The Library Materials — A Series

March 16, 2021

By Amy E. Platt

Each month, the Oregon Historical Society’s research library staff will highlight and annotate an item from the vast collection to help us understand the history of Oregon. The first in the series is an ink-wash sketch, “Attackted at Juan de Fuca Straits,” by George Davidson, that depicts the ship “Columbia Rediviva” in 1792.

The Oregon Historical Society (OHS) houses and protects Oregon Things — not All Things, but So Many. Not a person alive or dead has laid eyes on everything in the research library's collection, and sometimes we “find” items in much the same way white explorers “found” North America. We might shriek “Eureka!” but we come at the rediscovery secondhand or forty-secondhand. The more Eurekas in this case (but not in violent colonialism), the better, but it does force the question: If no one reads a historical document for 100 years, is it history?

Existentialism is the key to archival public history. We believe that a document is important enough to protect even if no one reads it for 100 years while at the same time we argue that its value is in reading and interpreting it so we can better understand the world and our place in it. The Library Materials: A Series was created to “find” a long-unseen item in the collection and to make it part of the historical discourse on Oregon, for students, for teachers, for historians, and for everyone. Each month, library staff will choose and interpret a photograph, letter, map, oral history, film, or other item from the archival collection to be published on the online Oregon History Project. You can revisit or share the historical item as often as you wish, to reaffirm its existence or to learn some Oregon history. Or both.

The first item in the series is a sketch by artist George Davidson, who in 1792 illustrated an encounter between the crew of the Columbia Rediviva and Natives living in present-day Gray’s Harbor. A question to ask as you look at the drawing: Who is attacking whom?

Keep an eye out for the latest archival “find” in OHS’s e-digests and find out more about all of our rediscoveries for The Library Materials: A Series on the Oregon History Project — if only to keep the fabric of reality from tearing wide open.

Amy E. Platt’s Other Posts

The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of OHS. The Oregon Historical Society does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.