Tag Archives: digital history

On Finding Stick Figures Drawn in My Historical Sources

Mysterious Stick Figures on the Black Rock

I’ve been turning up quite a bit of material relevant to my project on Archive.org and Google Books — including no shortage of 19th century writings on the Victoria Bridge and ship fever in Montreal.

This image is from page 65 of Hunter’s Handbook of the Victoria Bridge (1860) as found on Google Books via the University of Michigan. A previous reader — perhaps “Frederick Watson,” whose name is written on the cover in black ink — added figures of tiny people rappelling and sliding down the Black Rock monument.

What were Frederick’s motives? Perhaps he found the book to be boring — was it assigned for a college course? Was he making some sort of political statement about immigrants and the Irish Potato Famine? (Note the words “desecration” and “ship fever” are crossed out.) Or did he simply wish to practice his stick figures? They do look like they’re having fun.

Strange how digital sources can seem so inert until you come across an irreverent doodle from long ago. You’re reminded that this book is a physical object that exists somewhere, one that has traveled across time and space and has passed through many hands.

If I owned the book, I might respond with some scrawls of my own.  But alas, with PDF files, the hidden and anonymous community of readers bound over years by marginalia cannot flow forward.


April 6, 2013 · 11:30 pm

Asbestos, Quebec: Digital Public History Exemplar

Asbestos Quebec, Jeffrey Mine

Aerial view of the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec. Photo by Susana Ferreira Machado. Used under Creative Commons license.

Today I would like to share an example of a creative Quebec history project that has really inspired me: Asbestos, PQ: A Graphic Novel.  It draws together history, art, and sounds to illustrate the relationship between the town of Asbestos, Quebec and its chrystotile asbestos mine, which is the world’s largest.

I first heard about Asbestos in a class on the history of Quebec that I audited this past semester.  We read a chapter from Jessica Van Horssen’s dissertation on the dynamics of asbestos mining in the town and its environmental impact at local and global levels.  Then we looked at the graphic novel version that she created in collaboration with her friend, artist Radha-Prema McAllister.  Though the two works are very different in terms of the level of detail they offer, the complexity and importance of the story comes through in both.  Continue reading


Filed under Quebec