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Whistle Stop Roosevelt

Oct 14, 2018

Each year a group of aspiring young professionals joins in our work as summer interns. Some use the digital library items in creative ways. Matthew Amyx presents a map of several days of Theodore Roosevelt’s travels.

For my digital humanities project for the Theodore Roosevelt Center, I chose to follow President Roosevelt for a few days on a speaking circuit in September 1902. The goal was to allow visitors to journey with the president along a map to see how he developed themes for policy speeches in shorter remarks given in small towns – usually from the back of his train at the railroad station. So much of politics revolves around large cities and major events, so I felt it would be refreshing to see the president reach out to smaller crowds in more remote places. 

The idea came while I created the metadata for these speeches – several dozen in a single month! – in the database management system used by the Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. I was fascinated by how Roosevelt usually managed to work some bit of local politics or history into his speeches – and even found personal connections in some fairly remote places. I was also struck by how themes oft-repeated at these whistle-stops would appear in his major policy speeches afterwards. For instance, he preached that the three key virtues of citizenship were honesty, courage, and common sense in long addresses in Chattanooga and Indianapolis, but he'd been working on these ideas in tiny snippets in small hamlets in Kentucky and North Carolina. 

I decided to use StoryMap to create the project, as it allowed me to both use a map to chart Roosevelt's journey and add relevant photographs. Many of the photographs are from the Theodore Roosevelt Center's collections, supplemented with public domain/creative commons images from the Library of Congress or Wikipedia. Each stop on the journey is linked to the full speech Roosevelt gave in the Digital Library.

At each stop I have provided a sentence or two from the speech that exemplifies something I think Roosevelt was trying to get across. Then I provide historical or geographic context for either the speech or the location. I try to give visitors a snapshot of the opportunities and challenges America generally and Roosevelt specifically were facing in September 1902, touching on the war in the Philippines, recovering from McKinley's assassination, the rise of the New South, Civil War memory, the Panic of 1893, military preparedness, the class conflicts between labor and employers, and more.

I originally planned to cover most of the month of September 1902, but I completed just the 6th through the 9th of that month... yet Roosevelt gave over 30 speeches in that short time! I hope to come back to this project and finish the rest of the month, since the president makes an interesting turn north for a major policy speech in Indianapolis. I also hope to present on this at the National Conference of Public Historians next year.

Posted by Matthew Amyx on Oct 14, 2018 in Digital Library  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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