Friday, January 29, 2010

Book Signing at Angleton, Texas

Last night I presented a book talk on Emily Austin at the Brazoria County Historical Museum located in the historic, restored former courthouse in Angleton, Texas. A large and enthusiastic crowd came to hear the talk, including a number of the descendants of the Austin/Bryan/Perry family. My talk last night was one of the most comprehensive and detailed that I have given, due largely to the fact that the life of Emily Austin is so well known in the area. Brazoria County each year holds an annual civic celebration that features a reenactment featuring the life of Emily Austin Bryan Perry. Some of the people who attended were individuals who participate in the annual pageant dealing with Austin’s arrival and founding of the colony in Brazoria County, the first Anglo-American settlement in Mexican Texas in the early 1820s. I surveyed the history of the James F. and Stephen S. Perry Papers that I used in the book, and thereafter talked about some of the general perspectives that I had gained into the life of Emily Austin. In this latter capacity, I focused on her management of Peach Point Plantation and the resolve she brought to the Texas frontier. After my talk, I signed a larger number of books than I previously had done at any previous book talk.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Digital Camera and Archival Research

Hand-held digital cameras are quietly working a profound revolution on the way that professional researchers and academic historians are today conducting research in archives. A new era for researchers has begun – one that has the digital camera replacing in part the taking of notes by pencil, photocopy, microform, or computer. Except in cases where a researcher has the luxury of conducting research in their hometown, the days of sitting in a repository day-after-day, reading each document while writing pencil notes became obsolete years ago with the appearance of photocopying and microform reproduction. Most libraries and archives today willingly provide photocopy services for their patrons.

The appearance of the portable laptop several decades ago also had an impact on conducting research in historical libraries and archives. Although as late as the 1990s a few archivists prohibited laptops in their reading rooms, such prohibitions are now virtually unknown. Today, all archives willingly permit researchers to use laptops. Digital cameras, no doubt, will eventually be as ubiquitous in all archives as photocopying and the use of laptops. Archival policy on the use of digital cameras however constitutes a new technological frontier for libraries and archives. This is especially so for those facilities that have collections of broad interest to the scholarly community because of extensive paper collections constituting discreet, one-of-a kind holdings.

From the viewpoint of the researcher, one reason compelling use of the digital camera is that travel to the regionally and nationally significant archives can be a financial burden. The digital camera can greatly speed research and thereby reduce travel, hotel, and per diem expenses. From the archival viewpoint, taking a digital image exponentially limits the potential for damage to documents sometimes caused by photocopying, scanning, or microfilming. Making a digital image of a document laid flat on the table is no more destructive than a researcher reading it with their own eyes.

The use of a digital camera, of course, does not eliminate the taking of paper notes as most researchers will still do that too. Indeed, the use of paper was not eliminated by photocopying or the laptop. Yet, like these now universally accepted technological advances, the digital camera constitutes an important, timely way to increase the efficiency of archival research. Personally, I have been using a hand held digital camera for almost two years in conducting my archival research. Over that time, the technology has vastly improved. I started with an HP Photosmart 950, which seemed ultramodern several years ago. Today, I have several models of the Nikon Coolpix, which is about the size of a deck of playing cards and has a document setting. I do not have any particular recommendation for a camera since there are numerous models that can do the job, with most of them priced in the one hundred dollar range. Once I return home, I download my images and convert them into .pdf format files that become part of a database that constitutes the foundation of my research plan. I have visited almost 50 archives, large and small, over the last two years without ever having an archivist refuse me the use of my digital camera whenever I asked, although in some cases I was the first researcher make such a request and thus had to explain what I wanted to do. I am greatly reassured because more and more archival repositories now have written policies outlining the use of digital cameras.

These policies protect both archival holdings from exploitation and also meet the needs of the researcher. I consider it a mark of professionalism when an archivist hands me a written copy of their digital camera policy for my guidance in the reading room. Randomly selected, here are links to digital camera policies at Harvard’s Houghton Library and the Newberry Library. Archival policies regarding use of digital cameras often have some or all of the following components: (1) Researchers may not use flash, (2) Documents cannot be raised, moved off the table, or otherwise placed in positions other than in the manner a researcher would be normally be reading them, (3) Researchers provide the archive with a list of what has been copied with the digital camera, (4) Images can be used only for individual study purposes as a part of scholarly research in the same manner that the rights to publication remain with the archive in the case of photocopy or microform made by the archive, (5) No collection can be copied in its entirely, and (6) Images made by the researcher cannot be placed in any other archive, library, or repository – or put on the internet -- without the advance permission of the facility where the researcher took the image. Many repositories do permit the researcher to use images taken on their premises in non-commercial Power Points for educational purposes as long as attribution credit is given. Last week, I spent several days in the Archives and Special Collections of the Noel Memorial Library at Louisiana State University – Shreveport. I was impressed with their digital camera policy. With the permission of Dr. Laura McLemore, Director of Archives and Special Collections, I reproduce below that written policy, which I captured with a digital camera.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Emily Austin of Texas and Family History

Today I gave a book talk on my biography Emily Austin of Texas to the Martha Jefferson Randolph Chapter of the DAR. I also donated a copy of the book to the Sherman Public Library in the name of this group. Almost three dozen members listened attentively as I outlined the career of Emily Austin, some of whose descendants belong to their organization. Although the careers of Moses Austin and Stephen F. Austin are historically recognized as significant to the history of Texas and the Southwest, many people do not know that the Austin family has roots deep in the history of the United States. Richard Austin, who brought the name and the family to North America, arrived in the British colonies at Boston in 1638, only a few years after the Massachusetts Bay colony had been founded by John Winthrop. His son Anthony moved to the small town of Suffield, where the generations after him made their home.

There are literally thousands of present-day descendants of Richard Austin running through a number of family lines. There are two genealogical associations that trace the lineage of this large and extended family. One of these, the Austin Families Genealogical Society, has members not only from the United States, but other countries as well. The Austin Families Association of American, the second group, is composed of descendants primarily from the United States. This latter group, in addition to its other activities, sponsors the “Austin Slaves Data Project” that seeks to compile historical data on all slaves owned in earlier centuries by the various descendant families. It also sponsors the publication of a regular series of articles entitled Austins of America.

Most of the descendants of Emily Austin of Texas belong to a group known as the Austin/Bryan/Perry Association which sponsors an annual reunion that I describe in my book. Each year this association meets for a reunion at the small Texas church where Emily and her family are buried. This reunion involves a luncheon and speeches by visiting scholars, along with the conduct of family genealogical business. In my talk today, I made numerous references to the importance of family as a building block of American history. The Austin family exists as a good example of this historical frame of reference.

See the Handbook of Texas entry for Emily Austin

The website for the Austin Families Genealogical Society

The website for the Austin Families Association of America

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Texas State Historical Association Sets 2010 Annual Meeting

The Texas State Historical Association has set its 114th annual meeting for March 4-6, 2010 in Dallas. It is anticipated that hundreds of people interested in the history of Texas will attend this meeting, which has traditionally drawn large numbers of enthusiastic attendees. The program will feature forty one sessions involving over one hundred historians presenting papers and giving talks on various aspects of Texas history. Time periods covered will range from the colonial period to developments in the state during recent decades. Special talks at luncheons will include a presentation by historian Angela Boswell as the Women’s History Luncheon, a presentation by Darwin Payne at the Book Lover’s Breakfast, and Association President Walter L. Buenger delivering a presidential address entitled “The Texas State Historical Association and the Future of the Past.”

The meeting will be held at the Marriott Quorum Hotel located at 14901 Dallas Parkway, just south of Beltline Rd. on the Dallas North Tollway. Advance registration is preferred, and those registering prior to February 1, 2010 will pay a reduced registratioin fee. Some of the events including banquets and receptions require an additional fee.
Click here for Meeting Registration

Click here for the Program

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Joint Historical Meeting

A joint meeting next month between two historical associations in the Lone Star State will itself mark a bit of Texas history. The East Texas Historical Association will meet in joint session with the West Texas Historical Association; or perhaps it is more properly stated the other way around, the West Texas Historical will meet with the East Texas Historical – after all, both are absolutely co-equal organizations that attract considerable numbers of Texans to their respective membership lists. This constitutes a rare event in the life of the historical associations. The joint meeting will take place in Fort Worth, Texas, from February 26-27, 2010. The host hotel is the Dallas/Fort Worth Marriott at Champions Circle at 3300 Championship Parkway. The full program and registration information for the meeting can be accessed at the website of either association.

East Texas Historical Association or West Texas Historical Association

The East Texas Historical Association was founded in 1962 at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, where its headquarters still remain. It publishes the East Texas Historical Journal. Scott Sosebee is the executive director. The West Texas Historical Association was started during 1924 at present-day Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene. It is today located on the campus of Texas Tech University in Lubbock. It publishes an annual Yearbook. Tai Kreidler serves as its executive director.

The meeting will have a full slate of scholarly papers and presentations all day Friday and Saturday, followed by a tour of the Fort Worth Stockyards on Saturday evening. Registration is required for all events.