Archival Follies, Knowledge Droppings, Now in Actual Work, Our Glorious National Heritage

Such Phrenology. So Railroad. Wow.

Or, Meme Translation

Asa Whitney Doge

Today I found a portrait and detailed profile of one of the characters I’m currently writing about in the American Phrenological Journal.

Yes folks, in November 1849, Asa Whitney, railroad projector and lobbyist for humanity, was not only the man of the hour and talk of the town, but also the cover model for America’s leading pseudoscientific periodical. Reading what the nation’s foremost experts in head-bumps and skull-shapes had provided to the interested public concerning the former China merchant, it occurred to me that the phrenologist’s analysis might very easily be stripped of its Victorian vagaries, and translated into a jargon with more currency today; that is, into doge speak. Thus, the above.

(Also, per Gary Larson, it was late and I was tired).


Full cite (incl. original image):

“Article LXXI: Phrenological Character of Asa Whitney, with a Likeness,” American Phrenological Journal 11, no. 11 (November 1, 1849): 329–333.

Corrupting the Youth, History and Historians

Hunting Snark – and History

 Or, <eye roll> Primary Documents </eye roll>

Yarrr!
Tom Scocca’s recent snarking on smarm has got me thinking about the connections between history, as it is written and pursued, and one of the defining literary styles of our time. But before I bloviate over a blog post, here’s the essay: go have a look.

I’ll wait.

Continue reading “Hunting Snark – and History”

And now for something completely different..., Dismal Scientists

No Formula for Comfort

Or, Accountants Really, Really Don’t Mince Words

Self-Portrait with Eye-shade

I’ve been doing some research in-and-around accountancy, including some attempts to learn actual methods. It is what it is; mainly what I’ve noticed is that authors in the field like to get ahead of you on the question of how excruciating (supposedly) their subject can be.

For example, there’s the almost-a-Bond-villain approach:

“Let’s begin with candor. Do you expect to enjoy this introductory course in financial accounting?”

~Clyde P. Stickney, Financial accounting: an introduction to concepts, methods, and uses, 8th ed., The Dryden Press series in accounting (Fort Worth: Dryden Press, 1997).

And the overly-descriptive but also passive-aggressive horror-movie gambit…

“If for many people history is boring and all about dead people, why produce a Companion to the history of a discipline that is widely perceived as a mind-numbing activity performed by the living dead – cold, colourless number crunchers? In this volume we hope to show that accounting history is much more than describing the content of crumbling ledgers, the scrutiny of faded balance sheets and charting impenetrable methods for recording transactions in the past. While we don’t promise to excite readers with historical tales of lust, debauchery, and murder, we do hope to reveal the manner in which the seemingly innocuous practice of accounting has pervaded human existence in numerous and fascinating ways.”

~J. R. Edwards and Stephen P. Walker, eds., The Routledge companion to accounting history, Routledge companions (London ; New York: Routledge, 2009).

But dramatic introduction hooks aside, it’s not really as bad as all that. Money is interesting!


Image: Anton Graff, “Self-Portrait with Eye-Shade,” 1813, Wikimedia Commons

Archival Follies

Today’s Historical Infographic: Money

Or, Look! I Found a Neat Thing

CASH in various denominations and formats RULES EVERYTHING AROUND ME
CASH in various denominations and formats RULES EVERYTHING AROUND ME

Sometimes you fall down a nineteenth-century government statistical bulletin hole. It happens; I can’t explain it (and I’ll never get those hours from FRASER or HSUS back).

But what I can do is share this neat, colored-in chart of “United States Money in Circulation, 1860-1895” (see above).

It’s from the October 1895 edition of the Monthly Summary of Commerce and Finance of the United States, my second favorite issue of that glorious publication (first place, obviously, belongs to November 1895, for its unexpected and unprecedented compilation of tea customs receipts from 1790 onward). Here’s the specific page (gated by Hathi Trust).

Also, in case you missed it, the U.S. Government once produced a terrifyingly detailed map about syphllis.