April 29, 2016

A Public Historian's Flirtation with Academia - Teaching HSTA255 at Montana Tech

Rich Aarstad
Senior Manuscript Archivist
Montana Historical Society

History is the study of the past, but not for the past’s own sake. …Only if we utilize the past to comprehend the present and engage the futures is its study worthwhile” - Harry Fritz, Professor Emeritus at the University of Montana.

Main Hall, Montana Tech, Butte, MT
Photo courtesy of Rich Aarstad
This quote formed the basis of the final classroom assignment for HSTA255 at Montana Tech.  The students were asked to defend the statement in the context of one of the individuals covered in that day’s presentation.  Below is an answer using Mark Twain’s letter to Hezekiah Hosmer asking for information regarding the lynching of Jack Slade.

It is very difficult for me to describe interesting, because I am a solver.  When I look at history it seems like a puzzle on a table that is missing pieces.  If I knew that under the table would be my satisfaction then I would be a happy historian.  However, even if I had every piece and the skill to complete the puzzle I fear the trouble would only be the beginning.  Twain says that he had breakfast with Slade and survives.  He still calls him a friend and asks for information about him ten years later.  The complete puzzle may show a Slade that was so rambunctious that he was hanged, but so polite as to offer coffee to a guest.  This is not interesting to me; it’s difficult to swallow.  If I consider Fritz’s quote I can only know for sure that things are complex and not on the surface. 

P.S. I’ll be under the table, looking.

 As you can imagine I was delighted with the student’s argument; it showed depth, humor, and critical thinking.  This came at the end of a semester filled with conflicting expectations and shifts in classroom instruction.

Final classroom assignment HSTA255
Photo courtesy of Rich Aarstad
When I was asked two years ago, by Doctor Chris Danielson, tenured professor of history at Montana Tech in Butte, whether I would be interested in teaching a Montana History class while he was on sabbatical in Spring 2016, I agreed with little pause or trepidation. I was intrigued about presenting Montana history in a college classroom setting.  I planned to introduce my students to use of primary sources and the excitement that the real deal brings to history.  Calling on my MHS colleagues, my students learned about interpreting primary sources such as archival documents, photographs and newspapers.  However, while I had envisioned a course centered on student led discussions driven by their three burning questions based on the reading assignments, reality quickly derailed this expectation.

HSTA255 Classroom exercise
Photo courtesy of Rich Aarstad
The class met once a week, and on that second day the vast majority claimed they had no idea how to access the assigned articles through the Tech library in spite of me going over that on the first day. I stressed once again how and where to find the readings listed on the syllabus and emphasized the importance of completing the readings each week.  And then I lectured for two-plus hours. Halfway through the semester the majority of the students were still not completing, or often even attempting, the reading assignments.  As a result, I shifted from the three burning questions scenario to classroom writing assignments based on the readings. This change prompted an impromptu but spirited debated between the advocates for Helena and Anaconda for state capital; an interpretation of the historical content and context of two D.J. O’Malley poems; defending or castigating Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin for her “no” vote against declaring war in 1917. 

This history class would be the first and likely last one these Tech students would take and in some instances it also represented the closest thing to an English comp class they would experience.  I did not realize the implications of this scenario when I planned the class.  The cultural shift in education that stresses math and science above all else was readily demonstrated by the students' disinterest in reading and lack of critical thinking and writing skills.  For well-rounded students who are prepared for the 21st century job market, an H(umanities) should be added to the acronym creating STEHM.  I certainly hope Montana Tech and the Montana historical Society can partner up again for the 2018 spring semester of HSTA255.  Montana history and the skills humanities classes teach definitely have a place at the academic table.


April 21, 2016

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: Barbed Wire

Prior to the invention of barbed wire, cattle and sheep grazed on an uninterrupted landscape, like bison, and were freely herded long distances in search of fresh grass. With few trees and rocks, the West lacked sufficient native material for fences and walls. When barbed wire arrived, farmers were able to protect cultivated land from roaming animals, and within a few years, thousands of small homesteaders were fencing off the open range. This was good for the farmers but not for the ranchers, who were now unable to move their animals from pasture to pasture or drive them long distances to market.

Key dates

1863—Michael Kelly develops a fencing material with points attached to twisted strands of wire.
1867—Lucien B. Smith of Kent, Ohio, receives the first patent.
1874—Joseph Glidden and Isaac Ellwood start The Barb Fence Company and develop machinery to mass-produce the product.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: barbed wire, barbed wire fence, ellwood fence

Written by Catherine W. Ockey

April 14, 2016

Making Montana: The Submission and Review Process

by Randall Williams,  Assistant Editor
Montana, The Magazine of Western History

Montana The Magazine of Western History
cover art poster
Friends of the Montana Historical Society are no doubt familiar with Montana The Magazine of Western History. Published quarterly since 1951, when it appeared under the original title of The Montana Magazine of History, the magazine strives to capture a wide readership without sacrificing the scholarly rigor and innovation more readily associated with an academic journal. It is an ambitious undertaking. As K. Ross Toole colorfully observed, “publishing a quarterly journal of history with solid professional contents but with a high degree of readability for a broad audience is like trying to do an arabesque on a greased pole.” [1]  Despite the ease with which readers might recognize the magazine’s iconic covers and engaging style, the process by which individual pieces of writing find their way into the pages of a particular issue unfolds behind closed doors. This blog post, then, hopes to shed a bit of light on the making of Montana’s feature pieces.

While many popular periodicals rely on an in-house staff to produce each issue’s content, Montana publishes outside submissions from unpaid contributors with a variety of backgrounds. While some are independent researchers or authors, most are trained scholars and professionals working either in academia or public history—and, indeed, some come from within the talented ranks of MHS’s various programs. In hopes of soliciting new and promising manuscripts, the publications staff combines efforts to contact historians from across the country and around the world regarding their current scholarship, to attend national and regional conferences, and to keep tabs on the various research projects conducted at MHS, such as those funded each year by the Bradley Fellowship.
So that addresses some of the “who?” But what, exactly, constitutes an appropriate article? Publishing guidelines establish specific criteria beyond the obvious geographical bounds of the Treasure State and, more generally, the American West. In keeping with the magazine’s charge as a venue for serious scholarship and historical inquiry, articles must show evidence of original research or offer a new interpretation of historical events. Generally speaking, a retelling of stories available to the reading public through other sources will not be accepted, no matter how artful the prose or compelling the tale.

After an initial assessment by the magazine’s staff as to the suitability of the content, submitted manuscripts are sent out anonymously for “peer review” to at least two scholars or experts in the field. Careful consideration is given to which readers might bring valuable expertise to bear on each potential article. Whenever possible, a diversity of perspectives is incorporated into the process. Reviewers, or “referees,” are asked to evaluate manuscripts for their potential contributions to the field of western history; their style and accessibility for a general public; and the soundness of their research and argumentation.  Each reader’s report concludes with a recommendation for publication: acceptance, rejection, or an invitation to revise and resubmit. It is unusual for articles to be accepted without revisions in their first round of review.

Once reviews are in, the editorial staff then confers with the author to talk through the reader reports, and to come up with a plan and timeline for revision. Possible revisions range from minor stylistic alterations to a wholesale rearranging of the text or a shift in substantive focus. Depending on the author’s various other commitments and the extent of the necessary changes, this stage of the process can take weeks, months, or even years.
Autumn 2015, Vol. 65, No. 3
When it seems likely that any remaining issues identified by reviewers will be addressed, a tentative schedule for publication begins to take shape. At this point, the frequency of communication between the author and the magazine's editorial staff accelerates as the manuscript continues to evolve. Names, dates, and citations are checked and double-checked. The clarity and readability of the prose receive increasing scrutiny. Meanwhile, photographs and illustrations are selected and captioned, oftentimes in close consultation with MHS staff at the research center. Businesses and organizations that might have some ties to the subject matter of the article are contacted for potential advertisements and sponsorships. As the deadline to publication approaches, the manuscript, illustrations, and captions head to layout, where they are painstakingly arranged into the polished form that they’ll take on the printed page.

While the act of writing itself is often a solitary undertaking, the process by which individual articles make their way to the pages of Montana involves a considerable amount of collaboration, intellectual exchange, and team effort.

[1] Toole quoted in Brian Shovers, “Saving Montana’s Past: The Creation and Evolution of the Montana Historical Society and Montana the Magazine of Western History,” Montana The Magazine of Western History 52, no. 1 (Spring, 2002): 58.

April 11, 2016

News from the MHS Research Center - April 2016

by Molly Kruckenberg, Research Center Director

A monthly report of cool new (and sometimes old) collections, reference resources, and projects that you might be interested in.

New Online Resource

Montana Newspapers is now available for your use and research pleasure. Check it out! Also check out Natasha Hollenbach’s recent blog post about searching Chronicling America and Montana Newspapers for hints, tips and tricks on using the sites. We have already been approached about working with local historical organizations to add seven new titles to the site.

Cool Resources Available for Use

The Butte Tombstone Co. records (MC 247) are a valuable, but underutilized collection. The collection as a whole is 18 linear feet in size and contains business records, interoffice correspondence, account and cash books, general ledgers, organizational records, and subject files. Accounting for nearly a third of the collection, it is in the subject files where the genealogical material lies in the form of customer orders submitted to the company from 1904 to 1925. These orders contain information on the deceased person’s name, next of kin, dates of birth and death, and the shape, size and location of the monument. Although based out of Butte, it expanded offices to Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena, and Missoula, as well as Idaho Falls, ID. It appears records were submitted by families of the deceased from all across the state.

Newly Received Collections (not yet processed, but available for use)

Fanny Sperry Steele Papers. These include papers documenting her career as a rodeo star, wild west show performer, dude ranch operator, and outfitter. Also included in the collection are the journals of her nephew and fellow Helena native, Dan Hilger. The archival collection is complimented nicely by a large collection of vintage photographs of Fanny and the Hilger family, as well as a number of artifacts accepted by the Museum.

Some Neat Things We’ve Been Working On

  • On Monday, March 21, the Research Center helped host 130 sixth graders from CR Anderson Middle School in Helena.   Each student spent 40 minutes in the Research Center conducting research on a specific Montana Territorial topic, from Red Cloud to Bair Knuckle Boxing and Harriet Sanders.  The successful day was a culmination of several months of planning with MHS Outreach & Interpretation staff and teachers from CR Anderson.
  • Government Records Archivist April Sparks and State Archivist Jodie Foley presented at the regional meeting of the Montana Association of School Business Officials discussing 2015 changes to records management laws and records retention requirements for local governments.

Come visit us to use these collections and explore Montana history!

April 7, 2016

Tips for Newspaper Research

by Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Services Technician

A New Resource

Announcements celebrating the availability of the new online resource Montana Newspapers have been circulating the past couple of weeks.  Between this resource and Chronicling America, now over 600,000 pages of Montana newspapers are available digitally to all.  As wonderful as that number is, it’s only about 8% of published newspapers in Montana.  While ideally anyone doing newspaper research would have the time and ability to come to the Montana Historical Society, we know that digital collections are the primary resource for many.  Given that, I thought I’d introduce you to a few ideas on how to avoid the pitfalls of searching online newspapers. 


Problems with People

There are many reasons why individuals appear in newspapers.  Some of them are good: travel, community involvement, school activities, married, or proved up for a homestead.  Some are bad: unusual accident, involved in criminal activity as victim or perpetrator, failed to pay taxes, or died.  In other words, not everyone will appear in the newspaper even if they lived in a small community.  Maybe they just led a nice quiet, uncontroversial life.

For those who do appear in newspapers, it’s important to remember that newspapers are created by people.  Reporters spelled names as they heard them, so when searching for individuals consider other spellings or how it could have been misheard.  Were they known by their middle name or initials?  Lastly, when you find mention of a person matching the name you’re looking for, check the details.  Are they from the area you think they lived in?  Are other people, especially family members, mentioned in the article?  Chances are there are multiple people with a given name so the person you find might not be the person you’re looking for. Last year I did a post about A.J. King who lived in Kalispell, but when searching I discovered that there was another A.J. King who lived in Missoula.

The AJ King I was looking for
The Great Falls Tribune
August 1, 1919
Not the AJ King I was looking for
The Daily Missoulian
December 27, 1914

One last consideration for names concerns how newspapers were put together.  Early newspapers were set one letter at a time and the finished article had to fit in a given space, so often names were shortened.  William became Wm., just as Joseph became Jos.  Last names starting with Mc or Mac were sometimes shortened to M’.  The software powering both of these interfaces is very literal.  It searches for exactly what you type into the search box.  For example if you search for MacDonald, any newspaper article which spelled it M’Donald won’t be in your results list. 

Remember When: Events

Often event names are assigned retrospectively.  For example during the Panic of 1893 no one used that phrase in their reporting.  Other times it’s a matter of differing perspectives.  We had a student in the Research Center last summer researching the Marias Massacre.  She reported that she had been using Chronicling America (which was gratifying), but she hadn’t found any coverage of it in the available Montana papers (which was concerning).  After trying multiple search terms, I discovered that the reason she hadn’t found anything was because the Montana papers didn’t consider it a massacre.  Instead I found their coverage by searching for Colonel Baker.

The New Northwest (Deer Lodge)
April 8, 1870
Choosing Your Search Terms
The biggest challenge is determining the correct terminology for your search.  Technological, social and transportation changes all had significant influence over the terms used in newspapers to describe what was happening.  Advertisements are perhaps the clearest way to see these shifts.  To meet this challenge, background reading on the time period or topic will usually provide terms that can be used for your newspaper search.  Another valuable resource is the Index to Advertisers in Montana Newspapers. Created by one of our awesome volunteers, the index includes the store, the people associated with it, the newspaper, city, date of ad, type of products, and the text of the ad. At this time it includes the Yellowstone Journal (1882-1891) and The New Northwest (1869-1885), but the index is an expanding work in progress.

The New Northwest (Deer Lodge)
Nov. 11, 1869
The New Northwest (Deer Lodge)
March 4, 1881


Newspapers are often called the first draft of history.  That’s a good description when reading historic newspaper articles.  However, when searching for articles, I think of them more as a time portal back to the week of publication.  In order to get the most out of the newspapers, you have to put yourself into the minds of those who created the content.  How would they have described the world around them?  How did the current events affect them?  What were their biases and worldview?  What questions were they trying to answer?  Sometimes a name is all you need for a successful search, but you really realize what an amazing resource the newspapers are when you search with these questions in mind.