Friday, August 24, 2007

David Rumsey Map Collection

While browsing yesterday, I found a fun map site. The David Rumsey Map Collection focuses on 18th and 19th century North and South American cartographic materials. It includes maps, atlases, globes, school geographies, and maritime charts. This site is well worth a visit.

Some of the Rumsey Historical Maps are in Google Earth as well. Sixteen historical maps in the Featured Content layer of the Google Earth 3D Globe. The georeferenced maps wrap the virtual globe in their modern spaces, allowing explorations of both time and space.

From the site:

The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection has over 15,800 maps online. The collection focuses on rare 18th and 19th century North American and South American maps and other cartographic materials. Historic maps of the World, Europe, Asia, and Africa are also represented. Collection categories include antique atlas, globe, school geography, maritime chart, state, county, city, pocket, wall, childrens, and manuscript maps. Some examples are United States map, maps New York, California map, Arizona map, America map, New York City map, Chicago map, and Colorado map. The collection can be used to study history, genealogy and family history.

Read an article about the collection, take a Flash Tour of the collection (requires Flash), or view 360° panoramic images of the collection space. You can also view Japanese Historical Maps or fine art images from The AMICA Library.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The John Hinckley Trial & Its Effect on the Insanity Defense

John Hinckley, Jr. attempted to assassinate American President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981. He failed but in his subsequent trial and acquittal by reason of insanity, he dealt a serious blow to the insanity defense in the United States. Or so postulates Kimberly Collins, Gabe Hinkebein, and Staci Schorgl in The John Hinckley Trial & Its Effect on the Insanity Defense.

The American public was outraged with the verdict. The legal process changed accordingly. The authors wrote, "During the three years following the Hinckley acquittal, Congress and half of the states enacted changes in the insanity defense, all limiting use of the defense. Congress and nine states limited the substantive test of insanity; Congress and seven states shifted the burden of proof to the defendant, eight states supplemented the insanity verdict with a separate verdict of guilty but mentally ill (GBMI), and one state, Utah, abolished the defense outright."

The article notes the evolution of the insanity defense and how American courts had used the M'Naghten Rule which had been established after the 1843 assassination attempt on British Prime Minister Robert Peel. American courts used this standard. Under this rule, insanity was hard to prove but was used to acquit many obviously insane offenders.

I find this passage from the article interesting. It reads, "Before the 1970's, the public outcry over a jury finding a person not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) was not nearly as great as it is today. In that time period, insanity acquitted defendants regularly spent many years (even a lifetime) locked in institutions for the criminally insane. An insanity acquittal was a showing of compassion and a recognition of the cruelty to inflict punishment on someone who did not know his actions were wrong. More importantly, the public could rest assured that a person committed to a mental institution would not be walking the streets anytime in the near future (if ever). "

However, the authors note that better medical treatment and advocates for the rights of the mentally ill have resulted in many insanity defense acquitted individuals walking free in a few short years. This, coupled with Hinckley being perceived as getting away with the attempted murder of the President of the USA, resulted in a clamp down of this defense.

This is an interesting and easy to read website. I had not thought of how advances in mental health care, coupled with a single notorious case, could so drastically alter the legal landscape.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Arlo & Janis on the History Channel

I was very amused to see the Arlo & Janis comic strip by Jimmy Johnson in the paper today. It is not only historians who note that the History Channel is not always a font of historical wisdom.

The strip reads:

Frame 1: (Milo on couch)- History Channel, "This photo was taken in 1957, in Possum, Louisiana..."

Frame 2: (Janis enters the room)- Janis, "Has there ever been a confirmed sighting of a flying saucer?"

Frame 3: Arlo, "Nope."

Frame 4: (Janis leaves the room)- Janis, "Then why are there programs about them on the History Channel?"

Good question Janis (Mr. Johnson). The History Channel is good at having shows about UFOs and other marginal history material. It seems that every week, there is an episode about the Nazi movement and the occult as well. My response is that popular culture is history even when the presentation of it is bad history.

I still like and watch the History Channel. There are good programs there. I just wish their economic model did not require them to air so many marginal programs. Thanks for the nice strip Mr. Johnson.