Bureaucracy: Locating


Locating occurs through acts of compilation, as people assemble individual pieces of information or material objects into a whole. We locate ourselves in the world, in nations, and in states by arranging information and specimens into meaningful relationships, and it is in this acts of arrangement that we determine our relationship to that information and thus to the places and histories it represents. Bureaucratic forms facilitate these arrangements, even as they instruct users about their place on local and global scales.


Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was an American author, poet, philosopher, historian, naturalist, and transcendentalist. Published in the year following Thoreau’s death, Excursions is an anthology of the writer’s travelogues and essays, most reprinted from the Atlantic Monthly, to which Thoreau was a frequent contributor. The text shown here, “Natural History of Massachusetts,” was one of Thoreau’s earliest published essays, first appearing in April 1842 in Emerson’s literary magazine The Dial. Thoreau wrote the “Natural History” at Emerson’s urging. The essay is no traditional natural history, however, for it reviews state-sponsored natural histories of Massachusetts. Thoreau employed their classificatory systems, maps, and statistical studies as a foundation for his own reading of nature. Yet instead of collecting facts and classifying the birds, fish, and animals he observed, Thoreau sought to understand nature through sensory experience. Thus, he studies botany not just by observing plants but also by analyzing the “crystalline frost” (65) that appeared on his window during the winter, in order to comprehend the “law” that unites both of these “creatures” (66-67). “Natural History” reflects Thoreau’s growing interest in and support for transcendentalists like Emerson, who argued that science should not be a dry and dead focus on natural particulars only but should seek to comprehend and transcribe the truth in nature “by taking up facts into the spirit” (Walls 37). In his writings, Thoreau sought to locate himself within the whole of nature by using particular observations of Massachusetts to position himself in a larger, global context. For example, on page 51 (shown here), he writes that the muskrat “cabins” he observes resemble the “barrows of Asia.” Locating himself in the natural world of Massachusetts provides a foundation for Thoreau to position himself in the world.

Thoreau was educated at Harvard University in the 1830s, where he studied natural philosophy, a field that at the time included mechanics, astronomy, optics, electricity, and zoology. Shortly after his graduation and under the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau came to repudiate natural philosophy’s focus on individual facts, quantitative methods, and classificatory systems. Instead, like other transcendentalists Thoreau sought to understand not individual parts or phenomenon but their relation to one another. Thoreau worked briefly as a schoolteacher after his graduation, but he was dismissed for refusing to cane his students, a common and accepted form of punishment at the time. At Emerson’s urging, he began to write “Natural History of Massachusetts” to provide material for Emerson’s magazine The Dial. He later worked as an engineer and carpenter, and he assisted with his family’s pencil factory before undertaking his famous experiment in “wilderness living” in 1845, which he documented in Walden. Thoreau maintained an interest in natural history throughout his life, and toward the end of his career (and after his bitter split with Emerson), he manifested an increasing interest in the particulars of natural history—identifying plant species, measuring stream depths, and so on—that he had dismissed earlier in his career.

This edition of Excursions was published by Ticknor and Fields, a Boston-based publisher notable for its publications of authors such as Thoreau and Emerson as well as many now canonical nineteenth-century authors, from Charles Dickens and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to Harriet Beecher Stowe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, among others. The firm eventually became known as a “preeminent publisher of belles lettres” (Winship 7). Ticknor and Fields contributed to the mid-nineteenth-century growth of the American book trade, which made it possible to publish American books in America rather than sending them to Britain and which resulted in a centralized book trade located in large East Coast cities. Thus, if the content in Excursions located Thoreau in Massachusetts and its natural productions, the publication context for the book located Thoreau in American literary history as one of its significant authors.

Find Excursions in the UNT Libraries Catalog.

Wildflowers from Palestine: Gathered and Pressed by Harvey Greene

Wildflowers from Palestine features seventeen pressed and mounted flowers from an area now composed of parts of Jordan, Israel, and Israeli occupied territories. Each specimen is assembled alongside a corresponding poem or Biblical reference, as well as a descriptive paragraph detailing the flower’s place in Biblical history, its appearance in the Bible, its location in Palestine, and its physical appearance. A unique aspect of this copy is that all seventeen specimens are well preserved and still included in the text (other extant copies contain incomplete or lost specimen sets). In the preface, Greene promises to provide a comprehensive picture of “the homeland of Christ,” and he writes that he was entranced with the flowers not just for their beauty but because “the Lord Jesus Christ while here upon earth saw and loved these same flowers, and used them to illustrate eternal truths.” The book’s assemblages likewise “illustrate eternal truths” by placing the flowers alongside descriptions and verses. The scriptural references range from the overt—the Lily of the Valley is the first flower to appear and is linked to Matthew 6’s “consider the lily of the valley”—to the implicit: a bit of papyrus in the form of a cross is preserved alongside 2 John 12: “I would not write with paper (papyrus) and ink.” In six cases in which the flowers are not mentioned in the Bible, Greene substitutes a poem—usually about flowers and their status as symbols of God’s presence—for the Biblical reference. Greene locates these flowers in Biblical history by commenting that they would have “lined the foot-paths of the country” and thus would have been seen by Biblical figures. In addition to Biblical history, Greene also locates the flowers in natural history, by providing both their common and Linnaean names.

Taken as a whole, the flowers and their corresponding texts localize Palestine by placing it within Biblical history. The relationship between the flowers and the text is illuminated by two lines from Longfellow that face the “Carmel Daisy” specimen: “Emblems of our own great resurrection/Emblems of the bright and better land’ (Longfellow). The wildflowers are emblems—material specimens associated with layered symbolic meanings, historical references, poetic allusions, and geographic connections. For example, in the discussion of papyrus, Greene employs the flowers to move from specific Palestinian locales to Biblical stories to the history of the plant’s use as a writing surface: “By the streams the oleander and myrtle grow, while in a great marsh near the site of the ancient Roman city of Antipatris, where Paul spent a night while on his way to Caesarea, is found the now rare Cyperus Papyrus, the famous papyrus of Egypt, the reed from which the ancient manuscripts were made.”

The book was originally compiled and published in 1895, with two later editions appearing in 1896 and 1899. It contains the following specimens: Lily of the Field, Papyrus, Judean Clover, Madonna Flower, Flax, Carmel Daisy, Anise or Dill, Cyclamen, Grass, Rose of Sharon, Passion Everlasting, Mignonette, Puff Ball, Mustard, Lentil, Bean, and Pheasant’s Eye. Selah Merrill, a missionary to Palestine penned the introduction to Greene’s pointed work. His expertise provides an overview on the historical and religious contexts of Jerusalem (Merrill 293-302). Wildflowers was reviewed in the scientific publication entitled The Gamophyllous, which describes Greene’s work as a well-done but amateurish venture since it is claimed to be “a work of art” rather than a scientific text (78). The book also received recognition from the popular magazine Good Housekeeping, which noted that Wildflowers was “conducted in the interests of the higher life of the household” (Good Housekeeping 1897). The anonymous author of the review claims that “nothing could possess greater interest than these mute mementoes of scenes which have held a sacred interest for untold millions during the entire Christian era” (232).

Greene’s interest in botanical specimens as evidence for divine truths and his decision to market such specimens emerged out of a century of intense American interest in and travel to Palestine. By the time Wildflowers was published, American audiences would have been quite familiar not only with the region but also with its history and its significance for American science and religion, owing to multiple travel narratives, missions, and even attempted settlements in the region. Napoleon’s occupation of Cairo in 1789 and his failed conquest of Syria facilitated international awareness of and interest in these places, and as trade between the west and the Middle East increased, so did opportunities for travelers to visit what they called the Holy Land. Missionary societies such as the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sent representatives to Palestine in 1821, and missionary activity increased over the course of the century, fueled in part by millennial beliefs that the return of Christ was at hand if all the world’s peoples could be converted.

In the 1840s, books by theological scholars such as John Lloyd Stephens and Edward Robinson radically altered American audiences’ geographic knowledge by identifying biblical sites in Palestine, thus producing “rediscoveries” of other religiously significant sites. These books articulated the central role that Palestine played for America: its land and natural history authenticated biblical knowledge, by making material what had previously been only textual. The Holy Land offered a key to interpreting the bible, for its landscape, stones, and flowers were thought to be sites of revelation that could “elucidate entire biblical passages” (Davis 49). Americans’ enthusiasm for specimens from the Holy Land is indicated by Holy Land Cabinets, which one enterprising traveler marketed to fund his trip: each cabinet was filled with one hundred and fifty sacred objects, which one could purchase for less than seven cents each (50). As John Davis argues, such material objects and their representation in paintings, novels, and travel narratives validated not only the Bible but also the centuries-old idea that America was the sacred “city on a hill,” the “heir to the sacred topography” of the Holy Land (3). American travelers and tourists localized Palestine by incorporating it into American historical and spiritual narratives (3). Greene’s assemblages of biblical references, botanical specimens, and historical descriptions clearly participate in this process of locating Palestine in American history and religious beliefs.

Find Wildflowers from Palestine: Gathered and Pressed by Harvey Greene in the UNT Libraries Catalog.

Map of the state of Texas: engraved to illustrate Mitchell’s school and family

This 1852 map of the state of Texas was engraved by James Hamilton Young and accompanied Mitchell’s School Geography, the most popular geographic textbook of the mid-nineteenth century, written by Samuel A. Mitchell (1790-1868). First published in 1839 and then revised and republished in successive editions until 1866, the Geography contained geographic descriptions, exercises, and definitions, as well as copperplate engravings such as this map. The text had a wide scope: it included descriptions of the world and its (then) five continents as well as of the various “races” of humans. The Geography taught students to locate themselves within this world by including exercises about the “Learner’s own state” that required students to identify key geographic features, the capital, and counties (Mitchell 106).

The Geography continued the post-Revolutionary emphasis on geographic education as a means of promoting “national education and good citizenship” (Brückner 146). By including exercises in both geography and writing, textbooks placed geographic knowledge hand in hand with the acquisition of literacy. Moreover, many textbooks represented the United States as a geographic unit, rather than as separate colonies or states, in this way facilitating students’ conceptualization of themselves as Americans rather than as British citizens. Mitchell’s Geography also sometimes emphasized Americans’ European ancestry over their separate status as U.S. Americans, as shown by an illustration of the five races that defined the “American” race by depicting a Native American person (thus suggesting that U.S. Americans were of the “European” race and emphasizing their Old World origins).

This map represents Texas as part of the United States by illustrating its geographic relationship to other U.S. states, such as Arkansas and Louisiana and to Indian Territory and Mexico. In this way, the map depicts what had less than a decade earlier been the Texas Republic as a part of a national entity. Yet the map also illustrates the ways in which Texas was a space in which land, its ownership, and its identification were still contested. The northern and eastern part of the state are divided into neatly defined counties with major cities marked, while the western and southern parts of the state are identified by geographic features—salt plains, rolling table lands, the staked plain—and by the names of Native American tribes—the Comanche and Lipan Indians, the Apaches Indians, and the Kiowa Indians. Moreover, the map shows how, as the presence of Native people was erased from the eastern part of the state and replaced by the names of counties and cities, Natives were memorialized in the landscape through names for geographic features, such as Comanche Peak.

Find Map of the state of Texas in the Portal to Texas History.

A Texas Scrap-Book: Made up of the history, biography, and miscellany of Texas and its people Compiled by DWC Baker

Businessman DeWitt Clinton Baker (1832-1881) was born in Portland, Maine and educated at Gorham Academy and Bowdoin College before eventually obtaining an apprenticeship in the printing business in Portland. Around 1850, he moved with his wife and nine children to Austin, Texas, where he worked in the drug business for several decades. During this time, he was not only appointed an official weather record keeper for the state but also served on the state school examining board and attempted to develop a public school system. An author of numerous poems, he is best known for his two book publications—A Brief History of Texas from Its Earliest Settlement in 1873 and A Texas Scrap-Book in 1875. The first book was briefly adopted for use in schools before the school board banned it, claiming that it expressed “anti-Southern” views (McLemore 27). While the History contained few references to political events or to slavery, the Scrap-Book departed from interpretation and analysis altogether and instead compiled sources about Texas history. Like the History, the Scrap-Book was a commercial failure, and Baker sold his plates to another publisher, who incorporated them into Homer S. Thrall’s A Pictorial History of Texas, from the Earliest Visits of European Adventurers, to A.D. 1879.

Like other post-Civil War Texas histories, which sought to memorialize war veterans, the Scrap-Book focused in particular on the Texas Revolution of 1835-36, a war in which the colony of Texas declared its independence from Mexico and established the Texas Republic. However, also like other histories, the Scrap-Book focused on the exploits of white men, providing little information about other populations in Texas, such as Tejanos and African Americans. The Scrap-Book is divided into four parts—historical, biographical, miscellaneous, and statistical. Each section collates documents related to Texas’s past, including historical accounts of battles, accounts of conflicts with Native Americans, narratives of famous men’s lives, lists of the war dead, and copies of Texas’s multiple constitutions. The “historical accounts” offer a history of Texas from its Spanish colonizers through the Texas Revolution, focusing primarily on the revolution, the settlement of Texas by Anglo-Americans, and violent conflicts between settlers and Native peoples. Meanwhile, the “miscellany” included cultural and natural information.

In the preface, Baker states that he viewed the scrapbook as a volume that would reclaim the history of Texas from obscurity, especially since many of the men who participated in the Texas Revolution had died. He had carefully “collect[ed] whatever of interest he could find relating to the history, biography, and miscellany of Texas people” in order to offer “original narratives of Texas history and adventure.” As Baker’s title suggests, he participated in the immensely popular practice of scrapbooking, the process of collecting and compiling newspaper clippings to “to save, manage, and reprocess information” (Garvey 4). The form of the scrapbook preserved history for future readers while also allowing compilers to redefine their relationship to the material. For Baker, the form also allowed him to produce a selective version of Texas history. For example, by listing personal information about the signers of the Texas declaration of independence on page 58 (shown here), Baker locates Texas history in the stories of particular men and suggests that readers can access the Texas past through the lives of its founders. Finally, on a practical level, the Scrap-Book allows Texans to locate their history: by turning to the compilation, they could find evidence of their country’s (and later, state’s) history, heroes, natural and cultural productions.

The Scrap-Book also seeks to locate Texas as a political and cultural entity that is separate from non-Anglo people and influences. For example, Baker includes accounts of the battles fought during the Texas Revolution and its reproduction of Texas constitutions, and these histories define the state as a separate geographic, historical, and political entity from Mexico, despite the fact that people from the two entities shared histories, experiences, and languages. Indeed, the Scrap-Book acknowledges this fact by recounting Texas settlement by Spanish colonizers, thus representing the origins that Texas shared with Mexico. Yet, by focusing on the revolution, the Scrap-Book also posits that war as a key turning point that located Texas in a new history and disrupted its relationship to a Spanish past. Similarly, the book seeks to define Texas heroes and cultural values as forged in their encounters with violent Native Americans but also as totally separate from those peoples.

Find A Texas Scrap-Book in the UNT Libraries Catalog.

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