Duck Duck Book

67 – first class
12.31.2010, 8:43 pm
Filed under: history & geography

First class : legendary ocean liner voyages around the world / Gérard Piouffre.
New York : Vendome Press, c2009.
[MCL call number: 910.45 P662f 2009 ; three copies, no holds]

I have travelled by ship, a teeny tiny bit — not entirely surprising, really, since I have lived within 100 miles of the ocean for my entire life — but I’ve never been on a proper cruise.  The times when I have slept on a ship, it hasn’t been the most pleasant experience.  The engines were loud, the ship was crowded, the seas were a little rough, the ship’s appointments were less than desirable, or the trip was so long through a dark night that I was just plain bored.

But still, I thrill a bit to the romance of ocean travel.  Shuffleboard and deck chairs, lavish dinners on heavy china, a library with shelves that have little rails on them to keep the books in; it doesn’t sound so bad.  I don’t mean I want to take a trip aboard a modern megaship, or one of those special cruises where you get to hang out with Garrison Keillor; no, the cruise of my dreams is one that takes place in a bygone era when cruise fashions only came in natural fibers and when nothing on the ship was made of plastic; a time when you had to travel by ship, because airplanes were unavailable or reserved for daredevils with bottomless pockets.  I am sure that if I were actually transported to the past to take an early twentieth century cruise I would waste no time in finding all kinds of fault with the operation, but since that’s impossible, I’m happy to daydream a bit with a nice picture book.

And First Class is a nice picture book.  Individual chapters describe and feature photographs of voyages in different parts of the world, with a focus on the period between about 1890 and 1940.  The essays that accompany the photographs are just meaty enough to give a sense of the history of the journeys well-off folks once took on ocean liners — and the pictures are beautiful.

* * *

If your’e truly charmed by this book, you might want to check out its companion:

First class : legendary train journeys around the world / Patrick Poivre d’Arvor.
New York : Vendome Press, c2007.
[MCL call number: 910.4 P757f 2007; two copies, one hold]

I haven’t examined it, but my guess is that it also provides a pleasant and interesting diversion.


58 – chaining oregon
12.1.2008, 8:00 pm
Filed under: history & geography

Chaining Oregon : surveying the public lands of the Pacific Northwest, 1851-1855 / by Kay Atwood.
Blacksburg, VA : McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, 2008.
[MCL call number: 917.9504 A887c 2008; one copy, no holds; one copy reference only at Central Library]

When the United States expanded west, it was a major element of public policy to encourage settlers to go out there and carve their names into the land. Farming, ranching, and even mining all marked the territory as belonging to settlers — and land controlled by settlers was more American, in a cultural sense as well as a political one. Measuring the land, marking boundaries, and drawing maps showing what was there and who controlled each piece were important foundational steps that helped transform what was seen as wild space into a civilized, productive, and law-abiding nation. The first U.S. maps elucidating land ownership were drawn by draftsmen working for the General Land Office (later absorbed by the Bureau of Land Management), and they worked from measurements and notes taken by surveyors. The first surveyors in what is now Oregon and Washington began their work in 1851 after the passage of the Oregon Donation Land Act.

Land surveyors in the 1850s did much the same sort of work surveyors do now — except that these first surveyors in the Oregon and Washington territories were the pioneers of mapping in our region. If you look at a modern map showing land use and ownership in any part of Oregon or Washington, you’ll see properties measured with lines that were originally drawn by General Land Office surveyors in the 1850s. And here’s how they did it: they took basic (though often delicate) mechanical measuring equipment out into the valleys and the wilderness and measured. Teams of about five to eight men surveyed by hand, mostly in the rain and mud, often working from dawn till dusk. They walked survey lines in an area twelve to sixty miles wide from the southern end of the Puget Sound south to the California border in the space of five years. Chaining Oregon is a history of this project. Kay Atwood carefully and clearly explains the scientific and institutional history of the first surveys of the Oregon Territory — the bureaucracy, the technical challenges, local and national politics, the difficulties of weather and staffing and getting paid, and interactions between settlers and Oregon’s Surveyor General — while at the same time sharing relevant pieces of the broader history of Oregon.

In addition to their work of measuring and describing the land, surveyors kept detailed journals of their field work. These journals included notes about the weather, names of people they met or lodged with, conversations they had, meals they ate, and so on, as well as subjects more germane to the work, like where fences were, the quality of the soils, and the prevailing species of timber in forested areas. The bits more clearly connected to the work of surveying often show up on the maps — for example, a great swath of what is now east Portland is described on the map of Township 1N Range 1E Willamette Meridian as: “Land gently rolling soil good rate clay loam / Timber Fir a little Maple Cedar and Hemlock.” Atwood uses the whole range of information in the surveyor’s field notes (not just the businesslike parts), as well as the first survey maps and the correspondence and other records of the office of Oregon’s Surveyor General to build the core of a riveting history of a specific part of the Pacific Northwest’s past. She connects her basic source material to other documentation of life and civilization in early Oregon, and to secondary histories of the region and its people, but her most remarkable achievement is that she has made a largely technical story read like a completely human one.

The men who did the actual work, and those who administered it, are Atwood’s chief characters. The places they traveled and the land they described are also important to her story. Atwood did not set out to relate any of the many other interesting stories that are secondary to this central thread — the development of urban centers in Oregon, for example, or the struggles settlers faced when their individual situations did not neatly line up with federal land claim regulations. But she does make modest reflection on many of these other stories an important part of her narrative. Her descriptions of daily life in the towns of Oregon City, Portland, and Jacksonville are vivid. She clearly explains local and national party politics (normally an exceedingly confusing topic) in so far as they affected the project of surveying Oregon. And Atwood’s quotes from surveyors’ field notes about physical features of a specific spot are often followed by a brief but careful discussion of how white settlers had already irrevocably changed that piece land, and how this affected the lifeways and future prospects of the Indians who already lived there.

Many readers, even those interested in Oregon’s history, might expect a history of the state’s first land surveys to be dry and uninteresting. Perhaps other histories of surveying projects are indeed dry, but Chaining Oregon is engaging and clear, and reading it invites further study of many interesting facets of our region’s past and the people and events that shaped it.

Chaining Oregon is supplemented by extensive endnotes, a thorough if somewhat dry bibliography, and an index. As usual, I think the index is only minimally useful — it has almost no entries for surveying equipment and techniques, and neglects to provide access points for memorable subjects that are secondary to the narrative but which are so often the parts readers will remember later. However, the index provides adequate access to proper nouns and it is better than nothing.

* * *

The University of Oregon Map and Aerial Photography Library has a lovely collection of General Land Office maps of Oregon on its website. You can’t view the maps online; instead you have to download them. But they’re pretty small files and it doesn’t take too long for them to download.

The Portland Planning Bureau has the two earliest General Land Office maps showing the townships were central Portland is now, in pdf form, as a part of its collection of online historic resources. Township 1N Range 1E is the map I quoted from above; Township 1S Range 1E shows the area south of what is now SE Stark St. (which used to be called Baseline Road, because it follows the Willamette Baseline!).

57 – edward r. murrow
11.3.2008, 7:30 pm
Filed under: generalities, history & geography

Edward R. Murrow and the birth of broadcast journalism / Bob Edwards.
New York : John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004.
[MCL call number: B-Mu968e 2004; 4 copies, no holds;
also in audio format at CD- B-Mu968e; five copies, no holds]

In 1937, when Edward Murrow first arrived in London to assume his new post as the European Director for CBS, he tried to join the American Foreign Correspondents Association. They refused his application — after all, they were journalists, and everyone in 1937 knew that radio had nothing to do with journalism. Of course if they had a crystal ball, they would likely have rushed to recruit Ed Murrow, who was soon to be radio’s first news star, the man who brought the European war home to American living rooms, live and out loud. (In fact, in 1944, the Foreign Correspondents Association went beyond recruiting and made Murrow their president.)

Bob Edwards’s biography of Murrow focuses largely on Murrow’s professional life, his effect on journalism, and his work as an innovator in both radio and television broadcasting. Murrow is the person, Edwards argues, who created radio news. In those few years between 1937 and 1944, Murrow had led radio news away from a limited venue for 15-minute headline broadcasts to a complex medium of live interviews with powerful people, first-person reporting on current events, and synchronized news and commentary roundups from correspondents in several cities simultaneously.

It is interesting to consider this in light of more recent developments in journalism. In the 1960s and 70s, the “underground press” movement spawned hundreds of independent, low-budget newspapers that published stories and commentary — stories that would never have seen print in the mainstream daily newspapers or on network television. In the 1990s, new software allowed anyone with a computer and an internet connection to publish weblogs on any topic and entirely without editorial or publishing oversight. Each of these two new phenomena carved out space that wasn’t present before, and regardless of the direct impact blogs or the underground press have had on corporate journalism, that space still exists. And, both bloggers and journalists of the underground press have inspired real scorn among their fellows in the mainstream media world — they’re not real journalists, they don’t follow professional standards, they shouldn’t be allowed press credentials, and similar complaints.

The book satisfies on other levels too, though Edwards’s description of Murrow’s personal life, family history, and other private details are terse. These features are provided in service to the story of Murrow the professional man. For example, Edwards explains that when Murrow was fresh out of college, he worked as president of the National Student Federation of America (NSFA), and then assistant to the director of the Institute of International Education (IIE). Stories of this part of Murrow’s career help to explain his overall commitment to his values, and his unwillingness to compromise except under specific, strategic conditions.

For example, while at the NSFA, Murrow recruited historically black colleges to membership in the organization, and held a racially integrated convention in Atlanta. When he worked for the IIE, Murrow started an exchange program that brought American college students Soviet Moscow for summer courses, and coordinated a relocation project that matched German scholars displaced by Nazi politics with American universities willing to hire them as professors and researchers. These are interesting stories, but their job in Edwards’s book is not merely to educate and entertain. They show that Murrow was a man who strove to create opportunities to make his work as an educator also do service to his political and ethical ideals. These are the qualities, Edwards argues, that made Murrow a great journalist, and that gave him the tools to shape an emerging medium.

Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism has a modest index and a short bibliography. The book itself is quite short, and very readable. It might make a nice companion on a trip, or a good choice to read on a quiet afternoon alone. I read it on my commute to work, on the bus, where it sped my journey, diverted me from the flow of conversation around me, and, on one occasion, even made me almost miss my stop.

55 – you are here
07.20.2008, 12:02 am
Filed under: history & geography

You are here : personal geographies and other maps of the imagination / Katharine Harmon.
New York : Princeton Architectural Press, c2004.
[MCL call number: 912 H288y 2004; three copies, no holds]

A map is a compelling thing, and it does not have to be true in scientific terms to give powerful testimony. It is relatively common for novels to begin with a map, showing something like the neighborhood in which the murder occurred, or the geography of a fairyland. And we encounter nongeographical and other conceptual maps regularly in other places too — the zodiac that is sometimes featured on Chinese restaurant paper placemats, or the diagram of the path to clarity displayed in Church of Scientology storefronts.

You need a map to understand the geography of a completely imaginary place, especially if you’re not the imaginer. Here are some examples from my own cultural influences: What if I want more information about the assets of the four countries of Oz? How can I get a feel for the lake in which the Swallows and Amazons sailed, see where Christopher Robin and Pooh had their adventures, or find out that Professor Plum did it in the library, with the candlestick? I need a map.

Diagrams of human anatomy, religious maps showing the dangers of loose morals and the benefits of a virtuous life, battle maps, and even those Family Circus cartoons showing little Billy’s path all around the house and yard in one afternoon are still more examples of imaginative maps revealing shapes and relationships in much the same way as traditional “real” maps show national interests, property, routes of travel, and weather predictions.

In You Are Here, Katharine Harmon has collected scores of maps and map-like representations of ideas, feelings, states of being, relationships, time, and more. Each chapter collects maps on a particular theme, with an introductory essay by a different writer. Some of the book’s examples are very clearly maps; others require some suspension of disbelief, some allowance for creative license. Some are in fact self-conscious works of art; others were created for humorous purposes, to teach, to inspire, or to convince others of a deeply held belief. Here are some of the maps I found most notable:

  • “Falls of Eternal Despair,” a map showing the river of death as it slides off the plain of sin and wretchedness over the waterfall into the depths of hell. (page 44)
  • “Map of Americana,” a 1929 map by illustrator John Held, Jr. shows the 48 contiguous states as vast central area thinly populated with gas stations, hot dogs, and opportunities to purchase orange drink, surrounded on all sides by a dense ring of rum runners and bootleggers. (page 84)
  • “Surrealist Map of the World,” another 1929 map showing the countries of the world, centered on the pacific, but with Ireland dwarfing the island of Britain, a giant Easter Island looming over a teeny Australia, just two cities marked (Paris and Constantinople), and no sign of the contiguous United States. (page 118)
  • A map of Los Angeles with cartoon faces showing affluence, the unemployment rate, urban stresses, and the proportional representation of race in each part of town. (page 138)
  • A nice lithographic-style poster of a restaurant table surrounded with the evocatively lettered names of the various components of a meal, two friends, their chairs, napkins, meals, drinks, conversation, and warm feelings of friendship. (page 134)

55 – archaeology in washington
07.20.2008, 12:01 am
Filed under: history & geography

Archaeology in Washington / Ruth Kirk and Richard D. Daugherty.
Seattle : University of Washington Press, c2007.
[MCL call number: 979.7 K59a 2007; two copies, no holds]

It’s not always obvious at first, but there is a lot hidden in any inhabited land to show evidence of the people who have lived there over time. The area now occupied by the state of Washington is large, and it has supported human communities for many thousands of years. The exact range of time is a matter of some dispute, since scientists have competing theories about how people arrived there, and many indigenous peoples maintain that they have lived in their homelands from the beginning of time. But regardless of whether archaeological exploration in Washington can reveal traces of human habitation stretching back 14,000, or 20,000, or uncountable years, there is no doubt that there is plenty of evidence to show that people have been there, and have made an impact on the land.

Archaeology in Washington provides a friendly, sensible introduction to archaeological sites in the state, as well as to the state’s history of archaeological exploration, controversy, and accomplishment. One interesting story relayed in the book is the discovery and excavation of the Manis mastodon. In 1977, a couple living in the northern Olympic Peninsula began excavating a mucky portion of their land with a backhoe, with the intention of creating a pond where migrating water birds could rest. When Emanuel Manis dug up a pair of what seemed to be tree trunk sections from about six feet below the original surface of the site, he and his wife Clare Manis noticed the broken tips of the two chunks were white at the tips. They realized the chunks could be tusks, and called the an archaeologist at Washington State University who happened to be working on an excavation at another site on the peninsula. Seven years of excavation work later, bones of three mastodons had been recovered, along with seeds, bits of wood, other animal remains, and various human tools. Clare Manis eventually donated the site to the National Archaeological Conservancy.

Overall, Archaeology in Washington has the mainstream, open minded sort of bias familiar to readers of well-written American middle school text books — information is presented clearly, in a logical order that is meant to encourage the acquisition of knowledge, nearly every page contains at least one beautiful and useful photograph or illustration, the bibliography is helpful and the index decent, and although the writers definitely present their own perspective in subtle ways, matters of scientific and political debate are laid out in a more or less objective fashion that allows readers to mostly make up their own minds. You don’t have to know anything much about archaeology, or about Washington’s human past to understand this book, but you should know quite a bit about both when you have finished reading it, and it is interesting just to leaf through and look at the pictures.

54 – greetings from portland
05.19.2008, 12:01 am
Filed under: history & geography

Greetings from Portland / Mary L. Martin & Kirby Brumfield.
Atglen, PA : Schiffer Pub. Ltd., c2007.
[MCL call number: 979.549 M382g 2007; 20 copies, no holds; two copies reference only at Central Library]

If you are a collector, or a public librarian, or a generalist bookseller, you are certainly familiar with the sort of books published especially for people who collect things. Recent versions of this type of book display lavish illustrations from someone’s collection of whatever-it-is, with price estimates and minimal information about each object’s date of origin, history, and perhaps its context. For people interested in history, collectors’ books are inherently frustrating for the things they deliberately leave out, as well as for their rather casual attitude to the responsibility of citing sources for information — it is expected that the author and/or publisher of a book for collectors is such an authority that readers need no other information than their pronouncement of an object’s definition, its cultural context, its historical significance, and of course, its current value.

Greetings from Portland is a collectors’ book of postcards, and although it is lovely and fascinating, like its brethren it offers little to no information about when each postcard was made, where it would have been sold, or anything else about the history of each object. Many of the captions describing postcards include historical bits and pieces such as the date the bridge in the picture was finished, but these details are spare and unsatisfying. To be fair, the book’s preface does include some instruction on dating postcards (pages 4-5), but since most of the advice is about the information on the address-and-stamp side of the cards, it’s not much help to folks who are simply enjoying the book.

So, if you’re really reading this for my critical opinion, you should know: I’m interested in Greetings from Portland because of its subject rather than simply because of the medium it describes. I do happen to think that postcards provide a particularly interesting angle on the history of the places they portray, but it is still true that it’s essentially the Portland bit that compels me to examine this book about postcards. And I am frustrated by the book’s relative lack of historical context for the cards it portrays.

The view on the past in Greetings from Portland is awfully varied — the book is arranged thematically in chapters showing postcards of fashionable houses, Portland roses and rose gardens, schools, churches, schools, hospitals, parks, statutes, hotels, bridges, harbor traffic, government and commercial buildings, the stockyards, Union Station, street scenes and city views, and the Rose Festival. Several chapters are devoted to peculiarities of the Rose City such as the old Forestry Building (“World’s Largest Log Cabin”), The Grotto, and Council Crest Amusement Park. And there are a few chapters showing of postcards that aren’t of Portland at all — one covers the bounty of Oregon’s fields, orchards, and pastures (pages 87-93), and two chapters display postcards of places luckier Portlanders might have once visited on day trips (pages 103-113). The postcards are mostly in radiant, unlikely-looking full color (thanks to the hand-tinting they so often employed), and are reproduced at nearly their original size.

And the images themselves are beautiful. On page 43, a southbound passenger train makes its way off the east end of the Steel Bridge, its elegant curve along the track accentuating the heavy, graceful lines of the bridge. On page 79, a view from the east bank of the Willamette shows the old public market building with, amazingly, six small seaplanes resting peacefully in the river, all facing west and apparently unaffected by the current. On page 127, a thrillingly gothic portrait of SW 5th Ave. features artificially gloomy streets and glowering dark clouds penetrated by a gleaming full moon. Hundreds of other postcards show the River City in a glory its real past no doubt never quite attained, with blue skies, stately houses, exuberant pink roses, and shapely modern industry gleaming from every page.

Greetings from Portland has no index or bibliography, though as I mentioned it does have an introduction with some advice about how to date postcards.

* * *

Greetings from Portland is but one of a whole series of city-themed postcard collecting books published by Schiffer Publishing, all with titles beginning “Greetings from. . .” Unfortunately, Multnomah County Library only owns this one. But, readers with an interest in postcards may also wish to consult Gideon Bosker and Jonathan Nichols’s Greetings from Oregon (Portland, OR : Graphic Arts Center Pub. Co., c1987; reviewed in Duck Duck Book number 45). It, too, is lovely.

53 – portland red guide
04.14.2008, 8:01 am
Filed under: history & geography

The Portland red guide : sites & stories of our radical past / by Michael Munk.
Portland, Or. : Ooligan Press, 2007.
[MCL call number: 979.549 M966p 2007; 22 copies, no holds;
one copy reference only at Central Library]

I have a great love for my hometown, Portland, Oregon. It is a pedestrian sort of city in many ways, and its glamour is a little faint when compared to really fabled places — cities that have starred in films and been the inspiration for renowned works of literature. But, part of why I love Portland is that I am connected to it. I live here, and I am a part of its history. I remember businesses that are long gone, houses and neighborhoods that have been replaced with parking lots or road infrastructure, streets that once had different names, and parks that used to be sketchy but are now squeaky clean. However, my own memories go back only thirty years or so, and though Portland is a young city by most measures, thirty years is not so much of its history.

So I need a little help if I want to be truly well-versed in the details of what the buildings used to hold, why the parks and streets have the names they do, and what the neighborhoods were once like before everything changed. The Portland Red Guide is one place to go for help in this quest. Michael Munk spent dozens of years researching Portland’s history for tiny jewels — terse little stories of personalities, organizations, and institutions; of strikes and parties, criminal trials and cultural events; of parks, storefronts and streetcorners — all located simultaneously in the physical, historical, and cultural landscape of the city.

One quite startling thing The Portland Red Guide illustrates is the number of intact, surviving buildings and streetscapes that once hosted a slice of radical history. Pictures really bring this home: Lownsdale Square (between SW 3rd and 4th Aves. and across from the Multnomah County Courthouse) is shown in several historic photographs as the location of public meetings of Portland’s branch of the Communist Party; a beautiful 1950’s-era street scene shows the gay bar The Harbor Club (at 736 SW 1st Ave., in a building that is still with us); and houses once lived in by Portland’s most noted radical daughters, Dr. Marie Equi and Louise Bryant (at 1423 SW Hall and 2226 NE 53rd Ave., respectively) still stand and look downright normal in their photographs.

Munk divides Portland’s history into six chronological periods (from the late 19th century through Halloween, 2006), and for each he provides a brief introduction; a list of people, places, institutions and events; a map situating them in the city; and a selection of photographs. The book closes with an excellent bibliography of books on Portland’s history and an index.

* * *

I have discussed many other books, websites, and films that consider elements of Portland’s history. Gordon DeMarco’s A Short History of Portland (Lexikos, 1990, reviewed in Duck Duck Book number 22) and the Oregon Historical Society’s Oregon History Project (reviewed in number 4) provide general views of the city’s past, but most of the others focus on specific topics:

Portland’s neighborhoods and communities are the focus of Cornerstones of Community: Buildings of Portland’s African American History (Bosco-Milligan Foundation, 1995, reviewed in number 47), A Walking Tour of Jewish Portland With the People That Lived There (by Polina Olsen, Smart Talk Publications, c2004, reviewed in number 28), Burnside, a Community (by Kathleen Ryan and Mark Beach, Coast to Coast Books, c1979, reviewed in number 29), Portland’s Little Red Book of Stairs (by Stefana Young, Coobus Press, c1996, reviewed in number 18), and the film Imagining Home: Stories of Columbia Villa (Sue Arbuthnot and Richard Wilhelm, 2005, announced in number 7).

Local architectural history can be found in the regional study Space, Style, and Structure: Building in Northwest America (edited by Thomas Vaughan and Virginia Guest Ferriday, Oregon Historical Society, 1974) and in Last of the Homemade Buildings (by Virginia Guest Ferriday, Mark Pub. Co., 1984, both reviewed in number 43), which focuses on a very small but glamorous group of buildings in downtown Portland.

The history of the Kalapuya people, indigenous inhabitants of the Willamette Valley area, is detailed in The World of the Kalapuya (by Judy Rycraft Juntunen et al., Benton County History Society and Museum, c2005, reviewed in number 31) and in Harold Mackey’s The Kalapuyans (The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, c2004, reviewed in number 33).

Elements of Portland’s hip hop and punk scenes are explored in the films Small City Big Hip Hop (Opio Media LLC, [2005], announced in number 23) and Northwest Passage (ID/ODD Productions, 2007, announced in number 42).

The Rose City’s notable trees are described and celebrated in the guide Trees of Greater Portland (by Phyllis C. Reynolds and Elizabeth F. Dimon, Timber Press, c1993, reviewed in number 16), while details of our gray winters, volcanic fallout, and famously warm and lovely Augusts are recorded in Raymond R. Hatton’s Portland, Oregon Weather and Climate: A Historical Perspective (Geographical Books, c2005, reviewed in number 37).

Ed Goldberg’s Dead Air (Berkeley Prime Crime, 1998, reviewed in number 22) is a mystery novel, not a factual history, but its setting among the staff of a local community-supported radio station makes it interesting for aficionados of local radical history even though it is fictional. And, the nearly-forgotten B-movie Portland Exposé (DVD published by Kit Parker double features / VCI Entertainment, 2006, reviewed in number 41), also fiction, explores another major chunk of our cultural past — corruption and organized crime.