Finding Potter’s Field: Indigent Burial in the United States

A patron recently called the library to ask what happens when someone dies without means to pay for cremation or burial. In some cases, such a person might have no living relatives. In others, the identity of the deceased is simply unknown.

Here’s what we learned: Continue reading “Finding Potter’s Field: Indigent Burial in the United States”

January Question of the Month – an irregular series

 bnr_askaquestionthumbnailThe reference librarians at Seattle Public Library are pretty darn amazing. They don’t know everything, instead they know where to find everything. As part of an irregular series of posts we salute the talented and dedicated reference staff at your local library. Names and other identifying information have been removed from the questions we showcase. Got a stumper?
Click on Ask a Librarian. It’s what we do.

 I have to do a research paper on Boogie-Woogie, which is a Genre of music, and a branch of jazz, could you help me with that?

 We have one book in our collection titled:

Left Hand Like God the Story of Boogie Woogie PianoA Left hand Like God: a History of Boogie-Woogie Piano by Peter  Silvester

Otherwise, here are some other choices which include a chapter on your subject:
Jazz: New Perspectives on the History of Jazz by Nat  Hentoff
Jazzmen by Frederic Ramsey
A New History of Jazz  by Alyn Shipton (It has a 10 page history of Boogie-Woogie)

From Spirituals to Swing

You might want to check out  a   1938 concert recording of the famous  From Spirituals to Swing concert that really launched boogie-woogie with the main public (as opposed to the hipper crowd, earlier).

It’s in the Library catalog, along with The Rough Guide to Classic Jazz, which has Pinetop Smith’s Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie, which was a hit in 1929 and is also one of the catalysts of the music.

Sadly, Pinetop Smith lived the classic jazz life and tragically died from misplaced gunfire at a saloon he was playing in.

Google Books searches old music magazines and if  want to enter names like Albert Ammons, Continue reading “January Question of the Month – an irregular series”

Historical Statistics of the United States: A portrait in very small strokes

This amazing compendium must warm the heart of any reference librarian.

Historical research generally creates portraits of events and eras  in very broad, sketchy strokes. The image is there, but depicted in terms of ‘trends’, or ‘patterns’ which wash away the minute differences that are reflected in peoples’ lives. This  historical approach is not universal-a comparison of broad-stroke history and its opposite, a total focus on tiny daily  detail, is discussed in Isaiah Berlin’s book Hedgehog and the Fox. History written broadly has the advantage of appeal to a general reader, while the effortful, wordy, exhausting kind of history which depends on minutiae is not really very popular. 

A reference book exists that represents a marriage of the two approaches to history: Historical Statistics of the United States: Earliest Times to the Present (Cambridge University Press, 2006.)

Historical Statistics of the United StatesThis is five large volumes. For the most part, the data does not project back beyond 1800-there are separate sections for Colonial times and the Confederacy  There is definitely a sense of the sweep and drama of history in these pages, but it is conveyed with millions of painstakingly gathered statistics from thousands of sources. The effect is a kind of historical pointillism, or maybe a picture of the United States as rendered by Chuck Close.

It is amazing to scan a table of, for example, admissions to a tuberculosis hospital, year by year, and watch the growth of the TB epidemic, and its decline with superior drug treatments.  Or look at a table offering statistics on doctoral degrees awarded to women and compare 1895 (35) with 1994 (17,530).  How much about the social and educational change in the United States is conveyed by that simple statistic?  Or illiteracy rate in 1870,20% of the population, and 1999, .06%? 

This book is catnip. What is the oddest statistic reported? Perhaps ‘Ingrown nail afflictions 1982-1995’. 

Continue reading “Historical Statistics of the United States: A portrait in very small strokes”