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.

Celebrating Black History Month!

Benjamin Clanton and Meghan Campbell, Government Publications

There is no doubting that African Americans have played an integral role in the armed forces of the United States, from our nation’s inception up to the present day. They have served this country and put themselves in harm’s way to help preserve the ideals of freedom and liberty that have often been denied to them over the past two and a half centuries. Whether it be during the Revolutionary War to found the nation, the American Civil War to save the Union and end slavery, World War II to defeat fascism, or in the modern struggles to find equality and recognition for their contributions, African Americans have given everything possible, including the highest sacrifice, in the American armed forces. For example, recent decades have seen the rise of Colin Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants, to the greatest heights of the United States military, which propelled him to becoming Secretary of State during the George W. Bush administration. We here in Government Publications would like to use this opportunity during Black History Month to highlight some of the resources in our collection that honor and examine the sterling history of African American military service.

Bonus link!

Frederick Douglass is truly one of the great historical figures of the United States. After escaping slavery, Douglass became one of the greatest champions of abolition and social justice in 19th century America. His autobiography is still considered one of the greatest works of American literature ever produced, invaluable in its condemnation of slavery as an institution. Here is a link exploring the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C., preserved by the National Park Service. Please enjoy!

 

 

Happy Presidents’ Day!

The third Monday in February is traditionally known as Presidents’ Day here in the United States. It has morphed over the years since 1885, when the holiday became nationally recognized and was coined simply as Washington’s Birthday (George Washington’s birthday is on February 22, if you are curious). A movement in the 1960s successfully combined this observance with that of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12), and today the nation generally uses this holiday to celebrate the accomplishments of all U.S. presidents over the years. We here in the Government Publications department at the McWherter Library wanted to take a look at some of the resources available in our collections and online that will help you explore this historically relevant day!

Written by Meghan Campbell, Government Publications

February 17th is Presidents’ Day! What better way to celebrate this holiday than to share government resources about your favorite American leaders? Government Publications would like to share with you some local and online resources that are free and supremely easy to access to satisfy your curiosity!

Starting with our first president, the man, the myth, the legend: George Washington. Library of Congress has provided unique and quality access to a collection of papers that were written by Washington himself.  Unfortunately, you can’t read about how he chopped down a cherry tree, but you can read his personal correspondence, journals, and even take a peek at his school assignments.  If you’re seeking even more Washington related documents, you can always swing by Government Publications and browse our National Park Service documents and pamphlets about the Washington Monument, George Washington’s Birthplace, and many more!

If you’re really into popular presidents, you can dive deep into the life of Abraham Lincoln. Most famous as our leader during the Civil War, Lincoln has some interesting government documents of his own. Like George Washington, Lincoln has his own set of papers and manuscripts digitized by the Library of Congress; available to for free access online. Lincoln’s boyhood home, the Lincoln Memorial, and even where he was assassinated (Ford’s Theatre) are all sites that were prevalent in his lifetime and have been preserved by the National Park Service (NPS)! Some of the most notable work done by the NPS, is a collaboration with Google Arts and Culture, bringing the public an in-person view of other Lincoln-adjacent sites; such as Ford’s Theatre, Lincoln’s home, and his memorial in Washington D.C.

While there are plenty of resources on Presidents past, there are just as many on presidents of the (sort of recent) present.

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

Have you ever wondered what the leader of the free world actually does during their Presidency? If this is the case, a rich resource is the multivolume sets of the Public Papers of the Presidents. Published by the Office of the Federal Register, these sets contain remarks and papers of the sitting President released by the Office of the Press Secretary during that particular time period. The Government Publications department has physical copies of these important documents available to be viewed by the public, stretching from the administration of Barack Obama back to the administration of Herbert Hoover. (We also have The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt for that time period, but those were privately printed and not produced by the Office of the Federal Register.)

It is an invaluable resource to be able to view the remarks of American Presidents concerning events and trends during their administrations, along with other papers such as meetings with foreign leaders and remarks covering a myriad of appearances and events. It is also beneficial that the website of the Government Publishing Office (GPO) has made digitized copies of the Public Papers available to peruse at the click of a button. A wonderful compliment to this resource is a volume produced yearly in the Code of Federal Regulations titled “The President.” It contains copies of both proclamations and executive orders of the President over the course of the year covered. Being able to view all of these in one place allows a researcher or curiosity seeker the opportunity to truly see the many roles an American President must assume within our government.

Beyond the Government Publications department, McWherter Library also has a variety of Presidential biographies in the stacks available to history buffs. Here are a few to get you started:

If you want to learn more about American Presidents on this day or any other day, the resources are right at your fingertips here at the Ned.

 

Happy Benjamin Franklin Day!

GPO’s “Ben’s Guide” Ben!

On this day in 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin was born. Franklin was, and still remains as one of our nation’s most notable and foundational figures who contributed to the successes of America while it was in its infancy.   He was a renaissance man; an inventor who sought solutions to many problems, and chased great ideas all throughout his lifetime. Today is his 314th birthday, and as a tribute, Government Publications wanted to share a small offering of resources that reflect his own work, and talks about the man himself.

The Government Publishing Office (GPO), has used Ben’s likeness for quite some time in the form of “Ben’s Guides”. Found here, it’s a resource available to anyone, and it’s a great place to learn or refresh your memory of facts relating to the United States Government, with Franklin as your personal guide. Suitable for ages of all kind, Ben’s Guide makes for an eye-catching, and interactive resource for classrooms and personal use.

If a biography is what you’re looking for, Life of Franklin is another great resource to pour over for information about the personal life of the Founding Father.

One more fabulous resource is Poor Richard’s Almanack, written by Franklin himself. Gov. Pub’s very own Benjamin has his own words to share on this publication!

Ben Franklin’s Literary Legacy
Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

Benjamin Franklin, along with other historical giants such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton, is often considered one of our nation’s more important Founding Fathers. Continue reading

Exploring Government Publications for Native American Heritage Month

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we here at Government Publications wanted to take some time to showcase a few documents pertaining to Native American culture. All of these items are currently available for check-out and can be found here in McWherter Library in the Government Publications department!

Written by Benjamin Clanton:

  1. The Smithsonian Institute and the Handbook of North American Indians

The Smithsonian Institute has provided a rich variety of resources that would be helpful in the historical and anthropological study of Native American tribes in North America. Perhaps the best example of their work is the Handbook of North American Indians, a multivolume encyclopedia covering a myriad of topics and fields of study. Spearheaded by ethnologist and anthropologist William Sturtevant, this proposed 20 volume work began publication in 1978 as a hope to replace other outdated studies. Sadly, the project has yet to reach completion, due largely to the combination of funding issues and the death of Sturtevant in 2007. Nonetheless, this exhaustive synthesis of Native American studies is an impressive collaboration between renowned historians, anthropologists, and linguists, among others. Growing up in Mississippi, I have always had an interest in the tribes of the Southeast such as the Choctaw, Creek, and Cherokee; this made Volume 14 on North America’s Southeast region of special interest. Like the other volumes exploring specific regions, it does a wonderful job covering studies on prehistory up to modern day, while also discussing the progression of research on Native American studies over the years. Other volumes dedicate themselves to general topics such as languages, contemporary society, and the complex history of Indian-white relations. Though incomplete overall, the individual volumes that are accessible would provide a wonderful complementary piece or starting point for Native American research of almost any kind.

Continue reading

Theodore Roosevelt and the American Legacy of Conservation

Theodore Roosevelt

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

‘There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon in the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever with their majestic beauty unmarred.’ -Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, was born on October 27, 1858. In honor of his upcoming birthday, it seems proper to highlight some of his countless triumphs in the political realm and beyond, and to display his influence on the Government Publications Department here, and to others around the country. Throughout the years, both during his lifetime and following his death in 1919, Roosevelt (or “Teddy,” which he actually hated to be called!) morphed into an almost mythical character in American history. When examining just a few of his more famous accomplishments, it is not hard to understand why. He first rose to national fame during the Spanish-American War in 1898, where he formed the infamous Rough Riders military squadron, comprised of former Ivy Leaguers, outdoorsmen, cowboys, and Native Americans.

In 1901, following the assassination of William McKinley, Roosevelt became the youngest American President ever at age 42. His administration was defined by Roosevelt’s battles against big business and his efforts to protect American citizens through the idea of a “Square Deal.” However, one of the more lighthearted events during his presidency actually occurred in our southern neighbor of Mississippi. During a hunting trip in 1902 near the Delta town of Rolling Fork, Teddy refused to shoot a bear that organizers had tied to a tree, claiming it was unsporting. The story grew to nationwide fame, leading to a shopkeeper selling stuffed animals coined “Teddy Bears.” President Roosevelt also became the first American to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 due to his efforts in brokering a peace agreement ending a war between Russia and Japan. Continue reading

Constitution Day: September 17th

Written by Benjamin Clanton and Meghan Campbell, Government Publications:

On September 17, 1787, delegates to the aptly named Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the U.S. Constitution, setting in place the structure of our nation’s government that is still followed today. We here in Government Publications regularly handle documents that relate to what was adopted on that day over two hundred years ago. One of the wonderful things about the Constitution is that avenues were put in place to make additions and changes to its original form. With that in mind, we have written about a couple of Constitutional Amendments that both intrigue us and have personal meaning to us as individuals. Enjoy and have a wonderful Constitution Day!

Join us on the 2nd Floor Commons Area in McWherter Library today from 12 – 3 pm, where you can pick up a U.S. Constitution and snacks, and watch a documentary titled The Words that Built America. Continue reading