A (Very) Short History of Voting Rights in the United States

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

The expansion of voting rights has a long and tumultuous history in the United States, and while the journey is not over (and may never be), a number of crucial events have made voting a more inclusive right that many people cherish as one of the most important responsibilities held by American citizens. The original text of the U.S. Constitution largely left decisions concerning voting rights up to the individual states; thus, the right to vote was held almost exclusively by white male property holders in the early days of our nation. However, several Constitutional Amendments have expanded the electorate since the American Civil War. In the years immediately following the war, the Fourteenth Amendment extended the vote to all males above the age of 21 and further defined citizenship rights, and the Fifteenth Amendment seemingly outlawed the denial of voting rights based on race and “conditions of previous servitude,” laying out protections for former male slaves. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment extended the vote to women, a long overdue protection finally given after a decades long struggle.

The 1960s witnessed a new era in the protection of voting rights, particularly for minorities in certain parts of the country. States in the American South, following Reconstruction in the late 19th century, long practiced efforts to disenfranchise African American voters through things such as a poll tax and literacy tests. In 1964, the Twenty-fourth Amendment outlawed the use of poll taxes, and the following year, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 laid out protections for minority voters, working to realize the promises made by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The Voting Rights Act has been amended several times over the past half century, extending protections to other minorities in the United States, including language minorities and voters with disabilities. Another important step to bring more people into the political conversation took place in 1971 with the Twenty-sixth Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18 nationwide.

There are many other important moments and pieces of legislation that serve to protect voting rights in the United States, and I would encourage further research if you are interested in both the high and low points of this part of the nation’s history. The protection of voting rights in the United States continues to be a pertinent topic in our society, and will likely remain so well into the future. There are a number of questions that arise during every election cycle. Are there enough polling places to accommodate the population, particularly in urban areas? What exactly is the future of early voting and mail-in voting, both exacerbated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic? What about the disenfranchisement of felons in many states, either while incarcerated or after release? Should a person have to show identification to vote? One would hope that voting, one of the most sacred rights held by American citizens, one that countless people have fought for during the history of this country, will continue to become easier, with more and more people encouraged to use this opportunity to have their voices heard.

And this brings a reminder: please vote! It is such a privilege to be able to do so. It is important to keep up with what is happening on any given ballot. Many people only consider a Presidential election important. But there are so many elections that happen in conjunction with and in between it. Even in a year such as this one, there are other relevant things on the ballot one should be knowledgeable about. For example, as a Mississippian, I get the chance to vote on the following on November 3: President of the United States; members of the U.S. Congress; state Supreme Court justices; a new design for our state flag; and the possible legalization of medical marijuana. So, remember, being a voter is important, but being an informed voter is vital.

If you are interested in more information on voting rights, here are some links to online government resources that you can check out!

The Past, Present, and Future of American Space Exploration

International Space Station

This has been an interesting stretch for space travel in our country, with the joint NASA-SpaceX launch of the manned Dragon spacecraft being a highlight of what has proved to be a difficult year. Also of note, June 3 was the 55th anniversary of the first American spacewalk. And June 30 is one of those fun holidays often celebrated by educators in order to promote scientific learning, Asteroid Day. In honor of these achievements and recognitions, we in Government Publications wanted to point out some aspects of NASA’s history of space exploration and share some resources that may serve as a jumping off point to any studies in these topics.

Written by Meghan Campbell, Government Publications

 ISS: The International Space Station

The International Space Station, or ISS, is mankind’s first concerted effort to collaborate outside of Earth. This satellite, which initially launched in 1998, moves at an average pace of about 17,150 mph, orbits our planet approximately 16 times every 24 hours, and is home to astronauts of differing nationalities. The ISS and its crew sustain a successful environment where progress in scientific experiments further the knowledge of space and other scientific research. At the time of this posting, there are currently 5 people living on board the ISS. Two of which, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, recently completed a historic spaceflight which ended with their boarding of the ISS utilizing the SpaceX “Crew Dragon” spacecraft.

The experiments conducted on the ISS further the achievements of mankind and prove to be consistently astounding. In the document “International Space Station: Benefits for Humanity” these experiments and the ways in which they help better life on Earth are listed. One of the experiments documented shows the progress in which the results of the tests performed on the ISS betters water filtration on Earth.

A fun fact about the ISS is that it is the third brightest object in the sky and can be seen with a pair of binoculars! To figure out if the ISS is flying overhead, NASA has set up a handy website aptly titled “Spot the Station” where one can find out the window of time that the ISS can be viewed over a particular location.

As of right now, the International Space Station is set to remain commissioned and functional above the Earth until at least 2030. Until then we can also enjoy images from the ISS and pictures of the satellite itself thanks to NASA’s generous collection of images.

One can also take a tour of the ISS alongside astronaut Suni Williams here.

Artemis

NASA’s newest mission, named after the twin sister of Apollo, is Artemis. Its primary mission will focus on getting the first woman and next man on the South Pole of the moon (by 2024) in its first lunar landing mission since Apollo 17 in 1972. In addition to this, all missions that include lunar landings will also serve as missions to build knowledge and understanding of the moon and how we may use it to move forward in space exploration.

For these missions, the South Pole of the moon (chosen for its abundance of water) is the primary area of focus for the future Artemis astronauts. NASA states that one of the tasks of the Artemis missions will be to locate this water and ice and be able to utilize it.  Though the ultimate goals of the Artemis missions are not only to put the first woman on the moon, but also to eventually put the collective eyes of humanity on moving toward putting the first humans on Mars.

While many publications and materials are most likely going to be released closer to the execution of the program’s first missions, the Government Publishing Office and NASA have recently released a small promotional booklet and an activity book for ages 4-12 to help the public learn about the program (both of which are available for checkout at the McWherter Library, and the activity book can also be found online in our catalog if you don’t want to come in person!). NASA’s website is another wonderful resource to fulfill any kind of curiosity about the program.

Landsat

Since 1972, the Landsat missions have provided NASA, the USGS, and countless others with data that reflects the changes to our planet’s landscape as humans continue to modify the Earth’s landscape as the decades move forward. Originally known as the “Earth Resources Technology Satellite”, Landsat has about 8, soon to be 9 different models that have adapted to ever changing technology and scientific standards.

Landsat is responsible for more than 8 million images of the Earth’s surface and provides valuable data on human movement, the effects of nature and natural disasters, among so many other sections of scientific development. Its images have even helped scientists discover new species of flora and fauna!

One of the more distinct applications of Landsat is the use of its images to compare ideal landmasses that are identical to the surface of Mars so mission planners can create scenario in preparation for potential habitation of the planet. The land picked for this research just so happened to be on the Big Island of Hawai’i.

Another wonderful contribution that is available to the public through NASA and Landsat is a plethora of at home activities that can satisfy anyone’s knowledge of Landsat or anyone’s need to be occupied. These activities among others can be found here.

Voyager 1

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

NASA’s Journeys into the Outer Solar System

With the recent launch of two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station by a joint effort between the government agency and the private company SpaceX, the first mission of this sort launched from American soil since 2011, there exists the possibility of renewed interest in our nation’s efforts at space travel and exploration, both to (relatively) nearby places such as our Moon and to the far reaches of our solar system. The history of NASA’s unmanned missions to the outer planets, which include Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Uranus, and, once upon a time, Pluto, along with moons of the aforementioned planets, is a storied one. Pioneer 10, the first of these missions, was launched in 1973 and provided information about the solar system beyond Mars, including the first photographs of Jupiter. Check out the NASA website’s page on Pioneer 10 to learn more details about this historic mission, including a clock of how long it has been in space.

Subsequent missions have performed flybys of the other outer planets, along with other firsts for deep space exploration. The Voyager program, the first of its two probes launched in 1977, have sent back invaluable information on the outer planets, and continue to function in this regard in the far reaches of our solar system and beyond. According to NASA’s website, Voyager 1 and 2 became the third and fourth manmade objects, along with Pioneer 10 and 11, to move beyond the “gravitational influence of the Sun.” In 2005, the Cassini-Huygens mission accomplished the first successful probe landing in the outer solar system, on Saturn’s largest moon Titan. One interesting fun fact is that the New Horizons probe was launched in 2006 with the intent of a flyby of Pluto; by the time it reached this goal in 2015, Pluto had been downgraded to a dwarf planet. Nonetheless, the pictures sent back of Pluto’s surface are worth examination, and can be seen here along with more details of the mission at large. And with future missions planned, such as Europa Clipper (which is destined for Jupiter’s moon Europa), NASA will continue to be on the forefront in learning more about the still mysterious outer planets and their moons.

Interested in learning more about this ongoing chapter in NASA’s history? Here are a few resources available through Government Publications that can expand your understanding of these exciting and important missions into deep space.

 

Book Review: The Overstory by Richard Powers

‘The Overstory’ by Richard Powers, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, is a novel of conflict, both quiet and deafeningly loud. Everything in it, including a large cast of main characters, is linked by interactions with trees. At times, the book reads like a work of scientific study, with countless species of trees described in tireless detail by the author. However, there is an artistry in the natural world, something not everyone sees. Many look at a forest and see the countless resources that can come from it on a surface level: the houses that will be built from lumber; the crops that will be grown on the cleared land; and minerals underneath the ground that will be refined. Others, like several of the characters in this book, see deeper meaning in the towering trees and the forest’s undergrowth teeming with unnoticed life. Powers uses these competing visions to create an intricate and philosophical, albeit sometimes uneven, look at the relationships we develop with each other and the greater world.

The strength of this novel is its examination of the characters and their relationships to nature. For some, it is the only way they can feel part of something bigger than themselves. All of the characters Powers follows are loners in some sense. Nicholas Hoel survives, totally by chance, an accident that kills his remaining family members. Mimi Ma is devastated by the suicide of her father and the illness of her mother. Douglas Pavlicek serves in Vietnam and comes home forever damaged, a wanderer by choice with no roots. And the list goes on. The potential challenge of a book like this one is that some of the characters flourish and feel more part of the central story, while others fade to the periphery. One of the latter seems to be Neelay Mehta, who falls from a tree as a child and is confined to a wheelchair. However, his lifelong obsession with computers, fostered by his father, becomes intertwined with a fascination towards a stand of exotic trees on his California college campus, leading him to create a virtual world that people around the world can inhabit and build within. In ways, the creation becomes more important than character, serving as a mirror to the real world and the people that inhabit it, a debate between wonton consumption and the creativity that can come from working around limitations that prove necessary to extend the life and complexity of ‘the game.’

The relationship of human society to the natural world is an ongoing tension in our own society that drives the action of the novel. Many readers bring their own personal viewpoint to what they are reading, and this book certainly bets that will add richness to this particular experience. The main characters find themselves in constant conflict with the rest of the world concerning their relationships to the trees and forests they come to love. And these passions teach them to become more human, to form bonds that some of them no longer thought possible after experiencing soul-wrenching tragedy. The most touching of these links proves to be between Nicholas Hoel and Olivia Vandergriff. Both wayward souls, they meet under the most random of consequences and form a bond that seems mystical in nature. From his home in the Midwest, they head to the Pacific Coast, where they become part of a guerilla ecological group attempting to halt the overlogging of old growth forests. This is the point where most of the characters converge and become a part of the overarching plot Powers creates. Some of them go so far as to engage in ecoterrorism, as the cause of protecting the trees, and essentially the natural world, they feel at home in becomes increasingly desperate. At this point, the question must be asked: what price are they willing to pay to protect what they believe in?

There are larger philosophical and societal explorations at work in ‘The Overstory,’ and this fact makes it a heavy work in more ways than one. It is a bit of a doorstop, so if you like long sweeping epics that cover massive amounts of time and involve a wide cast of characters, pick this one up. One of these characters, Patricia Westerford, provides the spiritual compass of this tale, even though her life is dedicated to science. She feels more at home in the woods than anywhere. She is unfairly ostracized by the academic world while theorizing that trees communicate with each other, to warn each other of danger that could affect the entire ecosystem. These beliefs are eventually proven and vindicated; Patricia then writes a book that becomes a kind of linking guide for characters such as Nicholas and Olivia, struggling on the frontlines to keep the fight alive. Ultimately, the Powers’s novel explores, at least partially, the battle over who gets to determine the future of this world and how people will live in it. There are multiple scenes where characters are confronted by loggers, police officers, and other authority figures, all arguing that the cutting of the trees they are protecting creates jobs and puts food on the table for their families. However, Nicholas, after the group of characters that become ecowarriors breaks apart following tragedy, experiences a landslide that devastates several homes. Thus, what is the price you are willing to pay, or watch other people pay, for your definition of progress?

It is a question that is wrestled with in every section of this novel, the last of which is labelled as ‘Seeds.’ The plot stretches roughly to the early years of our current century and covers a time period now famous for intense environmental battles, in forests and courtrooms alike. Today, in the news, we see diatribes from multiple points of view concerning climate change, urban sprawl, deforestation, and other topics predicting a potentially dire future if human society does not take drastic action. Perhaps those seeds planted by an earlier generation, on all sides of this battle, are beginning to take root and flourish. It will be interesting to see, just like in the forests frequented throughout ‘The Overstory,’ what will grow and be created moving forward.

‘The Overstory’ by Richard Powers is currently available for checkout at the McWherter Library. It is located on the first floor as part of the rotating book display in the Rotunda, near the entrance to Government Publications, which contains popular releases (if you are looking for a fun read to take a break from your studies) and themed temporary collections based on the month. If you want to learn more, please check out this fun LibGuide covering the items currently available in this display.

This Day in History: Lewis and Clark Head West

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

On May 14, 1804, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the members of the Corps of Discovery set out to explore the lands west of the Mississippi River newly acquired by the fledgling United States from France, a journey that would last over two years. Thomas Jefferson, who had negotiated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, hoped to use the expedition to explore and map these territories and to ideally find a practical water route all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Thankfully, there are a number of easily accessible resources that allow research into the story and the findings of the Corps of Discovery. Perhaps first and foremost, you can read the voluminous journals of the expedition through the University of Memphis Library’s website from the comfort of your own home. Secondly, there are a number of government resources online that allow patrons to learn more about this significant chapter in our nation’s growth and history.

One of the lasting legacies of the Lewis and Clark expedition comes in the field of science. The Corps of Discovery encountered countless species of flora and fauna unique to the Western lands they traversed, some of which were no longer found east of the Mississippi River due to human encroachment. Some of the animals encountered included grizzly bears, bison herds, and numerous species of snakes, encounters which were written about at length in the expedition’s journals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has produced a fun website that allows us to explore the plant and animal species studied by Lewis, Clark, and their men. After returning from the expedition, Clark, a talented cartographer, produced a new map in 1810 of what would become the American West that shed a new light on the lands of the Louisiana Purchase. Even though the expedition failed to find a water route directly to the Pacific Ocean, something Thomas Jefferson desired greatly, the map still serves as an invaluable historic resource, as shown here in this resource courtesy of the United States Geological Survey.

A wonderful aspect of modern life is that people interested in both history and the natural world can retrace the path taken by the Corps of Discovery without taking the extreme risks of traveling into an unforgiving wilderness in the early 19th century. Thanks in large part to the National Park Service, a number of sites stretching all across the United States can be visited that help us better understand the journey of Lewis and Clark and the lands that they experienced on their trek to the Pacific and back home. The website for the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail allows one to virtually explore, state by state, some of the significant landmarks of the expedition and to plan a future trip to see them in person. Another place of note in the tale of Lewis and Clark is actually right here in Tennessee, on the stretch of the Natchez Trace near Nashville. A monument there marks the burial site of Meriwether Lewis; Lewis, who was prone to bouts of depression, died of gunshot wounds, possibly self-inflicted. Historians have long debated the nature of his death, but nonetheless, it was a strange and mysterious ending to an intriguing life.

Here are some more links to further your personal explorations in this topic:

Written by Meghan Campbell, Government Publications

Sacagawea was a young Shoshone woman most famously known for her contributions to Lewis and Clark’s expedition West. She was all at once a translator, guide, and symbol of peace for the Corps of Discovery as they traveled through unknown lands. As someone intimately familiar with the land that Lewis and Clark were seeking passage through, Sacagawea helped them forage for food and speak with other Native American tribes they encountered along the way. A time or two, she also helped save precious documents that would have been otherwise lost to history.

Sacagawea was not only a valuable team member to the Corps of Discovery, she contributed to the overall success of their journey West and their return home. She also did so while pregnant, and consequently gave birth and cared for her infant son alongside her husband Toussaint Charbonneau, who served as a translator for the group. Not only this, but it is believed that Sacagawea was only around 16 or 17 when she and her husband joined the expedition.

Because of all that she contributed to Lewis and Clark’s journey, Sacagawea is highly regarded in history as a vital member of their team. She has been immortalized in various statues around the country, and there is even a one dollar coin bearing her and her baby’s faces.

In addition to Sacagawea, there is another, lesser known crew member who joined and survived Lewis and Clark’s journey to the Pacific. His name was believed to be Seaman, and he was Meriwether Lewis’ Newfoundland dog. He was known to be a constant companion, alarm system, and even a hunter from time to time. Seaman survived the entire journey with the Corps of Discovery, and even though not much is known about his fate, it is known that Lewis cared for him. It has been noted that even though the group purchased many dogs to eat throughout their travels, Seaman was never considered a meal prospect. He too has been forever remembered by having his image cast in statues around the country.

Some interesting government and library-wide resources regarding Sacagawea and Seaman both as well as general history of the Corps of Discovery can be found here:

Happy browsing!

 

 

 

A Look at the United States Poet Laureate

Joy Harjo

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

Today marks the last day of April, bringing an end to National Poetry Month. Most people would likely not associate the world of poetry with the United States government, but in actuality, the Library of Congress, a government agency within the legislative branch, houses a highly prestigious cultural position in the literary world: the United States Poet Laureate.

What exactly does a United States Poet Laureate do? Well, even the definition provided by the Library of Congress, whose Librarian appoints the position on a yearly basis, is fairly broad, declaring that the chosen poet “seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.” Each Poet Laureate is given freedom to bring their own themes to the job, with past awardees concentrating on a myriad of projects close to the passions reflected in their own work and interests. In timely fashion, the current Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo, has just received a second year at the post this week. When she was appointed in 2019, she became the first Native American to be named to the official title of Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.

One of the projects Harjo is currently working on under her purview as Poet Laureate is a digital interactive map of contemporary Native poets titled “Living Nations, Living Words: A Map of First Peoples Poetry.” Throughout her career, Harjo has tirelessly highlighted the cultural richness of Native literary work. In her own writings, she explores the cultural history of her tribe, the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma, and her personal struggles with a tumultuous past. These haunting poems are filled with examinations of the natural world and humanity’s place in it. Harjo never shies away from digging into lasting pain, whether it be that of her culture or that of herself, and how the present is a struggle to reconcile this pain with the necessity of moving forward and creating new beauty.

Another goal of Harjo’s as Poet Laureate has been to foster discourse through art between people she feels “normally would not sit with each other.” In a 2019 NPR article, she expanded on this hope: “I really believe if people sit together and hear their deepest feelings and thoughts beyond political divisiveness, it makes connections. There’s connections made that can’t be made with politicized language.” If you are interested in reading some of Harjo’s poetry from home, one of her collections, “In Mad Love and War,” is available as an e-book resource through the University of Memphis Libraries. I would also recommend checking out her page at the excellent website of the Poetry Foundation to learn more about her life and work.

Thomas Jefferson Building, Library of Congress

Interested in exploring the duties and history of the Poet Laureate a bit more? Here are some useful links from the Library of Congress’s website!

Earth Day 2020: Celebrating 50 Years

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

Every year on April 22, people around the world celebrate what is known as Earth Day, a recognition of the ceaseless work it takes to protect the natural environment around us. The brainchild of peace activist John McConnell, Earth Day became a nationally recognized event in the United States thanks to the efforts of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Nelson had become increasingly worried about protection of the environment in the years leading up to 1970, the first Earth Day. This became further solidified by an oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, in 1969. Thus, on April 22, 1970, students at colleges and schools around the country participated in a massive educational effort to increase awareness concerning humanity’s role in environmental stewardship.

What have been some of the key moments concerning the United States government’s role in promoting environmental protection since that first Earth Day? Let’s take a look.

  • The Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972 worked together to put stricter limits on the amount of pollutants that could be emitted into the environment from both industry and, in the case of the Clean Air Act, vehicles. They were in response to greater calls to protect the atmosphere and our waterways from unfettered pollution by companies and private citizens alike.
  • Though more famous for controversy, President Richard Nixon is actually remembered in certain circles as an important proponent of environmental issues. In 1970, he both proposed and created, through executive order, the Environmental Protection Agency, an independent executive agency within the federal government that declares its mission as being to “protect human health and the environment.”
  • It is important to remember that wildlife is a vital part of our environment. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 worked to protect plants and animals from extinction by protecting them and their habitat from encroachment, with the ultimate goal being to replenish those species to where they no longer need government intervention to survive. A year earlier, the Marine Mammal Act placed similar protections on aquatic mammals by preventing “the act of hunting, killing, capture, and/or harassment of any marine mammal; or, the attempt at such.”

If you want to see what the federal government is doing today to promote Earth Day and environmental protection issues in general, here are a few helpful links.

Earth Day

Environmental Protection Agency

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services

Conservation & Sustainable Agriculture

U.S. Forest Service

National Agricultural Library

Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

U.S. Department of Energy

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Family Fun and Education!

The Happy Earth Day Activities Book

Everyday is Earth Day on the Farm or Ranch

Written by Meghan Campbell, Government Publications

Even though this Earth Day has most of us indoors, there are plenty of ways to enjoy and appreciate the planet we call home. Don’t worry, Gov Pubs has you covered with some creative and fun ways to experience Earth Day from the comfort of home.

If you’re feeling like you want a different perspective on your home, look no further than the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Their Landsat program provides us Earth-dwellers with a consistent and beautiful look at the variety of ecosystems the world nurtures. Their publication “Earth as Art: 4” displays some of the captures from Landsat, chosen for their sheer beauty.

Alternatively, NASA also has a wonderful selection of photographs of “The Blue Marble”. Apollo 17 is responsible for the classic image of Earth that we more than likely reference mentally when we think of our planet’s appearance. NASA provides the stories of those astronauts and their journeys as well as providing great access to collections of photographs all taken by astronauts. It’s nothing short of a fabulous way to appreciate what we as humans get to uniquely enjoy.

Last, but certainly not least, this week is also National Park Service Week! Since it’s Earth Day’s 50th year, the NPS is celebrating by making sure you can take a virtual tour through their parks and resources. They have an almost endless list of online resources for you to pour over and learn about how the NPS preserves and promotes our country’s natural parks for generations to come. In addition to this, they have a great variety of webcams at a large range of parks so it’s almost like you’re there.

If you’re wanting a mental getaway, we can recommend “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed as a great outdoors memoir that is available for checkout at the McWherter Library. Ask our Circulation Staff to pull it for you today!

A (Very) Brief History of the U.S. Census

Census Enumerator in Hawaii, 1960

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

As you may know, 2020 is a Census year! It is a distinct possibility that many of you have already filled out your Census forms, either through mail or online. In fact, 2020 will be the first time the Census Bureau will ask most people to respond online. But why exactly do we answer these questions sent to us by the federal government? Having an accurate Census is extremely important: it determines representation within Congress for individual states, affects the makeup of the Electoral College, and determines federal funding for countless programs and organizations. The history of the U.S. Census is actually quite complicated and reflects the story of our nation’s progress. The Census has even balanced on the cutting edge of data collection and tabulation for most of its existence, something that we experience every day in all parts of life.

Beginnings

The simple counting of people that live within the United States, along with the gathering of more detailed information on the population and the country itself, has been a mandate of the federal government since its inception. Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution outlined how representation in Congress would be determined and called for the ‘enumeration’ of the nation’s people every 10 years. Thus, in 1790, the first Census was held, asking only six questions, which have grown in number and variety during the two centuries since. It was handled by the State Department under the guidance of then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. The actual gathering of data was overseen by U.S. Marshals, who hired 650 assistants to cover their respective districts; Marshals continued with this duty until 1879, when the responsibility was handed over to professional enumerators due to concerns over accuracy.

Changes Over Time

The Census has certainly never been a static part of American governance. In 1849, the Department of the Interior took responsibility for holding the 1850 Census, which would be the first to count the population of California as part of the United States. Further changes came over the next 75 years; in 1902, the U.S. Census Bureau became a permanent agency within the Department of Commerce and Labor, ultimately remaining as part of Commerce when it became an independent department in 1913.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Census has been how the collection of data progressed over the years. As mentioned earlier, U.S. assistant Marshals went door-to-door asking questions, often in rugged rural areas. The tabulation of this information was a painstaking operation that often took years. In the late nineteenth century, Herman Hollerith, a former Census employee, created an electric tabulation machine that used punch cards to quickly process data. In the mid-twentieth century, the Census Bureau received UNIVAC I, the first nonmilitary computer, to further help tabulate data covering the exploding American population. As the Census begins to move online, new ways of gathering and storing information are certainly on the horizon for 2030 and beyond.

Census Fun Facts!

  • New York City has always been listed as the most populous city in the nation. In 1790, the first Census, its population was just over 33,000. In 2010, it was at almost 8.2 million
  • The most populous State at the time of the first Census was Virginia, with just over 747 thousand people. The winner in 2010: California, which did not gain statehood until 1850, tallying in at just over 37 million.
  • Worried about your data becoming public? By law, Census records aren’t released to the public by the National Archives until 72 years after Census Day, which was on April 1. If you are counting, that will be in the distant future of 2092 for the 2020 edition.

Kanopy Review: Captain Fantastic

Viggo Mortensen, Star of Captain Fantastic

One of my favorite actors working today is Viggo Mortensen, who has starred in movies ranging from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy to numerous independent films that you may or may not have heard of. One that probably falls in the latter is ‘Captain Fanteastic,’ currently available on Kanopy through the University of Memphis Libraries. Mortenson plays Ben Cash (this last name is a nice tongue-in-cheek touch), father of six children, who along with his wife Leslie (largely unseen in the film) decide to raise their family in the Washington wilderness, with limited contact to the outside world. Early on, the viewer learns that Leslie has been hospitalized with severe bipolar disorder, leaving Ben and the children on their own in the rugged landscape.

These early scenes of the family’s structure and day to day life are some of the most poignant of the movie. Ben essentially home schools the children in every conceivable way, using the surrounding forest and mountains to teach them survival skills and keep them in peak physical health. Beyond this, he also assigns them books that most American youth would run screaming from: two of the books spotted while the family collectively sits reading by the of a campfire are ‘Blood, Germs, and Steel’ by Jared Diamond and ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ by Dostoevsky, tomes that most people don’t even pick up in college (I haven’t read either, but they are on my TBR pile, I swear!).

SPOILERS AHEAD!

The family, however, is shaken from their idyllic lifestyle by the news of Leslie’s suicide. Ben reluctantly loads the children onto their large green school bus to head to Leslie’s funeral and attempt to convince her father that she had willingly rejected traditional beliefs on life and death. Discussing much more would spoil the entire plot, but this is truly a film that defies genre limitations. The concepts here are ones that are relevant to what a number of parents and children contemplate in our modern world.  It is a family drama that includes aspects of survival and road trip movies.

Ben clearly loathes the materialistic mecca which he believes most of America to be. His children are more highly educated than some people with advanced degrees. However, the best scenes of the final act of Captain Fantastic deal with the kids, as they are exposed to the outside world, forming their own thoughts on whether this is enough. The oldest, Bodevan, secretly applies to a number of Ivy League schools, and is accepted to them all. He eventually fights with his father concerning a simple fact: what is the point of all the knowledge he possesses if he has no clue how to relate to other people on the most basic levels? Another one of the sons, Rellian, wonders why the family celebrates the intellectual Noam Chomsky instead of being “normal” and observing Christmas. Thus, the movie is at its best when it is examining different ideas on who knows what is best, particularly for the children. What exactly is the best way to live? And is there a middle ground that can be found without wanting to rip each other to shreds?

Who will like this one: The strength of ‘Captain Fantastic’ lies in the fantastic performances from the ensemble cast. Mortensen is at the top of his game, and there is not a weak link among the actors portraying the Cash children. It will also appeal to those who enjoy a good culture clash, as there are no real bad guys in the movie, though I find myself rooting for Ben and his lifestyle, despite his epic stubbornness.

Ringu: A Horror Movie Review

Horror fans and movie buffs alike are likely to have come across or know of The Ring (2002), but not all know that it is a remake of a Japanese horror film by the same name. Ringu (1998)  (also known in English as Ring) is a Japanese film based off of the book series of the same name by Koji Suzuki.  

If you aren’t aware of the story, it’s simple:

You watch a cursed video tape, you get a creepy phone call from the spirit of a dead girl saying you will die in seven days, and in most cases, that’s exactly what happens. 

A journalist named Reiko Asakawa (played by Nanako Matsushima) and her clairvoyant ex-husband Ryuji Takayama (Hiroyuki Sanada) discover the cursed tape. The one integral thing they have to bear in mind? If they don’t figure out where the tape came from, Asakawa, Takayama, and their son will all die within a week.

As a film, it’s a pretty solid example of what the horror genre should truly be. It’s engrossing and builds the right amounts of tension and suspense as the two main characters try to uncover the mystery behind a cursed video and who exactly created it and for what purpose. The tone throughout the whole movie is solidly tense and never really gives the audience member room to breathe. The opening scene is a good example of this, with two teenage girls gossiping and discussing local lore only to have their innocent conversation shift to one of seriousness as soon as the phone rings. Shifts like this occur frequently throughout the film, keeping the viewer on their toes. That acts as a far better tool to elicit fear or unease than a jump scare. 

That being said, Ringu is a good horror movie with a great story and is an enjoyable weekend film. To make your viewing even more enjoyable, pair and compare with the American remake The Ring, which is a much more stylized and eerie version than its Japanese counterpart.  Though be careful, if you watch both of these movies you may feel the urge to unplug your television. Don’t know what I mean by that? After you see the first twenty minutes of Ringu, you’ll know.

Watch it on Kanopy today!

The Inventor: A Kanopy Documentary Review

If you’re looking for an interesting documentary to break through the quarantine boredom, why not utilize Kanopy? As Ben has mentioned in his most recent blog post, Kanopy is a great resource for any presently-affiliated  UM persons and completely free. So what better way to kill some time than by giving The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley a view? 

Directed by Alex Gibney, “The Inventor”, outlines the intense rise to success and chaotic decline of now inoperative health technology company Theranos. Theranos, the brainchild of Stanford drop-out Elizabeth Holmes, was touted as the answer to a world where big needles and diagnostic companies stand as the only way to efficiently collect and test blood samples. Created out of Holmes’ fear of needles, Theranos’ claim to fame was a machine called “The Edison”, or miniLab. From this machine, blood from a single finger prick could be collected in a vial called the “Nanotainer” (another Theranos creation), and run within The Edison. Theranos then claimed that they could produce a variety of results from this incredibly small sample; a feat only previously managed by industry standard blood tests. 

The problem was that Holmes kept many secrets as CEO and founder of Theranos. One of the biggest secrets was that her prized invention, The Edison, didn’t exactly work. Though, she wouldn’t tell any of her investors, or customers, that fact. 

“The Inventor” is a companion piece to John Carreyrou’s book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup  (which we have in the library for your reading pleasure). Carreyrou, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal was not the first to write about Theranos and its issues, but he wrote a comprehensive and explosive article that brought the nation’s attention to Holmes and her problematic promises. 

I won’t spoil all of the documentary for you, but do know that The Inventor: Our for Blood in Silicon Valley is an interesting, informative, and attention-grabbing documentary that illustrates how a billion dollar health tech corporation was able to go from notable to notorious in just a few short years. 

Watch it tonight on Kanopy, or check-out John Carreyrou’s book for an in-depth read.