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Irish Cultural Series Lecture Events in the Digital Library

In addition to the hours and hours of great Irish traditional music recordings in the Philadelphia Ceili Group collection, it has recently become apparent that PORTAL_CEILIthe collection also includes some incredibly compelling audio documents of cultural lecture events from years past by top scholars in Irish Studies. Check out these recordings from 1979 events sponsored by the Ceili Group:

 

 

“The Irish in Philadelphia”, a lecture by Dr. Dennis J. Clark.

 

“Passing the Time in Ballymenone”, a lecture by Dr. Henry Glassie.

 

“Irish Literary Tradition”, a lecture by Dr. Thomas Kinsella.

 

“Celtic Epic Poems, Heroic Cycles”, a lecture by Dr. Ann T. Matonis.

 

More to come as digitization progresses!

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A Challenge to Irish Music Aficionados

Calling all Irish music enthusiasts, here is a challenge for you!

PORTAL_CEILIThe archive of traditional Irish music in the Philadelphia Ceili Group collection in Villanova University’s Digital Library is growing steadily, now featuring over 200 recordings of Irish jigs, reels, and other tunes from performances at the annual Philadelphia Ceili Group Traditional Irish Music and Dance Festival.

Growing alongside this list is….the list of unidentified titles. Listen to this excerpt of a 1977 performance by the group DeDanann, in which the title is obscured:

“We’re going to start with two jigs, the first is called ‘The Munster Buttermilk’, and the second is called….” (Huh?!)

Kudos to anyone who can discern the title of the second jig!

Even better, if you are able to listen to that jig and identify the tune by ear, here is a further challenge for you….

Check out this search of the Digital Library.

All of these recordings contain pieces unidentified by their performers. Can you help to name these tunes?

Please send any information to stephen.spatz@villanova.edu. Thank you!

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Responsive?

If you follow Villanova’s Digital Library on Twitter, you may have seen this tweet recently:

Check out our new responsive design (thanks to @crhallberg!): http://t.co/VmWL30gonx Play around & let us know what you think! #webdesign

— VillanovaDigitalLib (@VillanovaDigLib) December 5, 2013

Proud to say that the shout-out refers to me, Chris Hallberg, and I’m going into my third year of working on the front end of the Digital Library. That probably doesn’t mean much to you though, so let’s cut to the chase.

“Responsive”?

aka. what is Chris’ job?

That’s a fancy way of saying that the design of the website adapts to any size screen that it’s viewed on. This is an evolution from the design model of having two completely different websites to handle desktop users (ie. Wolfram Alpha) and mobile users (Wolfram Alpha again, mobile edition). There’s two major problems here: developers have to design, build, test, deploy, host, and update two separate sites; and some functionality is lost.

Faster browsers, faster Internet speeds, and updated web technologies allow web builders to create more powerful web pages than ever before. Web users know this, and they don’t want to settle. They demand the complicated features of the “full” website on their phones and more and more users and mobile browsers try to use their ever increasing phone sizes to look at the desktop version. If you’ve ever tried this, you’ll know a lot of full websites look terrible on phones. This is where responsive design saves the day.

The biggest problem with smaller screens causes features normally laid horizontally, like this text and the navigation on the left, to clobber each other when the real estate vanishes or to become so tiny the crushed text within looks like something out of House of Leaves. Worst, in my opinion, is the horizontal scroll bar that turns your browser into a periscope in a vast, hidden field of content.

normal
Normal

squish
One word per line necessary to fit in these tiny columns

overlap
Clobber-ation

scroll
Bum bum bum

Responsive design actively reorganizes the page so that this doesn’t happen.

responsive
That’s better

“Play around”?

Here’s how to properly play with this blog to enjoy responsive design.

If this window is full screen, click the resize button (next to the close button) on this window so that you can see all the edges of the window. Now, drag the right edge of the window to the left, squeeze the window if you will. Come on. It’s ok, no one’s watching. If you don’t do it, the rest of this blog won’t make any sense. Thank you.

The first thing that will happen is that the navigation buttons above (called “pills”) will jump below the search bar. Then, the menus on the very top and below the search bar will collapse into buttons.

Pause a moment. You are entering the land of the Mobily-Sized Browser Window. We designed the new library and digital library web sites to reorganize itself when you look at it on any screen the size of an iPad or smaller. In this case, the menu on the left (and up) is going to move on top of this blog post and fill the available space. We spare no expense! Just keep an eye on the search bar as you squeeze the window down as far as you’d like.

That’s responsive design at work.

What’s going on here?

In order to make websites look beautiful, developers use a language of rules called CSS, short for Cascading Style Sheets. It looks like this:

button { ← What are we applying the “rules” below to?
   background: #002663; ← Villanova blue in code
   color: white; ← Color of the text
   border: 1px solid black;
   border-radius: 4px; ← Rounded corners!
   height: 45px;
   width: 90px;
   margin: 3px ← Distance from border to the next element
   padding: 14px 4px; ← Distance from border to content
} ← That’s enough rules for our buttons

That code is more or less how we made the four pills next to the search bar look so pretty.

A year and a half ago, the powers that be added a new feature to CSS: media queries. Media queries can tell us all kinds of things about how you’re looking at our web pages. We can tell whether or not you’re running your browser on a screen, mobile device, TV, projector, screen reader, and even braille reader. It can also tell if you’re holding your phone sideways or vertically, what colors it can display, and (most importantly) what the dimensions of your screen are. By putting code like our button example inside these queries, we can apply rules, like fonts, colors, backgrounds, and borders, to elements of the page depending on the context of the browser.

@media print { ← If we’re printing something
  // Hide ads and colorful content
}
@media (max-width: 768px) { ← Anything thinner than a vertical iPad
  // Show a special menu for mobile users
}

Responsive designs are built right on top of this technology.

Browsers are really good at stacking things on top of each other. This paragraph is under the previous one. This makes sense and it’s quite easy on your eyes, and your computer. With a few CSS rules, we can tell the browser to put things next to each other. The trick is to put things next to each other, until it’s impractical to do so. Being able to tell your web site where to put things and how they look depending on how and where your user is looking at it is what responsive design is all about.

The Magician’s Secret

Before media queries were invented, developers had to write some pretty serious code. This code had to constantly watch the size of the screen and then, basically, rewrite the files where the CSS rules are kept. It was very complicated, which is why it made much more sense to create two completely different sites and route users to each depending on their “user agent,” a small snippet of information that your browser sends to a server when you open a page in your web browser. The problem is, these bits of information were made for people to read for statistical reasons, so they are complicated and change every time a browser updated to a new version. It was a digital guessing game.

Some of the people behind Twitter decided to make a framework that web developers could build on. Instead of starting from scratch, developers could start with their collection of code and CSS that pre-made a lot of common elements of web sites like tabs, accordions, and toolbars, for them. They called it Bootstrap. In 2011, they added responsive design, making it easy for developers to create a site that looked good on any device. In 2012, a graduate assistant named Chris Hallberg was charged with rebuilding the Digital Library front end. In 2013, he, along with web developers all over campus, made Villanova’s web presence responsive. Without this framework, creating a responsive site would have taken much, much longer, and possibly wouldn’t have occurred at all. Not only was it an essential tool to the process, it is a broadcasting platform for the technology. Bootstrap makes responsive design possible and popular.

A Final Word

While I did the work you see over at the Digital Library, I did not create the page you are looking at. I can only take credit for the menu on the left, which I’m clearly very fond of. David Uspal was the magician who conjured this page’s design and David Lacy is the magician behind-the-scenes, organizing and delivering the thousands of books containing the tens of thousands of images we’ve scanned. We both received invaluable input from the Falvey Web Team and even viewers like you. Your feedback helped and continues to help us fix errors and typos, and (most importantly) pick the colors for our pretty new web site.

Enjoy!
– Chris Hallberg

PS. A fun example of the new power of the web is Google Gravity from the gallery of Chrome Experiments.
PPS. As a reward to offset the new habit you’ve developed of resizing every window you find, here’s an accordion to play.

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Digital Library Expands Into Audio With Philadelphia Ceili Group Collection

  • Posted by: Stephen Spatz
  • Posted Date: March 19, 2012
  • Filed Under: Blue Electrode

The Digital Library has recently joined in partnership with the Philadelphia Ceili Group to digitize and make freely available the content of a unique collection. For the first time in the history of the digital library project at Falvey Memorial Library, users will be able to hear as well as view and read digital library content, as the digitized field recordings of the Ceili Society’s annual Traditional Irish Music and Dance Festival come online.

Years ago the Ceili Group elected to deposit with our special collections department their festival recordings archive: nine boxes containing 339 cassette tapes and 53 VHS tapes, encompassing 20 years of main stage performances as well as other events such as workshops and lectures. Falvey special collections already held other materials central to study of the Irish-American experience, most notably the McGarrity Collection, so the Ceili Group collection was a welcome addition.

Unfortunately, at the time the library did not own the hardware necessary to make the recordings available to our users, and so this rich collection acted as more of a deposit, preserved in storage but never accessed in the 20+ years it has been with us. Now, thanks to both the digital revolution and the extended capacity of VuDL, Falvey Library’s homegrown open source digital library software, to handle a variety of new formats, including mp3 and WAV audio files, recordings from the Philadelphia Ceili Group’s audio collection are now for the first time becoming accessible by the general public.

Analog to Digital

Converting the analog source materials to digital form is a multi-step process, requiring certain special pieces of equipment as well as attention to standards of digital audio preservation and access. The basic transfer routine we currently employ proceeds thus: the analog source (a cassette tape), is played on a Tascam 202MKV cassette deck, output to and converted to a digital signal by an M-Audio Fast Track Pro digital audio interface, and then relayed to a 2 GHz Intel Core MacBook Pro laptop, where the unaltered digital signal is captured in an Audacity project. This Audacity project is subsequently used as the basis for all of our preservation- and access-quality audio files.

There are two essential variables to consider in capturing a digital audio signal from an analog source: sample rate and bit-depth. Sample rate refers to the number of times per second the amplitude of an audio signal is measured, and bit-depth refers to the number of points measured each time a sample is taken. For example, CD-quality digital audio is captured at a sample rate of 44.1 KHz (or 44,100 samples per second) and a bit-depth of 16-bit (or 16 measurements per sample); originally established as a compromise between adequate sound quality and relatively modest file sizes, CD audio is generally considered too low a standard for archival preservation. With the aid of some guiding documents, including the Council on Library and Information Resources publication The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States, and a document from the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois entitled Guidelines For The Creation Of Digital Collections: Digitization Best Practices for Audio, we settled on a standard for this and future digital library audio preservation masters of a 96 KHz sample rate at a 24-bit depth.

Next to consider are the file formats used for both preserving the audio documents and for providing users with convenient access to them. The high-quality digital audio signals captured in Audacity are exported as-is to WAV files, the “lossless” (retaining both the original sample rate and bit-depth) format chosen for our preservation-quality digital documents. These files are unedited segments, each an entire cassette side in length. After the preservation level WAV file is created and stored, a copy is made of the original Audacity file and used as a template to edit the content into individual song-unit tracks. These tracks are then exported both as lossless WAV files and as compressed mp3 files. In the interest of conserving precious disk space for the entire digital library, we’ve been mounting and making publicly available only the access-quality mp3 files–not an accurate enough reproduction of the original source material to suffice as a preservation format, but more than adequate for a pleasurable and informative listening experience.

The Collection

And what’s available so far? The first phase of the Philadelphia Ceili Group digitization project currently consists of five sets of music from the group’s annual music and dance festival from 1996. Although just a tiny subset of the entire archive (our current holdings of which cover every festival from 1977 to 1996; the Ceili Group also has the recordings from 1996 to the present at the ready), even these few sets are rich in excellent selections spanning a wide range of tones, performers, instruments and styles. Check out an original tune by renowned balladeer Andy Irvine entiled “Brackagh Hill”, the centuries-old lament “Farewell to Music” performed by harpist Ellen Tepper, and this set of jigs by the band Craobh Rua. The individual tunes are edited such that any relevant stage announcements are included in the track, in most cases making it possible for the listener to learn a little about the history of what they’re hearing (as well as making it quite a bit easier to gather metadata for inclusion in digital library records!); also available within each set is an mp3 file of the set in its entirety, allowing listeners to experience the sequence of tracks from start to finish without having to click on each individual song.

The Villanova Digital Library’s partnership with the Philadelphia Ceili Group is a fantastic boon for Irish Studies scholars and Irish music enthusiasts alike. Piloting the inclusion of audio collections in the digital library with these unique resources makes perfect sense for a special collections department already so rich in Irish Studies materials, and Falvey Library and the Irish Studies Program on campus will be celebrating this milestone together on March 22nd at 5pm in the Speakers’ Corner area of the library with a festive commemoration ceremony featuring live music and dancing, poetry and song, lectures, refreshments, and general gaiety. All are welcome to come by and celebrate with us!

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Roman Catholic High School Partnership Signed

Posted for Darren G. Poley, Outreach Librarian

Villanova’s Digital Library recently signed a digital partnership agreement with the Alumni Association of the oldest free Catholic high school still in operation in the city of Philadelphia, Roman Catholic High School. The impressive Gothic building on the northeast corner of Broad and Vine Streets continues to be the main building of the historic school commonly known as Roman. But Roman is not just another private Catholic high school for boys. Serving the entire metro area, while still staying close to its roots in the center of the city, Roman Catholic High School has the distinction of being the first free Catholic high school for boys in the United States. The partnership between Roman and Villanova University will allow Falvey to scan rare and fragile documents for the sake of preservation and to promote scholarship on urban Catholic education in Philadelphia at the turn of the last century; including, for example, a printed copy of the founders will, the first year book, and the earliest extant editions of the student newspaper and literary magazine.

In fact, as Joe Clark, a staff writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, reported in a Sept. 8, 1989 article entitled “Celebrating the Roman Century,” Roman is “the oldest and first free Catholic high school in North America.” Clark went on to say: “The school was founded and built through the benevolence of Thomas E. Cahill, a wealthy Catholic layman and Philadelphia merchant. When he died in 1878, Cahill left the bulk of his almost $1 million estate to establish a high school for the ‘practical and free education of boys over 11 living in Philadelphia.’” In the same article, Clark also wrote, “On Sept. 11, 1890, Roman Catholic High School opened its doors to 105 boys who four years later would be members of the school’s first graduating class of 1894.”

Known at different times as the Cahill School and Catholic High, it is no longer free, in the sense that it now charges a modest tuition as compared with the other Catholic prep schools in the area, but it continues its proud scholastic and athletic tradition which has produced some of the city’s leading citizens as well as fiercely loyal cohorts of what are affectionately known as “Roman men.” Falvey Memorial Library is now proud to aid Roman in an effort to document and preserve for scholars archival materials held by the Alumni Association at the school related to the school’s founding and it long heritage as a prominent Catholic educational institution.

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The Digital Library: now more social!

Our Special Collections and main scanning lab have been restricted to limited access due to renovations in the library, but of course we’re still available online! And over the summer, we became a lot more social! Social media, that is. The icons and links for all of our social media accounts now appear on the Digital Library home page, but here’s a breakdown of the types of things posted to these accounts:

Twitter: Random selections from our collections as well as interesting news related to digital libraries.

Facebook: News and highlights from the Digital Library.

Tumblr: We had a Tumblr account before, but it was languishing for a while, so I’m refreshing it now. This is for slightly longer posts than Twitter or Facebook, but still shorter than here on the Blue Electrode blog, hence the Tumblr is called Blue Electrode Lite.

Flickr: Again we’ve had Flickr for a while now and I have been updating it (semi)regularly, but I just wanted to link to it again with our other social media accounts. I pick random pages from inside longer books, so this is a good way to discover some interesting content you might not know about unless you paged through an entire volume. You can also interact with the images here by adding tags, notes, or comments.

While I’m here, I’ll also mention that we have a Facebook and Twitter for our open source digital library administration application, VuDL, as well.

All of these accounts are curated by me (Laura) and I’ve noted that on all of the account profiles. I like people to know there’s a friendly face behind the institutional/product name on the accounts!

Please follow along with one or more of these accounts and feel free to ask questions or post comments! (The same applies right here on the Blue Electrode, too, of course!) And if I can’t answer your question myself, I’ll find someone who can. Social media is for conversations, so I would love to hear from you!


Join the conversation! [image source]

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A View from Behind Bars: The Diary of Thomas Lloyd, Revolutionary and Father of American Shorthand, from Newgate Prison 1794-1796.

Thomas Lloyd

One of the more interesting and unique items in the Falvey Memorial Library Digital Collection is the diary of Thomas Lloyd (1756–1827) – teacher, stenographer, soldier in the American Revolutionary War and “Father of American Shorthand”. The diary covers the latter half of Lloyd’s incarceration time in London, first at Fleet Prison for debt and later at Newgate Prison for seditious libel against the British government. This item is part of the Lloyd Collection, a subcollection of the American Catholic Historical Society collection hosted at the Villanova University Digital Library.

Born August 14th, 1756 to William and Hannah Biddle Lloyd, Thomas Lloyd first studied shorthand in what is now modern day Belgium at the College of St. Omar. Shortly after, Lloyd immigrated to America right before the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, where he joined the war effort as part of the Maryland Militia Fifth Independent Company. Later, as part of the Maryland Regiment Fourth Company, he was wounded and captured at the Battle of Brandywine (which took place a short drive from Villanova University’s campus). After the war (he was released in a prisoner exchange, recovered in a hospital in Lancaster, PA, and later discharged from the army in 1779), Lloyd used his shorthand skills to record the debates of the Pennsylvania Assembly. Starting in 1787, this work included recording and publishing the debates of the Pennsylvanian Convention to ratify the United States Constitution.

This job led to both note and notoriety, as Thomas Lloyd’s pro-ratification stance was well-known, and reports and rumors abounded of Lloyd taking bribes to help the pro-ratification side. Although Lloyd recorded both pro-ratification and anti-ratification stances, both for the Maryland and Pennsylvanian delegation, the bulk of the speeches that were published were almost always of the pro-ratification kind. Eventually, with the Constitution ratified, Thomas Lloyd attended the First Federal Congress with the goal of recording the entirety of the debates — this job became official when Lloyd was appointed official recorder of the second session of the House of Representatives. The works of Thomas Lloyd during this period, including his notes and published articles, are considered the most accurate representations of the goings-on of Congress during this historic portion of American history.

Visiting family members in London in 1791, he stayed on to help with his father’s business. During his time in London, his desire to familiarize Londoners with the new Republic and its systems led Lloyd to publish “The Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States of America, with the Constitution prefixt” in 1792. Unfortunately, Lloyd also ran into financial difficulties (his London agent failed to make good on his agreements), and Lloyd was arrested and incarcerated in Fleet Prison in London for debt.

While in Fleet Prison, Thomas Lloyd was charged with seditious libel against the British government for posting a placard containing a “declaration of republican principles” on a chapel door. Found guilty, he was sentenced to one hour in the pillory, fined five thousand dollars, and received a three year sentence in Newgate Prison. It was during his prison stay that Lloyd, along with Mathew Carey, a friend and prominent publisher/employee of the Pennsylvania Herald, published “The System of Shorthand Practiced by Thomas Lloyd in Taking Down the Debates of Congress and Now (With His Permission) Published for General Use”. It was this work that made Thomas Lloyd famous for his shorthand style.

Thomas Lloyd Diary Page 10-11 

Looking for a cure for an ulcer?

During his time in Newgate Prison, Lloyd kept a diary with near-daily entries on every topic from daily prison life to recipes for medicines to shipping manifests and prices of various goods. The diary reads less like a typical journal of events and thoughts and more like a batch of notes lying haphazard on a desk (or rather more like an engineer’s notepad). This gives the impression the diary wasn’t intended to be published, but rather used as a collection of random notes for things to be remembered in the short-term for later use. An example of this can be seen starting on page 9, where Lloyd, rather than using the space for daily events, lists several recipes in his diary, including some medicinal ones. An example on page 11 has a treatment for ulcers – Lloyd had complained of being ill on several previous pages, which might be the impetus for this entry. As well, entries are written both vertically and horizontally on the page, with numerous scratch-outs, inserts and margin notes. The haphazard style of the diary, while making the pages harder to read, gives the diary the advantage of authenticity – the chance to read the thoughts and notes of someone before they got too heavily filtered for the general public. In addition, the various topics and notes give a more complete picture of the time period and the daily comings-and-goings of both the prison and the outside world.

An interesting item from the diary to those unfamiliar with London prisons is the sheer amount of visitors who call on Thomas Lloyd during his incarceration — it seems like he gets at least one, if not two, visits a day, mostly on either business or legal reasons. These visitors often dine with Lloyd as well. Visits occur frequently enough that Lloyd often makes note of the days without visitors (as well as recording his tendency to get despondent on those days). This is due to the two-tier prison system common in 1790s London – commoners are housed in one section of the prison and have little rights and privileges, whereas more upscale citizens (or at least those with money) are housed in a separate section of the prison and given leeway to have visitors, conduct business, and on occasion even live outside the prison walls. According to the information contained in the diary, Thomas Lloyd is definitely in the latter group.

This of course isn’t to say Lloyd had an easy life in prison – on the contrary, as early as page one Lloyd complains of being assaulted by fellow prisoners as well as being very ill. Lloyd often records not being well over the two years covered in his diary, suggesting that prison sanitation may not be all that great, or that stress was getting the better of his immune system. My own hypothesis on this is that it’s a bit of both.

Thomas Lloyd Diary Page 97-98 

The 1790s version of drunk dialing…

For historians, lots of historical references are peppered throughout the diary. Two examples: page 171 of the diary notes that Friday, September 11th was the 18th anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine (where Lloyd was wounded and captured by the British) and page 93 has a note on receiving news of the death of Robespierre, the famous figure of the French Revolution (as well as some opinions on the man and his ideals). On a lighter note, head over to page 97, where Lloyd records taking 30 drops of Laudanum (read: opium) for his fever, which may have contributed to his declaration that a British officer “was afraid to kiss [his] posterior” later in the entry.

For those interested in shorthand, the diary has numerous examples of shorthand notation. A good example can be seen on page 107 where Lloyd shortens words that end in “-ought” with “ot”. Lloyd was also known to remove vowels from words in his shorthand, like the word “said” with “s.d”, also seen on page 107.

You can see the diary for yourself, as well as obtain a transcript here in the Digital Library.

Debtors’ PrisonWikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2 April 2011 Web. Apr 2011.

National Shorthand Reporters Association. “Unveiling the Lloyd Memorial Tablet” The National Shorthand Report Vol. 1 No. 9. Sept 1903. Google Books. Web. Apr 2011.

Newgate PrisonWikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 10 April 2011 Web. Apr 2011.

Thomas Lloyd (stenographer)Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 21 November 2010. Web. Mar 2010.

Thomas Lloyd commonplace book, 1789-1796 Notes” American Philosophical Society. Web. Mar 2010.

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Philly and the Railroads of PA – A View From 1875

The Pennsylvaniana Collection in the Digital Library is the perfect place to go if you want a detailed look at the life and layout of 19th Century Philadelphia – in particular a very interesting old book entitled “Philadelphia and its Environs, and the Railroad Scenery of Pennsylvania.” This engaging little volume, published in 1875 by J. B. Lippincott and Co., catered richly to my penchant for poring over street maps, and taught me much about Philly’s geographical development over its multi-century history; and beyond the reports of long-gone former features of familiar locations within the original city bounds, throughout the districts consolidated in 1854, and even into the western and northern suburbs, the adventure stretches deep into the Pennsylvania countryside, illustrating the Keystone State’s unique place in the history of American railroads.

It’s fairly common knowledge that the famous Dock Street, site of William Penn’s original landing, was a winding creek before unsanitary conditions led the city to level and pave it over, but in this book I learned about several other lesser-known bygone landmarks that imparted names to prominent Center City streets: the creek running east to the Delaware which began at a spring at what is now the corner of 6th and Spring Garden; and the eastern terminus of Arch Street, which sunk into a ravine west of Front Street and was crossed at that junction by an arch. (Front Street, which once outlined a river bluff mandated for preservation by William Penn as a public promenade, of course now overlooks Interstate 95.) And did you know that Race Street used to be called Sassafras, and that South Street used to be Cedar?

fountain at Franklin Square

fountain at Franklin Square

Intended as a guide for tourists paying a visit to Philadelphia, the book leads the reader to a host of historical landmarks, buildings, and natural features, many of which – Independence Hall and the Betsy Ross House, for example – are still kept alive in memory today as current attractions; but the perspective of 1875 also brings to life many sleeping giants within present-day Philly. Fairmount Park in particular must have been very beautiful, judging by the detailed descriptions of the parks and monuments at sites like Lemon Hill, and the woodcut illustrations of views from various bluffs above the Schuylkill. This was the eve of the Centennial Exposition, and especially noteworthy is the mention of ongoing construction of the permanent hall, the building that was “saved” in 2008 by the Please Touch Museum. Overall this virtual tour is very thorough; reading this section of the book one gets the sensation of systematically traversing the streets of Philadelphia and experiencing them as they must have appeared in 1875, buildings, parks, railroads and all.

on the grade

A Pleasure Tour on PA Railroads

Also very thorough, vivid, and exciting is the tour given in the second half of the book – an imaginary journey through the entirety of Pennsylvania’s unique and wonderful railways. This author takes you on a memorable ride through the dips and turns of the Delaware Water Gap and the Lehigh Valley, up and down the ingenious locomotive-free switchbacks of the “gravity railroad” at Mauch Chunk, and west into the coal country developed by Stephen Girard (namesake of Girard Avenue), where the grades were some of the steepest in the world, and where horseshoe curves existed such that “engineers going over the road with long coal-trains, on dark nights, have been signaled to stop by a red light on the track ahead, which, on investigation, proved to be the customary signal-lamp on the end of their own trains.” These descriptions held a special interest for me, as I had recently heard mention of these very same areas by Engineering professor Dr. Ronald Chadderton in the course of his lecture in Falvey Library on the 1889 Johnstown flood. And of course, roads closer to the source (Philly) are described in detail which illustrates how much of our surroundings in Southeast PA – the “Main Line”, and the riverside route down the Delaware toward Ridley Park and Chester – were already venerated fixtures of the region even as far back as 135 years ago.

Porcelain Teeth

Porcelain Teeth

And last but never least, a popular publication of the 19th century is always a great place to browse antique advertisements. In this volume, look for Samuel S. White’s Porcelain Teeth, Marcy’s Sciopticon (a primitive projector of some kind), W. J. Wilcox’s Lard Refinery, and Atmore’s Mince Meat (source of the cow on the Pennsylvaniana Collection’s banner image). Point your browser to http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Pennsylvaniana/Pennsylvaniana-00001.xml, and go back to 1875 for a fascinating trip around Philadelphia and Its Environs.

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Engineering Historica: The Final Report on the Engineering and Construction of the Quebec Bridge

To His Excellency, Victor Christian William, Duke of Devonshire, Marquis of  Hartington, Earl of Devonshire, Earl of Burlington, Baron Cavendish of Hardwicke, Baron Cavendish of Keighley, K.G., P.C., G.C.M.G., etc,. etc, Governor-General of Canada,

May it Please Your Excellency:

The undersigned have the honour to lay before Your Excellency the Final Report of the Board of Engineers on the Design and Construction of the Quebec Bridge.

Respectfully Submitted,

J.D. Reid,

Minister of Railways and Canals


Our digital library collection grows day by day, as volunteers and staff at the Falvey Memorial Library here at Villanova University continue to scan different works from both our own collection as well as collections generously loaned from other institutions.  Because Villanova is a Catholic university, much of this material is of related interest, i.e. our collection includes scanned Catholic manuscripts, works from Augustinian scholars, collections related to Irish history, etc.  Of course, not every item in our collection comes from this area, so I’ve decided to highlight one item from our collection today with more of an engineering-historical bent.

Published in 1919, and donated to Villanova in 1944, the digital library currently has posted two volumes containing the final report from the board of engineers on the design and construction of the Quebec Bridge.  With its abundance of information, figures and stats on the bridge, this material may be of interest to civil and structural engineers on its own merit; however, what makes this a more interesting read is that the Quebec Bridge itself is famous above and beyond other bridges for three reasons: the first is that, at 987 meters, the bridge is the longest cantilever (i.e. non-suspension) bridge in the world; the second and third reasons are related – the bridge is also famous for collapsing not once, but twice during construction, the first occurrence in 1907, the second in 1916.

The Quebec Bridge @1919

Fortunately for the travelers and commuters among us, bridge collapses, though not unheard of, are a rare occurrence – and collapsing while still under construction rarer still.  To collapse twice, however, is exceptionally rare.  Therein, the story of the construction of this particular bridge is a fascinating tale – the initial warning signs of the first impending bridge collapse were ignored, and eventually when pleas from on-site engineers to halt construction on the bridge were finally heeded, the message did not arrive to the construction site in time before disaster struck.   The resulting collapse cost the lives of 75 bridge builders.  When construction of the bridge began a few years later, disaster struck again when the central span of the bridge was being raised into position – the span fell during the raising, killing an additional 13 workers [1].

Raising the Central Span

This particular report covers the time period of the second bridge building, including the time period when the central portion fell into the river (the central portion was re-raised and the bridge eventually completed, leading to this report). While the later sections of this report are very “engineer dense”, with drawings, figures and tables on the exact structure of the bridge (load tolerance of the materials used, etc.), most users will find the General Narrative, starting at page 13 of the book, the most interesting portion of the read.  It recounts the issues with the first bridge and its collapse, what was changed in the new bridge and why, as well as a running narrative of the construction of the new span (the fall of the central span is covered on page 32).  Included in this read are some interesting historical references (note the reference to the Lusitania on page 18 as the current ship with the tallest mast, and references to the Carnegie Steel Co. and Bethlehem Steel on page 25, amongst others).

The complete scan of this report is available through the Villanova University Digital Library.  Volume I can be found here and Volume II here.

[1]  “Quebec Bridge.Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004. Web. Dec 2010.

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‘Politicks Avaunt’: Thomas Hayes Shines a Light on the Petticoat Affair

It’s clear that the Barry-Hayes Papers collection, owned and housed by Independence Seaport Museum, offers a unique perspective on the early nineteenth-century shipping trade in America. Occasionally in the course of transcribing these fascinating documents we come across one that also has the potential to serve as primary source material for the biography of a famous American or some topic in American political history. Here I’d like to report on a letter I recently transcribed which will be of great interest to scholars of the Jacksonian era in American politics. (Take a look at it here.) It also includes a reflection on the final years of the namesake of a major thoroughfare in South Philadelphia, and quirky riddle for you to solve.

Series X, Letter 23.
Top of “Letter, To: Isaac Austin Hayes and Patrick Barry Hayes, From: Thomas Hayes, June 8, 1831″.

The Namesake

In 1831 brothers Isaac Austin and Patrick Barry Hayes were in Brazil using their maritime skills and connections to run an import/export business. Their elder brother Thomas Hayes occasionally wrote from Philadelphia with news of home, and several of his communications are gathered in Series X, the papers of Isaac Austin Hayes. Thomas’ letter of June 8, 1831, was an especially long one, full of news of friends and acquaintances both prominent and obscure.
Among his famous relations was Commodore William Bainbridge, naval hero of the War of 1812, and father of his wife Susan. Commodore Bainbridge had his share of ups and downs throughout his four decades of service, and at the time of this letter he had recently suffered the double shock of the death of his only son and his abrupt removal from duty after a brief disagreement with the current Secretary of the Navy, John Branch. In this passage, Thomas refers to his father-in-law as “the old gentleman” as he provides for posterity a first-person account of the famous naval pioneer’s decline:

poor Mr Bainbridge died last friday and was buried on Sunday. This event has caused much affliction in the Commodres family, and join’d together with his late unceremonious dismissal from the Command of this Station, weighs heavily on the old gentleman, and I should not be at all astonish’d if it seriously affects his health, which you well know, was already seriously impair’d.

Politicks Avaunt!

Secretary Branch figured into another major event of the Spring of 1831 mentioned in script by Thomas Hayes, this time receiving explicit mention of his role in the controversy. President Andrew Jackson was at the time suffering the political fallout of his non-adherence to the mores of Washington society, a tidal wave of opposition culminating in the resignation of his entire cabinet in what is now commonly referred to as “The Petticoat Affair”. Branch was one of the ministers who demonstrated his support for Vice-President John C. Calhoun by stepping down, but Branch’s public and private correspondence from the period directly following the cabinet crisis suggests that the circumstances of his resignation were not so clear cut. Thomas Hayes refers to Branch’s letters and the tense relations between the Secretary and the Jackson camp in this excerpt:

The Jackson cause is falling fast. Don’t think I say so because I am anti jackson, but tis really the case. Many of his original friends have left his ranks and are hurraing for Clay now. This of course was to have been expected but the recent resignation of his entire Cabinet has caus’d all his friends to open the […missing word…] Some letters letters that have pass’d between Mr Branch ex Secretary of the Navy and his friends in North Carolina seem to implicatey that the President wanted him to go further in forwarding his views, than the laws of honor would prompt him. Politicks avaunt…

Series X, Letter 23.
Politicks Avaunt!

The Riddle

And occasionally in the course of transcription work some word or phrase will appear that is so odd that it stops the whole endeavor in its tracks. Not just illegible—which is all too common—but odd! In the following passage Thomas is thanking his brothers for a “likeness” of themselves that they sent home to Philadelphia:

We never until yesterday recv’d the box containing the birds and illusting likeness, which I believe was forwarded some time last December. We all think the likeness excellent. lufwa der sreksihw dna riah. the old lady I believe has already shewn to all friends far and near Tommy Natt with his der eson now has it expos’d in his window and has promis’d mother that it shall be fram’d by tomorrow.

Series X, Letter 23.
Can you decipher the odd words of Thomas Hayes?

It took a bit of puzzling before these weird obfuscations came into focus. I figured it out—can you?

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Last Modified: February 12, 2010