Category Archives: Digital History

Portrait of a Mother: Eliza Clerc Makes Her Deafness Visible, 1822

Clerc Boardman Marriage Announcement

Their wedding in 1819 was perhaps the first of its kind in the United States: the union of deaf man and a deaf woman.

When Laurent Clerc agreed to travel to America in 1817 to help Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet learn sign language and establish a school for the deaf, he made it clear he would be returning to France in 1820. That changed when he met 23-year old Eliza Boardman, one of his first students at the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons in Hartford. By 1818, they were betrothed.

Eliza and Elizabeth Clerc Portrait by Charles Wilson Peale, 1822

Eliza and Elizabeth Clerc, 1822. (From a photo by the author, Wadsworth Atheneum, 2014.)

The news of their engagement was not met with universal joy. Gallaudet himself opposed the match. Conventional wisdom held that the deaf should not intermarry. Eliza nor Laurent were not congenitally deaf, but most people of the era assumed that deaf parents would inevitably produce deaf children. There was also a question of logistics: how could a deaf mother ever tend to the needs of her children?

Quite well, as it turned out. Eliza and Laurent had six children, all born with normal hearing. The two were married for fifty years – just a normal, pleasant couple who happened to communicate through sign language.

In 1822, they both sat for their portraits with the great Charles Wilson Peale. Eliza could have easily chosen to let her deafness be invisible. Instead, she decided to immortalize her role as a deaf mother, her daughter Elizabeth on her lap, her right hand signing their shared initial.

Waterloo at 200: Peace for Friedrich Brandt

Two hundred years ago, a young soldier fell on the battlefield at Waterloo and lay undisturbed for the next 197 years.

The only intact skeleton found on the field at Waterloo

In June of 2012, he was unearthed during a project to create an overflow car park in preparation for this year’s observance of the bicentennial, the musket ball that killed him still embedded in his ribcage.

Even then, he was a curiosity: the only intact skeleton yet found on the battlefield. While more than 28,000 soldiers were killed at Waterloo, bone meal dealers are believed to have stripped the fields in the decades after the battle.

Near the body were 20 coins, totalling a month’s salary for a private, an iron spoon, and a stick carved with the faint initials ‘FB 1792.’ In April of this year, Waterloo historian Gareth Glover announced he had used these items to establish the soldier’s identity as Friedrich Brandt, a 23-year old private in the King’s German Legion.

The King’s German Legion was a unit within the British Army made up of ex-pats from the Electorate of Hanover in Lower Saxony. British monarchs also served as the Elector of Hanover; when its army was dissolved after Napoleon’s troops occupied the region in 1803, the British began recruiting Hanoverian soldiers into their own ranks. Continue Reading

‘No Wave of Racism Can Stop Us:’ Alabama State Archives Releases New Footage of Historic 1965 Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March

The battle is in our hands. And we can answer with creative nonviolence the call to higher ground to which the new directions of our struggle summons us. The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. There are no broad highways that lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. But we must keep going.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

For the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March, the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) has released never-before-seen footage of the five-day, 54-mile trek to the Alabama capitol. Archivists recently discovered around 3,000 feet of 16mm film in an inventory of materials collected during the administration of Governor George Wallace. Continue Reading

“The Men Who Died In Captivity:” British POWs March For Fallen Comrades, 1928

A “heavy and persistent” winter rain was falling over London on the morning of Saturday, 28 January 1928, but it did not deter hundreds of people from making their way to the Embankment to take part in a unique event: the first ceremony to honor the thousands of British soldiers who had died as prisoners of the Great War.

As the crowds milled around the staging area near Cleopatra’s Needle, surviving ex-prisoners looked at the shields the organizers had created – Camp Friedrichsftel, Holzminden, Beuthen, Burg Steinfurt, Döbertz, dozens of shields in all – and sorted themselves into groups. At the appointed time, the 2nd City of London Regiment took their place, and a column of nearly a thousand people began a march towards Whitehall.

British Pathé had cameras on the scene to record the event:

A decade after the Armistice, these survivors and the families of those who had never come home felt forgotten by the Government and by the public at large. Continue Reading

Mynde the Gappe: A Medieval Twist on the London Underground

Never let it be said that the folks at Londonist want their readers unprepared for any contingency.

For example: what if you exited the Tube at Green Park one night and found yourself standing next to the 11th Century leper hospital of St. James the Less? Rather than panic, you could just pull out their handy Medieval Tube Map, and you’d be good to go….somewhere.

Londonist's Medieval Tube Map showing area around modern- day Hyde Park.

Londonist’s Medieval Tube Map showing area around modern- day Hyde Park.

Drawing on the Domesday survey of 1086 and early histories of London, Londonist created this whimsical “alternative” map matching, as close as possible, modern stops on the Underground to their ancient place names. Paddington becomes Roman farm settlement “Padintune,” Charing Cross Road becomes the Anglo-Saxon hamlet “Cyrringe,” and dignified Mansion House becomes “Garlickhythe,” a jetty once used for unloading baskets of garlic.

During my first trip to London last year, we stayed in a quirky hotel off Bayswater Road in Westminster. How an area that seemed to have neither water nor bay came about that name probably crossed my mind at some point. And promptly crossed out.

But better late than never, I suppose. Consulting the map, I was off and running.

The Central Line of the Medieval Underground would have taken me not to the Lancaster Gate, but “Bayard’s Water,” which first appears on the maps in 1380. A “bayard” was a term for a horse, so the little hamlet was almost certainly a watering hole fed by the nearby River Westborne, used by travelers and their mounts as they headed east or west.

By 1659, “Bayard’s Water” had been squished into a single word to become “Bayswater,” and it was just one of the many small communities strung along what was then the Uxbridge Road. Sometime around 1725, the “remote and desolate” outpost had been purchased a man named Thomas Upton, and the area became known for a time as Upton Farms. When Thomas Upton died in 1730, he passed the property on to his son – but under the laws of the era, the minor-aged Upton couldn’t take possession without an Act of Parliament. The acreage was scooped up by William, the 3rd Baron Craven, who was allowed to build a house there – as long as he agreed to turn it into a Pest-House, a plague hospital and burying ground, should London ever again be struck by plague.

John Rocque’s 1746 Survey of London showing the Craven “Pest-House” north of Hyde Park.

It wasn’t. The Craven family built a comfortable house surrounded by formal gardens, and were never called upon to turn it into a hospital. It was the perfect time to move to the western suburbs. Hyde Park, the Royal hunting grounds established by Henry VIII in 1536, received their first formal landscaping in 1733, to please the monarch who had moved into nearby Kensington Palace. Over the next century, the area became an upscale suburb, favored by those who had the money to escape the bad air and crowded conditions of the City.

None of this would be particularly apparent to the modern visitor. The River Westbourne is now among London’s “lost” rivers, more a part of the City’s elaborate sewer system than a free-running waterway. Hookah bars and tourist shops have replaced farms and fields; buses and fast-moving cars have replaced horses and pedestrians along Bayswater Road. Hyde Park is an oasis of green in the urban landscape, but even there, you are never unaware you’re in a very large and bustling city.

If we go back to London – and I certainly hope we do – and end up back on Bayswater, I’ll at least go back with a better idea of its history of the assurance I’m not walking on the bodies of plague victims. And if I end up at the far end of the District Line, in someplace called Contesebregge, I can make my way back to Padintune.

Familiar with London? What jumps out at you about the Medieval Tube Map? Leave a comment!



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