its worst horrors remained to be seen (Wilfred Owen's poem "Dulce et Decorum est" captures the disillusion well), there was still hope it'd come to a speedy end. Although this small sample is not representative of every published illustration, political cartoon, and comic, it still provides some insight into the nation's feelings of that decisive year. Here we see doubt over the merits of sustaining a standing army (this being 15 years after the Spanish-American War and the nation's first foray into imperialism). We see as well both doubt and optimism for war -- and finally hope for 1915.

The flapper’s a “young bird unable to rise in flight” (c. 1917)

During the late-1910s, Winona Wilcox was a syndicated columnist called by The Day Book, "a writer of the human heart." Writing during the Great War and the peak of the women's suffrage movement, her articles were witty and sarcastic, and on the topics of marriage and womanhood, in some ways, progressive. Though still constrained by the conservatism of the time, Wilcox often advocated for female economic independence and co-equal marriage. Given her pedestal, her work was often the first exposure many readers had to these developing ideas. In this article from January 10, 1917, she plays the role of social observer, reporting on a new phenomenon that would become the major trend of the next decade: the flapper. Marking an end of the Victorian Woman, this was a new femininity Zelda Fitzgerald embodied and her husband F. Scott immortalized in This Side of Paradise (1920). This was a postwar woman: independent, unconventional, self-expressive. The flapper was, in Wilcox's words, "more nearly the equal of the male than at any other age, and ... very apt to let him know it." ...

“Put it down the window and climb out”: Vice-President Humphrey at the University of Minnesota (1969-1970)

In March 2013, while writing my undergraduate history thesis on Hubert Humphrey’s role in the 1944 DFL merger, I spoke with University of Minnesota professor emeritus Dr. Hy Berman. As Minnesota’s “unofficial state historian,” I was excited not only to meet him but also discuss his friendship with the former vice president. One topic we spent much time on was Humphrey’s teaching at the University. All uncited quotations come from the transcript of our interview. [Excerpt]: "His office on campus was on the second floor of the Social Science Building — a corner office — and the Secret Service was still … protecting him. When they saw his office, they came to me and said, “That’s unacceptable,” because he was in a corner office, isolated. I said, “Well, that’s the biggest office. We’re going to furnish it nicely,” and they said, “We’re very unhappy.” "That evening I went to the hardware store and bought a rope ladder. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I brought it up the next day, went to the Secret Service guys and said, “This will do: Put it down the window and climb out.”"

John Lind, Minnesota’s only Populist governor

This is a follow-up to a previous article called, "Digital Humanities: Newspaper Mentions of Four MN Governors" and this short note on John Lind serves two purposes. The first is practical, the other political. (And yes, all history is political). First, there are few easily-accessible resources discussing Lind's politics. [...] Second, as Orwell said, "The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history." Having served on a Texas textbook review panel, I've seen firsthand historical revisionism. I've seen Tea Party rhetoric creep into how we write about the past: The framing that government has always been an unnecessary evil, taxes an infringement upon liberty. Yet, when it comes to workers and women's rights, public education, the social safety net -- all the things that allow people to live with dignity -- these were not gifts of the free market or God but rather the product of struggle. These came from grassroots organizing. These came from rising up against power. It came from the notion that a government of the people could be proactive and a force for good. Minnesota is full of such stories, and it's about time we've heard them.

Digital Humanities: Newspaper Mentions of Four MN Governors

As I've written elsewhere, given my time at the Initiative, I've developed an interest in Big Data analysis and how this methodology can be applied to history ("the digital humanities"). Specifically, as collections become digitized, the sheer volume of resources ought to inspire historians to find new ways to engage and manage information. While the result will only be as good as the analysis, it has the potential to reveal trends that otherwise may be implied but not obvious. The following tracks the state newspaper mentions of particular keywords -- in this case, names -- of four Minnesota governors: David M. Clough, John Lind, Samuel R. Van Sant, and John A. Johnson. For example, every instance in which "John" and "Lind" appear within five words of one another on a Minnesota newspaper page, that page is counted. Searching for variations of how these individuals were addressed (such as "Governor Van Sant" rather than "Samuel Van Sant" or "S.R. Van Sant") yield different counts but the overall trends are the same.

The Digital Humanities and Word Clouds

Ever since I joined the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law, I've had a growing interest in big data analysis. With so much information being digitized -- whether it's criminal records, government documents, or historical archives -- researchers can engage with old resources in new ways and ask questions on scales previously unimaginable. Though I'm not too vocal about it here (yet), right now I'm working to apply what I've learned at the Initiative to the Library of Congress' "Chronicling America" archives. This crossing of fields, for those who are curious, is called the "Digital Humanities." (If you'd like to know more, I suggest checking out the historian Dan Cohen's blog. Fred Gibbs also has a helpful introduction to historical data analysis here). I won't reveal any of my graphics here (I'm saving them for a future post), but here's an example of the Digital Humanities that everyone's familiar with: Word clouds. Technically, these were possible before the digitization of famous works, but it's the kind of work that required slave labor teaching assistants. The following I put together in a few minutes using Project Gutenberg and Wordle.

Governor Floyd B. Olson on Law School Debt

After working a series of odd jobs around the country, in 1914, at the age of 21, Olson returned to Minneapolis and attended night-classes at the Northwestern College of Law (now the William and Mitchell College of Law). The next year he graduated and passed the bar exam. But after doing so, he was sued by his law school over unpaid tuition fees. What happened next is recounted by Joseph Poirier, a college friend and later Minneapolis Municipal Judge (1937-1942): "... I recall that one of the first lawsuits Floyd tried was one in which he was a defendant. He was sued by [the] law school for an alleged unpaid balance on his tuition fee. He defended his own case, and I well recall his defense, in which he was Exhibit One as well as defendant. His argument was: "I know nothing about law, have learned nothing; and while I have been admitted to practice, you can readily see that I am no lawyer. My ignorance of the law, and the way I try this case are clear proofs that I have received nothing by reason of my alleged instruction at this school." And, strange to say, the jury found for him." (32)

The Time’s Don’t Change: “The 98 Per Cent Have Some Rights Entitled to Respect.”

It's time for some Minnesota trivia: Who said this?We have had to oppose the swaggering insolence and the millions of the war profiteers and the low moral endeavor politicians made by the froth of the war.... We needed success to call a halt to the wild orgie of Wall street legislation which the politicians thought … Continue reading The Time’s Don’t Change: “The 98 Per Cent Have Some Rights Entitled to Respect.”