Digitizing Ephemera and Parsing an 1862 European Itinerary

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Kathryn Tomasek

    Wheaton College

  2. 2. Zephorene L. Stickney

    Wheaton College

Work text
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Digitizing Ephemera and
Parsing an 1862 European
Tomasek, Kathryn
Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts
Stickney, Zephorene L.
Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts
This interactive digital poster demonstrates the
advantages of digital publication over print for a
particular kind of socio-historical project. It uses
as an example three incomplete sets of sources:
a travel journal, herbaria, and ephemera from
an 1862 tour of England and Europe that was
undertaken by Wheaton College founder Eliza
Baylies Wheaton, her husband Laban Morey
Wheaton, and his cousin David Emory Holman.
Linking TEI-compliant XML text with images
of these sources, our poster/demo offers an
approximation of the experiences that led to the
collection of the items. Our interactive digital
poster also includes links with historical maps
of England, Wales, France, Italy, Switzerland,
the Rhine Valley, and Belgium. Clicking on
a location brings up relevant sections of the
interpretive historical essay as well as images
of relevant pages of the travel journal, herbaria,
and ephemera. An interactive timeline offers an
alternate method of accessing the data.
During the 1862 journey, Eliza Baylies Wheaton
kept receipts for her housekeeping transactions
in London, and she compiled a travel journal
and herbaria, thus leaving for the historian
multiple genres of accounts of her interests
and experiences — financial, descriptive, and
botanical. The resulting narratives convey the
texture of daily life for a nineteenth-century
traveler and reflect the wide-ranging interests
of a woman who cherished her husband
and friends, loved art and gardens, practiced
devout Christianity, painstakingly recorded the
engineering details of the new tunnel under the
Thames that connected London to Greenwich,
and pursued every opportunity to visit sites
associated with Napoleon Bonaparte. Such
narratives are conveyed less than optimally in
traditional print publications, at least partly
because cost considerations would prohibit
inclusion of full-color plates for presenting
such an obscure collection. These texts and
collections have been digitized as part of the
Wheaton College Digital History Project.
Digital presentation allows interactive viewing
of the document images that we suggest might
approximate the series of experiences that led
to collection of the ephemera and specimens
for the herbaria alongside the recording of the
travel journal. Further, including links to images
of the primary sources introduces a kind of
transparency that is missing from traditional
print methods for presenting results of historical
research. Digital presentation enhances the
historian’s ability to recreate a past that
all too often remains obscure — a set of
events from daily life that includes not only
the experiences of well-to-do tourists who
created and collected the items in archival
collections but also the boardinghouse keepers,
laundresses, and shopkeepers with whom they
interacted. Digitally presented history can be
social history at its best.
1. Financial Records
Beyond its local interest for friends and
alumni of Wheaton College, the project has
larger historical value in its attention to the
1862 journey in the context of changing
economic conditions in Great Britain, Europe,
and the United States in the mid-nineteenth
century. The group of travelers who created
the archive presented in this poster/demo
combined business with tourism while in
London, as the two men shared interest in the
production of straw hats. Holman took with him
on the journey a prototype that demonstrated
his innovation for machines used to shape the
crowns of hats, and he established residency in
London to begin the process of registering a
patent for his machine. A patent drawing has
been found at the British Library. While Holman
continued to board in London, Eliza Baylies
Wheaton and her husband toured in the south
and west of England and in the south of Wales,
and they traveled in Europe for two and a half
weeks in July 1862.
The journey also represented a transitional
moment in the economic experiences of a well-

to-do white woman from the United States. The
poster/demo thus builds on and contributes to
the growing historical literature about Anglo-
American women and their economic lives in
North America in the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries. Like many articles and monographs,
this portion of the project focuses on the records
left by an individual, digging down into the
archival record to explore the financial details of
a moment in one woman’s life and explicate their
larger historical significance.
The ephemera that the Wheatons collected
included such seemingly mundane materials as
laundry lists, boarding accounts, and receipts
from restaurants and hotels. Such materials
resemble the household accounts that Eliza
B. Wheaton was accustomed to keeping at
home, and they demonstrate her continued
responsibility for economic interactions with
women workers while she and her husband
and their traveling companion were away
from home. Examining her household accounts
alongside the social narrative she created in the
travel journal demonstrates parallels between
the pleasant tasks of sociability and the more
quotidian concerns of housekeeping, whether
Wheaton was at home or away. The herbaria add
still another dimension, augmenting comments
in the travel journal on such engineering feats
as the Thames tunnel with botanical specimens
identified according to the historical or cultural
sites where they were collected to offer a view of
the traveler as scientific collector, of both facts
and specimens.
Since Eliza B. Wheaton was widowed three
years after she and her husband returned to
their home in Massachusetts, the financial
records from the European journey document a
significant moment in her economic life. They
supplement a large number of cashbooks and
other financial documents that she accumulated
over the next forty years. Collected during
a transitional period after she had begun to
learn the details of her husband’s business
affairs, the 1862 receipts suggest the kinds
of financial responsibilities to which Wheaton
was accustomed during her marriage and the
preparation that keeping household accounts
gave her for handling her investments and
managing her wealth after her husband’s death.
The travel journal and herbaria combine with
other ephemera to document the interests that
she shared with her beloved husband and the
pleasures of their European adventure. The
richness of this documentary collection and its
multiple genres make digital publication the
most appropriate method of dissemination.
2. Itineraries
In our exploration of the documents and
ephemera that survive from the 1862 journey,
we spent considerable time focused on our
travelers’ itineraries and how we know them,
paying special attention to what the materials in
the collection do and do not tell us. Eliza Baylies
Wheaton’s travel journal is incomplete and is
only one of many items in the collection that
document the Wheatons’ European summer.
We have used the collection’s ephemera — which
include trade cards, lists, and notes, in addition
to the receipts, herbaria, and boarding accounts
— to fill in gaps in the account of the journeys
contained in the travel journal. Our poster/
demo includes images of these documents and
their XML coded transcriptions.
The travel journal stopped after a description
of a journey to Windsor on May 29, 1862,
and then picked up again in mid-July when
the Wheatons crossed the English Channel to
the Continent. Eliza Baylies Wheaton’s herbaria
show us that during June, she and her husband
traveled around southern England with London
as their base. The herbaria have posed particular
challenges for scanning, transcription, coding,
and interpretation. Although none of the pages
are dated, they reveal the couple’s itineraries
outside London and act as a nineteenth-century
version of a photo album. The herbaria also raise
questions about the sites the Wheatons actually
visited; Italy was a particular puzzle.
The Wheaton Family Papers includes a copy of
Samuel Rogers’s
Italy: A Poem
, an example of
popular culture in the United States connected
to European tourism in the mid-nineteenth
century. The book’s presence in the collection
suggests that Eliza Baylies Wheaton understood
the importance of Italy as the focus of European
tourism since the beginnings of the Grand
Tour. Yet other than the herbaria, there are
no documents from the journey to suggest
our travelers’ presence in Italy. Whilst the
herbaria once led us to believe that the
Wheatons visited Florence, Rome and Pompeii,

our parsing of their itinerary through surviving
hotel receipts precluded the possibility of their
having had time to visit Italy during this
trip. Perhaps most significantly as we sought
to understand our travelers’ motivations and
actions, we considered the political instability
of Italy in 1862, noting that Garibaldi’s army
marched on Rome in July and August. Herbaria
pages regarding Rome include pasted-in images,
apparently cut from a set of small photographs,
probably because the Wheatons did not actually
see these sites.
Our reading of the laundry lists and boarding
house receipts combines with our parsing of
the European itinerary to tell particular stories
about the Wheatons’ travels in England and
Europe in the spring and summer of 1862. Our
being able to display images and transcriptions
of the primary documents alongside our
interpretations gives audiences the opportunity
to weigh our analysis and comment upon it in
ways that are quite foreign to the usual methods
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Conference Info


ADHO - 2010
"Cultural expression, old and new"

Hosted at King's College London

London, England, United Kingdom

July 7, 2010 - July 10, 2010

142 works by 295 authors indexed

XML available from https://github.com/elliewix/DHAnalysis (still needs to be added)

Conference website: http://dh2010.cch.kcl.ac.uk/

Series: ADHO (5)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None