s is for scholar

Matthew Yglesias gets a cake upon which various words have been misspelled in his honor. Garance Franke-Ruta speculates:

As blogs move us into a less heavily copy-edited world, I sometimes wonder if we’re moving back into a more 16th and 17th century form of writing, where the idea of correct spelling was less important than the communication of meaning — which, in reality, can be accomplished just as well with incorrectly spelled words and homonyms as with a more perfect language. And also: as we move ever deeper into this new world of speech-like writing, will the perfect, formal language of the page one day seem as antique and elaborate as Victorian silverware?

So far, only one person has commented on her post and it’s none other than Anthony Grafton – no stranger to old pamphlets – who notes (side-stepping the question of spelling for the perhaps more interesting question of editing):

Actually, most printing-houses in the 16th and 17th century had professional copy-editors–the so-called correctors, whose title came from their chief task of proof correction. They also prepared copy, correcting errors of style and fact, and added punctuation. It’s true that pamphlets weren’t always corrected: but most renaissance writers expected that their work would be gone over, corrected and polished before the public saw it.

For my part, I wonder how the state of English spelling at the time compared with that of other European languages. Were they similarly non-standardized?

why 1908? why the New-York Tribune?

A quick explanation. I wanted a Presidential election year. I didn’t want to do McKinley, didn’t want to do a re-election, and couldn’t do 1912 – which would be really interesting – because the collection I’m using doesn’t cover that year. So it was 1908. It’s convenient that it’s exactly a century ago, but that wasn’t a goal.

I thought it would be cool to do a small local paper people don’t see much of, but there was only one choice from an area I know very little about. (The rest of the choices being from areas I know nothing about.) Unfortunately, the Amador Ledger is only a weekly, and not very appealing visually. I thought of doing the San Francisco Call – the only Bay Area paper with a daily selection, and the region of the country with whose history I’m most familiar – but then I figured a New York paper would have more self-consciously “national” news. So I went with the Tribune.

cooler than the Bee

Even Eric admits it. (Whether that means this is the last Bee for a while, I don’t know.) On to today’s paper:

The photo:


Top stories:

  1. William Jennings Bryan and Charles F. Murphy have worked out a deal: the New York delegates “selected arbitrarily at the state convention” last week will be recognized as the state’s “regular” delegates at the national convention. In exchange, the New York delegates will vote for Bryan on the first ballot and will apply “the utmost pressure” on other delegations to make Bryan’s nomination unanimous. Update: Murphy was apparently part of the Tammany crowd and Bryan was expected to deny reports of an agreement. A fair amount of intrigue.
  2. The New York state Senate passed a new rapid transit bill.
  3. The city of New York has sent a bill for $78,220.95 to the Brooklyn Rapid Transit company for street work the city says the company should have done.
  4. A member of the New York Historical Society has come across 200 old wills, dated between 1670 and 1730.
  5. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. took a balloon ride from Washington, DC to Delaware yesterday.
  6. A report on the AP and publisher dinner photographed on the front page. In a speech, Bryan “urged the publication of bipartisan newspapers.”

Previous Tribunes: 1, 2*

*Technical note: I have created a category for these, but I noticed that this blog’s theme does not display anything more than the post titles when you click on the category and archive pages. So I’ll probably switch to a new theme. Update: Done.

late edition

I think I’m going to keep this up. I’ll try to do it regularly, but daily is probably too time consuming. Here’s what has now just become yesterday’s 1908 New-York Tribune

Across the top of the page, left to right:

  1. William Jennings Bryan gave a speech on “Universal Brotherhood” – and then defended the Democratic southern states afterward when asked a question about the disfranchisement of black voters. Note his reference to northern laws restricting Filipino suffrage.
  2. The British election is heating up, with pronouncements from both Winston Churchhill on Home Rule and David Lloyd-George on pensions.
  3. The Senate steering committee met today and worked out a schedule for the rest of the session.
  4. The NYU Chorus went on strike yesterday.
  5. A Canadian banker’s daughter eloped just long enough to get married.
  6. The State Senate passed “the Page bill placing telephone, telegraph and ferry companies and stage lines under the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commissioners.”

As a bonus, click through and scroll down the front page for what’s likely an unintentionally comical headline about a Lincoln statue (column 5).

this shows potential

Inspired by the above the fold feature at The Edge of the American West, I thought of trying to do the same thing for a historical newspaper. Much to my surprise, thanks to the Library of Congress, this just might be possible.

Here’s the New-York Tribune for April 21st, 1908:

(click on the image to be taken to the full issue)

Some thoughts:

Either the type is smaller than what the Sacramento Bee uses or the paper is wider (or something else is going on). In any case, you really have to click through to be able to read the headlines. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing: if you click through, you’ll be able to read the whole day’s paper. I don’t really have time to read the articles, but I can highligh some of the headlines.

If I do more with this – and there are years of daily issues to choose from (not to mention other papers in the collection) – I’ll experiment with larger image sizes. I don’t have the best in image software, but getting an image of the top of a front page* seems easy enough.

*This raises the question of “the fold”: since the archived image is unfolded to get the full page, there’s no way to be sure where the fold was. But if you look carefully at the quality of the type, it looks like there was a crease part way down. If I keep this up, I’m just going to go with my best guesses.


How times have changed:

Filling a Vacuum. For the G.O.P., 1968 may represent the best opportunity in years—but the party has earned a reputation for booting such opportunities away. The late Sam Rayburn once said: “Just leave the Republicans alone and they’ll manage to screw it up every time.” As Esquire magazine noted this month: “The Republican Party could probably beat Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 if it did not have to run a candidate against him.” The more likely it seems that Lyndon Johnson can be defeated, the more tempted the G.O.P. may be to blow its chances by putting up a candidate who is acceptable to the party pros rather than to the electorate.

Categorized as elections

other americas

What reporters know and don’t report is news–not from the newspapers’ point of view, but from the sociologists’ and the novelists’. It enabled me, when I learned a little of it, to write my Shame of the Cities. But it took time and sharp listening to get that little. Though I had nothing to do, professionally, with criminal news, I used to go out with the other reporters on cases that were useless to my paper but interesting to me. Crime, as tragedy and as a part of the police system, fascinated me. I liked to go for lunch to the old Lyons restaurant on the Bowery with Max Fischel or some other of the “wise” reporters. They would point out to me the famous pickpockets, second-story men and sneaks that met and ate there; sometimes with equally famous detectives or police officials and politicians. Crime was a business, and criminals had “position” in the world, a place that was revealing itself to me. I soon knew more about it than Riis did, who had been a police reporter for years; I knew more than Max could tell Riis, who hated and would not believe or even hear some of the “awful things” he was told. Riis was interested not at all in vice or crime, only in the stories of people and the conditions in which they lived.

The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens, 223

history vs. memory, round [some large number written in Roman numerals]

A while back in comments elsewhere, I wondered about a story I’ve heard about the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debates. Supposedly, Nixon did better among radio listeners and Kennedy did better among television viewers. But there’s a problem with that account: there were actually four debates. Do the stories refer to just the first one? (I suspect yes.) Or does this refer to some kind of overall response to the debates?

And then there’s an even bigger question: while no doubt there were individual radio-listeners who favored Nixon and tv-watchers who favored Kennedy, is the aggregate story even true?

The answer appears to be “no“:

The first Kennedy-Nixon debate in the 1960 presidential campaign has lived on in memory as a turning point not so much because of what the candidates said but rather because of how they looked. Kennedy looked like … well, Kennedy, and Nixon looked like an especially unflattering caricature of himself. Everyone “knows” that Nixon’s unattractive appearance led him to be perceived as the loser of the debate. However, the evidence that supports that conclusion turns out upon inspection, to be somewhere in the range of weak to nonexistent. Until Druckman’s study, the only reasonably credible evidence came from a post-debate survey that indicated that those who had listened to the debate on the radio were more likely to think Nixon had won, but those who watched it on television were more likely to see Kennedy as the winner. That’s a nifty result, if valid, but Druckman questions its validity for a host of methodological reasons that I won’t go into here except to say that they’re pretty compelling.

Or is the answer “yes”?

As a strictly historical matter it does not look like it can be settled. The only documentation is that survey, but the survey is apparently too flawed to be relied upon. But as a political science matter…well, just click through. I have my doubts that a group of “mostly undergraduate students” shown the debate decades later, outside of the context of the campaign, and after the Nixon and Kennedy legacies have become part of the world they grew up in, can settle anything about the contemporaneous response to the debate. There is evidence, however, that viewing vs. listening can make a real difference among audiences today.

(I’d link to the Druckman study, but it’s paywalled and I don’t have access and haven’t been able to read it for myself.)

Update: You can find the study, which I still haven’t yet read, in pdf form here.

a new identity

Of the three articles linked here, I thought the New York Times one, which doesn’t really try to do much more than provide some information about people of mixed racial ancestry, was the most worthwhile.

One of the things I’ve noticed – and this is a more of a general comment rather than a comment on the linked articles – as I’ve come across more and more articles on this subject in the last year or so is that there seems to be a trend towards treating people of mixed ancestry as if they belong in the same broad category regardless of the particularities of their backgrounds. I suppose in some contexts this makes sense – the Loving decision, for example. And categories generally accepted today – like “Asian-American,” which I believe only came into existence as a word in the 1960s – themselves contain quite a bit of diversity.

Still, given the somewhat complex history of race in America (and in the rest of the world, for that matter) the articles I’ve read could use more discussion of this past. The differences, similarities, and relationships between, say, slavery and segregation and immigration exclusion are worth some more attention, at the very least. As well as the fact that some terms formerly used to refer to racial mixture, and which are both offensive and archaic to us today – like “octoroon” or “quadroon” – had real meaning at particular times and places, but not at others.

One of the reasons Homer Plessy got on that train in Louisiana, as I understand it, was to challenge not just segregation, but the way racial categories were determined. Plessy apparently might have been able to pass as white:

…petitioner was a citizen of the United States and a resident of the state of Louisiana, of mixed descent, in the proportion of seven-eighths Caucasian and one-eighth African blood; that the mixture of colored blood was not discernible in him, and that he was entitled to every recognition, right, privilege, and immunity secured to the citizens of the United States of the white race by its constitution and laws; that on June 7, 1892, he engaged and paid for a first-class passage on the East Louisiana Railway, from New Orleans to Covington, in the same state, and thereupon entered a passenger train, and took possession of a vacant seat in a coach where passengers of the white race were accommodated; that such railroad company was incorporated by the laws of Louisiana as a common carrier, and was not authorized to distinguish between citizens according to their race, but, notwithstanding this, petitioner was required by the conductor, under penalty of ejection from said train and imprisonment, to vacate said coach, and occupy another seat, in a coach assigned by said company for persons not of the white race, and for no other reason than that petitioner was of the colored race; that, upon petitioner’s refusal to comply with such order, he was, with the aid of a police officer, forcibly ejected from said coach

; but he was arrested by pre-arrangement. Justice Harlan, in his dissent opposing the segregation of citizens from one another, also objected:

There is a race so different from our own that we do not permit those belonging to it to become citizens of the United States. Persons belonging to it are, with few exceptions, absolutely excluded from our country. I allude to the Chinese race. But, by the statute in question, a Chinaman can ride in the same passenger coach with white citizens of the United States, while citizens of the black race in Louisiana, many of whom, perhaps, risked their lives for the preservation of the Union, who are entitled, by law, to participate in the political control of the state and nation, who are not excluded, by law or by reason of their race, from public stations of any kind, and who have all the legal rights that belong to white citizens, are yet declared to be criminals, liable to imprisonment, if they ride in a public coach occupied by citizens of the white race.

Incidentally, two years earlier, Harlan was one of two justices who dissented in the case of Wong Kim Ark, an American born in the United States to Chinese parents, which upheld birthright citizenship under the 14th Amendment. (The other was Chief Justice Fuller, who authored the dissent.) A few decades later the Supreme Court upheld, in Lum v. Rice, the segregation of the Chinese – who were classified as “colored” – from whites in the Mississippi public schools. (It’s not clear to me whether the decision was also applied to privately operated railroads.)

These are the kinds of things I’m referring to when I say that the history of racial categorization is not a simple one. Are they – not so much the particulars of the cases but the issues they touch on – relevant to how we think about people of mixed ancestry today? I think so, though I admit that finding a way to incorporate them into a newspaper article would not be easy. And if these pasts are not relevant – the different but related pasts of the various groups to which those of mixed ancestry could claim membership, along with the histories of people of mixed ancestry before Loving – that also seems worthy of note.

My impression is that a fair number of people of mixed heritage are embracing “mixed” as a category, so it’s not all being done by “outsiders” examining a phenomenon, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to do. Occasionally, I see articles where people seem to be trying to push people of mixed ancestry into new categories; this seems to happen in a couple of the things I’ve read about a supposed “hapa” identity – which apparently comes from a Hawaiian term meaning “part white”, but which somehow has been transformed to refer to people who are “part Asian” – but not so much when I read about “mixed race” people, broadly construed.

(On hapa: I learned the term here, which article is mostly restrained about encouraging the adoption of the identity. This, on the other hand, treats it like a category already accepted and even uses the phrase “Hapa Nation.” Whatever.)

I also have the impression that younger people are creating increasing numbers of clubs or organizations for people of mixed ancestry at high schools and colleges (but I don’t keep track of this). A similar club was attempted when I was in high school; I’m not sure it ever came into existence while I was there. I went to the first meeting and could not find a reason to join. It seemed like our backgrounds were too individual, that we didn’t have enough in common to form a group based almost entirely on this aspect of our identities. There was also a question of what exactly do we do now that we’re all in the same room? I don’t seem to remember us having similar interests in other areas; indeed, some were interested in starting the club and others were not.

Still, I have to admit that when I’ve met people of quite similar backgrounds – one side of the family traceable to East Asia, the other traceable to Europe – and of a similar age, I have felt that I do share something significant (meaningful?) with them. Certainly we’ve had a number of similar experiences. Including, in some cases, the experience of feeling like our identities were shaped by so many things particular to ourselves and our personal histories that they do not fit comfortably into larger categories.

Categorized as identity


Reading this post and especially the comments had me thinking about a couple of things from my childhood:

1. I grew up hearing a lot of Mandarin and Hakka. I don’t remember a time when I was not offended by people who’d do the “ching chong” thing to make fun of the “Chinese language” – was I always offended by this? did I learn to be offended by it? was I taught to be offended? I don’t know. But I was also puzzled. Of course it wasn’t supposed to sound perfectly like “Chinese,” but it was so far off I wondered where the sounds came from. Eventually, after hearing some Cantonese, I remember thinking, “hmm, maybe that’s what people are making fun of.” I have no idea if this is true or what the origins of that linguistic slur are.

2. I remember the pbs stations would run these short spots – public service announcements, I guess – that showed kids of various backgrounds doing various things and then would end with someone saying “I’m proud to be a [ethnicity]-American.” Every time I saw the ones for Asian- or Chinese-Americans (and I can’t remember if they ran “Asian” ones or if they kept it strictly to nationality) I’d wonder, does that describe me too? I never came to a real conclusion. Reading that comment thread I just linked above, I have to assume that these spots must have run only locally, or maybe in only a few places around the country.