Thank you, Professor William James

As with any historical project, the Digital Newspaper Program sometimes takes on the character of detective work. Here’s an example from the past week in the office.

While performing verification on the latest batch of digital scans we received from our vendor, I happened across the following image and caption in the pages of the Salem Willamette Farmer:

My eye was drawn to this and I was inspired to copy the image in order to later share it with John Taylor, the Quality Control Specialist on our project. John is currently a graduate student in the department of Philosophy here at the U of O. One of his areas of concentration is pragmatist philosophy, and this quarter he’s been taking a truly immersive class on James. I intended this to be nothing more than a lighthearted demonstration that the digitized papers will feature content of relevance to all of us, no matter our field of study. But then the plot thickened…

While John didn’t immediately recognize “The Powers of Men”–the “most talked of” article by James cited in the photo caption–he thought it was probably an alternate title for James’ famous work, “The Energies of Men.” I started doing a little research to confirm this, and quickly determined that John was almost certainly correct. However, a new problem now came to light: the date of the Willamette Farmer issue this came from was April 20, 1883… yet all the bibliographic sources I was finding indicated the article’s date of publication as 1907. We were suddenly facing a mystery of rather overt anachronism.

In search of an explanation, I referenced our collation records for the paper in question. The records listed this issue as ten pages; the Farmer was usually published as eight pages. The two extra pages–including the one with Prof. James on it–were notated as a ‘special advertising section.’ No date, issue or volume number were recorded on these pages.

With this information in hand, the most likely explanation began to take shape: the ‘special section’ does not belong with this issue at all–it is contaminant material! It was doubtlessly published at a much later date (sometime between 1907 and James’ death in 1910), but erroneously got collated in with these pages of the Farmer when they were originally being sorted and bound for library use. Then, sometime later, this mistake was perpetuated when the volumes were microfilmed. We probably wouldn’t have caught it, either… except that I copied the photo to share with John. Pragmatically, you’d have to say we got a bit lucky. Thank you, Professor James!¬† —Jason A. Stone

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