Public Domain Day advent calendar #11: Washington and its Romance by Thomas Nelson Page

I’m in Washington, DC all day today for CNI’s Fall 2018 Membership Meeting, so for today I have a quick entry of local interest that also ties into what I’ve been talking about here.  For folks interested in my talk, I’ve posted slides and notes for the presentation I gave yesterday, “Conversations With Copyright Renewal Data: Discovering 20th century public domain serial literature and linking renewal information with other knowledge bases”.   It was part of a session “Hiding in Plain Sight: The Value of Machine-Processable Copyright Data” that also featured Melissa Levine and Greg Cram.   Slides for the complete session should be posted soon on CNI’s site, and they might post a session recording as well.

Thomas Nelson Page‘s Washington and its Romance was a popular history of Washington, DC prior to its becoming the nation’s capital in 1800.  It was one of Page’s last works to be published.  He died in 1922, and the book came out in 1923, with illustrations by Walter and Emily Shaw Reese.  Copyright to the book was renewed in 1950, and it will enter the public domain 21 days from now.

The book may be of more interest today as a period piece than as a historical reference.  As its title suggests, the tone of the book is more sentimental than scholarly.  And those sentiments tended to be partial.  As a summary of his work at the University of Alabama notes, Page did much to promote a “moonlight and magnolias” view of the Old South that romanticized the perspective of white Southerners (such as Page, who was born on a slave plantation in Virginia), and largely excused slavery and lynching.

But Page’s perspective was quite popular in 1923, a year notable for the rise of the Ku-Klux Klan, which had been revived after the success of D. W. Griffith’s 1915 movie Birth of a Nation, and which would peak in influence later in the 1920s.  Page was a popular and prominent author, even serving for six years as ambassador to Italy under Woodrow Wilson.

Washington and its Romance was reviewed generally positively in a 1924 issue of the Catholic Historical Review, a journal published by Washington’s Catholic University of America.  (The reviewer takes particular interest in the book’s account of the founding of Georgetown College, a Jesuit institution.)  The copy of the review I’m linking to is a copy in JSTOR, which I can read thanks to my institution’s subscription, but which may restrict access for readers who don’t have a JSTOR subscription.  HathiTrust also has a scan of this issue, but their copy is also only available to search, and not to read, since it’s after the 1922 “bright line” where publications are known to be public domain without requiring any special research.

As I noted in my talk yesterday, though, many American scholarly journals did not renew copyrights.  That includes The Catholic Historical Review. The only active renewal I have found associated with it (before the automatic renewals that apply to copyrights after 1963) is for a single article in the January 1961 issue.  The review I cite above, and decades of later articles from this journal, are already in the US public domain.

I’ve created a copyright information page for this journal, and as I noted in my talk yesterday, I’m happy to do the same for other journals published in the mid-20th century that people tell me they’re interested in, if they aren’t already represented in our copyright renewals inventory.  (You can use this form to suggest titles; if you say in the “anything else we should know?” blank that you’re interested in a copyright information page, that would be helpful.) Also, if folks want to add more information about journals already in the inventory, I’m happy to show them how to research periodical copyrights and create or add to the JSON files for them that my knowledge base uses.

I hope to make the inventory, and its accompanying decision guide, trusted enough that people can rely on them to open access to content like the review I cite above.  I’ll consider it a notable early success if we see an copy of this review, and the rest of its issue, become openly available before all of 1924 enters the public domain in 2020.

2019 update: Link to full text of Washington and its Romance, now in the US public domain, courtesy of HathiTrust.

About John Mark Ockerbloom

I'm a digital library strategist at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.
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