Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Boston Athenaeum Flooded

The damage was significant but not catastrophic, the Boston Athenaeum suffered water damage this past weekend. Thankfully none of the historic books were severely damaged. Here is the story published on www.boston.com

The Boston Athenaeum, the landmark membership library on Beacon Hill that is more than 200 years old, has sent thousands of books to a specialist for freeze-drying after a water leak flooded the building on Monday.

Library officials said today that the leak caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage. While stunned by the incident, they were also relieved because no truly historic items had been destroyed.

"It could have been a spectacular disaster," said James Reid-Cunningham, the Athenaeum's chief conservator.

The cause of the leak still hasn't been determined, but it did happen on one of the coldest days in years so frozen pipes are a suspect.

The flooding started on the first floor of the building on Beacon Street. "It was like Niagara Falls," said librarian Paula D. Matthews.

The flooding spread from the elegant Long Room, which overlooks the Old Granary Burying Ground, and to the Newspaper Reading Room, the Bow Room, and the Children’s Library. The water was ankle-deep and seeped into stacks of books on lower floors, officials said.

The Athenaeum was founded in 1807 and is one of the oldest independent libraries in the United States. It will be closed for the next few days, officials said.

Friday, January 21, 2011

This Microfilm Will Self Destruct in 30 Seconds

Although the headline is a bit dramatic, I couldn't help myself.

A report today in Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter stated that the LDS Church History Library in Salt Lake City was evacuated yesterday when flammable microfilm was discovered by an archivist. (Dick made a reference to the old television series and I decided to carry it a bit further)).

A 72 mm roll of film, inside a canister, was found to be deteriorating. It is easy to identify this stuff, because the film, as it breaks down, gives off a very distinctive ammonia type odor. The nitrate film is very combustible and capable of bursting into flames, or actually exploding.

In the case in Salt Lake, the library was evacuated. The film was removed and taken to a local landfill where it was detonated!

I think, beyond the safety concerns, what is important is the fact that film doesn't last forever. Although we, as researchers, are moving away from paper maybe we should rethink our actions. We can't count on film to keep our documents. Nor, can we count on digital records for any type of permanence. Here is another example proving that paper is the most stable and durable of products to save records.

Printing our important records and saving them in a box may still be the best action for researching and recording our family history.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Technology Advances Slave Trade Research

Here is a long, but interesting article published in CNN.com that may be of interest to everyone having family history or local history ties. I printed it in full to provide easy access. The webpage can be found at: http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/01/05/eltis.richardson.slave.trade/index.html?hpt=C1

New revelations about slaves and slave tradeBy David Eltis and David Richardson, Special to CNNJanuary 5, 2011 9:01 a.m. EST

Editor's note: David Eltis and David Richardson are co-authors of the "Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade." Eltis is Robert W. Woodruff professor of history at Emory University and co-editor of the Transatlantic Slave Trade database. Richardson is the director of the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull, England.

(CNN) -- Most students of American history understand that a dramatic re-peopling of North and South America began in the years after Christopher Columbus first landed in the New World. But they may not realize that it was Africa, not Europe, that formed the wellspring of this repopulation process.

In the 3¼ centuries between 1492 and about 1820, four enslaved Africans left the Old World for every European. During those years, Africans comprised the largest forced oceanic migration in the history of the world. Who were they? Who organized the slaving voyages? Which parts of Africa did they come from? How did they reach the Americas? And where exactly did they go?

Strikingly, we can now provide better answers to such questions for Africans than we can for European migrants. The African slave trade reduced people to commodities, but commodities generated profits, and where there were profits there was generally good record-keeping.

Since the onset of the computer revolution in the early 1960s, early modern business and government records have allowed historians to retrieve information on 35,000 slave voyages from Africa to the Americas and make the information available on the internet. For many of these voyages, we have rich detail on the slave ship itineraries, as well as who was put on board, who survived and how they traveled.

A new "Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade" draws on five decades of research in archives around the north and south Atlantic to provide 189 detailed and sumptuously drawn maps that answer many questions.

These maps show that almost every port in the early modern Atlantic world organized and sent out a slave voyage, and that the bigger the port, the greater the number it sent out.

Such ubiquity suggests that before the abolitionist era, there was no moral outrage or public disgrace associated with trading in African slaves. The maps also show that almost half of all voyages were organized and set out from the Americas, not Europe. As a result, bilateral (that is out and return) itineraries were almost as common as the famous "triangular voyage" pattern based on voyages dispatched from Europe.

The new "Atlas" of the slave trade provides 189 maps tracing the voyages.Within the United States, we now know that slave voyages left from almost every port and that although Rhode Island might be well-known as a slave trading region, it was far from synonymous with the U.S. slave trade. New York and Charleston, South Carolina, were also major centers.

A profile of those on board ship as well as the conditions to which they were subjected also emerges from the pages of the Atlas. Thus, Samuel Adjai Crowther, liberated from a slave ship as a child in 1821, became the first Anglican African bishop and was largely responsible for creating the first written version of the Yoruba language. Remarkably, he married Asano, whom he had first met as a girl on the slave ship from which they were both rescued.

The Atlas also contains the story of Mahommah G. Baquaqua, who was enslaved probably in what is now western Nigeria in 1845 as a 20-year old. He was first taken to Recife in Brazil, and after a ship's captain purchased him in Rio de Janeiro, he was taken to New York where he escaped, fled to Haiti, and after returning to New York to study and then moving to Canada, he wrote his autobiography.

For most there was no escape. As another captive, Ottobah Cuguano, wrote in 1787 in his own narrative, "the misery of that of any of the inhabitants of Africa meet with among themselves is far inferior to those of the inhospitable regions of misery which they meet with in the West Indies, where their hard-hearted overseers have neither regard to the laws of God, nor the life of their fellow men."

Some of the survivors lived on into the age of photography. Photographs of Crowther as well Cudjoe and Abache Lewis, who arrived on the last slave vessel to come into the US (the Clotilde in 1860) are displayed among the maps along with stories and paintings of some of their 18th century predecessors, such as Venture Smith and Phillis Wheatley.

The Atlas also charts more general patterns among captives such as their age and sex and, for two regions, evidence of ethno linguistic origins. The maps show that both mortality and voyage length in days declined over the slave trade era, but, as with ports in Europe from which free migrants left, risk of death was persistently greater from some regions of departure than from others. Captives leaving from what is now eastern Nigeria were particularly at risk with, on average, almost one fifth of those embarked dying on the Middle Passage.

Almost half of all voyages were organized and set out from the Americas, not Europe.

But the major contribution of the Atlas is to make it clear that the slave trade was not a random process. Systematic connections between Africa and the Americas can be tracked in the same way that people have been doing for years between Europe and the Americas.

Particular ports and regions in Africa were linked via winds, currents and political circumstances with particular islands, regions and ports in the Americas. For example, Angola supplied four out of every five captives in the very large branch of the trade that went to the southern cone region of South America (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay). The United States drew a larger proportion of its slaves from Senegambia south to Liberia than any other region in the Americas. And Amazonia drew almost all of its captives from what is now Guinea-Conakry.

Where a given part of the Americas drew on a number of African regions, it tended to do so in sequence. Thus Jamaica drew heavily on what is now Ghana and Benin in the 17th century before switching to first eastern Nigeria and then northern Angola and the Congo region. Such transatlantic links bear an uncanny resemblance to the patterns established by free migrants leaving Europe for the Americas.

Finally, the Atlas shows that the Atlantic slave trade remained strong until it was suppressed. Like the institution of slavery, the traffic that supplied captives did not die a natural economic death. The maps establish that in all the major importing areas of the Americas, the volume of the traffic peaked in the years just before its suppression. This pattern held for Brazil, the United States, and the British Americas as a whole.

It is becoming commonplace to claim that there are more slaves in the world today than ever and that large-scale trafficking in people continues. The "Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade" suggests that such claims tend to obscure the horrors -- unique in human history -- of the Middle Passage from Africa to the Americas. It is indeed hard to imagine circumstances in which any parallel to the transatlantic slave trade could ever happen again.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of the authors.