History Detectives

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ASU History Professor Eduardo Pagan, a co-host of the PBS series History Detectives talks about his love of history and some of the topics he’s explored, and hopes to explore, on the program that’s now entering its 9th season.

Ted Simons: A new year means a new season for "History Detectives," it's a PBS series that features ASU history professor Eduardo Pagan as one of the show's cohosts. We'll meet Pagan in a moment. But first, here's a brief look at some of the mysteries he's tried to solve.

VIDEO CLIP: What do you know about this? This inscription used to be on private property. It was kept secret until 1933. At what time the city erected these bars to protect it. If we can authenticate this to 1539, what might the significance be? I think it's highly significant in the sense that de Niza was one of the first explorers in the U.S. southwest, about 60 years before the pilgrims in the east. Our next story asks how this sketchbook may have played a role in determining the shape of the United States. It's dated April 1852 and signed Henry Cheever Pratt, which corresponds with the time that he was out on this expedition. So I think it makes it very clear 9 this is indeed Pratt's field sketchbook. Our final story examines the mystery behind this unusual Navajo rug. It's a very powerful rug to me.

Ted Simons: And joining me now is ASU history professor Eduardo Pagan, one of the hosts of "History Detectives." Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

Eduardo Pagan: Thank you it's good to be here.

Ted Simons: This has got to be a hoot doing this show. The complexities of the American southwest are fascinating.

Eduardo Pagan: Yes absolutely, it's one of the things I enjoy about the show is that I get to learn so much about it.

Ted Simons: How does this show differ from the usual history program?

Eduardo Pagan: Well, that's an interesting question. The usual history program, if you will, is an hour dedicated to a particular subject. This show, every episode there are three different stories and they can be from all over the place. You can't get bored by one of the stories.

Ted Simons: And we saw a compendium of stories. Let's go through these one by one. The first dealt with some rock inscriptions at South Mountain. Now, the date was what --

Eduardo Pagan: 1539.

Ted Simons: 1539.

Eduardo Pagan: Yeah Yeah.

Ted Simons: Weren't these things discovered in the 1920s or 1930s or something like that?

Eduardo Pagan: It was discovered in the early 1920's and that's one of the curious things about it. We know people have been around the South Mountains long before the 1920s. 10 But that's the first mention that we know about this particular Marcos de Niza inscription rock. And so, one of our viewers contacted us and asked us if maybe we could determine finally once and for all whether that inscription is authentic or not.

Eduardo Pagan: There's been a large controversy about its authenticity.

Ted Simons: And that you did. Let's take another quick look at this particular segment of "History Detectives."

VIDEO CLIP: Within the year, de Niza reports back that he has found the legendary golden city of Cibola. But de Niza's reports are never corroborated. And later expeditions find neither gold nor the city of Cibola, leaving the friar's reputation in disgrace for centuries. Now Aaron Wright from Arizona wants to know whether a faded stone inscription near Phoenix means the history books have long been wrong about this man of God. A lot of people have called him the liar friar or the lying monk. And really like to bring a little bit of credit and recognition to de Niza. I'm Eduardo Pagan, and I meet Aaron on a trail at South Mountain Park just south of Phoenix. What do you know about this? This inscription used to be on private property it was kept secret until 1933, at what time the city erected these bars to protect it. [In Spanish]. Which translates as Friar Marcos de Niza crowned all of New Mexico at his labor 1539.

Ted Simons: Again, that is from History Detectives. Eduardo, talk about the process involved of trying to figure out this inscription.

Eduardo Pagan: Well you know that's one of the things that was very interesting about this particular story. I'm a trained historian and we work with written documents. 11 This story allowed me to work with my colleague Ron Dorn, who teaches at ASU, he's one of the leading experts in petro glyph analysis. And one of the things that they do is they take these little microscopic pieces of sand or grain about the size of sand, if you will, and put it under intense magnification and look at the rock signatures the environmental signatures on the rock. You would normally think that a rock is a rock is a rock right? But in fact, the environment changes on this mineralogical level it changes the rock's surface. And so, based on that analysis, we were able to determine whether that etching had been exposed to the open air for the past what 450 years or so, or whether it was something that was actually exposed for perhaps 120 years or so, again depending on when you date this thing.

Ted Simons: Now the segment's already aired, but tell us, what did you find?

Eduardo Pagan: We found that it is not consistent with an etching that has been exposed for several centuries. So in other words, it bears all the markings of an etching that was made probably at the turn of the century.

Ted Simons: Was that a little upsetting to find that out, a little disappointing?

Eduardo Pagan: As a native Arizonan I wanted this to be an authentic rock. This would have been our Plymouth Rock in some ways. And in fact, it's a historic rock, but it's just not as ancient as we thought it was.

Ted Simons: Let's see if we can get a better result from another segment from "History Detectives" that you were involved in. This is a sketchbook that looks like it was dated at least back in the 1850s or so. Let's go ahead and watch a clip right now.

VIDEO CLIP: Jeremy Rowe of Phoenix, Arizona, believes he may have stumbled on a rare artifact from this historic period. As someone who loves the southwest, this book really won me over. I'm Eduardo Pagan and I'm 12 eager to see what Jeremy has discovered. Jeremy has an impressive collection of more than 30,000 early photographs and daguerreotypes from the southwest. This is really amazing. Thank you. I've collected daguerreotypes and early photography for quite a while, but I've got something to show you that's not a photograph. This is an artist's sketchbook. The sketchbook looks like something you'd carry in your pocket. These are really beautiful drawings. Where did you find this? I was at a photo show in California and a friend came up and mentioned he had something he thought might be of interest to me. What was it in particular that caught your attention? I think two things, the quality of drawings was pretty impressive, I thought, and there was also a date, 1852. If the date is correct, these could be some of the earliest sketches in the southwest. In the sketchbook there are a number of names. There's a Mr. Cox, H.C. Pratt, and J.R. Bartlett. Since I know a little bit about Arizona history, Bartlett rang a bell. Jeremy's research indicates that a J.R. Bartlett was involved in a government expedition sent to the southwest in the 1850s, to survey lands won from Mexico. He thinks his book may have been part of that survey.

Ted Simons: All right. Now, I don't know, maybe I picked up on a clue here as far as this particular segment was concerned. But tell us who this Mr. Bartlett was.

Eduardo Pagan: R.J. Bartlett was a bookseller in New York City in the 1850s, and he was appointed to lead the U.S.-Mexican delegation to establish the formal boundary between the United States and Mexico following the war with Mexico in 1848. Now he lead the U.S. portion of Mexico of course had its own commissioner and this was a large expedition. They pretty much treated this as their own journey of discovery into the American Southwest. For many Americans, this was 13 terra incognita they had never seen anything like the American southwest. And so they brought painters and artists and scientists along to document all the flora and fauna of the American Southwest, I mean, this was all very very strange to them. So Bartlett was the leader of the American side of that expedition.

Ted Simons: This book looks very authentic. Did you find out it was authentic?

Eduardo Pagan: In fact it was. It was a sketchbook from one of his artists, Pratt by the name,that he sketched scenes of the American Southwest, scenes that no longer exist. This is one of the things I found interesting about that story was that it showed the Gila River for example, when it flowed freely, and all of the life that was around the Gila River and the Salt River as well that we're no longer familiar with in the 21st Century. But it gave you the snapshot picture of what life looked like in the American Southwest back in the 1850s, before we began to have our impact as Americans on this landscape.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, did I get this right, was that thing found in a flea market?

Eduardo Pagan: That's right, yeah.

Ted Simons: Oh, my goodness. Alright, let's get to our next segment which kinda was hinted at earlier involving a Navajo rug, let's go ahead and take a look.

VIDEO CLIP: Bob Peterson of California has uncovered a rug with a series of baffling symbols. When I first saw the design on this rug, I thought, wow, I have never seen anything like it, this is something. I'm Eduardo Pagan. In my work as a professor of history at Arizona State University, I've done some research on Navajo culture. I'm curious to see what Bob has discovered. Bob, I'm Eduardo. 14 Welcome.Bob, this is extraordinary. Tell me about it. I am a collector of Native American beaded bags. And as I was searching the internet I saw this rug and immediately was drawn to it. What was it that caught your attention? That central figure, the arrows in the design of it, it looks to be something very different, something special.

Ted Simons: All right. I think we can see why this is an unusual looking rug. What's the story here?

Eduardo Pagan: One of our viewers actually purchased this rug off of eBay. He had the inkling that this was a historic rug. And so one of the questions he came to us was, can we in fact document this is a historic rug, as opposed to some sort of reproduction. And if it is, who might have woven it? Because the symbols that were on that rug, were symbols that for traditional Navajos would never be woven in a rug. Who did it and why? I think we were able to establish with reasonable certainty that it was produced by Yahnahpah, now in the world of Navajo rug-weaving she is the originator of a particular style of rug-weaving. The style that you see here, you have this central Navajo deity, if you will, on the rug. Prior to that time Navajo rug weavers would not weave such sacred images into that rug and so it all began with her.

Ted Simons: Off of eBay they bought this?

Eduardo Pagan: Yeah, off of eBay.

Ted Simons: Oh, my goodness. I know that the series is now going pick up again. I don't want to get too far afield here without mentioning, a POW sketchbook as well is something that you 15 wanted to talk about. Real quickly, what was that story all about?

Eduardo Pagan: One of our viewers from Tempe contacted us, her father was a former POW in Stalag 17B in Austria. He had come home with a sketchbook that another POW had drawn of him while they were both in this camp. She asked if we would find the artist. The artist unfortunately had passed away by the time we started investigating this story. What it allowed us to do is it allowed us to tell the story of how these American boys, 18, 19, 20 years of age, in these very inhumane conditions were able to draw upon the arts and the humanities as a way of keeping their sanity. And so they would give art classes and they would conduct classes in basic electricity, things of that nature. They would put on plays and skits. And it allows us just to tell their story of their will to survive in these really incredibly harsh conditions. It was an honor to tell their story.

Ted Simons: You get a chance to tell some fantastic stories here. What are you looking at here as far as the next series?

Eduardo Pagan: We've got a couple of stories that I've filmed already. One is there was an incident in Hawaii during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, actually the second wave of the attack where one Japanese zero pilot was shot down, landed on a remote island and took the population hostage for a couple of days. And so for the first time, Japan actually occupied some of American territories for a couple of days. They rose up against him and ended up killing him. But to tell that story of occupation and their heroic efforts to escape is a very fascinating story. 16 I've got another story coming up that were going to film in just a few weeks, of the American expedition into Siberia when, during the Woodrow Wilson administration, there were about 8,000 troops who were sent to fight on behalf of the Czar's troops. Ando so they were in Siberia fighting supporting the Czar's troops. We have a little artifact, a bullet that's been inscribed by the initials of one of the American soldiers that we're going to look at.

Ted Simons: Hearing you describe this and watching the program, a last question here: How much fun is this to do? This has to be an absolutely -- as I mentioned before, a hoot.

Eduardo Pagan: It is, it is. You know, it's a grueling filming schedule, we work often 16, 18 hours a day filming, but it is fun. I really enjoyed it. I love meeting people who are specialists in their own fields that I might not interact with ordinarily as a scholar. I love meeting our viewers as well, who are very fascinating in history. I love meeting another history buff, as well. I mean its just a lot of fun in doing this, so I really enjoy it.

Ted Simons: Not bad for a kid from Mesa, huh?

Ted Simons: Great work, congratulations on your success so far and future success.

Eduardo Pagan:ASU History Professor;

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