Off Beat: International interest hasn't flagged since history was the news

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.

Vancouver just saw a mini-flurry of diplomatic activity, with top West Coast consular officials from Great Britain and Russia visiting to firm up some relationships.

The Russians discussed the history-making 1937 Chkalov flight. Evgeny Uspenskiy also mentioned his more recent assignment in Vancouver. A year ago, the head of protocol at the consulate in Seattle administered an election here. Russians living in Oregon and Washington voted for president at the Vancouver Community Library.

The Britons discussed trade prospects in Southwest Washington. Still, it would take something to top the business operation the Hudson's Bay Company ran here 170 years ago. We've written about those trade links, including a new way to tell old stories about that era.

Brett Oppegaard, an assistant professor at WSU Vancouver, helped develop mobile apps for the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. One module focused on William Kaulehelehe, hired in 1845 to minister to his fellow Hawaiians.

In addition to video, images and texts, the app can link you to one of the most famous opening phrases in English literature: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …"

The latest in pop culture, entertainment and breaking news were vital imports back then, Oppegaard said.

"Kaulehelehe wrote several letters about not getting his newspapers delivered to him in the Pacific Northwest, as promised."

It seems like a minor issue -- until you realize that newspapers and some other periodicals were the only mass media available.

In the general era in which Kaulehelehe was missing his papers, many popular books were published as serial installments in newspapers.

After Kaulehelehe had moved to Victoria, B.C., a letter shows him pleading with the publisher of a Hawaiian-based paper to get his delivery straightened out. That was in April 1865, when he could have used updates on monumental events in U.S. history … like the end of the Civil War and Lincoln's assassination.