Conceptualizing The Past

When I was 12 years old, my dad took my brother and me to the Exploratorium. It was Amazing! The last exhibit was a music station. There were large cards, something that looked like a hole punch, and the barrel shaped metal plucking bit from inside a music box. OMG! With the hole punch in one hand and the card in the other I thought, “this must be how Beethoven felt when he composed Moonlight Sonata,” because, yes, I was just that kind of a musical nerd. I could hear the music in my heart. It was brilliant; I was a genius. When I was done “writing” my magical piece I moved over to the machine to share it with my dad and brother. The little metal arms plinked and plunked my Sonata. It was random, chaotic nonsense. A cat walking across a piano’s keys would have sounded better. Some might call it cognitive dissonance, others might say it was childish pride, but once the card came off the machine, I separated the awful sound the machine had made from the beautiful music my card was. My card was my music.   

To this day I think it’s important to realize that what something represents, isn’t the item it’s describing (see the pipe above). We are always seeking ways to take information and turn it into something we can see, such as pie charts, graphs, and strange webs with little dots. For thousands of years, humans have tried to record what they see in paintings. The history captured in the chart or painting is separate from the graph or painting that could have a history all its own. This week I examined ways we conceptualize the past.   

The first thing I learned was from The History of Humanities Computing by Susan Hockey. I learned that there was a man Father Roberto Busa who was interested in building an index of 11 million words. This was back in the 1950s. All those words had to be hand punched onto cards. The cards were taken “by the truckload” to be processed by computers. Imagine how daunting of a task that must have been! There is an award named after him.

What came next was Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere by Kieran Healy. This showed how a small amount of information could be used to build connections between people. 

I think the web above is interesting to look at and I can see how it could give a historian a place to begin when researching connections. However, the web is just that, a starting point. Just because Paul Revere is in the center of the mobs doesn’t necessarily mean he was the social axis of the groups. I can think of people whom I know to be members of many groups; however, they hardly do more than show up to pay their dues in any of the organizations. What the data represents might not be the reality. 

A healthy dose of daily skepticism is important for all researchers including those in the Humanities. We rely on the past to tell us about itself and much of the time there are gaps in the information. Sometimes what wasn’t said can be almost as exciting as what was recorded. One of my favorite ways of looking at the past is through art. I love art so much that I minored in Humanities in my undergraduate so I could take a bunch of art history classes. 

“Idealized” might be the artistic word historians call biases. In Thomas Cole’s four-painting series The Course of Empire, the trajectory of the series is small groups of nomadic people, become farmers, build a civilization; war crushes civilization, and the stone ruins of buildings are reclaimed by nature.  Cole’s rendering of early nomadic humans life in The Savage State looks a lot like an American Indian camp. Farming and domesticating of animals in The Arcadian State is portrayed by  Europen looking figures dressed in grecian like clothing. The Consummation of Empire looks like every building constructed in ancient Greece was crammed into the frame to make the perfect city. Mankind had dominated nature. The city was very white, bright and crowded. In Destruction strong, hairy men dressed almost like Roman soldiers set fire to the city and murder the civilized inhabitants. In the final scene, Desolation, the city has long been abandoned, plants and vines are growing up columns and between broken bits of stone. Cole took a theme about human history and visually constructed a narrative that wasn’t real. The paintings don’t depict an actual place in geography or time. I think the painting tell us more about Cole’s generation, how they understood the past and made sense of the world they lived in. 

What is your favorite painting from Cole’s The Course of Empire? Comment below.





Broke Down in Struggle Town

For those readers who have been following my Youtube channel, you know my work doesn’t always go as smoothly, or in the direction I anticipated. Choosing a research project can be like picking a car from the lemon lot. What’s a historian to do when she finds herself broke down in Struggle Town? Ask for help from a professor, maybe even quit one project and pick up another, but never, under any circumstances should she kick her car’s tires.  

This week my professor gave the class a few tips to help us get Struggle Town in the rear-view mirror. As with most suggestions, there were a few ideas that had already been tried, and there were a few fresh ideas. 

Although I had looked at Chronicling America, the Library of Congress’ digital newpaper collection, I hadn’t found anything. My professor suggested using the “Advanced Search” option. After a few attempts I got a hit. An article about a few soldiers drowning in a ferry accident. I tried to find more, changed my keywords based on the article I had found, and nothing. But I had one more article than I had before, so I took it and put the car in gear. 

The next tip took me to the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation. I used the sight’s WISAARD in an attempt to track down additional information about St. Paul’s Mission. I went with level one access because it didn’t require a password. As I typed in the search window it automatically populated the drop-down with options. I was excited when the mission I wanted came up. I pressed “enter” and a dot appeared on the screens map. I clicked on the dot, “no information available” came up in a small box. That didn’t make any sense. I’d read an archaeological report from the mission. Why wasn’t that information on the site? Time to level up. What access would level two grant me? Turns out I didn’t meet any of the requirements to get a password. Not even as an “academic researcher.” The three-page user agreement said, “DAHP requires the User to submit vita and copy of Graduate diploma or transcripts documenting User meets these standards. Theses, dissertations and/or peer reviewed journal articles can demonstrate research. DAHP reserves the right to request additional supporting information.” I started to feel like I couldn’t get the car in second gear. With agreements like the one above, shouldn’t there be more people in Struggle Town? 

There was still one tip left on my professor’s list. The National Register of Historic Places. After a few attemps, I had a hit. But, the record was not digitized. The Metadata indicated that it was the mission I’d been looking for. The information is out there. Somewhere. There was a renewed sense of hope.

So Struggle Town wasn’t disappearing from view with each keystroke but I had information I didn’t have before my professor’s help. I’m not ready to move on from these projects, but that option remains on the table. Why? Because I’ve got a deadline to meet and if this car isn’t going to get me out of Struggle Town, then I might have to walk. 


Resurrection of St. Paul’s Mission

 Click here to view the final draft of this article. 

The tribes that lived near the Columbia River were enthusiastic about the blackrobes teachings. So much so that in 1840, Father DeSmet, a Jesuit priest from Belgian, wrote his superiors that he needed more priests to minister to the local Indian tribes. The Jesuits were known as blackrobes because of the black clothes robes they wore. Father DeSmet made the long journey back to Europe to find the blackrobe Jesuit priests he needed. He returned five years later with two men; Father Anthony Ravalli and Father Hoecken.

In 1845 the newly arrived Father Rivalli, with the help of local Indians, built a small mission from “rough logs and brush.” In these early years St. Paul’s was a seasonal church. Father Ravalli would make the two-day journey from St. Ignatius Mission in Cusick to St. Paul’s during the fishing season to minister to the large gatherings of tribes.

In 1847 a permanent church was built near the temporary building. There were glass clerestory windows installed, and the walls covered in white mud, not unlike the walls at nearby Fort Colville. The building doubled as a place of worship and living quarters. Which, with its two wood burning stoves, made it possible for Father DeVos to live comfortably at St. Paul’s year-round. During his tenure, lasting until 1851, Father DeVos baptized 491 people, held 123 marriage masses, and shepherded 99 souls to the hereafter.

The 1860s were a time of growth and change in and around St. Paul’s. The mission had new stained glass windows installed and the new priest, Father Joset, saw an increase in the Euro-American population and demand for Catholic churches. Within the decade two more churches were built in the nearby town to serve the growing community. In the 1870s the opening of an Indian boarding school in Kettle Falls, and the closing of the trading post further reduced the need for St. Paul’s. The night of August 14, 1875, the lamps were put out for the last time. The Church was allowed to fall into disrepair.

The mission was forgotten until the 20th century. By 1938 the mission’s walls could no longer stand on their own and the roof and floor were gone. Restoration efforts began that year under the leadership of Father George. Working with the local Knights of Columbus, he set out to restore the mission to its former glory. The organization used correct period tools and techniques to make the new building look as original as possible. They hand-hewn logs and used reproduction nails and hardware. The Mission stands on its original quartzite foundation.

In 1951 St. Paul’s was gifted to the state of Washington. Washington then transferred ownership to the National Parks Service in 1974. In that same year St. Paul’s was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mission left 

South & east side 1904
South & east side 1904


South & west 1905
South & west 1905






2016 photo courtesy of Eryn Baumgart 


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Risky Fun

Entrenched in strict routine, the daily life of a soldier left a man looking forward to his free time away from the base. The young men stationed at Ft. Spokane were lucky to have the small town of Miles nearby where they could take part in the age-old tradition of drinking and blowing off steam.

Miles was the quintessential military town. Gambling, prostitution, and other shenanigans were some of what the small frontier town had to offer. Miles was across the river. In the Ft. Spokane days the waters of the river flowed free and were much stronger than today. The soldiers of Ft. Spokane used a small cable ferry to make the river crossing at a nearby narrowing of the waters. Back then, the ferry was little more than a raft, pulled across the river by the ferry operator using a cable attached to trees on either side. While the crossing point was at a place where the waters were calmer, the water was still moving, cold, and deep. 
With drink in their bellies and impaired walking, let alone swimming abilities, it was on more than one occasion that soldiers drowned in ferry accidents. In at least one incident during inclement weather the ferry cable brock and the water wash the ferry down the river. The remains were recovered, and the soldiers were buried in the Ft. Spokane cemetery.


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Crooked Agent

Click here to read the final draft of this article. 

Since its advent, the term “Indian Agent” has been synonymous with corruption, and Albert M. Anderson fit the bill. In those days, the spoil system was in full effect. The only requirement for landing the job was to be from the same political party as those elected to office. The Burial of Indian Affairs tolerated agents use of his position to supplement his salary.



In 1889 Hal J. Cole was the Burial of Indian Affairs Agent assigned as the Colville Indian Agent, and Anderson was his clerk. Anderson quickly learned the dishonest bookkeeping methods that were the agent’s standard operating procedures. By 1897 Anderson took over as the Colville Agent.

“Irregular” bookkeeping wasn’t enough for Anderson. In 1903 during a routine internal review Anderson’s misdeeds shocked even the most seasoned agents. Anderson had gone too far. His crimes included claiming to be the guardian of the reservation’s orphaned children, leasing the children’s land and pocketing the money. Additionally, Anderson was receiving kickbacks from mining companies prospecting on the Colville reservation. President Roosevelt had no choose, in spite of Anderson’s party loyalty, in 1904 the President ordered Anderson’s removal from office.

Anderson proclaimed his innocence. Four years later, in April of 1908, Anderson had his day in court. His case went before a Federal Grand Jury. In spite of the District Attorney’s confidence in his criminal case against Anderson, the jury did not render an indictment. But that wasn’t the end of Anderson’s legal woes. In September he faced charges of perjury related to the mining claims. It wasn’t until the end of October 1909 that the case was dropped. As a result of Anderson not being indicted the court records, in both cases, remain sealed to this day.

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Exploring Digital Libraries


 Photo courtesy of


A few months ago I was working on my undergraduate capstone. Part of my research involved colonial and early republic immigration law. By way of inter-library loan, I was able to get my hands on a book published in 1797. I couldn’t wait to crack open the cover, bury my nose in the pages, and take a deep breath. I <3 love <3 the smell of old books. I know I’m not the only one.

Video from Discovery News YouTube channel explaining why books smell good.

As an advocate for everything digital my infatuation with printed books, and sniffing thereof, may come as a surprise to some readers of this blog. But, as a child, I learned how to use the card catalog and run down a book by the Dewey Decimal system. And while I can’t run my fingers across the spines of books as I walk down the aisles of a digital library, what I get is faster access to more records. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I was able to use digital archives to access information from Ireland. The savings in time and money made my undergraduate heart happy.

This week I spent time wandering the digital passageways of online libraries and contemplating the search for information in the card catalog’s replacement, Google.

In 2013 The New York Review of Books published an article The National Digital Public Library Is Launched!  By Robert Darnton. Darnton worked on the project. It isn’t one massive online library so much as a hub for a bunch of libraries. According to the article, Darnton, and his colleagues, hope for the library to grow internationally. What a fantastic resource that would be!
EWU has a database, and so does the Spokane County Library (SCL). Both are protective of their online stuff. When I access EWU’s database from home, I must use my password. SCL also wants me to remember a password for “my account.” Logging into one will not give me access to the other. That doesn’t make sense. SCL is on the EWU interlibrary loan system, so why can’t I get into everything at SCL once I’m logged in at EWU? If we were on a system like the one Darnton built, I could access everything relevant to my search on one screen.
That line of thinking led me to consider just how I conduct my searches. No matter how excited I am about a project there is always a moment when I sit down and think, “am I going to spend the next week looking for sources and find nothing?” Before I go to any password protected database or archive, I start with a Google search. I know, not everyone is a Google fan. Nicholas Carr isn’t. I am taking his advice and am being skeptical of his skepticism about the internet and the way it’s changing the how humans think. In his article Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains  Carr says bad things are coming as a result of our skimming and article jumping because, “In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.” But, who has time for that?
In Dan Cohen’s Is Google Good for History?  he remembered, “Read it all, we were told in graduate school.” How times have changed. The first hour, of my first class in grad school the professor stressed the importance of “skimming.” Even providing this handout.

If there were ever a time and place for Carr’s “deep reading” and “deep thinking” university would be the spot. However, there isn’t time for that. Not in Cohen’s day and not now. Students must get as much as we can out of reading assignments in five days, regardless of page count, full-time job, family, other classes, spend the sixth day writing something about the book and on the seventh-day speak knowledgeably on the content. If undergrad work didn’t make me a proficient skimmer grad school soon will. The internet and Google had little to do with changing reading habits the creators built on what we were already doing. We must be fast because there are always deadlines. I agree with Cohen; “Google is good.” With it, I’m able to quickly find articles and “mine” the relevant sources. Within a few hours, I can have some solid secondary sources, feel confident about my project, and start the hunt for primary sources.
While my heart enjoys a printed book for leisurely reading on vacations, digital is where my brain needs to be for school.
Do you agree or disagree? Leave a comment below.

Oral History

This week I focused on learning about oral history. I began by reading What is Oral History on the History Matters website. The article pointed out that an early problem with recording oral histories was the reliance on a person to write down what was being said. This form of recording could increase the chance of human error. “Thus, historians consider oral history as beginning with the work of Allan Nevins at Columbia University in the 1940s. Nevins was the first to initiate a systematic and disciplined effort to record on tape, preserve, and make available for future research recollections deemed of historical significance.” Other than a short attempt during the depression oral histories focused on prominent citizens, but that focus shifted in the 60s with the increased awareness of activism by ordinary people. “By recording the firsthand accounts of an enormous variety of narrators, oral history has, over the past half-century, helped democratize the historical record.” The author of the article said that the best oral histories have an extemporaneous feel. Two people talking about the past with one trying to remember the details.

However, there are other ways that human error can corrupt oral histories. People can easily misremember things. Misremembering is something to consider when talking to people about the past. I think this error makes getting the story from as many individuals as possible important. There are bound to be overlapping details, and those details could be the truth.

I watched the above TED talk by Elizabeth Loftus that pointed out the importance of wording questions. Words can be leading and cause false memories. The same concept was reinforced in Davidson and Lytle’s, View from the Bottom Rail. The authors went one step beyond false memory or misremembering by arguing that an interviewee’s perception of the interviewer could cause answers to be different.

Then I hopped around the internet and explored a variety of oral history projects. The first was on the Oral History review were I read about an interesting project taking place in Cleveland Listening to the City: Oral History and Place in the Digital Era. A person can use their phone to access oral histories while walking about the city. I also visited, Slave Narratives. This was an early project that didn’t focuse on sociaities elliet.  Spokane’s Pride a local project that is focused on Spokane’s LGBTQ community. Then the  Veteran’s History Project, and lastly I visited Sound Map of the British Isles. It was here that I heard Mr. Ablett talk about how his employer provided beer to the employees. The men could drink as much as they wanted. One of Mr. Ablett’s collogues once drank 21 pints of beer before breakfast. It’s at about the 2-minute mark.
What I have discovered by visiting these various projects is that I like being able to hear the interview even more than being able to read the transcript. There were a few videos, and that was fun, but it’s the audio that I most enjoy. Now that I understand a little bit more about leading questions, false memories, misremembering, and the dynamic between the people taking part in the process I try to listen even more carefully for what isn’t said.

More Thoughts on the Digital Humanities

Photo curtsy of
Photo curtsy of

I recently read an article on The Journal of Digital Humanities page. Though the Jurnal is “currently on hiatus,” the content is still accessible. The article by Tim Sherratt entitled “It’s All About the Stuff: Collections, Interfaces, Power, and People,” was about the tools now available to researchers and the importance of harnessing the power the tools provide.
Sherratt wrote about how is was able to take existing “online technology” and tweak its function to suit his needs. He referred to this as “the power of interfaces.” While he acknowledged that the changes he made to various programs were not simple one click installations, but it wasn’t so difficult as to be insurmountable.
I think this is an important statement. When dealing with online databases’ there is always a point where I think, “I wish I could do X,” or “search just for Y” but it never accorded to me to change the way the interface interacted with my browser.
The one line that made me pause the longest was this, “Every API has an argument. What questions do they let us ask? What questions do they prevent us from asking?”
Sherratt argued that even with the new technology and digital access the institutions that house the records still control the narrative and interpretation of the collections by controlling the way the public can interface with those records. By taking the power away from the institutions, the researchers can evaluate smaller segments of information and see a narrative less distorted by the lens of those in power.
I also read an article by a man readers might recall from an earlier post on Digital Humanities,  Dan Choen, entitled “Information Overload, Past and Present.” In the short article Cohen contemplates our concerns of “information overload.” He considers Ann Blair’s book Too Much to Know and her argument that every generation has felt inundated with more information than what could be useful.
I think the adage, “one man’s trash, is another man’s treasure,” fights perfectly here. Yes, there is a lot of information out there, and no, not everything will apply to every topic of research; however, the more we use the power of technology to wade through the masses the more relevant information we can collect. The more information we have, the more complete the picture of the past becomes. I think we also need to acknowledge our obligation to the future. The present isn’t all about us. As Daniel W. Stowell  said, “People will use this data in ways we can’t even imagine yet.”

Spokane Historical

Spokane Historical logo, curtsy of
Spokane Historical logo, curtsy of

Spokane Historical is a fantastic tool for getting to know more about Spokane country. The website can be accessed from a smartphone and allows users to take a virtual walking tour of Spokane’s past.
This week I was looking at the history already recorded On Spokane Historical about Fort Spokane and Kettle Falls. I need to know what’s already there because my classmates and I are working with the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area’s staff to increase their digital presence.
The content I saw was good. See for yourself by clicking here.
The writing was clear, accessible, and brief. Each article was accompanied by archival photos, and many of the stories even had an audio recording of the text.
I think one way to improve upon the content is to embed links from the current histories to new articles that have a more narrowed or even a personal forces. An example of my idea: link a history about someone who did time in the Fort Spokane guardhouse to the article about the guardhouse building. The more personal histories will likely be difficult to research and might not yield very long pieces. However, I don’t think the new information should be added to the existing work because people don’t read long articles. If they want to learn a little more, they can easily access the additional content.
Tell me what you thought about Spokane Historical by leaving a comment below.

From Nightstand to Bookshelf

"The Spokane Indians" on my bookshelf.
The Spokane Indians on my bookshelf.

I finished reading The Spokane Indians: Children of the Sun and it wasn’t as sad as I thought it was going to be. Ruby and Brown did a great job of telling the history of the Spokane without making the tribe seem like victims who did nothing to help themselves.
I think a good example of the Spokane exercising their agency was when the American government wanted to place the area tribes on reservations. The tribe seemed to know that the American government would find a way to amend any agreement to the continued disadvantage of the tribe and therefore took a long game approach to the government offer to move. They waited. The Washington Territory began considering the idea of reservations in 1854. It wasn’t until 1872 that the American government’s Indian Affairs representatives began meeting with tribes to propose plans for moves to reservations. In 1881 the Lower Spokane reservation was established on “the most worthless and barren” land. The Middle and Upper Spokanes still did not have a reservation in 1887, but many members of the tribe were being to think the time had come to move. They made a deal with the American government and began to wait to see if it would be approved. In 1894 many of the Middle and Upper Spokanes began moving onto the nearby reservations for the Lower Spokanes and Coeur d’ Alene. By 1896 most of those who had held out moving onto the reservation, choosing instead to live on the outskirts of the city, also began to relocate onto the reservation.
One of the components that I found interesting was how difficult it was for the government to fill the teaching positions at schools on the reservations. Many of the tribes wanted their children to be educated in the white tradition; however, children’s attendance was not dependable. I think a lot of that had to do with the massive turnover of teachers who came and went from the reservation. Most of them lasted a year; a few teachers didn’t last that long. I think the revolving door of teachers sent a message to the children that their education wasn’t necessary. Why make an effort to go to school when there was a teacher? He or she would soon be gone. There was one teacher, Helen Clark who lived on the reservation for about six years and her enrollment and attendance seems to have been high and consistent. I think her time there had a lot to do with her success. She was able to build relationships with the children and her understanding of the tribe’s culture.
Clark’s school was a day school. At the time another form of education was boarding schools.
At Northwest History, there is a record of a Spokane tribe member, Lulu O’Hara, who went to the most famous boarding school Carlisle. Lulu had been attending the boarding school at “Fort Spokane Reservation School for six years” before her grandfather applied for her to go to Carlisle. Unlike Clarks school on the reservation that allowed children to remain close to their family and culture, the boarding schools were designed to separate the children from their heritage. The goal was the total assimilation of white culture, but, as pointed out in the article, not as equals to the white population but as “manual trades[men] or as domestic servants.” Lulu graduated from Carlisle and worked in domestic service before returning to her home. Read the entire article here.
The Spokane Indians is a great first step for anyone who wants to learn more about the history of the northwest. While waiting for Amazon to send your copy, pop on over to Northwest History to learn more about Lulu and the other people who made this amazing part of the world their home.