Constitution Day 2021

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

Every year, the Government Publications Department at the University of Memphis likes to bring attention to Constitution Day to honor, as you may have guessed, the U.S. Constitution. We have all likely seen news stories debating whether a law or court ruling is ‘constitutional.’ And I am sure, like me, you have wondered: what exactly does that mean? Constitutionality can pertain to most hot button issues in our modern society, whether it be immigration reform or gun control or the power to wage war. Luckily, there are resources available through the federal government that interpret such situations in a way that is accessible to everyday citizens and not just those versed in constitutional law.

One such resource is known as the ‘Constitution Annotated,’ curated by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and available online at Congress.gov. This invaluable and periodically updated document provides short essays examining new interpretations of the governmental powers outlined in the Constitution and its Amendments. As mentioned before, there is always debate about what our government can and cannot legislate, and how rights protected by the Constitution, such as free speech, are affected by things such as new technologies and controversial events.

The Constitution is often considered a living document. Every year, the U.S. Supreme Court decides on cases that affect how our society will function based on this concept. Thankfully, the ‘Constitution Annotated’ provides understandable analysis through its essays on the ongoing evolution of how the Constitution shapes our lives. And, though tempting, I advise you to never skip the footnotes in these essays: they provide links to landmark court cases that, whether you realize it or not, determine how our country governs and how the Constitution protects the rights of American citizens.

Other resources

  • If you would like to view the print version of the ‘Constitution Annotated,’ also known as the ‘Constitution of the United States: Analysis and Interpretation,’ it is available in PDF format at Govinfo.gov.
  • Before diving into the interpretive essays of the ‘Constitution Annotated,’ you may want to read the original source material, the U.S. Constitution, here at the National Archives website.
  • There is a wonderful display celebrating Constitution Day, put together by our very own Betsy Eckert, in McWherter Library between the Rotunda and the Government Publications Department. And while you are there, grab a complimentary Pocket Constitution to refer to wherever you go!

Celebrating National Nutrition Month with Government Publications

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications Department

Every March, numerous private and governmental health organizations from around the country promote what is known as National Nutrition Month. Individuals and businesses have become increasingly aware of what foods and drinks we put in our bodies. The past decade has seen the increased popularization of things such as organically raised meats, vegetables, and fruits (many grown locally in our own communities), along with stores and farmers markets where these items are widely accessible. Thankfully, a variety of online government resources on both the state and federal levels provide information and even recipes that reflect the want and need of Americans to educate themselves about their own health and nutrition.

So, the next time you are looking for nutrition information or a new healthy recipe, for you or your loved ones, for any meal of the day (including snack time!), feel free to peruse these online recipes and other informational resources provided by the State of Tennessee and the Federal Government.

Also, the Government Publications Department here at McWherter Library provides these fun online cookbooks to students and staff to peruse for new meal ideas!

 

Frederick Douglass: A Quick Look at an American Icon

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

We in the Government Publications Department at the University of Memphis feel there are few more fitting subjects to explore during Black History Month than Frederick Douglass. Douglass escaped slavery in 1838 and became one of the most towering figures of his time and in all of American history. A tireless orator, abolitionist, and political commentator, he produced autobiographies, speeches, and other works outlining the evils of chattel slavery in the United States. Douglass believed that the nation needed to live up to the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and shake off the scourge of slavery if it were to reach its full potential and truly provide freedom for all its people. His document “A Lecture on Our National Capital,” first given in 1875, a decade after the end of the American Civil War, was reproduced by the Smithsonian and the National Park Service and is available for check out from our Government Publications department.

In this address, Douglass’ observations of Washington, D.C, serve as a microcosm to the nation at large. He laments the affect slavery and its political influence had on the city in the past, but also contrasts it with the postwar progress made in everything from the attitude of its citizens to new building projects that made it a more livable place. Douglass acknowledges there was still much work to be done; in hindsight we know that it was only the beginning of the ongoing struggle to guarantee rights for African Americans in this country. However, Douglass conveyed a sense of optimism for the future in this lecture, stating his hope that “the best men and the best women from all sections of our widely extended country shall delight to meet and bury their differences.” If you are interested in further exploring Douglass and his place in American history, check out these government resources, along with some supplemental eBooks currently available through McWherter Library.

Government Publications

Online Government Resources

McWherter Library eBooks

Veterans Day 2020

Picture via Pexels and Pixabay

Each year, Americans take time to participate in a day of solemnity and respect for those who have committed their lives to the U.S. Armed Forces. Originally Armistice Day, the history of Veterans Day has been an interesting one. Armistice Day was created to honor and celebrate the end of World War I. The day was chosen specifically because the war ended “on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”. 

While World War I doesn’t quite seem as far away as 100 years, the sentiment of remembrance has remained all too present in the modern day consciousness. Every year, veterans, families, friends, businesses, and government agencies celebrate Veterans Day.  The holiday recognizes the historical and modern implications of what sacrifices are made to support and defend the country as a U.S. service member. 

The sacrifices that are made are many; and often include the events and memories that are celebrated and made in the absence of a service member as they carry out their duties away from home. Birthdays, holidays, months, and sometimes even years go by as a service member is called away on a deployment, or in the greatest capacity, has their life taken in the line of duty. So it’s important to take a moment, even if it’s once a year, to recognize and remember every person who has decided to become a member of the military and dedicate themselves to their country. 

To start, the University of Memphis has a wonderful Veteran and Military Student Services which is an invaluable resource for students and family members of military members. 

The U of M University Libraries also houses the Textbooks for Tiger Veterans Program which supports military affiliated students! 

Picture via Pexels and Pixabay

Across the various government agencies, the Department of Veterans Affairs is one that has always been a pillar of support for veterans across the nation. They offer plenty of different resources for any problem or need. One of the ways the VA is able to support veterans is through psychological help for those who suffer from disorders such as PTSD. The Department of Veterans Affairs has many pathways that offer support that positively affect the life of a veteran, and can lead to recovery. From golf, to traditional therapy, to even equine therapy, there is a surprising amount of programs across the country that supports a veteran’s need to seek treatment and also find a therapy method that works for them. The U of M Libraries also has access to many government publications, including subcommittee reports from the U.S. House of Representatives discussing veteran access to mental health therapy. The DVA also has great videos highlighting the lives and contributions of veterans from wars past, such as Daniel Inouye; the late senator from Hawaii who served in World War II, who was also a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  

In addition to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Smithsonian provides great learning resources for additional reading and research regarding Native American veterans from the past and present. The National Museum of the American Indian presents great exhibition style resource pages to learn about the Code Talkers of WWII and veterans from other wars like the Korean, Vietnam and modern-day wars. They also have a YouTube channel that presents recordings of their presentations, and other great veteran-adjacent videos. This Veterans Day is special for the museum as well, as they are dedicating the National Native American Veterans Memorial on the day itself, and virtually, for public attendance and appreciation. 

The National Archives has teamed up with Google Arts and Culture to bring the public virtual access to pieces of history that lead to the commissioning and the ultimate creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Finally, but certainly not least, one of our nation’s most enduring memorials to those who have served is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.  This structure resides in Arlington National Cemetery and is in honor of service members who have passed and who were never able to be identified. It is always quietly guarded, and constantly honored in memory of those who have given their lives for their country. 

For more resources about Veterans Day and military-adjacent publications, check out Government Publications’ Veterans Day Libguide and the display in the elevator alcove outside of the entrance to Government Publications. 

To all those who have dedicated their lives to the United States Armed Forces, thank you!

Halloween Read 2020: The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

As Halloween approaches each year, I enjoy changing my media intake up a bit, filling my days with weird and scary books, movies, and podcasts. I always enjoy things of this nature, but tend to binge during spooky season. This year, I added a long overdue read to my cultural docket: The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. The novel is narrated by its main character, Edward Prendick, who is rescued after a shipwreck by an enigmatic man of science named Montgomery. Prendick soon finds himself an unwanted guest on a small Pacific island run by the novel’s namesake, Dr. Moreau. After encounters with what appear to be human-like ‘Beasts,’ Prendick discovers the dark secret of the doctor and his island. Dr. Moreau has been experimenting on various types of animals by using a combination of surgery (which he terms ‘vivisection,’ a quite unpleasant term when looked up) and hypnosis, giving these creations (for lack of a better term) human traits.  Dr. Moreau rules over the small society he has formed using a combination of physical violence and psychological manipulation in the form of ‘Laws,’ which outline how the ‘Beasts’ should act human and suppress their animal instincts. However, as one might guess, things eventually go terribly wrong, and Prendick finds himself in the middle of a vicious and long-simmering power struggle between Dr. Moreau, Montgomery, and the ‘Beasts’ that inhabit this twisted world.

I am sure the sentiment has been said many times in various forms before, but I cannot help but think of a line said by Jeff Goldblum’s character in the film version of Jurassic Park: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they [SHOULD].” Much as in that tale, a scientist, in this case Dr. Moreau, decides to play God and create something that simply should not exist. In forming this society of ‘Beasts,’ he shows no concern for the immense physical, psychological, and emotional pain he causes his subjects. During the era in which this novel was written, there had been significant advances in medicine and surgery, with human science on the cusp of new discoveries that greatly benefit our society today. Dr. Moreau, however, uses science in a reckless manner, and causes mayhem in the process. Prendick is terrified of the ‘Beasts’ early in the novel, but eventually realizes that the remorseless Dr. Moreau is the true monster, the true source of terror in the world he finds himself trapped in. Wells was a wonderful author, and displayed an ability to reflect the anxieties and wrongdoings of his time in his fiction.  The Island of Dr. Moreau is not as much scary in the traditional horror sense as it is disturbing due to its material; by the end, I felt a somber sadness as the suffering increases and the island collapses into pointless chaos. Though over a century old, I did not find the novel particularly dated, as it still serves as a cautionary tale concerning both what humanity can and should do, and how those ideas often end up clashing.

This is also a wonderful opportunity to promote a couple of great features on the University of Memphis Libraries website. First, our Virtual Book Display provides monthly lists, shaped by relevant and timely themes, for the McWherter and Lambuth branches; for example, the one for October is titled Gothic Lit + Ghosts Galore. This fun, interactive resource is a great way to find both leisure and academic reads, so check back every month to see what we are featuring (and browse lists from previous months as well). Second, there are a variety of e-books in many subjects available through the library’s website. The Island of Dr. Moreau, along with a number of other older novels, are available in this format. So if you are ever curious, use the Classic Catalog feature on the front page of our website to search for a title. You never know, you may be able to access and enjoy it without ever leaving your home!

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!