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[Detail] Memoirs of mammoth...Thomas Ashe 1806.

Cultural Institutions

The First American West collection contains many books, articles, and personal letters on a wide variety of subjects related to cultural institutions in the trans-Appalachian west. For example, The Masonic Miscellany and Ladies’ Literary Magazine published a series of articles in 1822-1823 entitled, “Female Education,”  “Female Accomplishments,” and “Causes Why the Female Sex Are Not Sufficiently Respected.”

  • Who was the audience for these articles? What can you discern about who wrote the articles?
  • What attitudes towards women’s roles in society are reflected in these articles? How were these attitudes aligned with women’s position in the United States at the time the articles were published?
  • In the years between 1820 and the Civil War, an ideal of womanhood was promoted in women’s magazines and other publications. Called the Cult of Domesticity, this ideal called on women to be pious, pure, submissive, and domestic. Do these articles support the Cult of Domesticity? Use quotations from the articles to support your answers.

 John James Audubon’s three-volume classic study, “Ornithological Biography, or an Account of the Habits of the Birds of the United States of America,” is part of the digital collection.  Audubon wrote of his early attachment to birds:

None but aerial companions suited my fancy. No roof seemed so secure to me as that formed of the dense foliage under which the feathered tribes were seen to resort, or the cave and fissures of the massy rocks to which the dark-winged Cormorant and the Curlew retired to rest, or to protect themselves from the fury of the tempest.

From “Ornithological Biography, or an Account of the Habits of the Birds of the United States of America, image 3

Examine eight of Audubon’s famous drawings presented in “The Birds of America; from Original Drawings” and read the descriptions of those birds in Volume I of the “Ornithological Biography.”

  • List as many details about one of the bird species as you can learn from examining only the drawings.
  • What techniques did Audubon use to make the birds look life-like? (He actually used dead birds propped on wires as “models” for his drawings.)
  • Read the text description of one of the bird species. How do you think Audubon gathered the information for these descriptions?
  • Audubon has been called one of the first great U.S. naturalists. Based on your analysis of Audubon’s work, how would you define the term naturalist?  What characteristics of his work would qualify Audubon to be called great?

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