Teachable Primary Sources: Handsome Lake’s “How America Was Discovered.”

An illustration of an indigenous American man with a feather in his hair
Jesse Cornplanter, drawing of Handsome Lake (Wikimedia Commons).

One of the most interesting, and most difficult, primary sources that I have taught with is Handsome Lake’s “How America Was Discovered.”

Handsome Lake was a Seneca man who came to prominence in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. He was an important prophet who was involved in the revival of traditional religion among the Haudenosaunee. He argued that the Native peoples of the continent should reject western culture—including alcohol consumption and land selling. Many Seneca disagreed, but his ideas resonated and have proven to be remarkably resilient across centuries. Indeed, his ideas continue to shape the religious practice of the Haudenosaunee today.

In 1923, a folklorist named Arthur Parker, who was a descendant of Handsome Lake, recorded a short narrative about the discovery of America that has been attributed to Handsome Lake. It was first written down more than a century after Handsome Lake died, but it is closely aligned with his theology. According to Parker, the story goes like this (my insertions are in brackets):

Continue reading “Teachable Primary Sources: Handsome Lake’s “How America Was Discovered.””

In-class activity: making simple network graphs with Palladio

[note: this is an activity I developed for my Smith College course “Doing Digital History” taught in the Spring of 2020]

Early American Newspaper Citations

  1. Download this data that I produced as a part of my research.
    • It represents nearly the entirety of late 18th century North American newspapers’ citations to newspapers outside of North America. These are all aggregated based on city and weighted by the number of citations. It’s structured in five-year increments.
  2. Go to Palladio. Click start.
  3. Paste in the data from the above file. Click “load.”
  4. Click “Graph” on the header (in between “Map” and “Table”)
  5. Under settings, for “Source,” choose “City of Origin.” For “Target,” choose “City of Publication.” (it doesn’t actually matter which of these you choose for which). Tick “Highlight” for one of them.
  6. Tick “Size Nodes,” then according to “Sum of Weight.”
  7. You’ve just created a very simple network graph.
  8. Click “Timeline” below. Palladio will recognize “Year” as a temporal variable, and allow you to look at how the network looks during specified time periods.
    • Note that the data is structured in five-year increments: 1755–1759, 1760–1764, etc. You can’t get more granular than that.
    • How does this network of citation change over time?
  9. Click “Facet.” This will allow you to explore the data based on particular cities.
    • How does Boston’s role in the network change over time?

Continue reading “In-class activity: making simple network graphs with Palladio”

In-class activity: topic modeling the State of the Union with MALLET

[note: this is an activity I developed for my Smith College “Doing Digital History” class from Spring 2020]

This quick guide is based on a more complete tutorial in The Programming Historian.

Step 1: Download these three things

Java developer’s kit

Download MALLET.

Download the SOTU corpus. [this is a slightly modified version of a corpus I found here]

  • N.B.: the Java kit takes about 300mb of space. If you’d prefer not to install software on your personal computer, hop onto one of the classroom PCs.
  • I have written these instructions for Mac users, but they can be easily translated to PC instructions. Using PC guidelines mostly involves making sure that the slashes go the opposite way. See Mac and PC directions on The Programming Historian site.

Continue reading “In-class activity: topic modeling the State of the Union with MALLET”