Eastern American Studies Conference

Conference Report:  Currents of American Culture and Its Study (Eastern American Studies Association), March 29-30, 2019, Harrisburg, PA


Like most small regional conferences this one is welcoming to all comers and a place to present and hear people present on early stage research.

I missed the first Friday afternoon sessions but did attend the last panel of the day.  Mary Kate Cowper talked about waves of Puerto Rican identity.  I was very intrigued by her mention of the Borinquena graphic novel (https://www.la-borinquena.com/).  The second speaker on the panel, Kathryn Holmes, talked about plastic surgery in Utah, focusing on Mormons.  “Mommy makeovers,” designed to counter the effects of childbirth.   The third speaker on the panel was Aaron Rovan, whose topic was street children in 19th  century America.  One item he pointed out was that street children were sometimes called “street Arabs,” thought most were Irish and German, most especially in the period just after the Civil War.  The final speaker was David Giles who focused on misogyny and the Internet.  I was also able to enjoy the banquet on Friday evening, preceded by the keynote address, The Democracy of Ice Cream, by John Kasson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The dinner conversation was just as interesting, and the food was very good as well.

The Saturday sessions were equally interesting.  For the first morning session I heard John Price talk about Star Trek Axanar, Camille Sleight-Price on #Blackhogwarts, Brittany Clark on how retails workers are gendered on film, and Jose Feliciano on “relevance and Community when Museums are Not Neutral.”  Price’s talk focused on the hierarchy of authenticity and fan created materials.  Sleight-Price spoke about the twitter hashtag #blackhogwarts, which involved reimagining the characters in Harry Potter as Black.  Clark looked at the presentation of retail workers in film over time; in earlier films retail work was a sign of being poor, but in later films it was a sign of stunted maturity.  Feliciano pointed out that many cultural institutions are not neutral and were based on legacies of colonialism.

I was part of a panel on Saturday.  My topic was my bike routes project.  Also on the panel were McKenna Britton who spoke at the Women at Work on Cooper Street project, tracking the women who lived on Cooper Street in Camden, NJ and their employment.  Bart Everts spoke about Peirce College’s transformation after World War I.  Spero Lappis talked about a heartbreaking court case, Prig v Penn, which involved a woman who thought she had been freed from slavery but years later she and her children were taken back and sold.

There was a third session on Saturday but I had to leave before those talks.  It was a really enjoyable conference experience and I hope to attend again in the future.

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Bike Routes Project Information

This blog post serves as a guide to information mentioned at the 2018 Mid-Atlantic Popular Culture Association conference in Baltimore.  My presentation is “Trips Awheel:  A Nineteenth Century Bicycle Travel Blog.”

Here are some useful links:

Bicycle Routes Project (https://libguides.rutgers.edu/historicalbikeroutes)

Bicycle Craze of the 1890’s

Hidden Cities Philadelphia article on the bike routes:  https://hiddencityphila.org/2018/07/victorian-era-philly-bicycle-routes-now-available-online/

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A Brief Research Note on the Railroad

This is a brief research note on the history of the railroad, not of the mechanical aspects of it (for that see the wonderful Library of Congress page), but more of a cultural viewpoint, specifically literary.  References to works aren’t in any citation format, but there is enough information to track it down.  I pulled this together out of general curiosity but do not intend to pursue it further, hopefully someone else will.

Searching the American Periodical Series database for the word railroad I found some interesting things.  The word’s earliest uses are hyphenated rail-road.  A short article in The Emporium of Arts & Sciences on Nov. 1, 1812 explains how rail-roads worked.  They were originally wagons hooked together to bring coal out of the mines in Newcastle, England.  Some machinery was involved but horses still pulled the wagons.  The wagon wheels were on rails made of wood, sometimes metal.  There were a handful of articles discussing the relative merits of rail-roads over canals for transporting goods.

The concept of mechanized railroads seems to have been first mentioned in “Rail Roads and Locomotive Steam Engines,” in American Mechanics’ Magazine (June 4, 1825) and it was conceptual not describing something in use.  The idea of using such a thing in Pennsylvania was discussed in “Internal Improvement:  To the Pennsylvania Society for the Promotion of Internal Improvement in the Commonwealth,” in The New Jersey and Pennsylvania Agricultural Monthly Intelligencer and Farmer’s Magazine (Jan 1, 1826), possibly reprinted from the United States Gazette.  In that same year there were a couple of articles on Long’s locomotive engine.  In 1827 articles discussed the proposed Baltimore and Ohio railroad (still hyphenated) but part of that discussion was on whether it should be horse drawn or pulled by mechanical engines.  At this point some articles started to exclude the hyphen and just use railroad.  In 1829 there was a contest in England for an engine that could pull the most weight the fastest for the least money (“Grand Mechanical Competition:  Rail-Road Race for 500,” Albion, a Journal of News, Politics and Literature, Nov 21, 1829).  The Jan 16, 1830 Saturday Evening Post ran a letter  someone wrote to his grandmother, recalling her story of travelling from Edinburgh to London in 10 days, to tell of a steam rail trip from Liverpool to Manchester in an hour (“Railroad Travelling in 1830,”).  That same year James Linnard and others wrote a resolution published in the Register of Pennsylvania to build a railroad in Philadelphia, with details on the streets it should run on and across (“Pennsylvania Rail Road, Feb 6, 1830).  Several other localities followed suit and other railroads were proposed.

I limited the search to fiction and found some early essays.  One of the earliest references to the railroad that I can find in a short story is “Emily; Or, the Unexpected Meeting,” in New Monthly Magazine and Humorist (Oct 1839).  Even then the railroad appears to be just a manner of conveyance and not a focus of the story. Miles Ryder’s story, “A Railway Trip,” in Fraser’s Magazine for Town and County (August 1840) is an early travel story.

The MLA International Bibliography database shows that little scholarship has been done on railroads on fiction.  There were a handful of articles on Theodore Drieser’s Sister Carrie, and the novels of Willa Cather.  There were a few dissertations listed, but they had a specific focus (geographic identity or British novels).  There was an article on the American railroad novel in the Markham Review in the 1970s.  I don’t see anything specifically on short fiction.  Surprisingly there are articles on train stations in fiction, and one (“Shattered Minds:  Madmen on the Railways, 1860-1880” by Amy Milne-Smith in the Journal of Victorian Culture in 2016) on mental illness brought on by use of railroads.

So there is a lot of fertile ground for scholarship on the railroads in American fiction. Grant Burns published The Railroad in American Fiction:  an Annotated Bibliography in 2005 that would no doubt be a big help in locating primary sources.

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Advice on Interview Presentations

A relatively new librarian going for job interviews recently asked me about interview presentations.  This is an edited version of my response.


Presentations are often the most important part of an interview (no pressure!).  You want to have simple pleasing informative graphics. Nothing too fancy, just a simple PowerPoint is fine.  If you have notes keep them out of sight.  As far as possible, give the appearance of being relaxed.  I know all that is a tall order.  You will be forgiven a few mistakes more than you will a wooden presentation style.  Everyone makes mistakes — it’s how you recover from them that counts. They are looking at this as an example you would talk to a classroom full of students so pretend you are talking to a group of 18 year olds.  You know more than they do and what you are telling them will be useful to them.  Your topic will probably have something to do with the position you are applying for so assume you are talking to a friendly group who are interested in what you are saying and that know far less than you do.

When I was a new librarian and giving presentations I would tell myself that 5 minutes after it was over no one would remember who I was.  It helped me relax.  It’s not a good tactic for everyone but it worked for me.  Whatever mental trick you need to play on yourself to appear more relaxed, comfortable, and confident, do that.

Of course it is important to have actual information in your presentation but it isn’t a term paper.  You don’t need to know everything, just enough to give a brief presentation about it.

Have a few extra points tucked away that aren’t on your presentation.  Then if there are equipment problems you can cover by saying “while we’re waiting for the technical fix, let me elaborate briefly on an earlier point.”  If someone asks you a question about a source you aren’t familiar with say something like “It’s been awhile since I read that — thank you for the reminder to review it again” or “I’m not familiar with that — thank you for the recommendation.  I will look into that.”  If someone disagrees with you say “That’s an interesting viewpoint.  I had not thought to look at it quite that way.” and than go on with what you had planned to say.  If you go blank on a question say “Can I think about that and come back to it later?” and then go on to the next question or just be hones “I’m sorry, I’m drawing a blank at the moment, can we come back to that?” or just “I’m not sure.  Can I get back to you on that later?” and then follow up after the interview.

For patter in case there is a delay or a lull in conversation mention an article you have read recently and what you liked about it, ask what others think about the idea.  Or try to make small talk.

At interview lunches avoid all pasta with red sauce (unless you are wearing a red shirt) and salads (big lettuce leaves are hard to chew with people staring at you and you might get lettuce stuck in your teeth — no one will tell you about it).  Go with something you can cut into bite sized pieces and chew quickly.  No spaghetti with any kind of sauce because it is too messy but pasta in smaller forms that you can eat in small forkfulls or one at a time are okay.  Avoid greasy finger foods as you might have to shake hands with people who arrive late or stop by the table.

Be familiar with the institution.  Look up demographics on the library and the student body so you can ask about it (for example, I see that you have had more first generation students in the last few years, has that impacted how you provide library services? or I notice that your student body has increased / decreased recently, how has that affected the library?).  Look up people’s names and know if they have published or presented and what on.

The interview is an opportunity for you to decide if you want to work there just as much as it is for them to decide if they want to offer you the job.  Ask questions and watch how people interact with each other.  That will give you a good idea of the organizational culture.

Be yourself — everyone brought in to interview is qualified on paper.  The interview is to determine who people want to work with and who will best represent their library.

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Book Review: The Genius of Birds

The Genius of Birds, by Jennifer Ackerman.  NY: Penguin, 2016

How smart are birds?  Are they bird-brains in the derogatory sense?  Not all of them, according to Ackerman.  She writes about New Caledonian crows that have been observed making and using tools, like hooks to get at food in places too deep or narrow for their beaks to reach.  Very few species do that.  It was not that long ago that a dividing line between humans and other animals was our ability to make tools.  Now in addition to some other primates we must add the crows.  They have also learned how to crack nuts open, or drop them in the street so cars will crush the shell allowing the birds to reach the nutmeat inside.

Male bowerbirds build such elaborate nests that they were sometimes thought to have been made and discarded by humans.  Ravens gather around their own dead.  The directional abilities of homing pigeons are well-known but Ackerman finds new things to say about this bird and other birds’ amazing ability to find their way around and what recent research has discovered.

The book also discusses evolution, genetics, and learning strategies.  She finds that birds with the longest childhoods and those with more safe time to “play” show greater mental abilities.  The research on how birds learn mating songs is fascinating.  Her writing is engaging and provides a great deal of information without being too dense or obtuse.  This is a wonderful book to read to learn more about our feathered friends and neighbors.  It was a New York Times bestseller and one of the Wall Street Journal’s 10 best non-fiction books of 2016.

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Twitter Habits of British Feline Civil Servants

The Twitter Habits of Britain’s Feline Civil Servants

Julie Still / Rutgers Univ / still@rutgers.edu / http://www.juliemstill.com

This is the basic handout information I provided at the MAPACA conference in Nov. 2017, and a related talk at the Westhampton Public Library in June, 2018

Larry the Cat, who lives at #10 Downing Street, is such an important part of British culture that former Prime Minister David Cameron felt compelled to provide photographic proof to Parliament that he and Larry got along. Larry is frequently photographed, filmed, and “quoted” in the British press. The cat has a twitter feed with over 100,000 followers. His fellow government felines, Gladstone in the Treasury Office, Palmerston in the Foreign Office, and Evie in the Cabinet Office, also tweet. In contrast the American presidential pets, the British cats are considered civil servants and are “employed” as mousers. Their twitter feeds comment on political events and do not always agree with the official positions of their offices.

The Big Four (Westminster Cats)

cat / url (cat name, date started, twitter followers)

Larry https://twitter.com/number10cat (Larry, 2/11, 179,000+)

Palmerston https://twitter.com/DiploMog (Palmerston official, 2/16, 61,000+)

Palmerston https://twitter.com/PalmerstonFOCat (Palmerston, unofficial, 4/16 23,000+)

Gladstone https://twitter.com/TreasuryMog (Gladstone, 10/16, 24,000+)

Evie https://twitter.com/HMCabinetCat (Evie 7/16, 23,000+)

Evie and Ossie https://twitter.com/CabOfficeMogs (Evie and Ossie 12/16, 4,000+)


Other Political Animals

Nemo Macron (First Dog of France) https://twitter.com/macronnemo?lang=en

Embassy cat (Julian Assange)  https://twitter.com/embassycat?lang=en

Marlon Bundo (Mike Pence’s rabbit) https://twitter.com/realmarlonbundo

Claudius Kitten (British ambassador to New England) https://twitter.com/Catsul_General

Diplomat Dog (Canadian) https://twitter.com/diplomat_dog?lang=en

Gracie Brown (US ambassador to New Zealand) https://twitter.com/diploDogGracie

Paddles (former first cat of New Zealand) https://twitter.com/firstcatofnz

Lawrence of Abdoun (UK embassy in Jordan https://twitter.com/LawrenceDipCat


Non-political cats

Scamperbeasts (John Scalzi’s cats) https://twitter.com/scampberbeasts

SreetCat Bob https://twitter.com/StreetCatBob

Grumpy Cat https://twitter.com/realgrumpycat

Sockamillion https://twitter.com/sockington


map of where the Westminster cats live: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/03/downing-street-cats-essential-information-important-westminster/

history of govt cats:  http://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/blog/bureau-cats-heart-government

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MAPACA, 2017



MAPACA, Nov 8 – 11, 2017, Philadelphia

There are several regional popular culture associations, in addition to the American Popular Culture Association.  The Mid-Atlantic Popular Culture Association (MAPACA) is one of them.  These conferences are a laboratory for new ideas, and because they are multiple sessions going on at once, you can pick the topics of most interest.  The sessions I attended (see below) were interesting.  Among the things I learned:

Mexico held a Day of the Dead parade after one was portrayed in a 007 movie

African City is an internet video series, about five young woman who grew up in the US and went home to Ghana.  It has been described as an African version of “Sex and the City,” and there are similarities but it is also a well-made program.  The episodes are 15 minutes each.

LaBeouf, Ronkko & Turner are doing some innovative work in public art

Female crafters are Etsy are frequently presented as doing home based crafts as a part-time business / hobby

Sessions I attended:

Film / Literature and tourism

Day of the Dead and 007 in Mexico City / Julia Sloan
Fried Green Tomatoes and the Needs of Female Film-Induced Tourists (Maura Grady and Robert D. Robertson
Braveheart, Outlander, and Harry Potter:  Popular Culture Tourism Drivers and the Marketing of Scotland’s Cultural Heritage ( Karalee Dawn MacKay).

Social Media, Labor and Consumption

Crafted identity, Creative Labor:  Affect and representation in an Etsy economy / Kayla Keener
Dainty v Dominant:  Advertising consumption and gender portrayal through Facebook / Trevor Russell Arnold
Social Interaction vs Institutional Interaction:  Platform Performances and Gender Labor / Angela M Cirucci

Politics and Social Media

Twitter and the Political Celebrity:  Cory Booker / Paul Ziek
Promoting Libyan Nationalism Concepts via Facebook:  A Crucial Discourse Analysis / Safa M Elnaili
Twitter Habits of Britain’s Feline Civil Servants / Julie Still

Art Narrative and Social Media

Mapping the Digital Counterflow:  Exploring the Production Distribution and Reception of an African City / Krys Osei
Memes IRL:  How the Performance Art of LaBeouf, Ronkko & Turner Unleashed an Internet Subculture into the Real World / Katie Elson Anderson
Rethinking the Lizzie Bennet Diaries:  the Literary Approach to New Media Storytelling / Catharine Godlewsky
The Ukulele, YouTube and the Experience of Art / Nova Seals

Tropes that Transfer:  The Cultural Impact of SF / Fantasy

Slashing Spock:  Passing, Pon Farr, and “This Simple Feeling” / Danielle Suzanne Girard
Transferring the Visual Style of Jessica Jones from the Graphic Novel to the Netflix series / Eva Maria Thury
Cowboys in Space / Nola Thacker

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PA Library Association, 2017


State library associations are great small conferences, and there is usually a day focused on academic libraries or an academic library track.  The Pennsylvania Library Association in Pittsburgh this past October was no exception.  In addition to standard conference talks there are always several poster sessions, which a colleague calls a “science fair for adults.”  For new librarians, poster sessions are a great way to get some experience with public speaking and presentation skills.  For mid-career librarians who may no longer feel the pressure to pursue the speaking opportunities that tenure requires, a poster session is a way to present research in its initial phase, or simply the findings of a small evidence-based project at work.

At this conference I co-presented a poster session, “Buffy Batgirl, and ComicCons:  Organizing a Conference or a Convention.”  One side of the poster focused on scholarly conferences, not a professional development activity but a multi-day subject oriented conference.  We talked about getting funding, developing a call for papers, selecting the papers to accept, organizing them into panels.  The other side focused on hosting one day public events, like comic cons.  The middle part focused on topics relevant to both kinds of events, like logistics, publicity, and preparing a report afterwards for stakeholders.

In addition, I attended the following talks:

“The Information Pyramid:  Bridging the Formal Knowledge Gap,” by Maria R. Barefoot

“Increasing Research Competence (and Confidence!) Through Embedded Consultations,” by Lauren Reiter and Carmen Cole

Poster sessions – There were several interesting posters at the two sessions I went to; special shout out to Christopher Raab who gave me several pointers on setting up a poster, which was a big help when I was setting up.

Using PA Forward in an Academic Library:  Giving Each Literacy Its 15 Minutes of Fame,” by Barbara Eshach and Christopher Raab


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Reading Notes: The Ancestor Syndrome

Reading Notes:  The Ancestor Syndrome:  Transgenerational psychotherapy and the hidden links in the family tree, by Anne Ancelin Schutzenberger (translated by Anne Trager).  Routledge, 1998.

Originally published in French in 1993, translated into English in 1998, this book is by an Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Nice and co-founder of the International Association of Group Psychotherapy.  It is a very interesting look at how one’s ancestry affects daily life, health, and even death.  Her discussion of anniversary events goes beyond the usual discussions of the elderly dying around or just after birthday, anniversaries, etc., to include repeating health events across generations.  This might be events happening at the same age or on the same dates.  Some examples include people having accidents when they were the same age a parent, grandparent, or other ancestor, had similar accidents.  Schutzenberger takes it a bit farther than I am comfortable with by providing stories of people developing cancers at the same age that a parent died or had an accident.

Previously published studies (such as Josephine Hilgard, cited in this book) do document repeating events across generations, with a focus on health events.  Schutzenberger goes beyond events in individuals’ mundane lives to look into events endured during military service, and the European origin is very visible in the discussions of the First and Second World Wars.  (Yes, Americans fought in both wars but they were not fought, with notable exceptions like Pearl Harbor, on home soil.)  Intergenerational geographic ties are also presented.  The author refers to these connections as invisible loyalties, which can be understood and minimized through psychotherapy, and the author’s preference is for group psychotherapy.

She recommends using genosociograms (a more involved form of the genogram) to explore intergenerational events, identifying social patterns, repeating dates, or ages of events.  It is fascinating to think about the ties we are not fully aware of possibly having such an effect on our lives.

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Economic and Business History Society, 2017


Economic and Business History Society, May 25-27, 2017, Oklahoma City, OK

For an international organization and conference EBHS is surprisingly friendly and supportive.  Each speaker talks for about 20 minutes and then there is a discussion, sometimes after each speaker, sometimes after a panel.  The comments are positive, or at least constructive, with ideas for further research or questions about the speaker’s next steps.

The speakers are from a number of countries and the topics cover a range of time periods, places, and subjects.  This year I listened to talks on female probate court appraisers in 18th century Virginia, the Iron Act of 1750, Philadelphia’s Trade with Lisbon before Independence, Prosperity of Two Birth Signs in the Asian Zodiac, Tax Incentives in National Archives, Cliometrics, Industrial Symbiosis in the Cottonseed Industry During the 19th Century, Regensburg’s Hospital Granary (17th – 19th Centuries), and the Role of Television Penetration in the Number of Movie Theaters, and a panel on challenges in management.

One of the teaching roundtables focused on informed students.  One speaker talked about the improved quality of papers his students wrote when they were required to turn in an annotated bibliography.  Both speakers mentioned the importance of referring students to librarians.

In the session on Cliometrics, the speaker mentioned Fogel’s view that if people are still talking about you in 50 years you are significant, and the use of citation analysis in this research.  If works by an author or scholar are being cited 50 years after publication or over a long period of time they meet the standard of significance.

My presentation, “Bicycle Route Coupons:  An Early Example of Travel Discounts,” focused on one aspect of a continuing project to digitize bicycle route narratives published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in the late 1890’s.  Many of the route narratives were accompanied by coupons that guaranteed a discount to riders who took the coupon into select hotels mentioned in the route.  I discussed the introduction of coupons in the travel industry and the use of coupons generally in the late 1800’s, and how the route coupons fit into that timeline.

This was the second time I attended and presented at EBHS.  Both times it was a uniformly and consistently positive experience.  The papers are interesting and the people are wonderful.

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