Archive for the ‘Social Studies’ Category

On August 1, 1779, Francis Scott Key was born on his family’s plantation in Maryland.  He studied law at St. John’s College, and it was in his capacity as lawyer that he witnessed the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812.  Key had been aboard a British ship negotiating the release of American prisoners when the British initiated their attack on Fort McHenry on September 13, 1814.  He was retained on board and witnessed the bombardment from the HMS Tonnant where he remained watchful throughout the night for signs that the American flag was still flying over Fort McHenry.  At dawn he reported to the prisoners below deck that the flag was still there.

Painting of Francis Scott Key, oil on canvas by DeWitt Clinton Peters, 1902. Image courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society via Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage.

Six days later, Key published a poem called “Defence of Fort McHenry” in the Patriot, which he had composed on his return to journey to Baltimore. The poem with written to correspond with the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven”.  Once set to music and renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner”, Key’s patriotic song gained popularity throughout the United States.  Key continued to practice law and write occasional poetry until the end of his life in 1843.  It wasn’t until 1931, however, that “The Star-Spangled Banner” was adopted as the American national anthem through a Congressional resolution signed by President Herbert Hoover.

Printed broadside of the Defence [sic] of Fort M’Henry [sic], 1814. First printed version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the song by Francis Scott Key. Image courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society via Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage.

You can learn more about the War of 1812 through Opening History, which includes such collections as the Paul Hamilton Papers from the University of South Carolina, the War of 1812 collection from the Maryland Historical Society, and the War of 1812 collection from the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

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On July 23, 1982, the International Whaling Commission officially adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling, which was to take effect four years later.  The decision followed the birth of the anti-whaling movement in the 1970s and two sobering reports (in 1977 and 1981) from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species that asserted several species of whales were in danger of extinction.

A 19th century pen and ink drawing featuring examples of whalecraft (harpoons, lances and spears) used in whaling. Image courtesy of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Whaling consists of hunting whales for either meat or oil, and it has been practiced by humans since prehistoric times.  In the United States, many Native American tribes have a long history of whaling, and a thriving whaling industry was established alongside some of the earliest colonies.  Commercial whaling in American reached its peak in the mid-19th Century, but by the early 20th century the number of active whaleships quickly dwindled and commercial whaling had ceased entirely by 1927.  According to the IWC’s moratorium, whaling may still take place for scientific research and aboriginal subsistence, and whaling in the United States still occurs today under the auspices of the latter provision.

Whale at the Tyee Company whaling station, Tyee, Alaska, August 25, 1910. Image courtesy of the University of Washington via the Western Waters Digital Library.

You can learn more about the history of whaling in the United States at Opening History.

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On July 13, 1923, the iconic Hollywood sign was officially dedicated after being erected to advertise a housing development in the Hollywood Hills.  Initially (and as seen in the 1925 photograph below) the sign read “Hollywoodland” with each of the 13 letters constructed out of wood and sheet metal and measuring 30 feet wide and 50 feet high.  It was only meant to remain on the hillside for a year or two, but it soon became an enduring symbol of the American film industry.  It was renovated once in the 1940s, when the last four letters were removed, and again in the late 1970s when 9 celebrities each donated $27,777 to replace the deteriorated letters with a more durable steel counterpart.

View of Vine Street looking north from Barton Avenue towards the Hollywood sign, ca.1925. Image courtesy of the California Historical Society via the USC Digital Library.

You can find more images of early Hollywood and primary resources relating to popular culture at Opening History.

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On July 1, 1963, the United States Postal Service introduced ZIP codes, a system of postal codes for efficiently delivering mail within the US.  ZIP is short for “Zone Improvement Plan” and the codes consist of a unique sequence of 5-digit numbers assigned to specific delivery points across the country.  When first announced, the USPS urged Americans to “use ZIP code” by developing a series of promotional stamps, signs, and even a cartoon mascot named Mr. ZIP, but the system remained voluntary until 1967.

Mailmen receiving mail order catalogs in Vernal, Utah a few year before the introduction of ZIP codes. Image courtesy of the Uintah County Library Regional History Center.

Opening History has a wealth of primary sources relating to the history of the United States Postal Service, including a set of films documenting mail collection and delivery in the Edison Motion Pictures collection, and a collection of mailbox photographs from the 1960s and 1970s in the Fife Slide Collection of Western U.S. Vernacular Architecture.

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On this day in 1906, Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri and christened Freda Josephine McDonald by her mother, Carrie McDonald.  Homeless at the age of 12, she was discovered dancing on a street corner three years later and recruited to join the St. Louis Chorus.  She is perhaps best remembered for her performances at the Folies Bergères in Paris throughout the 1920s where she danced in her iconic banana skirt and often appeared on stage with her pet cheetah, Chiquita.  Through the 1930s, she rose to fame as a singer, dancer, and actress.  In 1937 she became a French citizen, and as World War II progressed, she shifted her focus toward supporting the underground resistance movement.  After the war, she often returned to the United States where she was active in the American Civil Right Movement, speaking at the 1963 March on Washington and famously refusing to perform before segregated audiences.

Josephine Baker with the Nobel Prize winning political scientist, Ralph J. Bunche, ca. 1960. Image courtesy of the UCLA Special Collections via Calisphere, the Online Archive of California.

You can find more primary sources about activists and entertainers of the twentieth century through Opening History.

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On this day in 1934, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were ambushed by six policemen in rural Louisiana.  The couple led the infamous Barrow Gang, notable for robbing banks, stores, and gas stations across several states.  Over the course of two years, the gang killed nine police officers and several civilians, and they were labeled as public enemies.

Wanted poster for the Barrow Gang. Image courtesy of the Dallas Municipal Archives via Texas Heritage Online.

Their story gained national attention in 1933 when the gang escaped the police after a stand off at their hideout in Joplin, Missouri.  In their hurry to flee the scene, the gang left nearly all their possessions behind, and the police discovered a camera with several roles of undeveloped film and poetry by Parker.  The photographs depicted members of the gang posing in front of their car, often with firearms and cigars.

Photograph of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker standing together behind their car.  Image courtesy of the Dallas Municipal Archives via Texas Heritage Online.

Public fascination with the couple shortly turned to outrage after Barrow orchestrated a jailbreak in January 1934 followed by a series of murders in Texas and Oklahoma.  After the jailbreak, Captain Frank Hamer, a former Texas Ranger, organized a posse of policemen who began tracking the outlaws’ movements through the winter and spring of that year.  When it became clear that the group would soon visit one of the gang’s family members in Louisiana, the officers prepared an ambush.  They concealed themselves in the bushes along a rural road, and began firing as soon as Clyde’s Ford V8 approached.  They fired some 130 rounds at the car, killing both Bonnie and Clyde without offering a chance to surrender.

Officers inspect Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker’s bullet-riddled V8 Ford at the police impound after removing the couple’s bodies. Dallas County Sheriff Smoot Schmid is at left, hatless. Image courtesy of the Dallas Municipal Archives via Texas Heritage Online.

For more primary source materials related to Bonnie and Clyde, visit the Barrow Gang Collection at Texas Heritage Online.  You can also find out more about the public enemies of the Great Depression era through Opening History.

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Throughout the month of May in 1961, groups of civil right activists, known collectively as the Freedom Riders, boarded interstate buses traveling through the southern United States.  Three separate United States Supreme Court decisions —  Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia (1946), Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company (1955) and  Boynton v. Virginia (1960) — had ruled segregation illegal on interstate buses and in the waiting rooms and restaurants that served those buses, allowing interstate travelers to disregard local laws upholding racial segregation.  The Freedom Riders sought to exercise their rights by testing the new federal law but were attacked by violent mobs and arrested by police willing to uphold local Jim Crow laws.

A group of Freedom Riders visiting with civil rights leader John LeFlore in Mobile, Alabama, 1961. Image courtesy of the University of South Alabama via Alabama Mosaic.

In Alabama, members of the Klu Klux Klan conspired with local police to end the Freedom Rides, and on May 14, 1961 Klansmen firebombed the first bus to arrive in the town of Anniston, Alabama and beat the riders mercilessly as they escaped from the bus.  Later, the injured riders were refused care at a local hospital because hospital staff feared the mob that has congregated outside.  Despite the severe brutality of these attacks, the Freedom Riders insisted on pushing forward and efforts continued throughout the month.  At the time, their actions were deemed disruptive and unpatriotic by much of the general public and even by the Department of Justice; however, by the end of the year, the Interstate Commerce Commission was fully compliant with the Supreme Court’s rulings, and the Freedom Riders served as an inspiration for many of the direct action initiatives that would soon follow.

You can learn more about the civil rights movement through Opening History, which includes such collections as the Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive and the Civil Rights Digital Library among others.

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