Thursday, November 19, 2015

Rare Books, the Tropics, Part 3

Illustration from Panama La Vieja by John F. Shafroth. Published by Imprenta Nacional, Panama City, 1953

Panama La Vieja by John F. Shafroth was written in English and translated into Spanish, displaying text in both languages and old photographs of ruins. These structures , the Spanish council, cathedral, convent, hospital, royal houses and fort were essentially the “first city founded by Europeans (in 1519) on the Pacific Ocean”—p.3. This coat of arms which promises the voyagers will find the Spice Islands (by passing through the Isthmus) underscores the European connection to the Pacific.

Illustration from Panama, Eslabon entre Dos Mundos. Published by El Servicio Informativo de los Estados Unidos, Balboa, Panama, 1953.

Panama, Eslabon entre Dos Mundos… published for the 50th commemoration of Panama’s independence, brings cultural and political aspects of Panama’s history into focus along with a chronicle of the Canal, its important foreign players and inhabitants, both native and immigrant. With pages of illustrations and photographs from each era beginning in 1502, it’s written entirely in Spanish, and includes maps and other graphics.

Cover of The Panama Canal August 15, 1914-1939 Twenty-fifth Anniversary. Published in 1939.

The Panama Canal August 15, 1914-1939 Twenty-fifth Anniversary is a publication of the U.S. Government, printed by the Panama Canal Press in 1939. It focuses in detail on highlights in the history of Spain’s efforts at opening a waterway through the Isthmus, the French government’s attempts to remove the geologic obstructions, and the American success in building the canal, which required years of planning and execution. The booklet’s chapters include “Sanitation and Health”, important due to diseases and tropical insect which carry them, and the “Panama Railroad Company”, transportation adjunct to the canal, built over swampland.

Rare Books in the Museum Research Library:

The Library’s rare book section offers topics like the Panama Canal, maritime policy and theory, voyages, the seafaring life, etc. Much the same as today, these books exemplify the culture and beliefs of audiences eager for new knowledge in scientific theory, political theory, historical fact and literature, but they were written in a world of 50 to almost 200 years ago. Please call the Library, or send an email message through our website, requesting to review these and other books in person.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Rare Books, the Tropics, Part 2

Souvenir Travel Photographs from the Panama Canal

Souvenir of the Panama Canal: a pictorial history containing the most important and interesting photographs ever published of the Panama Canal and Republic of Panama. / I.L. Maduro. Published by I.L. Maduro, Panama City. Date uncertain, 1900-1914?

Faux alligator-skin cover is off-red with a silver tone for the title, befitting the cover of a souvenir from the sub-tropical canal. Each page of about 200 pages in this letter-sized book carries large photographic records of buildings, housing, native peoples, and progress on the locks being built there. Many of the photographs appear to have been carefully rendered to represent a clear image.

Two images from the book are shown below, giving a sense of the dredging necessary in the early 1900s to open the waterways for ships.

A steam shovel and workers pose at Pedro Miguel.

A culvert and a man posed at Gatum Locks in the Panama.

Rare Books, the Tropics, Part 1

In the tropics for a Panama Hat: it was all about developing the West

For ages, an Isthmus held two oceans apart at what is now known as the country of Panama. Certainly aboriginal peoples in the region, and later explorers from European countries, tried to pry apart that piece of land, to make travel easier between the worlds of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

None of the earlier attempts were successful. In the modern sense, creating a waterway system that traversed the various sea levels from east to west, was not possible without money, technology and manpower. French and American attempts overlapped in the late 1880s, technologically and vision-wise.

Gold-seekers were extreme risk-takers of 1849. Some travelled over land in covered wagons and by train, some on board ship, and all experienced a rite of passage once arriving in Gold Country, right before it became the state of California.

Of the routes they may have taken, two of these must have influenced the decision of the U.S. to forge a treaty (1903) with France, the country then deeply involved with canal projects. In order to travers the mass of land that was the United States and arrive on the Pacific Coast required passage on a ship sailing from New York (for example), south along the continents of the Western Hemisphere, and around Cape Horn at the tip of South America, and then north along the Pacific coast of South America to San Francisco, a distance of 12,000 miles and many weeks’ journey.

An overland route was possible, combining a voyage by ship to Central America, and then a train ride over the Isthmus at Panama. This was the preferred, but expensive version, and did not rule out a second voyage by ship, from Pacific Panama to San Francisco. How this was possible is in itself a dramatic history.

The Panama Railroad Company had been formed in 1847 in New York in order to build railway transportation from east to west coast. Over 5 years of unremitting hardship, disease, and worker’s deaths, fifty miles of tracks were laid in the Panama region and the line was opened for business in January, 1855. The company served traffic from Central and South America, and to and from California and was really successful for 12 years, until the U.S. transcontinental railroad, a monumental competitor, was installed. Later, the Panama Railroad, a land-based company, added ocean travel to its business in late 1880s and began the profitable transport and provision of goods to the Panamanian region for foreigners living there.

Then in 1903, the Hay-Brunau-Varilla Treaty created an agreement between the U.S. and France. The Treaty gave the U.S. the option to overtake and complete the canal-building project begun by the French. Besides engineering the project, the ever-present threat of tropical diseases, and the provision of supplies from outside the region created severe challenges to the success of the waterway system.

At the opening of the Canal in 1914, after many years of overcoming obstacles in geology, climate and health associated with working difficult terrain in tropical conditions, the U.S. Congress created an organization known as “The Panana Canal” as distinguished from Panama Canal Zone, which denotes the geographic area. Eleven years earlier, the Republic of Panama had been formed, freeing the country from the clutches of Colombia, with whom it had been related since 1821.

Perhaps the most aggressive building scheme at the time would not have been possible without eradicating the threat and destruction of disease. Panama Canal construction workers, many of whom were not native to the Isthmus, remained to work on the Canal for years at a time. They thus required necessities such as housing, supplies, food and clothing. These items were readily accessible in their native countries and so they were shipped to Panama and then delivered to the commissary system which sold these items. This was possible due to the over-land transportation furnished by the Panama Railroad Company.

The workers’ experience also included sickness and death prevalent in the region due to malaria and yellow fever. Called “pestilential” by the publications of the times, it was one of the plagues to health brought under control at first by William Crawford Gargas, who taught sanitation and control of the insect breeding areas (water retention in pools and reservoirs close to housing).

Several rare books and pamphlets outlined in the following articles delineate the history of the Canal, each in a unique way.

Rare Books, the Arctic, Part 3

American Exploration in the Ice Zones… by J.E. Nourse. Published by D. Lothrop and Company, Boston and London (Trubner & Co., Ludgate Hall, 1884.

American Exploration concentrates on notable discoveries and expeditions of the 19th century. In one volume the offerings are: the relief voyage of the JEANNETTE (the Jeannette was a whaling ship wrecked in the waters near Alaska); a description of the merchant service; the Antarctic cruise of 1840 with Charles Wilkes; and the U.S. Signal Service Arctic Observers. There are over 120 wood engravings and several maps.

Charles Wilkes is known for his abilities as surveyor (Pacific Northwest Territories, and the United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842) for which he wrote a 5-volume treatise), an admiral; and during his contribution to the Civil War when he ordered gunboats to attack the Royal Mail ship, the Merlin, and as author of journals which described these exploits.

Photographs in more recent books on exploration at the Poles include names you are familiar with: Shackleton, Greely, Franklin, etc., published in the 20th century. Two examples which utilized photographs as illustrations to help tell the complete story are:

The Polar Regions in the Twentieth Century; Their Discovery and Industrial Evolution by A. W. Greely, 1928.

To the Arctic! The Story of Northern Exploration from Earliest Times to the Present by Jeannette Mirsky, 1949.

Providing a review of the extreme hardships they endured and paid for with their lives, their personal stories make history even more fantastic and their legendary accomplishments even more amazing. Illustrated with photographs, and some graphic illustrations, the books have an agenda for the reader: in some cases, heroism, and in other cases, nationalism, in still others, historical fact.

For a modern take on exploration of the arctic, see an interesting biography of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, 1872-1962, writer of the introduction to “To the Arctic!...”. The biography is available here.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Rare Books, the Arctic, Part 2

Illustration from The Mysteries of the ocean. Translated, edited and enlarged from the French of Arthur Mangin, by the translator of “The Bird”. With 130 illustrations by W. Freeman and J. Noel. London : T. Nelson and Sons, Paternoster Row ; Edinburgh and New York, 1868.

From the ice to the tropics : rare books in the Museum Research Library

Our Library has a rare book section? Yes, it does---with topics like the Panama Canal, maritime policy and theory, voyages, the seafaring life, etc. our rare books offer an armchair traveller's escape, but also a keen observation of journalism of the times. These books exemplify the culture and beliefs of audiences eager for new knowledge in scientific theory, political theory, historical fact and literature.

Fishing, Exploration, and Trade in Oil.

Fish and oil were popular commodities in the 18th and 19th centuries taken in quantities from the ocean to fulfill perceived needs. Costs were absorbed by the enterprises that funded the then politically-correct term, expeditions. Even then, controversy over exploiting natural resources was seen as a topic worthy of discussion.

Mysteries of the Ocean, an encyclopedic history, covers from ancient times until the middle of the 19th century. One of its main points tells how the oceans, habitat for the world’s water-loving plants and animals, were exploited by the Dutch and the English for all the whaling and fishing they could sell in Europe.

The book is composed of four sections that concentrate on ocean-related topics: The History of the Ocean, The Phenomena of the Ocean, The Marine World, and Man and the Ocean. The first three sections emphasize the scientific point of view, while the last identifies the contribution humans have made to evolution.

Man and the Ocean not only describes the natural world at the hands of humans but also the political events leading to the overfishing of mammals: the author/translator makes the point that fisheries both abused and speculated on the abundance of marine life. “The whale-fishery is justly celebrated. And yet (now), the entire family of Cetacea is already nearly extinct.”—Chapter 3 of Book Four, Man and the Ocean.

When the fisheries found whaling to be less profitable due to many factors, next, seals and walruses were hunted. The tusks of walruses, their oil and teeth were all valuable and were fished once whaling was seen as too costly in terms of human life and ships. The author says, “… A tooth of average size weighs three pounds, and an ordinary walrus furnishes half a ton of oil… “ p. 439-440.

Man and the Ocean, the last chapter, is a commentary that not only describes the natural world at the hands of humans but also the political events leading to the overfishing of mammals: the author/translator makes the point that fisheries speculated on and then abused the abundance of marine life. “The whale-fishery is justly celebrated. And yet (now), the entire family of Cetacea is already nearly extinct.”—Chapter 3 of Book Four, Man and the Ocean.

Stunningly, there are parallels today with the world of 150 to almost 200 years ago. Today’s topics of concern in conservation and ecology, in economics, and social history of gathering food were controversial over 130 years ago.

Rare books, the Arctic and the Panama Canal, Part 1

Rare books seem old, inaccurate, maybe difficult to understand, so why should I read them?

News and events that were exciting to readers long ago have become iconic in maritime history. Typical are discoveries by Drake, Columbus, Cook, or geographic exploration by Shackleton, Greely and Stefansson, or Pacific naval battles in World War II, adventures of circumnavigators, writers like Robert Louis Stevenson, and shipbuilders such as Matson and Bethlehem Steel.

When a topic resurfaces with a new point of view, new associations are forged with history. 19th century books, much like today’s books, articles, and movies on ecology, tend to focus attention on scientific fact, and on the exploitation of nature and marine life for human gain. Early in that century, exploration of the Poles was news.

Between the 19th and 20th centuries, political world views in tandem with technology were fast challenging old systems. Americans desired to be in control of their political borders, and beyond them, once they were fully aware of their value. To do that required spending money on the means and people needed to achieve control. One instance of this was the building of the Panama Canal.

Although first viewed as topics 100 years apart from each other, now, astonishingly, the Arctic and the Panama Canal are seen together in a surprising relationship. Take the March 2004 article in OCEANUS*, a magazine now online with archives, “How the Isthmus of Panama Put Ice in the Arctic”, a title which begs the question, is this about global warming?

From the ice to the tropics: Illustrations and Souvenir and Travel Photographs

Between the late 1800s and 1940, lacking in the kind of media we are so dependent upon today, avid information seekers turned to books. The books we have from that time are well-illustrated, have short chapters with attention-grabbing headings, and deliver quite readable commentary with many points of reference. In other words, you could read a part, and not the entire book, if time was lacking, or you were searching a particular topic.

A kind of journalism mixed with fantasy prevailed, the illustrations are usually black and white drawings, at times rendering horrific scenes as pretty pictures. The act of killing walruses, or sending workers into swamp-like jungles to cut railroad beds showed that humans ruled and nature succumbed, or so we believed. When a publication featured photographs, the result was documentary or factual in nature, and even more believable.

Awe-inspiring stories recounting travel and conquest of mammals living near icebergs loomed large in the minds of readers who never imagined they would travel there or ever see a whale or other cetacean. Yet, it was possible, even highly probable, that many readers of material on the Panama Canal would soon journey there and survey things for themselves. So the books illustrated with photographs had extra value as inspiration for future travel.

Take a second look at rare books in the Museum’s Research Library.

Two eras in the 19th century, one at the beginning and one at its close, are examples of the rare books in the Museum’s Research Library. They feature the end of the whaling fisheries, and the beginning of cross-continental travel by sea. We start at the top of the world.

*OCEANUS magazine article online is available here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Women Who Served in World War I

The First, the Few, the Forgotten: Navy and Marine Corps Women in World War I by Jean Ebbert and Marie-Beth Hall

Women played and important and large role in World War I, however their work has gone largely unnoticed. The First, the Few, the Forgotten: Navy and Marine Corps Women in World War I by Jean Ebbert and Marie-Beth Hall presents a detailed account of the experiences and achievements of these women serving in World War I. Starting in March 1917 this book follows the women who joined the Navy and Marine Corp through the First World War, touching on everything from housing, uniforms, service jobs, retirement, and personal motivations. Later chapters discuss how these WWI women veterans shaped the future for women in the Navy and Marine Corps. One of these women, Yeoman (F) Joy Bright Hancock, played an important role in the Navy's newly created Women's Reserve (WAVES) during World War II. This book has 10 chapters divided into short sections covering specific topics. Each chapter features a short summary at the end making this book ideal for research. The Appendices include additional information, including a detailed chart of any legislation relating to female Marines and Yeoman.--AEpperhart