Go West Young Man

Finding a source

Last week, when our class explored the Princeton University Library digital archives, I was excited to see what Firestone’s special collections had to offer. I decided to look at the Western Americana Collection, since I knew I wanted a source that was written in English. If you scroll the collection, you’ll undoubtedly notice the many photographs and newspaper clippings. But I was interested in the many journals and letters handwritten by those who had traveled West during the 19th Century. I clicked through a lot of journals– I was specifically hoping to find one written by a woman. Although I didn’t find that, I did come across one journal that intrigued me more than the rest.

On the very first page of the journal was a detailed map, which appeared to be hand-drawn:

Journal Page 1

(via Princeton University Library Special Collections, Western Americana Collection: “Journal,” Identifier:ark:/88435/qr46r491g)

The rest of the journal contains many more hand-drawn images, as well as the start of a phrasebook between English and an Indigenous dialect. (I did a little bit of research into these details, but spoiler alert! I’ve chosen this as my source, so I want to wait to share all of the information I discover with you at the same time.)

What questions do I want to answer?

Looking through the journal for the first time, I had a lot of questions:

  • Who is Thomas Adams, the author?
    • What was his job? Where was he from? Was this first trip West?
  • Where did he travel, who did he travel with, and why did they go there?
  • Why did he want to learn so much about the Indigenous culture and language?
    • It is worth noting, that even from the first few pages that I read, that Thomas Adams held racist views about the Indigenous peoples who he came in contact with.
  • What happened to Thomas Adams and the people he was with after he finished the journal?
    • little bit of a spoiler for this too…because he wrote a second journal. But still– what about after that?

I am fully aware that no digital tool I make could totally answer all of these questions- that’s more of a senior-thesis-level project. But I think that I will be able to create a viewer that contextualizes Thomas’s journal within the bigger picture of the Manifest Destiny period of America, especially with regard to its impact on Native peoples. It seems like this journal may be a good microcosm for some of the larger trends taking place during the period.

What do I want to make?

Since I want to work to place Thomas’s journal into a broader context, I will need to find and reference other sources related to the period in which he lived. My dream would be to find maps to correspond with the places he describes (or use his own maps!), as well as photographs of the people, places, and objects he references. At this point, I think the best way to create an effective digital tool would be to read the journal in its entirety, and then identify a few key entries that could be used to identify and discuss broader themes. In order to provide proper background for the source, I still want to try to answer many of the fundamental questions I have about the author himself, since his biography is likely relevant to his motivation for making the journey West and keeping a journal in the first place. However, this is not my final decision as far as the medium/tool is concerned, and as I read the journal, I may discover a more natural path to take in the presentation of the source. Whatever I do, I want to make sure to use many images, especially of the journal pages themselves, since I think that a visual aspect is an important part of any digital tool (although I am fully aware that this may just be my own personal preference).

What challenges do I anticipate?

I think that there is definitely a possibility that it may be difficult to learn about Thomas Adams himself, which could make it harder to learn about him as the narrator of his own journey. However, I also think that it is very possible that his writing style and tone, as well as what he talks about throughout the journal may help me to determine these factors. One other thing that may be hard is that there is a possibility that I won’t be able to find many reliable primary sources about the Indigenous people he writes about, which could lead to an underrepresentation or a misrepresentation of the culture in the final project. It will be important for me to do my due diligence in seeking out accurate information about any cultures he writes about so that this is not the case.


I’m very excited to begin working with this source, and I can’t wait to find out more and write about it. Until next post! :star: