Dickinson College, Spring 2023

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The Diary of John Grabill

In the first part of this research project I was challenged to conduct my own research and find primary sources using the Dickinson College Achieves.  In that time, I was able to identify two students, William Laws Cannon and John Henry Grabill, who I believe will be the subject of my final project and primary sources concerning the two members of the class of 1860.  Coming out of that assignment I was pretty confident in the research I was able to accomplish and felt as thou I learned valuable skills concerning research in archives.  The next step of this project, is to identify newspapers that are related to our assigned class year of specific or “explore stories of students from their assigned class.”

In my previous part I mentioned that I was able to find John Grabill’s journal from the civil war from an online source, on the website it mentions that the journal was printed in the Shenandoah Herald, a newspaper that Grabill was the editor of later in his life.  The journal was split up in three parts and printed the three consecutive issues spanning from January 8,15, and the 22 of 1909.  Going into this second assignment focusing on newspapers I knew I wanted to find either digital or microfilm versions of the original newspapers the diary appeared in.  Considering there was a requirement that we had to identify at least one microfilm that is relevant to our research I wanted to try and find a microfilm for the Shenandoah Herald from with these three issues on them.  Unfortunately, I was unable to find microfilm for the Shenandoah Herald in either the Dickinson College microfilm collection or the Cumberland County Historical Society microfilm collection.  After I realized I was not going to be able to find microfilm for the Shenandoah Herald, I decided that I should turn to digital databases in order to find these three specific issues.

As Shenandoah is located in Virginia I decided to find an archival database focused on Virginia.  I was able to identify that the Library of Virginia had a digital archive of Virginia newspapers, available online.  Using this website, I was able to find digital copies of all three copies the Shenandoah Herald that Grabill’s diary was printed in.  The first issue that Grabill’s journal appeared in was January 8th, 1909.  The journal appeared in the fourth column on the front page.  This first part of the diary explains how Grabill found his old diary, presumably sometime in 1908 and decided to publish it in his newspaper.  This part of the diary contains Grabill’s account of his time in the Stonewall Brigade, during the start of the civil war.  With this issue I also decided to double check that John Grabill was the editor of the newspaper at the time and to no surprise I found his name on the second page of the paper as the editor.  Unless there was another John Grabill in Virginia who also published a newspaper, I found my guy.  The following two issues of Shenandoah Herald contained the other two thirds of Grabill’s diary, both of which appeared on the front page of the issue.

To this point in my research I was able to find the three issues of the Shenandoah Herald that I sought out to find, but I was unable to find a microfilm that was relevant to my research.  I knew I had to find at least one article on microfilm, so I brainstormed possible topics I could attempt to find on microfilm.  I decided I should skim through Grabill’s journal to find an event I could find on microfilm.  On the entry of July 21, 1861 he recounts his view of the battle of Manassas, or more commonly known as Bull Run.  As Bull Run is one of the most well-known battles of the Civil War, I decided that I would try to find newspaper articles covering the battle and see how they reported on the battle compared to Grabill’s recount on the civil war.

I started with trying to find an article covering the battle in the New York Times.  (ViewScan_0000)I went to the Dickinson College library’s collection of microfilm and found the reel of the Times spanning from July-September 1861.  I loaded the reel in to the microfilm readers and skimmed through until I found an issue printed approximately around the time of Bull Run.  I was able to find an article covering Bull Run in the July 21, 1861 issues of the Times.  The article entitled, The Fight at Bull’s Run, gives a brief account of both armies and their positions.  As the article was printed prior to the end of the battle, the actual result was not encompassed in the article.  As the article did not talk about the Union defeat, I once again spewed through microfilm attempting to find another article that did.

I eventually found an article in the Carlisle Herald.  On the reel spanning from April 26, 1861 to September 28, 1866 I identified an article printed in the July 26 issue of the paper.  A report with the date of July 22, 1861 covers the Confederate victory of Bull Run and the disorganized retreat of Union forces.  The report has the heading of “Terrible Battle” and “3,000 Killed!” (ViewScan_0002)  I found that this particular report and the prior report in the Times, were simply just reporting the facts of the battle.  Compared to Grabill’s recount of the battle who was focused on his firsthand account of the events that took place.

While this focus on newspapers was the goal of this assignment, I found that the focus was a natural fit for me.  In my previous research I found that Grabill printed the journal he used during the Civil War, in the newspaper he ran later in life.  Using these newspaper records I have further fleshed out his journal for my larger project and learned how to use microfilm to me advantage.

Fun but Fleeting

“Geoff, I need help”. I stared at the foreign microfilm machine with dismay. I had been standing in front of it for what felt like ten minutes, trying and trying to figure out the right way to set it up. I finally decided the best way to get the machine working would be to call my trustee friend Geoff, a fellow member of my History 204 class.

“Ethan it’s just not that hard, just put the film…” After a longer explanation than I would like to admit, Geoff finally walked me through the process of setting up the film. I was ready to get started.

The goal of my research was to find 19th century newspaper articles of or pertaining to my  graduating class (1854), and find anything relevant. I figured the best way to find out information on people, places, or events from around the Carlisle area in 1854 was the Carlisle Herald, the weekly newspaper that covered the area during my time period. The only way to read copies of this newspaper was on microfilm.

The most important part of this type of research (microfilm, that is) is to understand that it isn’t anything like doing research in an archive or online. There’s no “command f” like there is on the computer to easily find a reference to a word or subject. There’s no easy way to go to Google and find information on whatever it is you want researched. It’s all up to you to decide where to look, when to look, how to look, and then ultimately, find what it is you’re looking for.

To start, you have to have a specific timeline. If you’re going into a microfilm session with just an abstract idea in your head, you’re going to fail. To start your research, it’s imperative to know a date to begin. Then comes finding the right reel, which is easy once you have a time period.

Look at all those reels- if you don’t go in knowing what time period you want to study (which for our purpose was easy, seeing as we were assigned a specific class), it’s going to be impossible to find any information.

Once you have the right reel, then comes what I found to be the hardest part- loading the physical reel. After fifteen minutes of anger, a very unhelpful Circulation Desk worker,  and my phone call to Geoff, I was away and reading the Herald from 1854. Of course, it took a few more minutes of scrolling to get to the right date, overshooting the date I was looking for, scrolling back, overshooting again, scrolling back, overshooting again, etc. You get the idea. Finally, after five minutes, I had gotten to the beginning of 1854. What I found was slightly discouraging.

I expected the Carlisle Herald, a newspaper about a town I had thought was heavily based around Dickinson College, to have articles galore about the happenings of the college. Maybe I’m particularly terrible at reading through microfilm or there genuinely wasn’t very much on the college, but after hours of reading dozens and dozens of newspaper articles, I only found two references. Both were in successive newspapers, one describing the new endowment, the other detailing the commencement ceremony of the Class of 1854. With my original research topic stemming around education, neither of these helped my research all that much (despite being interesting finds). It was fun to see the names of people I had researched previously turning up in another source, but in terms of furthering my research on education, these two articles weren’t too helpful.

“Dickinson College”, The Carlisle Herald, July 19, 1854, 2:5









“Dickinson College”, The Carlisle Herald, July 12, 1854, 2:5

I turned my search elsewhere in the Herald.

I found that most of the interesting topics came from the second page, the political section. It was fun to follow along on the process of legislation being passed in Pennsylvania, as well as commentary on Congressional legislation. I read all about the different opinions being voiced about the so-called “Nebraska Act”, an act that proposed making Nebraska a slave territory. Following the progression of the case through an 1854 newspaper was surprisingly entertaining.


“Anti-Nebraska Victories”, The Carlisle Herald, April 12, 1854, 2:4


“State Legislature- Prohibitory Liquor Law”, The Carlisle Herald, March 8, 1854- 2:2

I also found out that Pennsylvania successfully passed a Prohibition law in 1854.  Usually when we study history, we learn about the outcomes and the events themselves, but here, I was following along knowing nothing about the outcome- as if I was living in the moment.

This is the beauty of researching through microfilm and newspapers. Reading these articles from 1854 transported me back in time, as if I was living in 1854 and getting all of my information from the same source that someone in Carlisle back then would have, the Herald. Reading the Wikipedia article on the Kansas-Nebraska Act (as it soon became known as, as opposed to just the Nebraska Act) wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting as following the week to week coverage in a newspaper from the time. This is what I found to be the most rewarding aspect of my time with microfilm. It didn’t necessarily aid me in my research topic or tell me much about Dickinson in 1854, but it did provide entertainment through following along with the same news story over the course of months.


“The Use of Lime”, The Carlisle Herald, April 5, 1854, 4:1

Now, this isn’t to say that reading these newspapers was all fun and entertaining. For every article about the Nebraska Act or the Prohibition Act, there were five articles about things like the best use for lime.

Definitely important journalism.

This is another important thing to realize before using microfilm. There’s a distinct possibility that you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for. When you Google something, you know that within a matter of seconds, exactly what you want is going to pop up and you’ll easily be able to access the desired information. With microfilm, you could be reading for hours and not find a single piece of information relevant to your research. However, this doesn’t mean that you’re time has been wasted. Reading newspapers gives you a context for the times that you can’t get anywhere else. Being able to see how people thought, the events going on both nationally and locally, even what jobs were being offered and the posted advertisements, it all culminates in an experience that helps place the reader in the time period. I felt as though I was living in 1854.

After I was through with microfilm, I figured I had enough articles. However, I had this feeling of emptiness, of disappointment. I hadn’t exactly helped my research. It may have been a fun experience and I was intrigued following along with the news stories, but for my own selfish reasons, I was angry that I hadn’t found anything that helped me. To further my research, I turned to online databases.

My first step was to go to the Dickinson College Library website and find a list of databases that are offered to us as students. One of these was the American Periodicals Series 1740-1900. I figured this was the perfect place to look. I typed in “dickinson college” as my key term, narrowed the search window to just 1854, and was immediately overwhelmed by the amount of articles that popped up. One in particular caught my eye, an article entitled “Dickinson College, Educational Collections”. The article itself is a letter from President Collins (president of Dickinson in 1854) asking for donations from preachers and their congregations, as Dickinson serves to promote Christian education. This falls in line with the previous research I had done, which served to paint Dickinson as a school with good Christian values. Where my time with microfilm had been largely unimportant in furthering my research on 19th century education, using online databases was immediately impactful.

This is the biggest difference between microfilm and online research. I had a much greater sense of accomplishment using microfilm and had a more enjoyable time doing that type of research, but in terms of practicality, nothing beats the internet. Now, the Herald hasn’t been digitalized, so I had to use microfilm for that, but compare the results I got between microfilm and online research. Microfilm, I poured over those papers for hours and found two mentions of the college. Online, I poured over the databases for five minutes and found thousands of results, including one that directly aids my research topic.

If I could go back and change my methods for finding newspaper articles? Absolutely not. Using microfilm for the first time was a great experience. It made me feel like a true historian, going back in time to read what the Carlisle residents would have read in 1854. The sense of accomplishment and enjoyment I got out of seeing “Dickinson College” after hours of reading coupled with the entertainment I got following along on week to week news stories was so much better than anything I’ve ever done online. Microfilm may seem tedious, but everything has a purpose, and everything about it is enjoyable.

Research Journal – Newspapers 1868

The Election of 1868 

Fake news is not just a 21st century term. 19th century papers sensationalized every aspect of human life from accounts of robberies to political elections. The existence of fake news in 19th century papers is important to acknowledge when researching them, without it you could be suckered into believing the ludicrous stories printed within them everyday.

Newspapers of this era of American history were not concerned with, what the modern reader might call, “hard facts.” Instead, utilizing the hook-factor of fake news and inflammatory writing, the effort of the editor and writers to support the paper’s political party affiliation was much more important and ultimately was what lead to major success for the paper.

With this information in mind, it became very important to me to examine the style of political discourse in papers in the year I was studying, 1868. For most people familiar with the course of American history there were several key events in and around this year that  were discussed in papers: the end of the Civil War, the division between political party as well as the remaining tensions between Northern and Southern States, the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment (granting citizenship to freed slaves)  and the Election of 1868. To do this research I examined The American Volunteer, a local Carlisle Weekly paper and utilized the 19th Century Newspaper Database that lead me to The New Hampshire Statesman.

MicroFilm Research

I initially chose to focus on the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment and its reception in Carlisle. Through resources provided by my Professor I knew it was ratified in July of 1868 and, upon arrival at the College Library, the Microfilm I looked at was in search of articles in The Volunteer regarding that amendment in the months preceding and immediately following its passing.

Interestingly enough, the process of finding the necessary information was very easy (once I summited the learning curve required with microfilm research) because, unlike a diary entry or a subject’s personal papers, there was no bad handwriting or unrelated texts to get through. Utilizing what I learned to be the standard layout of The American Volunteer and the titles of various articles it was easy to both find my place in time (i.e. proximity to certain know historical events) as well as the articles that would be relevant and where they would be placed in the paper.

Unfortunately, I did not find anything about the Fourteenth Amendment. After just a quick scan of the months surrounding the passing of it I noticed a dedication of column inches devoted to the discussion of the Election of 1868 rather than a discussion of what we now consider a landmark of the civil rights and reconstruction movements. And so, that is where I let the papers take me. In this discovery I found out very early on that in the struggle for the presidency of that year the paper strongly supported the Democratic Nominee the Honorable. Horatio Seymour and, with all the contempt available, despised the Republican candidate Ulysses S. Grant. A realization supported by the fact that I knew the paper was historically affiliated with the Democratic party.

A blatant attack on “Why Grant Should Not Be Elected” published before the election in The American Volunteer

Within the paper I found a political climate many would say our modern system mirrors. But, unlike our system, the pundits do not hide behind impartiality and a presentation of facts as fixed things. Both the articles I will describe here represent two different ways of attacking political opponents presented in The American Volunteer. Scanning through the Microfilm pages of these papers it is clear that both these styles of articles, and their subject matter were a consistent feature of The Volunteer.

This first article looks, reads and seems like something we would all recognize as “news.” Really what this type of article stood as was what we would call an op-ed. A political explanation (tinged with personal opinion) of “Why Grant Should Not Be Elected.” Presented as a piece of news, the readers that agreed with this viewpoint would see it as a rallying call to their cause as well as an argument to add to their political negotiation tool chest. A little dry, a little standard lambasting, there is nothing overwhelmingly out of the ordinary here when it comes to a news article, even in todays standards. [1] What it represents though is a valuable insight into one of the ways political information was shared and that was, as I have explained, through personal and often greatly biased articles and insights presented as just the news.

A poem telling Ulysses (and making fun of his middle name, a common past time for his opponents) to “go home” to his dad instead of running for President.

In contrast to the ‘traditional-ness” of the first, this second piece provides something wholly new, a poem. A poem for political gain and point-scoring. If today we saw a poem in the middle of a paper we would assume we were either reading the New Yorker, an ad or a joke. But, positioned squarely under the heading “Political” (just above the title on in this image) this poem is another attempt to slam the enemy (Grant) and confer a Republican message, but this time through rhyme! While it seems like a silly joke, this style of poems for political points was an incredibly popular mode of storytelling in Carlisle newspapers and specifically The Volunteer. [2] In my research I found, on average, 1 per publication and, when it was a good week, 2. Often with one jovial and non-politically motivated (an example of which can be found here) [3] and one much more clearly politically driven (an example of which can be found from a paper published in August of 1868, here). [4] Clearly, the people of Carlisle were much more willing to represent political opinions in this way and willing to read it this way as well. I think this provides a valuable insight to a population and era we generally would describe as serious, conservative or austere. Instead, it is clear that even in the most serious of circumstances, an election, levity was not far out of reach.

New Hampshire Statesman and the 19th Century Newspaper Database

A republican paper out of Concord New Hampshire, The New Hampshire Statesman had a drastically different slant than The Volunteer. In addition to its strongly Grant-leaning politics, a result of its Republican affiliation, it did not seem to take such a hard line position on most subjects and contextualized their work regarding the election in terms of “peace’, rather than the more hostile terms The Volunteer used to describe the contest or its contestants.

This underhanded article, (included as a hyperlink because not all databases making downloading images easy) written October 2, 1868, states that given the context of American History at that moment there need not be mention of how important this election is. Instead, the focus should be on allowing the people to discern who will provide the most “peace” and, the writer argues, “Gen. Grant is presented to the people as the instrument by which to aid in restoring [it].” [5]

I found both the research required to find this document and the document itself much more “normal.” By which I mean the process of refining a search was, since I knew my timeframe and subject of interest (a key even in database work), quite simple. The difficulty for me was finding a good contrast to the Volunteer that, albeit not uncommonly for the time, was pretty hard handed in their language. Many of the papers I saw regarding this election from the New York Herald to the Bangor Daily Whig & Courier carried the same politically agressive language, while The New Hampshire Statesman was, as the name would suggest, rather stately. Polite in their words providing a good view at the differences between even major publications and the ways the readers of differnt states preferred to absorb the news.

The research I did revealed to me three important things:

  • First is that because I went into the project with a crystal clear timeframe for research I was able to quickly narrow my focus so that I did not spend my time looking through a full year’s worth of Microfilm documents with no idea what my end goal was.
    • Specificity in Microfilm and Archival research is hugely helpful no matter your level of expertise or  subject matter or source material.
  • The second observation I made was that Microfilm itself is a fascinating experience. the anachronism of viewing 19th century papers on a 2016 18-inch Dell PC Monitor in high resolution with the ability to crop and capture different portions of the screen was fun, distracting, and a totally new way of researching that I loved and I think should be appreciated by most people.
  • Thirdly and arguably most importantly was that I was wrong. In papers dating from June through November of 1868 there was more discussion of “Dr. Boyle’s Remedies” (presumably a doctor in the area with a standing ad in the local Carlisle Papers) than  about one of the major moments in American Civil Rights history, the ratification of the fourteenth amendment. But that did not deter my work, instead I let it be okay that I needed to take a different path and discovered something fascinating as a result.

If nothing else this project taught me to be flexible, to expect nothing of my research and to go where the sources take me. If you force a source to conform to a question it does not answer than you have denied it the opportunity to teach you what it can. And, perhaps (in the vein of 19th century papers), we should be willing to bring a little levity to even what we deem as the most important moments in our nation. Or at the very least, in our own lives.


[1] “Why Grant Should not be Elected,” American Volunteer, July 30, 1868.

[2] “Col. and Grant – Fax,” American Volunteer, August 20, 1868.

[3] “I’d Die For You.” American Volunteer, January 7, 1869.

[4]”For Every State a State,” American Volunteer, August 13, 1868.

[5]”Republican Success a National Necessity,” New Hampshire Statesman, October 2, 1868.

The 15th Amendment and Yellow Journalism in Carlisle, PA

After researching the Student Rebellion of 1870 through primary source documents from Dickinson College and modern secondary source publications, it came time to hear the voice of Carlisle and Pennsylvania as a whole; newspapers.  I began with online databases, specifically The Library of Congress’s Chronicling America.  Once there, I was able to search for articles by limiting the entries to only those from Pennsylvania in 1870, and even further using keywords and phrases such as “Dickinson College”, “Dickinson”, “Carlisle” and “Rebellion”.  It is important to note that I entered the individual terms into the “ANY of these” bar, as I was hoping to broaden my search sufficiently enough to get useful hits.

Article from The Bloomfield Times (5/24/1870), Courtesy of Chronicling America

Although the two main Carlisle newspapers from the period seem to not be available in the Library of Congress’s database, the student rebellion turned out to be noteworthy enough to make it into many other publications throughout Pennsylvania.  The first was an article from The Bloomfield Times, a local paper from New Bloomfield, PA.    Aside from the date of the absentees return to Dickinson, it provided no new information; however, the fact that a local paper from a small town 20 miles north of Carlisle was covering the rebellion meant I was likely to find articles in larger, more significant publications.

Evening Telegraph Article (indicated by sections highlighted in red), Courtesy of Chronicling America

My hypothesis soon proved correct with the discovery of a rather long, front page article in Philadelphia’s Evening Telegraph published on May 5th, 1870.  Surprisingly, this article proved to be one of the most detailed summaries of the rebellion I had come across thus far, although it only covered up to the suspension of the sophomore and junior classes.  The article includes details on the debate between student and faculty over the penalty students received, which was based on the school’s own policies (the students wanted to take 8 minus marks, the combined penalty for a misdemeanor  and missing class, instead of the upwards of 500 placed upon them).  The article also provided a transcription of the notice students were sent by the President’s office regarding the rebellion:

Resolved, That the President announce to the members of the Sophomore and Junior Classes that any members of those classes who shall absent himself from recitations on Monday, May 2 without sufficient excuse, presented during the same day to the President, shall be and is hereby suspended from college until the first Thursday of September next, to be restored at the end of that time only on making satisfactory acknowledgment to the faculty, and that any student so suspended is required to leave town for home on Tuesday, May 3, before 5:20 P.M., under penalty of expulsion.”

A Microfilm Viewer at Cumberland County Historical Society. The film is fed through the spool at the bottom and viewed through a magnifier on screen.

Having been fairly successful in my search for articles about the rebellion, I decided to try and tackle one of my other research questions: the reception in the 15th Amendment in Carlisle.  Unfortunately, I got very few hits on Chronicling America and this is also when I discovered that the database didn’t have any of the Carlisle newspapers from the time.  Luckily, however, the Cumberland County Historical Society, which is located just a block or two off campus, has a copy of every issue of The American Volunteer and The Carlisle Herald (the town’s two major publications during the period) on microfilm; a method of viewing documents that allows years worth of papers to be stored on a single role of film.

“Our Washington Letter” 4/14/1870, Courtesy of Cumberland County Historical Society

I began by taking a look at the Volunteer and was almost immediately successful.  On the second page of the April 14th edition, a weekly column titled “Our Washington Letter” toted some rather strong opinions on the passage of the 15th Amendment.  I immediately knew I had found exactly what I was looking for when the second sentence of the article read: “Sambo (a racial slur for African Americans) is no longer merely ‘a man and a brother,’ but is now a full pledged fellow citizen of African ‘scent”.[1]  The article eventually came to the conclusion that the African American race did not deserve the right to vote because “nineteen twentieths [of them] could neither read nor write…”, meaning that the 15th Amendment was pushed through by Radical Republicans in Congress who simply wanted to use the African American vote to stay in power (an article from another paper stated that the Radicals were “enslaving the negroes” to their cause)[2]  I found further articles in other issues of the Volunteer that claimed the amendment had been passed “not in the mode prescribed by the Constitution itself, but by the arms of the military consulate, acting in the name of the President and Congress”.[3]  There were also several articles about a Senator Revels, who was an African American, that contained such blatant and over the top slander as to put the 2016 election to shame; the articles referred to him as “a full blooded, curly haired, ebony shinned, big-footed negro” and stated that “The attempt, therefore, to make it appear that this negro [Revels] is a man of talent – ‘a statesman and scholar’ – is a fraud”.[4]

Ultimately, I was somewhat amazed as to what just a few hours of newspaper research was able to tell me about not just the student rebellion, but also Carlislian sentiment regarding the 15th Amendment.  Admittedly, I have yet to examine any articles from the Herald, and the existence of the amendment’s celebratory parade leaves plenty of room for  a mixed response; yet, so far everything I have come across has been both highly revealing and condemning.  I greatly look forward to continuing my examination of the local papers in regards to the 15th Amendment.



[1]  “Our Washington Letter,” (Carlisle) American Volunteer, April 14, 1870, p. 2: 5, Microfilm Collection, Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, PA.

[2]  “Our Washington Letter,” (Carlisle) American Volunteer, April 14, 1870, p. 2: 5, Microfilm Collection, Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, PA.

[3]  “The Fifteenth Amendment,” (Carlisle) American Volunteer, February 3, 1870, p. 2: 2, Microfilm Collection, Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, PA.

[4]  “Negro U.S. Senator,” (Carlisle) American Volunteer, February 3, 1870, p. 2: 2, Microfilm Collection, Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, PA; “Senator Revels,” (Carlisle) American Volunteer, April 21, 1870, p. 2: 2, Microfilm Collection, Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, PA.


Be Kind, Rewind: My Time with Microfilm

The Microfilm viewing section of the Dickinson College Library

After a few weeks of archival research, I considered myself to be a proper history detective, though admittedly only in training. My experience remained limited, however, and it became clear that before I could fully understand the scope of historical research I would have to decipher the mystery of microfilm. As is often best practice when learning a new skill, I started by doing something I know well: asking my friendly neighborhood archivist for help. He provided me with a finding guide for both physical newspapers kept in the archives and the reels of microfilm, and with guidebook in hand I got to work.

Step One:  Basic Training

The first thing one sees when entering the microfilm section of the Dickinson College Library is the expanse of cabinets in which reels are kept. Luckily for me, these reels are organized in the finding guide alphabetically by newspaper title and chronologically by publication date. I wrote down three newspapers which had the year 1840 within their range and got to work.

Microfilm Reader and Screen

The downside of venturing into the microfilm section is that my beloved archivists, Jim Gerencser and Malinda Triller-Doran, don’t have jurisdiction there. As such, I had to make new connections, and thus began with the receptionist at the basement circulation desk. She sent me upstairs to the main desk, where a supervisor and student worker were excited to try their hand at the machine. With their guidance, I was able to learn some of the basics, and once we had the first reel in the rest was more or less intuitive.

Close-up of Reader

The reels of film resemble VHS tapes removed from their box, and the process of playing and rewinding them was very tactile and satisfying. Being able to physically see the little pictures moving on the tape was far more engaging than scrolling through digitized archives online, even if it did take a little more skill and finesse.


Step Two: Finding the Reels

The three newspapers I identified in the finding guide were The Carlisle Herald and Expositor, The American Volunteer, and The Republican. Unfortunately, the run of The Republican, though listed as ranging from 1835-1891, actually had a gap during the time I was interested in studying, but with the information in the guide the first two newspapers were easy to find in the cabinets. Microfilm takes some patience, especially when trying to move through a lot of data at once. For example, the tape for The American Volunteer began with the 1833 editions, but I didn’t intend on using any issues published before 1838. As such, I was overjoyed to find a button on the reader’s interface which fast-forwards the film without the user having to keep their finger on the button, allowing me to do further research while the tape wound.

Election Map describing Democrats as Locofocos (click for more information)

During one of these breaks I decided to finally uncover more about the mysterious Locofoco party, which I had never encountered in my earlier education but whose name had appeared multiple times in my reading. After a quick search in the Dickinson Online Databases, I found an article by Carl N. Degler, a history professor at Vassar, entitled “The Locofocos: Urban ‘Agrarians.’”[1] From this piece I learned that the Locofocos were a faction of the Democratic party which aimed to curry favor with the poor and pulled from the same voting groups as Democratic president Andrew Jackson.


Step Three: The Expositor

1838 Carlisle Herald and Expositor [2]

With this information in mind and the microfilm finally wound to the correct year, I looked first at the May 1, 1838 edition of The Carlisle Herald and Expositor. This newspaper was far more clearly organized than some others of its time, and I was thrilled to find that it had in fact a whole column dedicated to political issues[2]. On this date, some time before the presidential election, the paper instead covered the upcoming 1838 gubernatorial election in Pennsylvania. It was a point-by-point takedown of Democratic candidate David R. Porter and, while it said little about the nature of the presidential election to come, it did establish the Expositor as a solidly Whig-leaning paper and laid out the views of Whig Carlilians of the time.

1838 Expositor Political Advertisement [3]

Far more telling than the first headline which caught my eye was in fact an advertisement[3] on the second page which clearly endorsed the Whig William Henry Harrison for president fully two years before the election. The seemingly interminable election cycle which repeats itself every four years in the United States has been oft-bemoaned as tiring and unnecessary, so it was interesting to see its roots as far back as 1838.


Intrigued by what I had found in the Expositor, I attempted to do more outside research on these small tickets, which my professor informed me could actually be used as ballots. Starting with a broad google search, I combined many term clusters such as “william henry harrison,” “newspaper,” “ballots,” and “1840 voting system.” I didn’t find very much about the ballots, but I did discover that the campaigns actually each had their own newspapers in addition to the already partisan local weeklies, so I would be eager as a I continue my research to explore these documents further and investigate how they influenced the election.

1839 Expositor article on presidential race [4]

Moving forward, I skipped to the next year’s issues and found an article entitled “The Next President”[4] on page two of the May 8, 1839 edition. At this point, the gubernatorial election had still not taken place: the paper continued to endorse incumbent Anti-Masonic Joseph Ritner. Their man would go on to lose to Democrat David R. Porter whom the paper had so lambasted the previous May, but at the time of printing the paper was eagerly awaiting Ritner’s re-election, predicting that the Democratic party would “sink forever, with its misdeeds.”4

By the time of this publication, with the presidential election about a year and a half away, the Expositor wished to focus on the task at hand: “We go first for the re-election of Joseph Ritner–Then we go for General Harrison…because we belive [sic] him to be the most available candidate for Pennsylvania.”4 These mentions of the presidential race so long before it actually occurred show how this was to be a different game altogether, but only with further research will I uncover how the newspapers handled the campaign itself.

Step Four: The Volunteer

1837 American Volunteer article on Democratic Meeting [5]

Though I will be sure to return to the later issues of the Expositor, during this first visit to the microfilm machine I was eager to see another political point of view. To that end I next fed in the reel for The American Volunteer, a Democratic paper which covered a “Great Democratic Meeting”[5] on October 8, 1837. This issue was also discussing the gubernatorial election, an event which seems to have sown the seeds of inter-party animosity in Pennsylvania leading up to the polarizing 1840 presidential election. The Volunteer saw the gravity of the situation and described the battle to come: “We are on the eve of an election of the most important character; an election in which the question whether the people or a local aristocracy will rule.”5

Having seen how the local writers of both parties viewed one another before the presidential election, I am anxious to visit the Cumberland County archives to see later articles and determine how they dealt with the unique campaign and eventual result.




[1] Carl N. Degler, “The Locofocos: Urban ‘Agrarians,’” The Journal of Economic History, 16, no. 3 (1956): 322-333

[2] The Carlisle Herald and Expositor (Carlisle, PA),  May 1, 1838, pg 1 col. 7

[3] The Carlisle Herald and Expositor (Carlisle, PA), May 1, 1838, pg 2 col. 6

[4] The Carlisle Herald and Expositor (Carlisle, PA), May 8, 1839, pg 2 col. 7

[5] The American Volunteer (Carlisle, PA), October 8, 1837, pg 1 col. 4

Societies, Rivalries, and Presidents

When scanning through the 1905 Dickinson Alumni Record, nearly all of the members in the Class of 1858 had, “U. P. Society” or, “B. L. Society” in their short blurbs.  While doing research about these abbreviations in the archives, the research assistant told me about the Belles Lettres and the Union Philosophical Society. These two literary societies had existed since the 18th century, which were the earliest days of the college. Both societies sought to enhance the intellectual development of students at the college, as well as create bonds between members.  I then sought to find out how the students acted within these societies, and how they affected the college.

From the Belles Lettres Constitution, courtesy of the Dickinson Archives, RG 8/3 1-11

U. P. Society Certificate, courtesy of the Dickinson Archives OC 1999.9 Folder 10










With thirty-two out of a possible thirty-five students in the class belonging to either society, they clearly were influential within the student body. And naturally, as groups of college-aged students do, they developed a rivalry. Luckily, the Dickinson Archives has an excellent collection of the papers of Horatio Collins King

He is prominent graduate of the class, and many of his papers were donated to the Archives. As a member of the U. P. Society, he writes on the rivalry between the two societies, “We went together to the B.L.’s Anniversary, and were much pleased therewith. I was especially relieved, also, for I had little fear after hearing their speakers, but what we Union’s would give them a “fair shake”. 

King is writing about the commencement ceremonies in 1858 here, as he included pamphlets from the celebrations in his diary, which show that the Belles Lettres and Union Philosophical Society would present orations, and they would compete on who could have the best speech, King presented a speech titled, “Aristocracy.” (King, Diary, 574) Additionally, King writes about how the Belles Lettres and U. P. Society would compete throughout the year in oration contests, and fondly remembers one time the U. P. Society came out on top. 

The audience at our Exhib. Was much larger and more chaste than at the B.L.’s… I performed my part to the satisfaction of all, and retired from the stage mid rapturous applause and showers of boquets…We all went to our rooms with the glorious satisfaction that we had gained a victory over the B.L.’s by whom we were almost certain of being beaten. ( King, Diary, 559)

These societies were not just limited to graduation ceremonies and competitions. After looking through more of his diary, I found a connection to a President. King was the Secretary of the U. P. Society in 1856, and wrote about a meeting on December, 11, when they discussed sending a delegation of members to the house of James Buchanan, in Lancaster, PA, to “offer the congratulations of society.” (King, Diary, 332) This was in regard to his recent victory in the 1856 Presidential Election, when he defeated Republican candidate, John C. Frémont. Buchanan graduated from Dickinson in 1809, and a member of the U. P. Society during his time at Dickinson.

Union Philosophical Society Member Catalog, courtesy of the Dickinson Archives, RG 8/23 B3 F4

Buchanan’s name is the thirteenth down on the right-hand column, courtesy of the Dickinson Archives











Days later, King wrote Buchanan on behalf of the Union Philosophical Society, and Buchanan quickly wrote back, below are transcriptions of the original letters, which were kept in King’s diary.

Letter from King to Buchanan, courtesy of the Dickinson Archives, King, Diary, 584.

Dickinson College

Carlisle, Dec 13, 56

Honored Sir:

A committee has been appointed by the Union Philosophical Society of Dickinson College to wait upon you at Wheatland, to extend the salutations of society, and congratulate you upon the result of the recent Presidential Election. It is the object of this note to inquire if it would suit your convenience to receive the committee at as early a day as Tuesday or Wednesday. An immediate answer is requested. 

I have the honor to be

Sir, your ob’h (obliging) serv’t

Horatio C. King


And here is Buchanan’s response.

Letter from Buchanan to King, courtesy of the Dickinson Archives, King, Diary, 585.

Wheatland 14 December 1856

My dear sir/

My answer to your note of yesterday I regret to say that I shall be obliged to leave home for Philadelphia on tomorrow evening or at latest Tuesday morning, I am truly sorry that by reason of engagement I shall be deprived of the pleasure of meeting the committee of the Union Philosophical Society during the present week.

Yours very respectfully,

James Buchanan

Clearly, the role of these two societies was large over the campus then. Whether it was friendly competition between groups, or trying to honor a President-elect, Dickinson students were involved in the community, and country as a whole.

This all began with wondering about an abbreviation in a class record, which led to me reading a letter written by a U. S. President. The records preserved by individuals and groups in the Archives were crucial to this research. The tools which were most useful were the records of the the student groups themselves and personal letters, which had details about members and traditions which led to learning more about the Belles Lettres and the Union Philosophical Society.

Works Cited

King, Horatio Collins. Diary, 1854-1858. MC 1999.9, Horatio Collins King Family Papers, Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

Reed, George Leffingwell.  Alumni Record: Dickinson College. (Carlisle, Dickinson College, 1905), 174-183.

Union Philosophical Society. Catalogue of the Members of the Union Philosophical Society of Dickinson College: From it’s Establishment August 31st , A. D. 1789, to November 12th, 1831. Record Group 8/23, B3, F4. Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.


History Detectives: Carlisle Edition

As a PBS kid, I often watched the TV show History Detectives, which showed a team of historians tracking the stories of objects and families. It was one of my first introductions to history as a real career, and the history detectives were one of my inspirations when choosing to become a student of history. Because of this experience in childhood, I was delighted when assigned as a part of my historical methodology class to become a history detective myself. The journey began in my History 204’s class’ first visit to the Dickinson College archives, where the wood paneled walls and cases of rare books and artifacts made me feel like a real historian. That moment of discovery drew me into archival research, and my independent research visits only strengthened my resolve.

First Visit: Newspapers

On our first trip as a class we mostly worked with facsimiles and transcriptions, but when I returned to the archives on my own I was treated as a truly independent researcher, responsible enough to handle originals. I had as my general topic of research the election of 1840, and decided to turn to newspapers as my first source. Unfortunately, few newspapers from 1840 are available in the College archives, but I did read two telling articles from 1844, one on the Cumberland County Whig Convention in Carlisle and one on President Tyler’s withdrawal from the 1844 election.

The one newspaper source which was available from 1840 was actually a transcription of a speech by Dickinsonian Democrat James Buchanan on the folly and hypocrisy of Whig presidential candidate William Henry Harrison. This speech provided interesting insight into the Democrats’ view of their opponents, itemizing the many specific policy differences between the two parties.

Example of 19th century newspaper                    Courtesy of Library of Congress

These three sources all demonstrated the idiosyncrasies of newspapers at the time, namely the lack of organization and bylines as well as the small size of print. Luckily for me, the Dickinson archives provide finding guides for all of their resources, which in the case of newspapers often index the article in that edition which relates to Carlisle. Without the page and column numbers for the coveted articles I would never have found the piece on the Whig convention, for it was hidden in the fifth column of the third page. In the 19th century, articles were not organized into specific topic. With this work being in fact a printed letter, it was listed simply under “personal correspondence,” a non-descriptive title that does little to guide the reader. As such, without the help of the finding guide it would be necessary to browse every newspaper from the time period in the Dickinson archive, a tedious and most likely fruitless task.

Second Visit: Letters

On my second visit to the archives I decided to turn my focus from newspapers to personal writings, thinking (correctly) that the College might have more letters than newspapers from the given year. In preparation for my trip I searched the archive website for many terms, including “class of 1840,” “election of 1840,” “William Henry Harrison,” and “John Tyler.”  Through this search I came across the collection of Isaac Wayne’s papers, and though I had never heard that name before I decided to dig deeper.

Wayne was in fact a member of Dickinson’s class of 1792, and by the time of the 1840 election he was a retired farmer in rural Pennsylvania. Despite this, he was still considered to be an important member of the Whig party, and the Dickinson archives many of his documents related to political goings-on. One of these, which excited me greatly when I came across its entry online, was the letter from Wayne written in 1840 to a General Harrison, presumably the presidential candidate himself.

Letter to Harrison (pg 1 of 4)

This letter[1], dated April 27, looks at first glance like the archetype of the dream archival find. Hidden in a folder with many other papers, it appeared like a beam of light in the form of distressed parchment–or at least that’s how it seemed to be at first. Upon further inspection, I made the disappointing discovery that the letter was completely illegible. After a frustrating and eye-straining twenty minutes, I finally gave up the ghost on this particular document as incomprehensible to one untrained in the art of deciphering terrible handwriting.

Disappointed but determined, I continued going through Wayne’s other papers, and was happy to find one in a hand other than his own. In the same box as the letter to General Harrison was correspondence from Henry Evans[2], a man with beautiful, pristine handwriting. I began the letter eagerly, quickly drafting my transcription, but unfortunately the missive revealed little of the political climate at the time. It was simply an invitation to speak at the Whig convention, something that might be useful to one studying Isaac Wayne specifically but which did little to illuminate how Carlislians or residents of Cumberland County felt about either candidate.

My last attempt for this particular archive visit was a document in which I had little hope: another piece written with the puzzling penmanship of Isaac Wayne. It was described as a “Draft of a resolution in favor of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler.”[3] I requested the file ready to work even harder to decipher it, but to my elation Wayne did in fact try to make this resolution, a much more official document than the previously studied letter, presentable.

Written on one remarkably well-preserved page is a record of both Wayne’s and his fellow Whigs’ feelings towards their presidential candidate which, though not specific, do give the impression of passionate support and enthusiasm. What the document lacks in policy details it makes up for in flowery and powerful language, which matches the tone of a campaign which used slogans and songs to reach the hearts as well as the minds of the people.




            That the people of the United States were happy and prosperous until the sources of their prosperity and happiness were assailed [line illegible] thus was a gloom over [one word illegible] afraid the nation which nothing short of the substitution of both men and measures can dispel.


            That we will use our best exertions to [one word illegible] the election of William H. Harrison and John Tyler to the Presidency and Vice Presidency of the United States, firmly believing as we do, that under their auspices our national affairs would be placed in such a [one word illegible] ultimately to ensure great and memorable blessings to our beloved country.


            That whatever may be the result of the general or special election between this period and the election of the Electors for the President and Vice President of the United States in November next we will not relax our endeavors to afford a successful [one word illegible] to the Whig electoral ticket


That we approve of the call for a general county convention to be held at Westchester on the 9th of June for the purpose of forming a more efficient organization of the friends of Harrison and Tyler; and to bring into consideration arrangements for the approaching general election. We therefore have appointed the following named persons as Delegated to represent the Township of Easton in said Convention–


Though my research question has not yet been fully formulated, let alone answered, these visits to the archives provided invaluable experience in both how to successfully locate documents when beginning research and how to move on when a source isn’t all you had hoped it would be. I look forward to diving deeper into the archives and finding out more about this topic, in addition to possibly exploring other aspects of the class of 1840.



[1] Isaac Wayne to General Harrison, April 27, 1840. Collection of Isaac Wayne MC 2001.11, Box 1 Folder 2, Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

[2] Henry Evans to Issac Wayne, April 21, 1840. Collection of Isaac Wayne MC 2001.11, Box 1 Folder 6, Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

[3] Draft of resolution in favor of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler [in Isaac Wayne’s hand] – 1840. Collection of Isaac Wayne MC 2001.11, Box 1 Folder 7, Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

Student Rebellion and the Class of 1870

Class of 1870 Outside of Old West, Courtesy of Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections

When I was initially assigned the class of 1870 I must admit I was a little disappointed.  As someone with a keen interest in military history, I was hoping to get one of the Civil War-era classes, as the events of the war would have been pertinent to its members at the time, but sadly this was not the case.  Nevertheless, I looked through the 1870 class roster, did some quick searches of a couple individuals on the college archive’s online database and went in to take a look at some documents a day or so later.

Having done some archival research on Dickinsonians my previous year, my first instinct was to check for a class of 1870 yearbook.  Fortunately, I was extremely lucky; although the college didn’t start printing the Microcosom (the name of Dickinson’s yearbook) until 1890, the class of 1870 had created one after the fact in 1903.

I began by investigating the senior information pages.  Initially, I had the idea that I would focus my project around the railroad boom during this period, as I knew that  the intercontinental railway had been completed in 1869.  I found several individuals who went on to work for railroad companies or in other railroad-related financial ventures, as well as a few others who caught my eye; namely Edward R. Johnstone, a reporter on the Indian Wars, and Philip Rawlings, an ex-Confederate who served under General Jackson.

After scanning through the senior profiles, I next made my way to the class history section, which was written by several members of the 1870 class.  While reading and taking notes, I came across one short paragraph in particular that grabbed my attention.  In it, the author briefly mentioned the “‘Great Rebellion’ of the Sophomore and Junior classes” in 1870.[1]  Incredibly intrigued by the idea of a student rebellion on campus, I immediately decided to take a look into it.

Frustratingly, the class history provided no more information than the classes that participated in the rebellion and the year it took place, the latter of which had to be discovered through the document indirectly.  I then approached the archivists in order to figure out where I could find more information.  I was directed to the published history of the college, as well as the president’s papers  and minutes from both trustee and faculty meetings.  It was here that I discovered a much more comprehensive overview of the event.

The student rebellion of 1870 (there have actually been several over the course of the school’s history) was in response to faculty not allowing Sophomore and Junior students to attend the celebrations in Carlisle on April 26th, 1870 over the ratification of the 15th Amendment.  In defiance of their professors, the students went anyway and received “500 minus marks” as punishment.  This appears to have been rather harsh, because it caused an uproar among the two classes of effected students.  The faculty attempted to rectify this by adjusting the number of “minus marks” given on a case-by-case basis, but to the students it appeared to be done at random and simply made the situation worse.  The sophomores and juniors then decided to boycott their duties (classes, etc.) and, as punishment, the entirety of both classes were suspended indefinitely and made to return home.  After much back and forth, the suspension was lifted on May 16th after an appeal from the student committee.[2]  Below is my transcription of the appeal, which was found handwritten in the faculty minute book dated 1869-1879:


To the faculty of Dickinson College                                                                                          May 16, 1870


Whereas it is evident for that there have been misunderstandings of communications made by the faculty to the students, and whereas we have shown as we think a proper spirit since our suspension; and whereas we are satisfied that in the matter of minus marks the faculty will, on a proper and [illegible] consideration of our complaint, do us justice.

We respectfully request that you will repeal the penalty of suspension now in force  against us in order that we may resume our relations with the College, and attend our duties as usual.

J. L. Shelley

J. H. Shopp

D. K. Watson

D. J. Mayors Jr.

Members of Council

Fortunately, a transcription from the minute book, as well as a printed copy of this message, can both be found in the archives.  The correct transcription is below:

May 16, 1870

To the Faculty of Dickinson College, Gentlemen:

Whereas it is evident to us that there have been misunderstandings of communications made by the Faculty to the Students; and whereas, we have shown as we think a proper spirit since our suspension; and whereas, we are satisfied that in the matter of minus marks the Faculty will, on a proper and full considerations of out complaint, do us justice.

We respectfully request that you will repeal the penalty of suspension now in force against us, in order that we may resume our relations with the College and attend to our duties as usual


J.L. Shelly

J.H. Shopp

D.K. Watson

D.J. Myers, Jr.

Members of Committee


A Particularly Painful Example of 19th Century Penmanship, Courtesy of the Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections

As one can see by the several errors in my transcription, interpreting handwriting from the 19th century is often no easy task.  That short section alone took me around half an hour, and further transcription of more notes from the same meeting proved to take even longer.  Minutes are especially difficult, as the writer is generally trying to keep pace with the discussion, leading to ample use of abbreviations and poor penmanship overall.  The photo on the right shows one particularly bad example from the minutes, and is supposedly meant to say “commencement”.

Getting back to my research, there was some other information in the Dickinson history book that also caught my attention.  Firstly, it mentioned a mixed reception of the 15th Amendment within Carlisle.  Although there was celebration, the book stated that several newspapers referred to it as the “darky amendment”.  Also, there was mention of signs being waved about the persecution of Dr. McClintock, whose name is on one of the college’s dorms.  A quick search on the House Divide Project website led me to a PDF that explained the story of Dr. McClintock and a riot that occurred in Carlisle in 1849 partially on his behalf. I also found mention in the 1870 yearbook history that two students, the Mercier brothers, joined the KKK in Virginia.

Although I had made progress, I was left with several major questions:  Were the statements about the Mercier brothers true and, if so, how did they interact with both other students and faculty on campus?  How was Dr. McClintock “persecuted” and why did it cause rioting?  How was the 15th Amendment received in Carlisle?  Were there any serious debates on campus regarding the 15th Amendment, especially considering the Confederate/Southern background of several of the students in the class?

Ultimately, after my first round of research I’ve been left with more questions than answers; however, I am confident that many of these riddles will be solved in upcoming trips to the archives and other locations, such as the Cumberland Valley Historical Society.  Most importantly for this early round of research, however, I have nailed down a topic:  the 1870 Student Rebellion and the mixed reception of the 15th Amendment in Carlisle, PA.


[1]  Class of 1870, The Dickinson Class of 1870, 1903, Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA, pp. 113.

[2]  Dickinson College Faculty, Sophomore & Junior Suspension Appeal Petition and Remission of Suspension, 1870, RG 2/7, President’s Papers 1.1.2, Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

1852 doodle of student oration











Doodle appended to the end of an 1852 class oration by William Snively, courtesy of Dickinson College Archives & Special Collections (digitized by Ian Ridgway)


The importance of context through John Lewis Gaddis

John Lewis Gaddis is a professor of history at Yale University, the recipient of multiple writing awards and a distinguished author. Motivated to display the importance of historical consciousness, Gaddis wrote the book The Landscape of History. In this book, Gaddis argues against multiple fields of social sciences while providing insight to historians about stronger research and analysis methods. This book is a combination of writings and lectures performed by Gaddis. By using relevant modern examples, Gaddis is able to argue against forms of social science while promoting different forms of historical thinking.

One of Gaddis’ main points in this book is focused on the importance of causation. Gaddis argues that it is important when writing or thinking about history to consider the context that led to an event. When doing so, an important distinction to make is “the distinction between the immediate, the intermediate, and the distant”. Thereby, this distinction groups events contextually and explains the events’ relevance. For example, the first group, immediate, is simply whatever occurred at the time of the event. These distinctions are important because historians must be careful when providing context. Gaddis contextualizes this by explaining the historical context of the Pearl Harbor attack. “It would make no sense, for example, to begin an account of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor with the launching of the planes from their carriers; you’d want to know how the carriers came to be within range of Hawaii”.2 When providing context, it is important to not use one of the three groups distinguished above. An example of too much immediate context is exemplified with the Pearl Harbor attack. Providing too much intermediate and distant context is also a mistake. When searching for causation of an event, Gaddis describes a “principal of diminishing relevance”.3 He describes this principal as “is it that the greater the time that separates a cause from a consequence, the less relevant we presume that cause to be”.4 In theory, it is possible to tie the true causation of every event back to the Big Bang. However, this principal states that the farther back in time one goes to look for causation the less relevant it is. This principal is helpful when looking for the causation of an event, which Gaddis thinks is extremely important.

Based on causation, Gaddis presents another idea in The Landscape of History which is “the point of no return.” Gaddis describes the point of no return as, “the moment at which an equilibrium that once existed ceased to do so as a result of whatever it is we’re trying to explain”.5 In other words, the point of no return represents a change in events that disrupts the peace that was once had. This process, Gaddis explains, is much like the paleontological principal “punctuated equilibrium” “rather, long periods of stability are “punctuated” by abrupt and destabilizing changes”.6 The idea of no return is one that relies a lot on context. For one event different people could argue that there are multiple points of no return. For these scenarios, Gaddis advises to return to the principal of diminishing relevance, “that gives us license to emphasize some of these over others”.9 Basically, the principal of diminishing relevance states that possible causation events that occur father away, or more distant, are not as relevant as events that are closer to the actual event.


1 John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 95.

Gaddis, 95.

Gaddis, 96.

Gaddis, 96.

5 Gaddis, 99.

Gaddis, 96.

7 Gaddis, 99.

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