July 5th, 2016

The Mason-Dixon Line

mason-dixonOver the past weekend, visiting family and friends and celebrating Independence Day, I drove over the Mason-Dixon Line a few times. My curiosity was piqued and I began to wonder about its cultural and scientific significance. While the Mason-Dixon Line’s initial creation sparked scientific innovation, the Line later became the crossroads of enslavement and freedom leading up to and during the Civil War.

The need for a division between Pennsylvania and Maryland started as early as the mid-1600s, as the two colonies’ land claims overlapped with one another. The Penn family, from Pennsylvania, and the Calvert family, from Maryland, began the discussion on creating a formal boundary in 1682. Because surveying technology was not advanced and neither family was willing to compromise on the suggested boundaries, they asked Britain to intervene in the mid-1700s. However, no one was satisfied with their decision either. This back and forth lasted for many years, and tensions between the neighboring lands intensified, sometimes with deadly results.

Finally, in 1793, the Penn and Calvert families commissioned Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, two surveyors from England, to professionally inspect the land and settle the dispute. Using astronomy and high-tech instruments, they worked for four years to create the 233-mile-long line between Maryland and Pennsylvania, and the 83-mile-long line between Maryland and the Three Lower Counties, which would become Delaware. (Fun fact: they spent a lot of time in St. Patrick’s Tavern, or what would become the Deer Park Tavern in Newark, Delaware!) The line was marked every mile by stones, and “crownstones,” which featured the two coats-of-arms, every five miles. While some of these stones have since been destroyed, a few are still standing. The Line became the first example of a successful surveying mission, and became the precedent for surveying worldwide.

However, when Mason and Dixon first took on the project of surveying the boundaries, they had no idea how important their contribution would be to the cultural tide of the soon-to-be United States. During the late 1700s, the Line became the divider between the North and the South, or better known as the division between the “free” and the “slave” states.  In 1780, Pennsylvania abolished slavery, and as more Northern states followed suit, the topic of slavery became extremely heated in the 1800s.

Northern states were modernizing from 1780 to 1820—urban centers were rapidly growing, new factories were being built, and technological innovations were abound. With this new modern outlook, most Northerners believed slavery to be an antiquated, inhumane practice. But the South’s economy was still dependent on agriculture, and slavery was integral to that business. Southerners were also determined to keep what they believed to be their constitutional rights.

Because it was the boundary between the free and slave states, the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses and routes for escaped slaves to follow towards the North, was especially prevalent in these states. The MD/PA border was the last stop before freedom for escaped slaves– and it was also the place where slave catchers were in full force. One of Elkton’s own was a slave catcher– Thomas McCready. After the federal government passed Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 that allowed slave catchers to find and return runaways back into slavery for generous rewards, McCready’s career flourished. He would capture escaped slaves, but also kidnap free men and women of color, sending them to the South to be sold into slavery again.

Although the Mason-Dixon Line is no longer used as a barrier between the North and South, its history remains an important step in understanding our history as the United States of America.

To learn more about the Mason-Dixon Line, check out these CCPL resources:

“The Mason-Dixon Line” by John C. Davenport

“Drawing the Line: How Mason and Dixon Surveyed the Most Famous Border in America” by Edwin Danson

“Stealing Freedom Along the Mason-Dixon Line: Thomas McCreary, the notorious slave catcher from Maryland” by Milt Diggins

Thomas Pynchon also wrote a fictionalized novel on the two surveyors: Mason & Dixon. Also, if you’re interested in hiking the Mason-Dixon Line, check out “50 hikes in Eastern Pennsylvania.”


June 27th, 2016

Photography tips

photographer-16022_640Here’s a confession: I am obsessed with taking photographs. Whether it’s a cute moment, a pretty scene, or even just a dinner I’m particularly proud of, I always pull out my camera or phone and snap a picture.

Now there’s nothing more frustrating than taking a picture and it not turning it out. It could be too dark, blurry, or simply just look a little off. Here are some of my strategies for taking the best photos:

1 – Know your light. Lighting is one of the most important parts of photography and it can really make or break the quality of your photo. I’ve always found that natural light yields the best results. The best time of day to take photos is the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. This is called “golden hour” and it produces the most flattering lighting, especially if you’re taking a portrait of yourself or somebody else. The position of the sun during this time of day creates a warm and glowing golden light that can make just about anything look good.

But what if you want to take a picture at night or during a time when light is less than optimal? Fake it! The flash on a camera can often be too harsh on your subject, but you can use the flashlight feature on your cellphone to brighten up the subject without washing them out too much. When a camera doesn’t have enough light to work with, the pictures often come out blurry or grainy. So make sure you always pay attention to your light source!

2 – Take a lot of photographs. Say you’re photographing your child’s softball game or another sporting event, it’s often necessary to take many photos in order to get a few good ones. The trick is to do it quickly, so you don’t miss out on actually watching the game. If you worry too much about every photo being perfect, you may end up paying more attention to your camera than what you’re trying to take a picture of. So if you quickly snap a lot of photos, chances are you’ll get a couple of great ones and you can weed out the bad ones later on.

3 – Edit your photos. Sometimes you take a photo that is so beautiful that you don’t have to do anything else to it, but that’s often not the case. Almost every photo needs to be tweaked in some way in order for it to be the best version of itself. There is computer software you can use to do this, such as Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom. But if you want to take pictures without investing too much into the editing software, there are a number of great free apps you can use.

I recommend VSCO and Afterlight. Both are free apps that can be downloaded to your device and you can use them to enhance your photos. Your photo’s too dark? You can use the “exposure” or “brightness” tools to help brighten it up. Your photo’s blurry? Use the “sharpening” or “clarify” tools!

Both of these apps also have free filters you can use on your photos. A filter will adjust all of the aforementioned settings, as well as color, contrast, etc. Filters can be used to make a photo look beautifully natural or otherworldly and surreal. It all depends on which filter you use and what you want from the photo!

Cecil County Public Library also has tools that can help you in being the best photographer you can be! We offer Gale Courses in such subjects as “Secrets of Better Photography” and “Photographing Nature with Your Digital Camera.” Gale Courses are free six week online classes that are taught by actual professors and new sessions begin monthly.  These are great for both beginners and people who simply want to learn about more about photography!

Remember, you don’t need a fancy camera or expensive software to take great photos. Use these tips and start collecting memories!

What’s your favorite tip for beginning photographers?

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