Swimming in microfilm (17-05)

 Debs has the reputation of being the most American of Americans — a Midwesterner cut from the old national cloth, Indiana Hoosier to the core, smooDaisy-Debsth yet rustic. This stands in marked contrast to the accented mutterings of the Hillquits and Bergers of the Socialist Party and the legions of foreign-born Communists — those somewhat unseemly Euros, un-Americans all.

Aside from the fact that the American working class of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries was largely an immigrant population, the supposed “difference” of Debs was essentially a myth. In actual fact, EVD was the son of newcomers to the United States. Both his father Jean Daniel “Dandy” Debs and his mother Marguerite “Daisy” Debs were French nationals who arrived in the USA from the Alsace Lorraine region only a few years before his birth. French was the second language in the house.

Interestingly, in daily life EVD and his siblings seem to have been English-speakers through and through. The number of times Debs used French words  in his speeches can be counted on one hand. This is not to say that the French upbringing didn’t matter… The French revolutionary tradition of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity was very strong with this one. He was a true believing adherent to that revolutionary ethic.Jean-Daniel-Debs-sm

 These days microfilm is the “8-track tape” of the intellectual world. Not very many people have the players to make use of the format and those that do tend to have moved on to the digital replacement. Microfilm is a dinosaur and libraries are now starting to unburden themselves of their film holdings — a trickle that promises to become a flood.

Over the past few weeks I have been able to acquire — for pennies on the dollar — Current Opinion (1888-1925), McClure’s (1893-1929), Gunton’s (1891-1904), The American Mercury (1924-1961), Newsweek (1933-1962), and one of the five or so black daily papers of record, the Norfolk Journal and Guide (1917-1943). It’s a buyers’ market for us geeks that actually own 8-track tape decks… ProQuest might charge $225 a reel and get away with it once in a while, but it’s more like $2 a reel on eBay… Less than that sometimes…

In defense of analog: film is permanent, volumes out of one’s collection are easy to locate and queue up (just trying finding a specific volume via Google Books, I dare ya), and skimming the general content of multiple pages is a more pleasant experience with film than on a typical laptop screen.

As for Debs: without a microfilm reader and access to film, this project would be impossible. That’s a true statement — as of this moment, at least…

 I am doing my part for the digital revolution, I’ve sent out my extensive (and costly) holding of the Communist Party’s Daily Worker film for digitization to a fellow whose mission in life is digitizing the newspapers of New York state. My whole cost, unless the film goes missing, will be the price of shipping both ways — which beats the hell out of paying a digitization shop $50 a reel, eh?

I’m not aware of anything Debs ever wrote for the Daily Worker (the relationship between Debs and the Communists was complex and not very friendly). However, I will soon be able to search the entire run of the paper during his lifetime and confirm that. Score one for digital over film…

 I’m feeling joy and relief over the effective completion of my massive database of articles, editorials, public statements, interviews, and speeches by Eugene V. Debs. The previous definitive listing presented in the guide to the Debs papers on microfilm has been left in the dust, with the database currently sitting at 3,852 items. While a handful of these are duplicate listings that will be deleted, based on an early tiptoe through the tulips it seems there will be another 300 to 500 (or more) items emerging from the Debs microfilm and through exploration of digital newspaper records, so if I were to say “there are more than four thousand Debs items” it would be absolutely correct.

I’m relieved to be done with the very tedious job of listing this stuff up and now have a tool on my computer that is enormously useful. Whenever I bump into a Debs item I can tell if it is “previously reported” or “previously unlisted” within about three seconds. The new finds can be carefully perused, the previously known things can be safely set aside, they will emerge again at the appropriate juncture. My database is also invaluable in helping to plan and chronologically organize actual volume content and to keep track of the word count. I’m pretty happy at having finished this preparatory marathon…


 “William H. Vanderbilt” — March 1886 editorial snippet — 125 words

 “ARU Purposes and Procedures” — May 1894 magazine article — 760 words

 “Brothers and Friends: The ARU Asks the Helping Hand” — July 1894 fund-raising appeal — 225 words

 “The Solidarity of Labor” — May 1895 article — 1,300 words

 “New and Old” — May 1895 article — 1,125 words

 “Success and Failure” — July 1895 article — 2,450 words

 “Letter to William C. Endicott, Jr.” — July 1895 letter — 240 words

 “Cultural Changes: Bicycles, Bloomers, and the New Woman” — Sept. 1895 article — 1,075 words

 “Centralization and the Role of the Courts” — Jan. 1896 speech — 10,870 words

 “The American University and the Labor Problem” — Feb. 1896 article — 1,775 words

 “For Bryan” — Oct. 1896 speech — 2,525 words

….Word count = 259,500 + 22,680 =  282,180 words

About carrite

Independent scholar from Corvallis, Oregon with a strong interest in early 20th century political history.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s