The Ruins of Harpers Ferry

In this first post inspired by my trip to Harpers Ferry, I’m going to dwell on my surprise at finding ruins that revealed Harpers Ferry’s industrial past. Contrary to my expectations, it turns out that the town pictured below, which I assumed had always to be a quaint, bucolic 18th century village, was an important industrial and transportation hub back in the 18th and 19th centuries. I want to bring out that unexpected history with the help of photographs I took during my visit.

Bird's Eye 2

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Time to Reboot

It’s time to reboot this blog. I haven’t done anything here since last summer, and I’m feeling the itch to write again. I’d like to take this post as an opportunity to organize my thoughts in preparation for what I’ll write in this blog in the future.

Originally, this blog was for a history class about the ways that historians use images. Though the class ended, I want to continue what I started. The themes and topics we studied having to do with photography and history are so interesting that I need to keep working on them.

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A practice archival trip to the Little Library

Now that the class is over, I’ve had a chance to go back and finish a blog post that I’ve been wanting to publish for a few weeks. It’s about a practice archival trip I took about a month ago to the old one-room library in downtown Vienna, Virginia, called the Little Library. When I visited, I took a few digital photos of the older books there, and I’m going to share them here.

I also want to  follow-up on one of the goals I made for myself in my first post for this class, which was to experiment with optical character recognition software. At the end of this post, I’m going to write about my first attempt to scan the digital photos I took of the library books.  It’s part of a larger plan that’s been on my mind for more than a year to create a workflow that goes from (1) visiting a library or archive to (2) taking digital photos and cleaning them up with Photoshop or some other kind of editing software to (3) scanning them to create readable and searchable text files.

The Little Library

According to the brochures I picked up there, the Little Library was built in 1897, and, at least from what I learned from the volunteer who was there, it has been in continual use until today. In 1913, it was relocated from its original location near the Patrick Henry Branch of the Fairfax Public Library to its current location near the Freeman’s Museum just off Maple Ave in Vienna.


The front of the library

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Final Project

Here is my final project. Originally, I was trying to write an essay that makes connections between John Spargo’s children’s story and communists in Sheridan County, but I decided to go another direction and write about how Spargo uses images in two of his books. Forgive me for any typos or issues with grammar, but just fitting the text and images into the Hinterland article was work enough. I can say from plenty of personal experience now that Photoshop is not best choice for putting together an essay.

I diverged from Spargo’s format in two ways. Because my essay is much shorter than his, I went with a larger font to stretch mine over a few more pages and make it easier to read. Second, I separated my paragraphs with an empty line, which again was to make my article easier to read.

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Article Redesign Assignment: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

This post is going to be more than a simple recap of my article redesign assignment. I’m going to try to remember and summarize the steps I took for each article page I redesigned. I want to do this because I lost track of the workflow I had in mind when I first started planning this assignment. Each page presented its unique challenges, and rethinking what I did, including my failures and mistakes, is something I need to do as I come to the end of this class and in preparation for future projects having to do with images.

I’ll end this post with a summary of four lessons I learned from this assignment.

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To imagine a photograph is to imagine a form of life.

Analyzing a photograph involves more than studying its visual details. To get the most out it, historians need to keep in mind its historical and technical background, as well as the personal context of its photographer. While these truisms are quite obvious, I began to question them after reading Errol Morris’ Believing is Seeing (Observations on the Mysteries of Photography).

What makes Morris’ book so effective at bringing into question my old assumptions about photography is how effectively he uses his dogged focus on photographic detail. My favorite example of this is in chapter one, where he writes, [the need to give photographs intentions] led me to a more general question: would it be possible to order these photographs based on evidence in the photographs themselves? (page 20)

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Image Restoration Assignment

One of the great pleasures of historical research is stumbling upon an unexpected item that highlights a period of history in a new way. I had one of these moments a few weeks ago on the first day of class. Searching through the Library of Congress’ digital collection, I found a socialist children’s book.

Original Book Cover

After skimming through the book, I realized that Socialist Readings for Children is like any other children’s book in that it is didactic. Its author John Spargo, uses bucolic scenes and illustrations to teach moral lessons. Of course, what makes Spargo’s book unique is that it teaches these lessons with a socialist style. This means that he makes references to capitalism, workers, and even class conflict in a book for children, and he tries to show children how socialism is the answer for social problems. In that way, Spargo indoctrinates his readers.

I am not going to give a standard breakdown of the text of Socialist Readings for Children. Instead, I am going to focus on the book’s images. Each chapter has an image that complements its lesson. I am going to comment on five of those images, which should give my readers a sense of the contents of Spargo’s amazing book. At the end of this post, I am going to explain how I believe this simple children’s book shows US history in an unusual light.

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…but the god that came out was a spider

The title of this post comes from a movie that’s been on my mind since I started reading Picturing the Past on Friday night. The movie is Through a Glass Darkly by Ingmar Bergman. One of its scenes, which I’ve embedded below,  is my favorite example of how difficult it can be to interpret images. For this post, I’m going to relate this scene to one historian’s view of images featured in chapter one of Picturing the Past.

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