My friends have been posting a lot of funny Franklin stuff this week, including that clickbait Benjamin Franklin’s Daily Schedule Will Make you Feel Worthless and some amazing remix images of Founding Fathers on DeviantArt, including everyone’s favorite FRANKLIN VS. ZEUS image. This is all particularly amusing to me, as I somehow find myself in Philadelphia for the July 4th weekend, and Franklin is everywhere.
I didn’t really plan it this way, but this was the best time during a busy summer schedule to take up a fellowship at the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Both places are closed for the long, patriotic, holiday weekend, however, and so I though I would share some Loyalist poetry that I’ve been reading.
This first piece is written in January of 1776 by an earnest Loyalist imprisoned in Philadelphia, presumably, for political sympathies:
Confinement hail! in Honors justest Cause
True to our King, our Country and Our Laws
Oposing Anarchy, Sedition, Strife
And every other Bane of Social Life
These Colonies of British freedom tired
Are by the Phrensy of distraction fired
Surrounding Nations with Amazement View
The strange infatuation they pursue
Virtue in tears, deplores their Fate in Vain
And Satan smiles to see disorder reign
The days of Cromwell, puritanick Rage
Return’d to Curse our more unhappy Age
Rushing to Arms they madly Urge their Fate
And levy War against their Parent State
. We friends of Freedom Government and Laws
Are deemed inimical unto their Cause
In Vaults with Bars and Iron doors confined
They hold our Persons but can’t Rule the Mind
Act now We cannot, else we freely wou’d
But Calmly suffer for our Country’s Good
Success on Earth sometimes to Ill is given
To brave misfortune is the gift of Heaven
What man could do, We did, our Cause to Serve
We can’t Command Success, but We’ll deserve
. Philada New Goal Jany 1776
The poem is on a single sheet of paper in Society Miscellaneous Collection, Box 13-B (Poetry and Music), Folder 2 (Local Poetry [early]), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Like most of the poems in this wonderful miscellany, there is little evidence of who or when or why the poem was written and preserved beyond what is implied in the text itself. It’s nice to have a date and place of composition on this poem, but mysteries remain. The paper is folded (like many of the single sheets in the collection) in a way that suggests it may have been enclosed in a letter at some point soon after its composition. A little clue on the back of the sheet only adds to the curiosity, and I am posting a close-up picture of the notation to see if anyone can come up with a better conjecture than my fanciful notion: that it looks kind of like a shopping list, or perhaps request for some necessities from prison:
I have not been looking for Loyalist poetry. In fact, I am trying very much to end my new book project (called “What’s the Matter with Early American Poetry?”) in 1773, just before the explosion of Revolutionary era poetry. But for some reason, as soon as I landed at HSP, it seems I could not avoid Loyalist poetry. I have been particularly charmed by this little common-place book:
The section of “local” writing (by members of the compilers circle, it would seem) contains much poetry and prose writing that illuminates aesthetic sensibilities of elite Loyalists in Philadelphia during the war, including a long, first-person prose account of an elaborate all-day festival in British-occupied Philadelphia minutely planned by Major John André. (Read more and view objects related to the Machianza at the LCP Arts and Artifacts collection here.) Just before the 20-page account, the common-place compiler pastes in an etymology of the term “Meschianza” or “medley” from the Italian “to mix”:
Okay, on to the Franklin poem, which is probably why you started reading this post in the first place. But, first, in order to get the joke you have to know that the Franklin stove used an “inverted syphon” to draw heat and fumes down and up into the body of the stove. This would reduce smoke and increase heat in the room. (Well, that was the idea anyway. You can read a little more about the Franklin stove here.)
So here’s the Franklin poem:
on a curious Chamber Stove in the Form of
an Urn, contrived in such a Manner as
to make the Flame descend instead
of rising from the Fire; invented by the
celebrated D.r Benjamin Franklin.
Like Newton sublimely he soar’d,
. To a Summit before unattain’d;
New Regions of Science explor’d,
. And the Palm of Philosophy gain’d.
With a Spark that he caught from the Skies
. He display’d an unparallel’d wonder,
And we saw with delight & Surprise,
. That his Rod would defend us from Thunder.
Oh! had he been wise to pursue
. The Tract for his Talends design’d,
What a Tribute of Praise had been due
. To the Teacher & Friend of Mankind
But to Covet political Fame
. Was in him a degrading Ambition,
With a Spark that from Lucifer came
. He kindled the Blaze of Sedition.
Let Candor then write on his Urn,
. “Here lies the renowned Inventor,”
“Whose Flame to the Skies ought to burn,”
. “But inverted descends to the Center.”
. Written by the Reverend
. M.r Jonathan Odell*
Happy Independence Day, all!
Loyalist and Patriot alike.
*And, oh, hey. If you are tired of getting your Independence Day Kitsch on watching 1776 again (“Someone ought to ooopen up a window!” “Sit down, John!”), you could try The Scarlet Coat (1955), a kind of down payment on also kitschy AMC series Turn: Washington’s Spies that features George Sanders as Jonathan Odell.
I love that people love to share Puritan humor with me. Cotton Mather is a particular favorite target of teasing. (Or perhaps I should say my own fascination with Mather is the target.) Every year around February 14, people start sharing those dour Puritan Valentine’s Day Cards from College Humor.
I appreciate the gesture, but I actually don’t really find them funny because they are not really about Puritans. Rather, they are about a caricature, and caricatures of caricatures are just a kind of feedback loop. (Except for that one card about “I need you to help raise livestock and crops or surely we will starve to death come winter.” That one is amusingly accurate about the domestic arrangements necessary not to perish in seventeenth-century New England.)
And if you don’t have the patience to make your own Puritan Valentine this season, try just reciting some of Anne Bradstreet’s poems to her husband. They are lovely and a bit sexy.
My head, my heart, mine Eyes, my life, nay more,
My joy, my Magazine of earthly store,
If two be one, as surely thou and I,
How stayest thou there, whilst I at Ipswich lye?
So many steps, head from the heart to sever
If but a neck, soon should we be together:
I like the earth this season, mourn in black,
My Sun is gone so far in’s Zodiack,
Whom whilst I’joyd, nor storms, nor frosts I felt,
His warmth such frigid colds did cause to melt.
My chilled limbs now nummed lye forlorn;
Return, return sweet Sol from Capricorn…
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!
(You know, not impose any calendrical observance on authentic articulations of love.)
For several years, I have been creating paleography assignment for my book history courses. Well, when I say “creating” I really mean linking this excellent website with self guided tutorials from the National Archives. In addition to providing an informative introduction to reading early handwriting, the site offers interactive tutorials, examples for further practice, and a rather fun game where you try to prevent an animated woodblock character from getting dunked in the river by using your paleographic skills. (I will admit that even though I keep the poor woman from complete immersion, she was definitely a lot wetter after I completely botched a bunch of sixteenth-century letter forms.)
I know other teachers of book history who supplement this standard training with workshops where students make their own quills and practice writing with them. One day I will be that cool, but in the meantime I simply use as an excuse that my class usually meets in the Rare Book Room of the library, where pens, highlighters, and quill and ink are strictly forbidden. Instead, I have students explore the online Technologies of Writing in the Age of Print exhibit from the Folger Shakespeare Library. This excellent resource provides a virtual introduction the practical, embodied experience of writing in the early modern period.
Before this semester, my paleography units were fairly abstract, with students writing short reflective pieces about writing by hand and the experience of transcription. Some embraced the assignments and even looked for further opportunities to work with early manuscripts, but others found the training merely frustrating and were glad to leave it behind. This semester, however, I linked the introductory and training exercises to practical transcription work for my new seminar called “What’s the Matter with Early American Poetry?”, a workshop style class with an emphasis on non-canonical, obscure, and ephemeral verse production. I felt that students needed to gain confidence in reading early handwriting as soon as possible, lest they be intimidated when they encountered manuscript sources as part of their independent research at the American Antiquarian Society later this semester.
Because this class will mostly need to read seventeenth- and eighteenth-century hands, I streamlined the tutorial assignments and forgave them the sixteenth-century training. Then I uploaded digital images of pages from two very different verse manuscripts — the late seventeenth-century miscellany of a Puritan named John Dane, available in digitized microfilm from the New England Historical and Genealogical Society, and the early eighteenth-century poetry notebooks of Benjamin Franklin’s uncle and namesake, available in newly made digital images from the AAS.
The students working on the Franklin notebooks had a much easier time than those working with Dane. Not only were the images much clearer (you can even make out the texture of the paper itself), but Uncle Ben’s handwriting is neater than Dane’s, and eighteenth-century letter forms are much more legible to today’s readers anyway. Accordingly, I assigned each Franklin transcriber about four or five times the amount of text as I gave each Dane transcriber. Even so, the Franklin transcribers finished their portions in a fraction of the time it took the Dane transcribers to produce provisional readings with many places left undeciphered with a [??] for a placeholder.
Because students reported difficulties early on with the Dane in particular, I posted additional resources, including fun interactive game created by Laura Leibman at Reed College for her own early American literature students and these handy alphabet charts available through the University of Cambridge. I also included images and corresponding text for previously transcribed sections of Dane’s verse so that students could get used to his particular letter forms and various writing idiosyncrasies. In the end, one student not only managed to work though his two assigned pages but all twenty pages that were uploaded for the entire class!
In class, we viewed the images together on two flat screen monitors in our well-wired seminar room. We talked through spelling oddities, abbreviation conventions, and the personal idiosyncrasies of our two versifiers. (Dane invariably writes “eth” for “the,” for example.) Several students showed how they had improved the legibility of the microfilm pages with simple image manipulation techniques. (Lowering brightness and bumping contrast helped quite a bit, as did reading the manuscript reversed out as a negative image.) Working as a group, we managed to decipher even those passages that previously had been unintelligible to individual readers. With transcription, the collaborative sum is usually more than all the parts.
Students were greatly encouraged by the session, it seemed, and gained some of the confidence that I had hoped they would find. They even agreed to return to their transcriptions and polish them over the weekend. One student in the class is our designated compiler and will will be preparing the work for a final check before posting as an open, online resource. Indeed, the prospect of making manuscript material more broadly accessible was perhaps the major factor in the success of the whole assignment. Already, several students are talking about preparing more manuscript transcriptions as part their final projects this semester. As one inspired student mentioned to me after class, the transcription itself is like a fun puzzle to figure out, but the idea of making otherwise obscure texts more accessible gives the whole process a sense of purpose.
As libraries continue to make manuscript collections available, opportunities grow for introducing paleography in the classroom. The next time I do my early American literature survey, for example, I just might assign — along with the standard anthology selections — some of Anne Bradstreet’s handwritten verse (via the Houghton Library’s digitization of the Andover manuscript) and a couple of Phillis Wheatley’s poems in manuscript (via the American Antiquarian Society’s GIGI database). Even in the survey classroom, there are opportunities to enrich our understanding of the many ways that texts circulated in earlier periods. Awareness of the prevalence of manuscript circulation in the age of print can only deepen our sense of the texts themselves.
IN THE WORKSHOP OF THE MIND:
The Hidden Helpers of Early Modern Authors and Scholars
Description: Today we are well aware of the collaborative nature of intellectual work. The majority of scientific papers are co-authored; in the humanities, interdisciplinary initiatives and digital methods of research encourage collaboration. We have a general sense that such collaborative work is relatively new, that scholarship was a solitary activity in the past. In paintings and descriptions of the early modern period, scholars typically were depicted working alone. But the papers and letters that survive tell a different story, capturing how early modern scholars worked collaboratively through correspondence and in person with peers, patrons, and helpers (amanuenses, students, family members). Based on examples from paintings, manuscripts, and printed books, Professor Ann Blair will argue that collaboration was just as (and perhaps even more) widespread and essential to scholarship during the early modern period than it is in current times. Clark University Provost Davis Baird (Philosophy) will offer commentary.
The Roots of Everything is a lecture series sponsored by Early Modernists Unite (EMU) — a faculty collaborative bringing together scholars of medieval and early modern England and America — in conjunction with the Higgins School of Humanities. Supported by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the series highlights various aspects of modern existence originating in the early modern world and teases out the connections between the two.
Ann Blair is the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Harvard University. She specializes in the cultural and intellectual history of early modern Europe (16th-17th centuries), with an emphasis on France. Her interests include the history of the book and of education, the history of the disciplines and of scholarship, early modern natural philosophy and its interactions with religion. She has published Too Much To Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age (Yale University Press, 2010).
Wednesday, October 22 @ 4:30pm | Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons | Clark University
Free and open to the public.
Dana Commons is located on the corner of Florence and Maywood on the Clark campus in Worcester, MA. Directions to Clark, along with links to parking information and a campus map, can be found here. More information about the Higgins School of Humanities can be found here. Stay up to date with Higgins School of the Humanities events via Facebook.
Join us for an exploration of collaborative work in the early modern and contemporary world.
(This post is a slightly edited version of the talk I gave at the Society of Early Americanists “London and the Americas, 1492-1812″ conference at Kingston University, July 17-21, 2014. The presentation was part of a round table entitled “Puritan Studies in Post-Americanist Times.” I am indebted to Tom Knoles and Elizabeth Pope at the American Antiquarian Society for an ongoing series of conversations and insights about the Mather Library collection.)
Let me start by showing you just one of many reasons why the Mather Library is such a headache:
Today we are concerned with the little striped block on the far right-hand side of the chart, which represents about 1,000 volumes spanning two centuries of Mather book collecting, many sold in 1814 to Isaiah Thomas, printer and founder of the American Antiquarian Society, by Hannah Mather Crocker, Mather descendant and an antiquarian scholar in her own right. Crocker gave additional volumes to the AAS directly. When Thomas gave the bulk of this collection to the AAS, he first assessed a value for each book, which he inked inside the front cover (“50 Cts” for example), and then compiled an index of the whole, arranging it by format—folios, quartos, etc. His inventory was a boon for future book historians, notwithstanding the errors and inconsistencies, vagueness of titles and authors, nor the fact that entire volumes of multiple pamphlets and other imprints bound together were listed simple as English Tracts 1, English Tracts 2, etc.
A full bibliographic description of the collection was not attempted until almost a century later. The color plate above comes from Julius Tuttle’s checklist, published in the AAS Proceedings in 1910. Tuttle’s list is alphabetical by author, with short, sometimes incorrect titles and (most helpfully) with indication of provenance markings, such as the names former Mather owners. (“Increase Mather,” for example, or even more often, “Crescentius Mather,” as he often inscribes his name in Latin.) Tuttle’s checklist is incomplete, in part due to idiosyncrasies of shelving and record keeping over time. Tuttle’s list also excludes (for the most part) continental imprints, focusing instead on American and some English printing. And there were undoubtedly other volumes that Tuttle simply couldn’t find. Some collections of pamphlets bound together at the time of the original gift, for example, migrated through the collections. Virtually all of these composite collections were disbound, making it hard to distinguish whether or not a single title was originally part of the Mather collection. In the twentieth century, many good souls worked to fill in Tuttle’s gaps, and if you ask at the reader services desk, they will bring you—if they can locate it—an annotated offprint of the Tuttle checklist with almost forty percent more entries handwritten on interleaved inserts.
In the 1980s, head of reader services Keith Arbour compiled a card catalog which—while still incomplete—was substantially more comprehensive than the annotated Tuttle and bibliographically more precise. Again, if you ask at the desk, they will bring you out a folder of Arbour’s notes, including instructions to a woman (yet unnamed in my research) who assisted in writing out the cards in pencil. While still incomplete, the card catalog adds items not included by Tuttle, such as an eleven-volume manuscript sermon cycle on Revelations bought by Increase Mather in London in 1691. Arbour’s card catalog misses elusive continental imprints that have fallen through the cracks over two centuries of curatorial preference for American imprints.
In the Mather Library, fortunately, uncataloged volumes are relatively easy to locate. The current call number system—Mather Library 0001, Mather Library 0002, etc.—was determined by the order in which the books were on the shelves at the moment the Library decided that the old call number system (specific to the physical layout of the former library building) needed to be revised. With the new call number system, each item has a number, even if it doesn’t have a catalog record. So, in theory, if you generate a spreadsheet of the Mather Library catalog records by call number, you can simply look to see where the gaps are, and there you will find an uncatalogued book, most likely a continental imprint.
There is much more to say about retrospective conversion, the process whereby card catalogs are converted to electronic catalog records, almost always offsite, where no confirmation of bibliographic details is possible. The correction of Mather Library conversion records continues to this day. The American imprints seem to be in order now. One cataloger is just about done with cross referencing English imprints against ESTC (English Short Title Catalogue) records, and another has begun working through the continental imprints, though the many demands on her time continually interrupt progress. To date she has finished about twenty records. This process of correcting retrospective conversion creates a reliable record the essential bibliographic information: title, author, publication information, cross reference to external databases. It leaves out (for now, at least) owner’s inscriptions, reader’s marks, and other copy-specific features.
These copy-specific features, of course, are why I muck about in the Mather Library in the first place. One of my first finds in the collection, through nearly random chance, was a volume owned by Increase Mather made up of four titles by Hugh Broughton dealing with millenialist theory: bound together in a single thick but fragile volume, a mixture of printed texts and manuscript copies of printed texts, illustrations and fold outs, all heavily annotated by Increase Mather himself. I can make notes on extraordinary finds such as this—and I can catalog them in excel or zotero or whatever other software someone will undoubtedly recommend to me during Q&A—but there is no true metadata potential here until the fundamental cataloging of author, title, and publication is complete *and* until each volume is scruitinzed by very analog and clunky methods. Frankly, without major extramural resources, this work can never be done comprehensively. Only piecemeal by foolhardy enthusiasts like myself and anyone else I might interest in this Sisephean Task.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, we must stop to reflect that, as a collection, it is not clear what, exactly, the “Mather Library” is. We would like to think it is a glimpse of the accumulated intellectual history of multiple-generations of Mathers. And it is. But it is also impossibly idiosyncratic, as Tuttle’s chart suggests. Even if Hannah Mather Crocker’s portion was representative, which it may or may not have been, she was generous with her books. Just like others before in her family, she lent, gifted, and sold individual titles within her extensive Boston-area network. William Bentley, a Salem minister, visited the collection frequently and recorded with alarm in his diary that he found the collection “much diminished.” Does this mean, to begin with, that the Mather Library collection that Thomas snagged was, in a sense, remainders? Those titles of not enough interest to have been already carried away by 1814? Such a skew—the absence of books, we could say—might reflect not the collecting habits of the Mathers so much as the lively interests of early eighteenth-century ministers and antiquarians. Then, too, curatorial practice has preferred some imprints over others, deliberately or accidentally altering identity and meaning. The Mather Library—like all archive—is whatever we can get our hands one, whatever we can describe, whatever we can catalog. It is accidental, contingent, conjectural, murky. Just as we talk about ideal readers only to immediately complicate that notion, so, too, we might need to theorize the Ideal Mather Library and then trouble what we imagine that collection to be.
In the time remaining, I would like to show you some examples of how one might go about this project of conjecture. For the past few weeks, I’ve been looking at books owned by Increase Mather, volumes that he likely bought during his time in London from 1688 to 1692 where he was working to reinstate the colonial Charter. To make my task more manageable, I chose to focus only on the “B” section of the 1980’s Arbour card catalog, flipping through and pulling likely candidates based on handwritten indications of provenance information—a tiny “IM” penciled in the bottom right hand corner.
One goes to the archive to seek the kind of artifacts that intellectual historians dream about. For example, say you wanted to see how Increase and his son Cotton were influenced by Robert Boyle’s work. In this case, you would be very happy, finding in the collection a presentation copy from Boyle himself, as well as another copy with handwritten notes by Increase Mather indexing passages on topics like witchcraft and smallpox. These discoveries are what I call the Smoking Guns. They are incredibly wonderful and incredibly rare finds.
More often, however, you will find a copy—possibly with an owner inscription, possibly not—sometimes with marginal ink or pencil annotations, but usually no handwriting to identify and date, and no way of knowing if a mark is Increase Mather’s or that of some avid AAS reader from back in the days when, I suspect, people marked books in archives with impunity for the sake of their pressing antiquarian researches. All you can say about such copies is “this at one time was associated with the Mathers and now it lives here.” Let’s call these finds: the Blind Alleys.
And then, not infrequently, you find what you do not expect. Let’s say, for example, you’d like to trace the role of skepticism in Increase’s thought, or perhaps the sources that inform Cotton’s Christian Philosopher. You could pull up the Mather Library copy of Sir Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici (bound together with two related titles not by Browne) and see that Isaiah Thomas valued the book at 50 cents in 1814. Accordingly you would know 1) that the book passed through Isaiah Thomas’s hands, 2) that it was associated with the Mather library, and 3) that it was roughly equivalent in value to any number of other books in the collection in the early nineteenth century. No Smoking Gun here.
Then again, if you happen to look into the gutter, that place at the spine of the book between the cover boards and text block, you might see this:
a scrap of printer’s waste paper, marbled on one side, used in some repair, probably in the very early nineteenth century, (as indicated by the Snail or Curl pattern of the marbling).
You might even recognize the distinctive black and blue coloring from other items you’ve seen and realize that this little scrap of paper in the gutter is a sheet from an illicitly printed copy of John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, or Fanny Hill.
This marbled waste paper appears not infrequently, especially in the AAS collections, probably because Isaiah Thomas’s binder, to whom he sent many books to be rebound and repaired from around 1812 to 1814, seemed to have a large supply of the stuff.
Hilarious juxtapositions abound, with the distinctive erotica covering printed material such as sermons (including a manuscript volume of Cotton Mather’s sermons in th Mather family papers)and even the Worcester County Court Records volume that recounts proceedings against several booksellers fined for selling other illicit editions of Fanny Hill. Because you can make out just a little bit of the text on the page, you can also determine that the marbled sheet in the gutter of the Mather Library copy of Browne’s Religio Medici comes not from the A gathering that makes up most of what is housed at AAS but the B gathering, as recently identified as Princeton Library’s Rare Book Division.
This is called Going Down a Rabbit Hole. It is both tedious and fun. It is provocative of much speculative thought, flights of fancy, as well as genuine theoretical reframing of book history and material textual analysis. It does not, however, tell you a lick about the intellectual sources of skepticism for Increase or Cotton Mather’s writing. It tells you only what you knew before: that the book passed through Isaiah Thomas’s hands and that it was associated with the Mather library.
I’ll end with just a bit about Increase Mather’s acquisition of books while in London from 1688 to 1692, as this is what the title of my paper has promised. I began looking for evidence of book buying by Increase Mather in London and found a number of books (in the B section of the card catalog, of course) which Mather inscribed along with date and place of purchase, as in this 1689 copy of Richard Baxter’s The English Nonconformity (“I. Mather. London. October. 15. 1689.”):
I was grateful for the tiny Smoking Gun. Let’s just call this one a derringer, though, because the other reader annotations not nearly so interesting. The imprint is by Thomas Parkhurst, a non-conformist-leaning bookseller that had also sold Mather that uncataloged eleven-volume manuscript sermon cycle on Revelations that I mentioned earlier. In fact, Parkhurst’s name pops up again and again in the title pages of Increase Mather’s books. I think he shopped at Mr. Parkhurst’s a lot.
Mather also acquired a good number of books from authors directly. The Arbour card catalog fortunately records when books are inscribed “ex dono authoris,” a gift of the author, such at this copy of Baxter’s The Church Concord:
Now we can begin tracing out not only bookselling networks but the intellectual and social networks implicated therein. Parkhurst printed many of Baxter’s works. Baxter not only gave books to Mather but also dedicates a book to the New England minister. These book networks, simultaneously intellectual and material, authorial and commercial, are sometimes complex, as evidenced by this volume,
“ex dono authoris,” by Thomas Beverly, who gave a copy of his book to Increase Mather, as he indicates in this letter (now tipped into the volume in a particularly unattractive mid-century library rebinding) because Mather was the dedicatee of the work by Baxter which Beverly is attacking in his own book. I can’t help wonder how Increase received this gift. With interest? With irritation? With patience? A marginal note on the last printed page in Increase’s handwriting could tell us. A nice Smoking Gun that might exactly triangulate Mather’s position in a late seventeenth-century pamphlet war about Presbyterianism. But, alas, the note has been trimmed off in some rebinding effort sometime within the last three centuries.
This last piece of Semi-Smoking evidence should return us to questions about the nature of the Mather Library. Why is the Beverly work here? Because is was an important part of Increase Mather’s intellectual world in London, 1688-1692, or because it is a remnant, a volume not taken away by avid readers before Isaiah Thomas could get his hands on the lot. Might we complicate our conception of the Ideal Mather Library with realities of the Less Than Ideal Mather Library? Might we not give some thought to what is missing—the volume burned down in house fire, the one lent but never returned, the one never acquired. What role does desiderata (lists of books desired) play in Mather’s collecting? What role do our own desiderata play in our sojourns into the archive, where we must learn to be be instructed by the Rabbit Holes and Blind Alleys perhaps even more than we are by the Smoking Guns if we wish to understand what we are looking at and what we are looking for.
Another cool gloomy day. Cleaned up a little and ironed although there wasn’t too much and I caught up on my correspondence and got ready for work. Watched TV and got working on my rug for a while. Then I went to bed late. Steve K. died today.
If you like the Samuel Peeps twitter feed (or if, like me, you like the idea of the Samuel Peeps twitter feed but you don’t actually keep up with it), or if you are friends with Isaiah Thomas on Facebook (but wish he would write in his diary more often), might I recommend that you become friends with Dolores Factoryworker immediately?
I accepted a Fb friendship with Dolores last December. I don’t know her last name (she isn’t saying), but every morning I check my news feed, if only to stay caught up on her diary entries. I can tell you about her daily commute to the Zenith factory in Chicago in 1960, as well as the diversions that she and her co-workers pursue in order to make time on the assembly line a bit less mind-numbing. Like many of her friends who met her last winter, I’m still wondering whatever happened to Jim-of-the-enigmatic-flirtations-and-mercurial-mood-swings. (Did he quit or get fired? What about the fiancée? Why all those months of mixed signals, Jim?) All her co-workers can run hot-and-cold sometimes, but I think we know by now who to trust and who to avoid. (Crabby Helen, you know who I’m talking about. And don’t think I’ve forgotten about you, Oddly-Doppelganger-Other-Dolores.)
Work was a war a[s] usual to keep up and I was losing all day. We did 60 an hour and brother! Larry came by and I asked him if he had his car but he didn’t. I told him I was going downtown and he said, “Oh, that’s why you look so nice.” Richard came by and told me all about his job and stuff. And Kenny helped me again. At lunch Mary broke the news to me that she became a grandmother Tuesday. She passed candy but she didn’t bring any down to me. Then it was finally time to go home and Jenny dropped me downtown but first we stopped at Fran’s house. I didn’t go up.
Dolores also keeps me up to date on her after work shopping trips to the National, her visits to Candyland, and the endless housework and ironing preparation for the next workday. (Boy she sure is tired.) I also keep up with current movies via her capsule reviews.
Went to the show and saw “The Gazebo” (lousy) and “Dog of Flanders” very good.
Sometimes she posts images from her favorites films (Pillow Talk, Beloved Infidel, and Ben Hur were some recent favorites), but she also post more ephemeral (literally) glimpses of her life outside of work: TV guide schedules, grocery store circulars, an ad for those nice soup mugs that Lipton sent her.
The doorbell woke me up and my cups from Liptons came. They were real nice.
Honestly, with all the ironing and cake baking (and now that new rug she is making), and all the days she’s wiped out and just sleeps all day and feels lousy or eats like a pig or stays up to watch the late, I just don’t know how she finds the time.
After I got downtown and went straight to the Palmer House to get my ticket and is it ever nice there. Then I went to the Walgreens for coffee and to the card shop and home. Uncle Joe was over and I told him about my trip and he wanted to go. Didn’t do anything and barely got ready for work and was so tired.
Over breakfast this weekend, my partner Danny and I found ourselves talking about Dolores like we would an old friend who we’ve been worried about lately. We’re both pretty concerned that the visits to the workplace nurse are becoming a daily occurrence. It makes no sense to us that her supervisor keeps putting her on more and more difficult assembly stations when her hand is clearly not yet fully recovered. Danny’s worried that they are trying to push her out, and so now I’ve got another thing on my mind.
Last day of work. When I went in this morning for my bandage the nurse made me see the doctor. He gave me some pills and said to take two a day. Helen is still crabby as ever and she got into a big fight with the stock boy and Ann. About 10 o’clock I started getting the most terrific backache and I was in pure misery the rest of the day. I was almost in tears by 3:30. Kenny and Richard and Larry came over to talk to me. Then Jo came and saw how awful I looked and helped me. I went for a drink and even Emmanuel asked me if I was tired.
As an early Americanist whose livelihood is based upon poking about in the private journals and notebooks of strangers, I find that this compelling archival recovery project hitting me particularly close to home. Instead of imagined subjectivities of Puritans and poetasters many centuries dead, I am eavesdropping on a woman who may or may not still be alive today. What difference does 400 vs 50 years make? I search Dolores’s daily entries for geographic markers of a city that I still call my hometown. I hear echoes of my own aging or departed midwestern female relatives in her colloquialisms and strangely muted accounts of a hundred anxieties and little victories. I empathize with her awkward cycles of preening and self-doubt. This summer I turn in earnest to the next book project that has me diving into a batch of private journals and reading cryptic accounts of lived experience. Let’s see if my friendship with Dolores brings any new insights to my archival methods.
Dolores has been informed by Fb that she has reached her limit of sending friend requests. No fear. You can initiate a friendship with Dolores yourself, and I highly recommend that you do so. Boy is she ever interesting. https://www.facebook.com/dolores.factoryworker
When I tell people that I bring students into the archive for hands-on work with centuries-old books, they frequently inquire how young adults respond. I tell them simply that students love the entire experience. The ubiquity of inexpensive modern editions of old texts and the rapid expansion of digital technologies make them more interested in rare books, not less. I am starting this series of student-written responses to the archive to allow them to talk about their classroom experience directly. In the first installment, Erin O’Kelly ’14 talks about our first session last fall, during which Fordyce Williams (Coordinator of Archives and Special Collections) and I showed the class how properly to handle old books. -MN
CARE VERGING ON PARANOIA
(a student perspective on learning to handle rare books)
by ERIN O’KELLY
One of the least expected habits I developed in Archival Research class (aside from a tendency to immediately categorize nearby text as a serif or non-serif) was the way I came to handle books. The first day in Archival Research pretty much met my expectations; we were taught how to handle old or fragile books, coached on what to do or not to do with them, and then set loose under supervision to, at least in my case, promptly overreact and try to examine the books without in fact actually touching them. I’m sure it was entertaining for the responsible adults that first day to watch an entire classroom of students try to handle books without so much as breathing on them or looking at them wrong.
I’ve since realized that looking at a book incorrectly won’t hurt it and have since become much more comfortable handling old books. Experience has helped me to determine the amount of care and gentleness each one requires – when it’s okay to open a stubborn cover, for example, versus when I should resign myself to peering into barely-open pages in order to protect the spine. Sometimes a book really does need to be treated like spun glass and kept away from strong breezes or sudden sneezes; more often, though, a sturdy cradle and gentle handling are enough to ensure that a book will be kept in good health.
Now, if it’s a book, I treat it carefully. If it’s someone else’s book, I treat it even more carefully. If it’s someone else’s very old book, I treat it with care verging on paranoia. Imagine my surprise, then, when I realized that I was treating my new, inexpensive paperbacks with a level of care approaching that we use in Special Collections. Suddenly I was being careful to touch only the edges of pages when possible, turning them more carefully, and opening books with more attention to strain on the spines (which, given the iffy quality of modern glued spines, isn’t a bad idea anyways). It’s a pleasant side effect, having gone into the class expecting to learn how to handle fragile old books with caution and coming out learning how to treat all my books with care. Hopefully by the time the course ends I’ll be able to treat all my books well enough to have them reach the age of their Special Collections cousins.
In fall of 2012, I experimented with my standard American poetry class, adding a component in which students would learn to do formal analysis of poetry primarily though performing poetry out loud. For about half of the semester we recited poems, memorized sonnets, and learned to offer suggestions for delivery to each other. By the end of the semester, the class had recorded all the main poems in Herman Melville’s collection of Civil War poems entitled Battle-Pieces.
The structure worked well enough that I subsequently developed a course entitled “Voicing the Verse: Poetry in Performance.” This class fulfills not only the poetry requirement for English majors and minors but also the “Aesthetic Perspective,” a core distribution requirement in Clark’s Program in Liberal Studies. In addition to regular class time, weekly studio sessions introduce students to rehearsal and performance processes in small groups. These rehearsal sessions lead not only to better performance of poems but to more productive means of critiquing both formal and artistic aspects of those performances.The studio sessions also helped to enliven the rather technical material in the first half of the semester — metrical scansion and other formal analysis of aural effects in poetry. The rehearsal process in particular helps students to bridge the gap between theory and practice, analysis and experience. Scansion is often the toughest component of a traditional poetry class, but by linking the technical skills to oral interpretation, I find that students have a distinct advantage when it comes to metrical analysis.
This week, with our prosody midterm behind us, we went into the recording studio for the first time. This year we are trying a partnership with Professor Matt Malsky‘s “Recording Practice and Audio Art” course. Students from the Music class take turns working as engineers for individual recording sessions with the Poetry student and afterward work to perfect the recording tracks in post production.
This spring’s poetry class is taking on the supplementary verse at the end of Battle-Pieces in order to finish up our long, first LibriVox project. Though fans of poets as disparate as Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Blake, and Mickle Maher (we read Maher’s verse play There Is a Happiness That Morning Is as part of our study of rhyming), the students took to Melville very quickly, immediately capturing the introspective mourning of his “Verses Inscriptive and Memorial.” The audio files won’t be ready for sampling for a little while, so in the meantime, enjoy reading a few selections from our first recording sessions below. In the meantime, we’ll keep working on how to approach the longest poem in the collection: the 114-stanza narrative poem “The Scout toward Aldie.” Wish us luck!
On the Men of Maine
killed in the Victory of Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Afar they fell. It was the zone
. Of fig and orange, cane and lime
(A land how all unlike their own,
With the cold pine-grove overgrown),
. But still their Country’s clime.
And there in youth they died for her–
. The Volunteers,
For her went up their dying prayers:
. So vast the Nation, yet so strong the tie.
What doubt shall come, then, to deter
. The Republic’s earnest faith and courage high.
Commemorative Of A Naval Victory
Sailors there are of the gentlest breed,
. Yet strong, like every goodly thing;
The discipline of arms refines,
. And the wave gives tempering.
. The damasked blade its beam can fling;
It lends the last grave grace:
The hawk, the hound, and sworded nobleman
. In Titian’s picture for a king,
Are of hunter or warrior race.
In social halls a favored guest
. In years that follow victory won,
How sweet to feel your festal fame
. In woman’s glance instinctive thrown:
. Repose is yours–your deed is known,
It musks the amber wine;
It lives, and sheds a light from storied days
. Rich as October sunsets brown,
Which make the barren place to shine.
But seldom the laurel wreath is seen
. Unmixed with pensive pansies dark;
There’s a light and a shadow on every man
. Who at last attains his lifted mark–
. Nursing through night the ethereal spark.
Elate he never can be;
He feels that spirit which glad had hailed his worth,
. Sleep in oblivion.–The shark
Glides white through the phosphorus sea.
Last year the Introduction to Archival Research Seminar made quite a hit with our first ever Rare Books Open House, where students each presented material from the Jonas Clark collection in the Goddard Library Special Collections. You can read more about out last year’s open house here:
This year we have even more hands-on stations and, of course, all new exhibits based on each student’s final research project. Hope to see you there!
And stay tuned for a series of postings about the class itself, from what it’s like to face down a laboratory component in a literature class to in-depth profiles of some of the more curious books in the Jonas Clark collection.
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I’ve posted before about last fall’s LibriVox project, in which students in my poetry class recorded an audiobook of Herman Melville’s Civil War poems, Battle-Pieces.
Today is the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, so it seems timely to offer another sneak peak (or sneak eavesdrop, I guess) of the poem “Gettysburg” read by Daniel Padilla.
Read the rest of Melville’s Battle-Pieces at Project Gutenberg.