Category Archives: Archives

my visit to the Kroch archives at Cornell University

By: LeiLani Dowell

Hi all,

So, as I mentioned in class today, I visited the archives at the Kroch Library at Cornell University on Nov. 26. After sending an email informing the library that I would be in town and interested in making a visit there (I’m looking back at the email now; I had told them I was interested in looking at specific papers, rather than our generic assignment, and that I was a Ph.D. student at the GC), I received an enthusiastic response with links to the collection guide and the online registration system.

Getting to the actual archives involved interacting with three different staff people, all of whom were very friendly (the woman at the registration desk perhaps a little more friendly than I would have liked; she held me hostage in a lengthy and perhaps inappropriate discussion about the PBS show “Finding Your Roots” after inquiring about my name and my heritage). At the front desk, a young man instructed me and my partner to leave all our belongings, except for a laptop or tablet and our IDs, in a locker, then directed me to the registration desk. There I had the long-winded conversation with the staffer while she took my photo and looked up my reservation of the materials I wanted to look at. My partner, who is at Cornell, was also either required or encouraged to register, I can’t remember which. Finally, we were sent to the reading room, where another staffer had already secured the box I had requested and handed it over to me.

The reading room was a comfortable, well-lit place, stocked with green paper (I found it funny that they kept telling me I could take notes on the “green paper,” as if other colors of paper were forbidden) and pencils.

I had decided to look at the papers of Brian McNaught, who did work around combatting homophobia in the 1990s. Among other things, McNaught produced training materials on homosexuality. Along with a lots of videotapes, a flyer announcing a lecture, a reference guide to the video and film reels, and a letter from an official at the USDA asking for some of McNaught’s materials, there were also random bits of nostalgia, such as the pinup I mentioned in class from Honcho magazine, an album cover for “Jungle Drums – Wild Dreams” (not sure which is the band name and which is the album title) featuring a white man and a Black man embracing over a bongo drum, etc.

I mentioned in class that I found McNaught’s usage of the “gay liberation” trope in his otherwise mainstream work to be interesting. Something else I’d like to mention is that the lecture flyer is for an event entitled “Homophobia: What’s Its Cause? Can It Be Cured?” I’m currently working on a project that looks at the ways that the terminology of “homophobia” and “transphobia” pathologizes and individualizes attacks on LGBTQ peoples, avoiding discursive treatments and understandings of the systematic and deeply structural nature of heteronormativity and heterosexism. So I found it immensely intriguing that here was an event to discuss whether homophobia could be “cured.” I might make another trip to the archives to see if I can find any footage of this event in the future.

So, all in all, this was a (mostly) pleasant experience and I’m really glad I got the opportunity to get my feet wet in the archives.


Open Admission and the CCNY Archives

By: Lindsey Albracht

As hundreds of students waited for the Basic Writing sections to open so they could register for courses they had been told they must take, a fist fight broke out between two students, knocking a Basic Writing table over and pinning me under the table with their weight as they fought their way across the overturned table toward the blackboards. Prof. Norment grabbed one of the students, Prof. Keating the other. Prof. Norment has a split lip from a punch in the mouth. I have badly bruised thighs and am recuperating from symptoms of internal bleeding. Computer cards were strewn everywhere; it took an hour to put them back in order (“An Open Letter to Alice Chandler, Provost” City College of New York, 1977).

This is a passage from a letter that I found in the Mina P. Shaughnessy box at the City College library archive. It was an open letter, but it was addressed to Provost Alice Chandler from Kathy O. Roe, an Administrative Assistant, and it describes a remarkably tense scene from registration day in the fall of 1977 at City College. Although, Roe claims, the Dean of the college of Humanities had “informed [her] in writing of the projected shortage of sections in Basic Writing — twenty-six, to be exact,” Provost Chandler had neglected to open enough sections to accommodate all of the students who needed to take a Basic Writing course in order to advance. For these students, this would have meant that they would have needed to wait an entire year to enroll in any classes at City College.

For the seminar paper that I’m currently writing about classroom space, I’ve been doing a bit of research about the 1968 and 1969 protests by the Black and Puerto Rican student organizations that built on the national, city-wide, and campus activism throughout the 1960s and that led, ultimately, to the enactment of Open Admissions. For those of you who don’t already know, Open Admissions was a CUNY-wide policy that began in 1970 and ended in 1999, and it guaranteed all New York City high school graduates a place at one of the CUNY campuses (which was a tuition-free system until 1976). In this era at CUNY, remedial student services expanded dramatically. And Mina Shaughnessy, who is credited with significantly advancing the sub-field of basic (or remedial) writing, was the director of the pre-baccalaureate English program, SEEK, at this time. She also wrote an influential book called Errors and Expectations, which, while other scholars have since quite rightly critiqued it for its singular focus on surface-level error and for its lack of focus on the political nature of language, was still perhaps the first resource of its kind to “legitimize” basic writing as a serious subject that was “worthy” of academic inquiry. It was her personal letters, correspondence between various people involved with basic writing and the remedial program, and other random ephemera that I went to the City College archive to investigate.

I saw a lot of compelling artifacts — both in this box and in the box concerning the ESL program which I also explored. But the letter that I mentioned was particularly impactful. It made the struggle of Open Admissions completely vivid to me: much more so than reading about the protests, which I’ve mostly encountered through sanitized New York Times news coverage, Wikipedia entries, and brief paragraphs or footnotes in books about protests in New York City. I’m perhaps particularly attuned to the way that a mundane administrative choice to not open enough classes (despite knowledge of the necessity to do so) sends a clear, silent, political message to students about the priorities of a department, of a school, and of a system of education because I spent some time as a school administrator, and the trickiness of how and when to allocate our institutional resources were sometimes mine to make. But even from an administrator’s side of the desk, I’ve come to realize that these banal little details constitute an unbelievably resolute institutional epistemology that is so hard to dismantle. We can’t fix your problem because we don’t have the resources, and we don’t have the resources because we (probably) decided that your problem wasn’t really that important to us.

This letter also resonated because it was about violence, and because we’re engaged in national conversations about this topic in the wake of the Ferguson decision. So, I read this letter and thought about how some faculty, administrators, city officials, and students openly and vocally resented Open Admissions because of the worry that increasing educational access would “devalue” the worth of their own education (a theme that was continually revisited as justification to end Open Admissions in 1999). I read it and considered that, just the year before, for the first time in CUNY’s history, students had been asked to shoulder the burden of tuition. I read it with the knowledge from previous research that the strain on facilities and resources within the total CUNY system as a result of a lack of appropriate allocation of funding during Open Admissions was causing overcrowded classes to be held in hallways and cafeterias. I read it and thought about the students who were offered admission to CCNY through Open Admissions and who had fought their way through a public education system that had been ravaged by segregation, a lack of monetary support, and overcrowding. Those students graduated from high school anyway, and then they wanted to pursue an education badly enough to accept all of these unfavorable conditions, and then they showed up, and then they were told that they had to wait for another year. I’m not saying that any of this was solely CUNY’s fault, and I understand that the city was experiencing a financial crisis that had greatly impacted funding, and I’ve been that administrator who had to make a tough choice to cut a class. I’m also not saying that punching a professor in the mouth — a person who probably had nothing to do with the decision to close the class — was the right call. But we always find the funding for other things that we deem necessary, right? So, I read this letter, and I felt empathy for Kathy O. Roe and Alice Chandler, and I felt empathy for the students, and I felt utter and total and consuming frustration.

I’m glad to have had the opportunity to visit the archive since, before this project, I wasn’t sure how archival work might be a part of my own research and, now, I anticipate that it will. Finding these little fragments made a big difference in the way I understood this bit of institutional history.

Columbia Rare Books and Manuscripts

By: Lucas Corcoran

I spent each Friday last semester commuting to D.C. and back. I was fortunate enough to have taken part in the Folger Institute’s Introduction to Bibliography course, in which we covered everything from chain lines to the division of labor within early modern print shops. Perhaps, at the time, the fatigue from the bus ride tinged my view of bibliography, for the course began to feel at times more like library science than literary criticism or intellectual history. Indeed, many times during the discussion sessions for the Folger course, I wondered out loud what work analytical bibliography could do for literary study. Who cares where the watermark is in the 1623 folio? Why do I need to schlep to a rare books room when I can get a good facsimile on EEBO?

Now freed from the cramped seats of Megabus and the traffic on I95, I cleary see the importance of analytical bibliography for my research. I account for this shift by positing two main causes for it: i) My research interests have tacked away from early modern books written in English, and ii) I have come to appreciate the fact that a large number of early modern books are moldering in libraries, with no scholarly editions ever produced for them. Scholars such as Jonathan Hope have brought point (ii) to the fore. With continued use of text mining directing many new advances in literary study, we are beginning to reckon with data sets that include editions of texts far outside the cannon. Who were the people who wrote these books? Who printed them? One of the advantages of the macro-analysis that Hope advocates is that it directs our attention to hitherto uncharted territory of rare book collections.

All this was in my mind as I made my way up to the Columbia Rare Book and Manuscript Library. I had already visited Columbia’s library, when I took Professor Carroll’s Introduction to Renaissance Studies course, last spring. Then, we had the pleasure of looking of editions of Erasmus, Jonson and, much to my delight, a 1623 folio. So, by now, I am well versed in the procedures of entering and exiting a rare books room. When I got to the desk, I dutifully divested myself of pens, removed my laptop from its sleeve, waited patiently for the librarian, and spoke with a hushed politeness.

I requested my book; I have learned from experience to moderate my appetite in the rare book room. In the past, it feels as if my eyes were bigger than my stomach: peeling off paper request slips in furies of excitement. The book that I asked for was 16th century Greek grammar textbook. I find the volume keenly interesting, for few Greek grammars were printed in London in the 16th century, and scholars have renewed their attention to the status of Greek reception in the English Renaissance. I, too, was excited to see how students tackled the often-befuddling intricacies of Greek, having just spent my summer suffering through an intensive course.

Every time that I am lucky enough to handle an early modern book, the book as artifact still astounds. It still astounds me that I am allowed to thumb through pages that are nearly half a millennia old. The shock of the historical object forces me to consider the reality of history: the Renaissance is not an abstract category, but existed in the same way that we exist—full of bodies, objects, relationships, failures and aspirations. The book itself, it seems, is due for a renaissance. In the era of big data, and with renewed emphasis on the materiality of history, the return to the archive appears to be the logical next step; simply getting the extant historical recorded digitized feels like the work of a generation.



Visit to Berg to See Twain Collections

By: Michael Druffel

The Chase–First Day

My first grad school trip to the archives ended in defeat. I had made an appointment to visit the Berg Collection at NYPL to investigate material on Mark Twain. Because I hope to produce a paper on how the material of publishing influenced Twain’s literary content in Huck Finn I had hoped to see Twain’s letters to his publishers, as well as letters to the illustrator, EW Kemble, and any relevant material the archivists could suggest. While corresponding with one of the helpful, friendly, and knowledgable archivists I had been warned that some of the Twain material was out for digitization (a process I heartily support). Optimistically I reasoned that it would still be a good experience to learn about a) the Berg Collection in general, b) whatever material was in house, and c) new search terms to use in my further research that might come from working with the archivists or the Berg’s indexes. Besides, a visit to NYPL would barely be out of my way.

Points a and c were fulfilled wonderfully, and I’d like to touch on them in a minute. However, when I arrived at the Berg I learned that I had been way too optimistic about the material that remained. The Berg had sent pretty much all the Clemens manuscripts, letters, and notes to be digitized. If it was produced during Twain’s life time, it wasn’t at the Collection. The material was due back, according to one archivist, in September (2014), but likely wouldn’t be expected until February (2015) at the earliest. This certainly got me thinking that if I were writing a book, a serious, for-tenure book, then it would probably be a good idea to call around to different archives while I’m still coming up with the topic for the book to learn what is or isn’t available. Deciding on a topic and finding that material is out for at least 1/2 year (and that’s only how long the material was overdue for) could damn a project. I’d be curious to hear if anyone has stories of this happening before, or if I’m playing Chicken Little w/r/t the deleterious impact of lacking archival access. Either way, it’s a lesson at least for seminar papers, which obviously can’t afford 1/2 year of archival absence (if that was conceived of as being important to the project).

However, the trip was not wholly unprofitable. I have my NYPL Berg Collection reader’s card. I know how to submit call slips to call up books in the Berg. And I introduced myself to the Berg’s friendly and helpful staff. But I also did gain some more search terms and knowledge for my paper on Twain. While the material produced during Twain’s life was almost wholly absent from the Berg, the collection had some rare books on Twain that helped me. Two in particular were Arthur Vogelback’s 1939 PhD thesis The Reception of Huckleberry Finn in America and a collection of Century magazines from the 19th century reprinted in a bound volume. While Vogelback’s thesis was old, it was thoroughly researched. He had combed newspapers from the 19th century to offer a wide variety of perspectives on Huck. He made the interesting point that journals, magazines, and papers from Concord were the most critical of HF and were some of the first to call for its ban. Vogelback argued this was because Mark Twain had said some less than flattering words about the Sage of Concord. (Apparently, in a speech Twain called Emerson “bogus.”)  Vogelback’s book also alerted me to a truly strange incident involving Huck in which an artist had drawn an erection or penis (the image is really so crude that it’s hard to tell what the thing is, or even if is an innocent mistake and the imaginative viewer projects the phallic meaning onto it) on Uncle Silas in one of HF‘s many pictures. When the offending image was detected the books hither to sold were recalled and reprinting was further delayed.

Overall, Vogelback’s thesis pointed to a struggle between Twain and the papers who were quick to mock the illustration boner, call for censorship of Huck , and deride the subscription model Twain used. The rift between Twain and some papers has many causes (the aforementioned Emerson slight), but one of them seems to be advertising money. Some newspapers seemed to think Twain didn’t pay enough for ads and were ready to take his work to task as a result. Even though I didn’t see any primary documents, it was helpful to learn how the relationship between press and author shapes the perception of the book.

The other interesting book I found was the Century volume. One of issues inclosed had the famous feud chapter from HF printed as a kind of teaser for the rest of the book. While it didn’t shine anything new on the process, it gave me a good idea of how Twain did use magazines for advertisement. The excerpt included five of EW Kemble’s illustrations as well, which shows, I think, that a big reason for buying books in the 19th century was the art that came with them. (Twain’s letters to his publishers, which I found in an edited volume by Hamlin Hill confirm this.)

While the trip wasn’t a rousing success, I think there were points I could take away. However, since I didn’t get to handle any primary documents, I made a second trip to another archive: NYU’s.

The Chase–Second Day

Feeling like it would be good to handle primary documents, instead of the still helpful books I found in NYPL, I used ArchiveGrid to find another archive nearby. This time I located one that held two letters from William James. Since I am in a class on Pragmatism, I thought it could be useful to check it out. This archive was at NYU, and having applied for a MaRLi, but yet to redeem it at NYU it was a good experience to get there, get the card, and visit the archive.

The WJ material was scant. There were two letters written in sloppy handwriting asking for copies of his book to sent to people. They were in the Helena Born collection, a single box for material created (donated?) by Helena Born, who is, as far as I can tell, an American socialist. I must admit that the visit did nothing to further my project, but it was not w/o merit.

Perhaps the most useful thing I learned was that NYU seems to have great socialist, Marxist, and labor material. These are all topics that interest me, so I’m sure I’ll be back to the archives sooner than later. I’d also recommend to anyone else dealing with labor to check them out: NYU’s Tamimant Library in particular, which is in the Bobst main library building (10th floor) by Washington Park.

But the most fun I had in the library was finding a watermark. I attended after hearing Steve Jones talk so I was feeling for lines and watermarks in the paper. One of the WJ letters had a mark visible when held to the light that read: “Royal Scot Linen / WB Clark & Co / Boston.” It was a lot of fun to see it there and know how it got there.

While neither archival visit furnished me with a perfect document, I think that it was good to get more info for my Twain paper, and fun to see Steve Jones’s facts in action. However, I decided against visiting a third archive to find a really great primary document. Two was enough for this project I thought.

Martineau and Gaskell at the Morgan Library

By: Elissa Myers

This semester I have been helping Caroline Reitz with a project on female contributors to a periodical Dickens edited called Household Words. Caroline has encouraged me to follow my own interests in the work I do for her, so I have focused to a large extent on Harriet Martineau, whom I am interested in partially from a disability studies standpoint, and partially because she was just a tremendously sassy, eccentric woman who even had the guts to get into quite a public argument with Dickens in the periodical press. In looking at the letters at the Morgan Library, I was pursuing a path already taken by Iain Crawford, one of the foremost scholars on Dickens, who recently wrote an article on the two previously unpublished letters I looked at, in which he argues that the way in which many scholars focus on the argument between Dickens and Martineau obscures the fact that up until that time, they had had a very productive working relationship and a sincere friendship. As Crawford doesn’t publish these letters in full in his article, I wanted to see them for myself, to ascertain whether or not I agree with him. Both letters did seem to me to be open and friendly, exactly as Crawford represented them.

                I had also ordered a few letters written by Elizabeth Gaskell, another contributor to the magazine whose relationship with Dickens was complicated, to Martineau. Because the file on Elizabeth Gaskell was not terribly well-organized, they brought me the whole thing and let me look through it to find what I wanted. The letters extended my sense of the relative amity between Dickens and Martineau, as Gaskell’s mention of receiving “a very liberal proposal” from Dickens to write for All the Year Round suggests that there were no hard feelings between Martineau and Dickens at that time. In a private letter, Gaskell would have had no reason to sugarcoat the feeling of dislike toward Dickens that she and Martineau allegedly shared. However, her mention of him is perfectly cordial, asserting his liberality, and citing the only reason she did not want to work for him to be her dislike of writing in weekly installments.

On my way to finding the two letters, however, I stumbled across something even more interesting—a picture of Elizabeth Gaskell with a “ghost,” an apparition that was created by a photographic overlay, then a new procedure. My first guess is that this picture could have something to do with Gaskell’s renown as a writer of ghost stories. I have not been able to find it in a google image search, or any other information about it, though, so I suspect that the picture might not be generally known in the world of Victorian studies.. I am thinking of sending around a query on Victoria-list, a listserv of which I am a part to inquire. They told me I am not supposed to publish the pictures I took in any way, but I have it for show and tell in class if you guys are interested. At any rate, my trip to the archive yielded both sound progress on my task for Caroline, and exciting, unexpected surprises. Archives make me feel like Indiana Jones!

Transcendentalists in the Archive

By: Austin Bailey


My Reading Desk.

For this assignment I made use of Michael’s wonderful suggestion to check out Archive Grid: I found this to be surprisingly easy to use and quite helpful. You type in search criteria and it pulls up a list of libraries that carry matching items. This led me to the Morgan Library. My search criteria was “Ralph Waldo Emerson.” It turns out the Detroit Public Library has most of his papers and there are other items scattered across New England and California. However, I found two items of interest at the Morgan Library: a collection of newspaper and journal clippings relating to the transcendentalists and hand written notes from a 1859 speech Emerson delivered on behalf of John Brown. This speech was delivered on November 18th, roughly a month before John Brown was hung for treason.  Below is a photograph.

20141126_152642Emerson crosses out “Wordsworth.”

I thought this was neat because it’s the word “Wordsworth” written then crossed out. It seemed to have resonance by itself, floating atop the page and seemingly separate from the rest of the text. It reminded me of a comment I read recently in Harold Bloom’s 2012 Anatomy of Influence: “A great poet in prose, and a very good one in verse, [Emerson] invested himself in his journals, lectures, and essays because Wordsworth’s giant form blocked the New England seer from achieving a full voice in verse” (209). It’s interesting to think in terms of how the archive can inform and dialogue with our preestablished critical frameworks. Putting this next to Bloom’s assertion, for example–an assertion that seems generally true, so in a sense hard to assess–we can think about how process works in the making of a text. This would suggest a different way of thinking about influence, seeing it as more palimpsestic and usable rather than anxious and oppositional. (I don’t particularly buy what Bloom is saying anyway. Emerson wasn’t the best poet because he sounded too Victorian despite his desire not to. This wasn’t due so much to an anxiety of influence as it was to his inability to get his pitch right in verse. He knew this himself and remarked once that his voice was a “husky” one, better suited to prose.)

I was kind of surprised by how formal the archive was. It was like meeting a celebrity or going through airport security (though much more aesthetically pleasing). Catherine mentioned the Morgan Library’s archive system in her post but I’ll iterate my own version here. You can’t get to the Morgan Library’s reading room directly; you have to be escorted there. A nice man with a pony tail helped me get my visitor’s pass and took me upstairs to it.

When you get to the reading room you are instructed to put your personal items in a storage locker and to wash your hands. You present your ID to the archivist behind the glass. Then they let you in. It’s all very procedural. They instruct you to read through a list of rules and handling instructions. While you’re doing this they prepare the requested materials for you. In my case, these were newspaper clippings in a bound book, one that I could touch freely as they were simply xerox copies. But the other item I requested–the hand-written Emerson speech–was in a bound book placed on a kind of reading dais (I’m not sure what the exact term for it is but it’s essentially a wooden book holder). For these types of items you’re allowed to move the pages (carefully of course) but you are instructed not to reposition the book in any way. Below is a photo of the entrance which I surreptitiously snapped.

20141126_143345Entrance to the Reading Room

There was one other person doing research. He was photographing some series of illuminated manuscripts. There was an odd moment when one of the archive curators said to the other one: “Want me to move this stack of books so you can see him better?” referring to the researcher who was observing the illuminated manuscripts. The researcher then cheekily responded: “You can’t see me Marie?” with a smile. He and the archivist knew each other well enough to be on a first-name basis (at least in his mind) yet the curator was talking audibly about surveiling him. The whole scenario seemed oddly interesting.

As cliche as it may sound, there was something wonderful about being in the presence of all that literary historical material. I have no investment in manuscript studies per se, but I found myself wanting to trade with the guy next to me–his materials for mine–just so I could have a different viewing experience. Part of what was so alluring about Emerson’s script was that it looked like something someone could’ve written yesterday, as it was only black ink scribbled on blue-lined legal paper. It made me recall our conversation with Steve Jones and what he said about the delicacy of more recent textual materials, since they were printed on cheap, acidic paper.

20141126_151702Sketch of Henry David Thoreau, from the transcendentalist notebook.

I think being in the presence of the archive had an impact on me in two key ways: 1) it opened me up to an area of scholarship which I have heard a lot about but have not had any direct experience with, that being archive work in general, and 2) it made me aware of one of the salient values of the archive, which is to put the scholar in contact with the corporal presence of the text in its initial makings. This generates a new-found sense of a text being something that is made. It puts one in touch with the materiality of thinking and its affective forces. While none of the materials I found are directly relevant to what I’m working on now, I did snap some photos of some important journal clippings. These journal clippings presented in aggregate a record of Emersonian critical reception in the last years of his life and right after. Interestingly, what they reveal is that a lot of the conversations talking place within academe in the late 19th century concerning the meaning of Emerson’s work are surprisingly similar to one’s taking place now. Of course, certain elements of the 19the century conversation are dated and very different; still, there are skeletal similarities in the ways these late 19th century American and European literary critics themetized his oeuvre. I have made note of these things as they will come in handy in the future.



The Morgan Reading Room & James Gillray’s Satirical Prints

By: Catherina Sara Engh

Two Fridays ago, I visited the Morgan reading room where I looked at two oversized books of satirical prints drawn by the English caricature artist James Gillray. The experience was excellent, the librarians were helpful and getting into the reading room was as easy as could be expected. I was asked to stow my things—everything but a laptop, my iphone and a few papers–in a locker. I washed my hands and gave my driver’s license to a librarian to photocopy. Inside the reading room, someone had already pulled the two books that I requested and a librarian set one of them up for me on a stand.

The first book that I looked through was approximately two by four feet–very cumbersome—and consisted of 307 pages with Gillray prints pasted into the books’ pages. I stood to look at the prints and used a weight to hold the pages in place. The second book was much lighter, with fewer pages.

In her book The Golden Age of Caricature, Diana Donald argues that caricatures don’t fit neatly into the categories of high or low art. In the drawings, allegorical content is mixed with impolite subject matter. At the Morgan, for instance, I saw a print of the Queen of England on a Toilet titled ‘Patience on a Monument’—a line from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The mixture of high and low formal qualities and the cross-class audience—in the 1790s and today—makes the status of caricatures on the art market complex. Seeing so many prints pasted into the pages of this book, I couldn’t help but think that whoever put the collection together did not consider these etchings very valuable. (The collection I saw was given to the Morgan by Gordon N. Ray, who acquired them in 1815, but it’s unclear who owned them before him.)

The visit was, as I had hoped, productive to my research and thinking. I’m working on a paper that focuses on representations of English women in the 1790s world of fashion. Before the visit, I made a list of all the caricatures that I hoped to see and I left having seen seven of ten. It was great to get photos of details that I won’t find in a Google image search.

photo 1 (4)

As I looked for the prints that I knew I wanted to see, I came across several that will help me prove my argument. This print –‘The Introduction’–pictures Frederick, the Prince regent, (in 1791) presenting his wife Charlotte to King George III and Queen Sophia. Charlotte’s apron is overflowing with gold coins. Behind her is an unfortunate depiction of an orientalized Prussian man who stands guarding more of her money.  I’ll have to see if I can find a good account of Charlotte and the dowry she brought into her marriage with the Prince. The laugh here is at the expense of the crown. The Prince was notoriously in debt to the crown and this marriage must have been a mercenary one. In my paper, I want to talk about how Gillray links marriage to the market and social spectacle to financial speculation. So, for my purposes, the print is great—it depicts marriage as a transaction. The King and Queen value Charlotte for the money that she brings to the marriage, regardless of where it came from.

The other great find was a series called ‘Progress of the Toilet’ which includes ‘The Stays’ ‘The Wig’ and ‘Dress Completed.’ In these drawings, a woman stands dressing before a mirror—a common enough setting for a Gillray print. But on the wall is a framed image depicting the time of day—morning, noon and evening in respective prints. Gillray exaggerates to comic proportions the time it takes this woman to get dressed, even with the help of a servant. In Catharine, or the Bower, Jane Austen uses a similar comic technique—she exaggerates a rakish character’s dressing time to indicate his foppishness and to suggest to her reader that he’s not morally serious.

It was great to see the prints as they were originally sized. I noticed details like the pictures of morning, noon and night in the ‘Progress of the Toilet’ series that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have noticed. The size of the prints made the intricacies of Gillray’s line and shading techniques more apparent and impressive. When people write about caricature prints, they usually discuss ‘supercharged features’ and, indeed, I noticed that the monstrous proportions of facial features instantly indicate who to laugh at or, more strongly, disdain. The queen, wherever she is pictured (see ‘The Introduction’), appears monstrous. I also noticed a lot of tavern drawings and admired up close the compositional arrangement of these overcrowded, busy scenes .

Finally, I saw a number of dreamscapes—drawings of Tom Paine or the Prince Regent asleep in a bed, surrounded by dream imagery. In his essay ‘The Cartoonist’s Arsenal,’ E.H. Gombrich applies Freud’s theories of compression and displacement to his readings of caricature prints. Before this trip, I was a little skeptical of Gombrich’s Freudian approach. But seeing the many dream scenes included in the book of collected prints, I was convinced that the Freudian approach is a good one and that Gillray’s kind of comedy expresses a thorough knowledge of human psychology.


NYPL Manuscripts and Archives

By: Christina Quintana

This past weekend I visited the NYPL Archives in order to review the records for the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars, a New York association formed in 1933 for the purpose of employing refugee European scholars in American institutions. While the committee worked to support all scholars fleeing Nazi persecution, special attention was paid to Jewish scholars who required assistance. The records are quite extensive—over 200 boxes—and consist mainly of grant files on refugee scholars who applied for aid, along with some correspondences between the committee and other philanthropic organizations. I was interested in only one file, however: Hannah Arendt’s, who submitted an application for aid in 1934. Hannah Arendt was a German-born Jewish political theorist who wrote extensively on theories of power, politics, and totalitarianism, among many other topics. For my final paper for my other course (Professor Miller’s Postwar Women Writers and Intellectuals) I plan to examine Arendt’s sometimes troubling notions of identity, and how she often eschews seemingly objective labels such as ‘woman’ or ‘Jew.’ Because the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars somewhat focused on Jewish scholars in need of aid, I was interested to see how Arendt would position her Jewish background in her application.

As both Sarah and Chelsea discussed, the NYPL can sometimes resemble a crowded amusement park more than a library. After a frustrating ten minutes or so of bypassing dawdling tourists and jogging up and down flights of stairs, I finally found the Archives Division, tucked away at the end of a fairly well-hidden corridor. The archivists working that day were all extremely helpful and informative, but I do agree (again) with Chelsea and Sarah that the highly restrictive nature of the archives is somewhat problematic. While I can understand the reasoning behind the appointment-only structure of the archive (in order to ensure no one is carelessly wandering in and poking around), the need for references and proof of academic affiliation seems unnecessarily obstructive and elitist. Again, as Chelsea pointed out, the implication that only “real” scholars (i.e., those attending an institution) need to and can have access to primary materials is disquieting.

Once I had signed in, I was given my box of requested materials. As I mentioned, I was interested in only Arendt’s file, which consisted of about thirty separate documents. The first dozen or so documents were fairly standard forms requesting the applicant’s name, date and place of birth, marital status, employment history, etc. Several letters of recommendation were included, which were fascinating to read. Both Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger submitted recommendations, but unfortunately they were in German (a possibility I naively had not even considered). The other letters, written in English from various colleagues of Arendt’s, all testified to her staggering intellect and warmly recommended her for financial aid. In terms of my original inquiry—that is, how does Arendt discuss or position her Jewish background on her application—I was not able to find a lot of satisfying material. On her CV, Arendt lists her field as “History of Jewish Emancipation and Assimilation” and marks her religion as “Jewish—Reformed”; otherwise, there was little to no mention of Arendt’s background in any of her application material or in the correspondences between the committee and Arendt. This is most likely due to the fact that the committee’s application did not require any sort of personal statement or academic essay, and therefore the majority of the file’s documents were not even authored by Arendt herself (except in the most perfunctory of ways, such as filling out generic forms).

Ultimately, Arendt was denied a grant from the committee nearly ten years after she originally submitted her application (a puzzling find for me—why did it take them so long to arrive at their decision? It seems absurdly long), but assured by the committee’s secretary that all the members held her in high esteem and would reconsider her application at a later date. Although these documents didn’t exactly address my original question, I was grateful to have had the opportunity of engaging with these texts in such a direct, tactile way. Additionally, the experience revealed to me the incredible potential of archival research in general—and that it’s not nearly as intimidating as I originally thought it would be.

poet’s house archive

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tactile poetry!

By: Erin Glass

For our archive assignment, I decided to go to the Poet’s House nestled inside the bottom two floors of a riverfront building in Battery Park. The website describes the Poet’s House as a national archive, but perhaps Wikipedia’s description of Poet’s House as a “literary center” is a bit more fitting, as the archives themselves seem to play only a small role in actual use of the space.  Though their collection includes 60,000 books, chapbooks and literary journals, visitors typically come for one of their readings or other poetry-related events rather than to peruse their shelves.  Or at least so it seems.  Personally, my first few visits to the Poet’s House were entirely event related.  And now that I finally had a chance to check out their holdings — along with co-explorer Seth — I had the distinct sense we were treading a sort of forgotten frontier.  The window side tables were full of laptopped students, perhaps some even enjoyed poetry in addition to sunlit work spaces, but once near the actual heart of the archive, the population dropped.

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the wall of new poetry.

Such is often the case with libraries, archives, so no criticism here. The sunlit windows, the free wifi, the poetry readings and classes, are all equally important organs for the vitality of such a literary center.  It was one of the events, in fact, that made me so eager to explore their actual collection.  No other institution in my experience, save perhaps for the university itself, has so successfully drawn my interest and activity to its bibliographic holdings through events.

Let me explain. A year or two ago, I attended a talk about the history of the chapbook at the Poet’s House that was held in conjunction with The Center for the Humanities annual Chapbook Festival. Now just in case anyone here isn’t exactly sure what a chapbook is, let us briefly recollect. Wikipedia nicely describes the chapbook’s contemporary form as:

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chapbook shelves

…publications of up to about 40 pages, usually poetry bound with some form of saddle stitch, though many are perfect bound, folded, or wrapped. These publications range from low-cost productions to finely produced, hand-made editions that may sell to collectors for hundreds of dollars…The genre has been revitalized in the past 40 years by the widespread availability of first mimeograph technology, then low-cost copy centers and digital printing, and by the cultural revolutions spurred by both zines and poetry slams, the latter generating hundreds upon hundreds of self-published chapbooks that are used to fund tours.

The chapbook is the folk press, a means of distributing one’s texts outside the pearly gates of conventional publishing.  It is perhaps the most important — and unruly! — form of underground poetry movements in 20th century United States.  One need not have the approval of an editor or the capital of a printing press, but only the gumption to turn available resources into the means of transmission.  And so a survey of chapbooks of the past sixty years brings forth all sorts of shapes, materials and styles that defy traditional expectations of a published book.  Without a standardized means of production, the chapbook’s form depended largely on its creator’s imagination.

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fringe and uber-fringe publications live happily together.

But back to the talk. The speakers articulated some of the historical roots of the chapbooks in early modern Europe, and then described some of the genre’s major transformations in the past century. For example, tools and organizations that in many ways made chapbook publishing a far more accessible, sustainable, and influential endeavor also contributed to the homogenization of the form. Prior to the Xerox machine, chapbook makers essentially had to individually determine the materials, forms and style of the chapbook, which enforced, so to speak,diversity within the genre. Additionally, one speaker linked the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1965 — which did important work cultivating some of these chapbook endeavors into shinier, more professional, more public forms — with the waning of a DIY, rough-edged culture of chapbook makers.  While no one was arguing that the Xerox machine or the NEA were not much welcome resources for fringe cultural producers, the speakers quite effectively demonstrated how diversity, reach, and sustainability of cultural production are all dramatically influenced by available resources, and not always in the way we expect. When the talk ended we were left to explore a curated selection of chapbooks from the fifties and sixties that highlighted the dramatic range of creativity in publishers that worked with minimal resources and support.  Somehow, I walked away that night thinking that the curated display just represented the tip of the iceberg. I was flooded with visions of combing through the past century of our nation’s folk publications.  How on earth, I wondered, would they even catalog such an oddball, odd-shaped, uncategorizable set of items. Oh, I’d return, all right.

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chapbook shelf close up.

But when I did return — a few Fridays ago — making my way past the first shelf of this year’s published books of poetry, past the shelves devoted to international poetry, past the books of criticism, journals, memoirs, dictionaries, past, really, the entire printed discourse related to English poetry, all the way to the very back to its chapbook collection, I realized my imagination had perhaps run away from me.  Here, in about two aisles, lies the Poet’s House chapbook collection. Unruly, surprising, impressive, yes — one might find hand decorated, stapled, glitter explosive works snugly sharing shelf space with more official works by the likes of Louise Gluck — but hardly the National Library of Chapbooks that I had somehow been expecting.  I browsed through the mildly alphabetized materials, losing interest as it seemed most were produced in the last ten years, and all off an Epson printer.   Where, then, I wondered, did the nation’s history of chapbooks exist?