My study desk in the Adams Building of the Library of Congress
Bruce and I are now a 100-percent furloughed household. He’s officially in a “non-essential” job and thus on unofficial R&R. And here’s what the government shutdown today looks like from my little spot in the universe.
It’s my “study desk” at the Library of Congress, a tiny room down a long, dimly lit corridor. From the single narrow window, there on the fifth floor, I can gaze across the rooftops on Capitol Hill and see the faint blue-grey ribbon of the Potomac River on the horizon. I’ve spent tons of hours there, sometimes working late into the evening.
And now it’s shuttered.
The 50 or so books I have in reserve on a bookshelf are off limits for the time being. No online advance ordering of any more books, either, since the library’s Website has also gone dark.
A lot of people today seem to think you can do all the research you need to online. But I’ve found the resources of the Library of Congress indispensable to my project. Continue reading →
Researchers, authors, students and history buffs gathered here last weekend for the annual D.C. Historical Studies Conference. I was there as a presenter on Friday, in a joint appearance with author Ann McClellan.
This year’s conference, the 39th one, featured among its topics local anniversaries including the sesquicentennial of President Lincoln’s emancipation of slaves in D.C. and the centennial of the cherry trees in Potomac Park. I told the story of Eliza Scidmore, emphasizing some D.C. connections that have come to light in my research. Ann, the author of two books on the Cherry Blossom Festival, described the efforts of a local couple, Marian (“Daisy”) and David Fairchild, whose interest in cherry trees overlapped with Eliza’s.
Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square in Washington, now home to the D.C. Historical Society
Last week the Library of Congress held a seminar on Andrew Carnegie’s legacy of establishing public libraries in the United States and several other countries, beginning in the late 19th century.
About 1,600 were built in the United States. One of them is at Mount Vernon Square in Washington. Today it houses the offices of the D.C. Historical Society and the affiliated Kiplinger Research Library, where I found some very useful information in the early stages of my research on Eliza Scidmore.
Women’s History Month begins this week. The Center for the Book at the Library of Congress is helping to kick off things with a presentationFriday afternoon, March 2, on a new scholarly work,Right Here I See My Own Books,about the special woman’s library assembled for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
I seemed to recall from my research that Eliza Scidmore reported on the fair. Revisiting my notes, I found an article she wrote for the Aug. 19 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, a magazine she was contributing to regularly at the time.
It also made me wonder whether her work was represented in the woman’s library. I checked an online list of the titles. And yes, Eliza Scidmore was included!
The library contained copies of the three books she had published by that time: Alaska and the Sitkan Archipelago, Jinrikisha Days in Japan and Westward to the Far East. Continue reading →
Mothers and children in Tokyo, Helen Hyde, woodcut, 1914 (Source: Library of Congress)
With the 100th anniversary of Washington’s first cherry trees only six weeks away, on March 27, special exhibits and programs on sakura (cherry blossoms) are suddenly cropping up all over town. In late March the Library of Congress will open an exhibition of 54 prints and artworks from its collections that depict different scenes of cherry trees. The selections include watercolor drawings, Japanese woodblock prints, book illustrations, photographs, posters, postcards and editorial cartoons. I’ve posted a few enticing samples. Continue reading →
Of all that I’ve learned about Eliza Scidmore so far nothing has excited my imagination so much as her first trip to Alaska, in the summer of 1883. Maybe her story speaks to me so powerfully because I see in her life echoes of my own early hunger to leave home and know the world. At 26, Eliza was smart and ambitious and probably headstrong and already fiercely independent when she traveled across the country from Washington, D.C., and boarded a mail steamer in Port Townsend, Wash., for the journey north.
Although Alaska had been a U.S. territory for 16 years, it was still a remote wilderness. To Eliza, a young newspaperwoman in search of the next big story, it had the smell of opportunity. When her ship, the Idaho, veered off the known course that July, Eliza and her fellow passengers were the first tourists to visit Glacier Bay. Writing about it brought her fame, and laid the foundation of her long career as an author and travel writer. I’ve tried to capture the wonder of that historic voyage in this video, which I made in a recent Technology Tools for Writers class at Johns Hopkins, offered by the M.A. in writing program (from which I’m a graduate). I’m grateful to instructor and multimedia maven Rae Bryant for her assistance.
Detail from Great Hall at Library of Congress (Photo: Diana Parsell)
Today is the first Thursday of the month. That calls for packing my lunch so I can join the Women’s History Discussion Group at the Library of Congress.
We all crowd into a small conference room and sit around sharing ideas about research avenues for the various projects we’re working on. The moderators — Barbara Natanson (Prints and Photographs Division), Janice Ruth (Manuscript Division) and Kristi Conkle (Humanities and Social Sciences Division) — offer the kind of tips that could take outsiders years to figure out on their own. Continue reading →
Writing is never easy, and the long-haul process of writing a book — especially if it’s your first — can feel overwhelming at times. When I started thinking about a book on Eliza Scidmore, I decided to do what I’ve always done when there’s something I’m not sure I can easily figure out on my own: take a class. I feel fortunate to live in Washington with access to so many great literary resources.
Here’s my shout-out to a few people I’m especially grateful to for their help as I try my wings in a new genre. Continue reading →