University of Iowa Asian American Oral History Archive

The following is written by Asian Alumni and Student Oral History Project Intern Jin Chang

Asian Alumni and Student Oral History Project Intern Jin Chang

Since the start of the pandemic, prominent leaders have stood in front of crowds of American people calling COVID-19 the “China Virus” and “Kung Flu.” As a result, Chinatown businesses closed as tourists continued to avoid Chinatowns across America and racially charged attacks increased against Asian elders, including a mass shooting in Atlanta specifically targeting Asian Women in the massage industry. Unfortunately, all these moments had precedents in the past. The Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882, which barred the Chinese from immigrating to America, was one of many policies motivated by Yellow Peril, a racist characterization for the fear of Asian people. This racist belief that East Asia and their people pose an existential threat to America influences the belief that Chinatowns are a uniquely dangerous spot of disease. Before COVID-19, Chinatown and Chinese people were blamed by many Americans for smallpox and cholera in the late 1800’s, the bubonic plague in the early 1900’s, and the SARS epidemic as recently as 2003. For the direct violence against Asians in America many of the wars in Twentieth Century American history have been against Asian countries, teaching Americans to view Asians as the enemy.

This longstanding history of Sinophobia, anti-Chinese sentiment, and the belief in Yellow Peril reveals the racism following COVID-19 is not some bizarre aberration. It is America’s history. While many of these notable early instances of racism against Asian people came from areas with heavy Asian populations such as California, Asian and Asian Americans have long lived in Iowa, and the population continues to grow in the present. As a Korean-American myself, I believe our experiences with navigating race and racism here in Iowa follows national trends, but I also believe there are many unique elements that come from reconciling race and racism as an Asian or Asian American in Iowa that is missing from the national discourses of today.

Directory from the Korean Student Association folder in Organizations & Clubs vertical files of University Archives

For the University of Iowa specifically, we are lucky to have the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center (APACC) as a space of community, healing, and empowerment for Asian Americans in the University. However, APACC began in 2003, and Asian and Asian Americans have long been forming communities in the University of Iowa. One group established in 1999, the Asian-American Coalition, served as a consolidated voice for many Asian Americans, and as one of the leading voices in the founding of APACC. Another group, the Asian American Women’s Group sought to address the specific needs of Asian American Women and predates the Asian American Coalition as it was established in 1993. Prior to the 1990s, many Asian international student groups existed on campus such as the Korean Student Association, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and PERMIAS an Indonesian Student Association.

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A brochure found in University Archives for Asian-American Law Students Association, a current student organization

Many of these student groups are underrepresented in the University Archives. The lifecycle of student organizations also means that new iterations exist on our campus to serve Asian and Asian American students today, making it a challenge to capture organizations that have come and gone. While collecting materials from Asian and Asian American groups’ is a priority for the University Archives, the Special Collections & Archives team has also recognized the importance of collecting the stories of communities through oral history. Thus, over the course of the next year, the University Archives will be collecting oral histories of Asian and Asian American students and alumni from the University of Iowa. By capturing our stories and narratives through oral history, we have an opportunity to have our histories recognized and to create a genealogy for future Asian and Asian American students here at the University of Iowa.

If you wish to have your story included in the oral history archive, please contact Jin Chang at jin-chang@uiowa.edu.

Black and white photo of Earl F. Rose with wearing horn-rimmed glasses and white scrubs

A Unique Perspective: The JFK Assassination Through the Lens of the Earl F. Rose Papers

The following is written by graduate student worker Bailey Adolph. 

Black and White photo of Earl Rose wearing horn-rimmed glasses and scrubs
Earl F. Rose circa 1960

A collection that is currently being reprocessed in Special Collections & Archives is the Earl F. Rose Papers, which gives a unique perspective of the John F. Kennedy Assassination and the events that followed. Earl F. Rose was the medical examiner who performed the autopsies of Lee Harvey Oswald, Officer J.D. Tippit, and Jack Ruby. One of the greatest resources in the collection is Rose’s memoir that gives insight into the assassination, the autopsies, the subsequent investigations into the murders, and the resulting conspiracy theories. The following is a brief synopsis of the memoir to give a taste of what it is like to peruse this collection.

On November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas, Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy. During this time, Earl F. Rose was the medical examiner for Dallas County and he was in his office when Kennedy was brought into the Parkland Memorial Hospital Emergency Room. Rose immediately went to the ER because this death was a homicide, and medicolegal considerations took priority for the future trial. At this time, the federal government had no criminal jurisdiction over murder, even the murder of the president, so this was a matter of the state, meaning the courts of Texas had exclusive jurisdiction over this matter. It also made the most sense for the autopsy to be done in Dallas as the Texas courts would be handling the trial for this crime and therefore an autopsy done in Texas would be more credible. However, the Justice of the Peace had to authorize the autopsy otherwise the control would pass over to the next of kin, Jackie Kennedy. According to Rose’s memoir, he repeatedly told the Justice of the Peace to authorize an autopsy but he shrank away from responsibility. Ultimately, they removed the body and Mrs. Kennedy authorized a partial autopsy to be done at the hospital of her choice, Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington D.C. There were several issues with the incomplete autopsy as it was fraught with errors due to a lack of experience of those performing the autopsy and their inability to properly evaluate the death and gunshot wounds. The autopsy did not ultimately matter for a trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, who was murdered before one could take place. It did, however, contribute to conspiracy theories in the following years.

A character in this story that is largely unknown is Dallas Officer J.D. Tippit. After Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated the President, he was on the run.  Officer Tippit happened to cross his path while he was on patrol, and stopped the pedestrian Oswald to have a chat. Oswald pulled a gun on him and shot him four times before leaving the scene and running to a theater where he was later apprehended. Officer Tippit was dead upon arrival at Parkland Memorial Hospital and Earl F. Rose performed the autopsy. In his memoir, Rose states that “It was imperative that the investigation into the death of Officer Tippit be thorough and complete for the prosecution of Lee Harvey Oswald, the putative defendant, might hinge on this autopsy information in the event that it was not possible to prosecute Oswald for the assassination of the president,” (Dallas: My View of History, 1963-1968, p. 76). Following his apprehension, Oswald was held in the Dallas City Police Department and was to be transferred to the Dallas County Jail the morning of November 24, 1963.

Slide image of Jack Ruby's brain
Slide image from Jack Ruby’s autopsy

That morning, Jack Ruby shot Oswald in the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters while handcuffed between two Dallas detectives. Rose went to his office in Parkland Memorial Hospital while Oswald was rushed there for emergency surgery, which was unsuccessful and he died there. Rose then performed a medicolegal forensic autopsy in order to maximize the amount of information to be used during the trial of Jack Ruby. He subsequently used the document to testify at the trial in 1964. Jack Ruby, Oswald’s murderer, was charged and convicted for first degree murder in March 1964. However, the conviction was later reversed and delayed for a new trial by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. He died on January 3, 1967 from primary bronchial cancer of the lung before a retrial could be held. Rose was brought in to perform this autopsy as well. 

Meanwhile, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed the Warren Commission in January 1964 in order to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy. Those involved concluded in a report released on September 7, 1964 that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, without any conspiracy, foreign or domestic, (Rose, p. 155). However, there were many discrepancies and unanswered questions in the Report of the Warren Commission and this fueled conspiracy theories. Therefore, the House Select Committee on the Assassination of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. was at work from 1977 to 1978. Rose was a member of the panel of forensic pathologists appointed as consultants for this committee. He traveled to Washington D.C. to review the forensic material and to give his testimony regarding what he observed. After all information was gathered, the hearings were held and they came to the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald committed the crime and that while the committee believes that there were two gunmen, scientific evidence does not support that.

Two test bullets sit in white tissue in a clear box
Test bullet from the gun used on Lee Harvey Oswald

So, how did this collection end up at Iowa? Earl F. Rose began teaching pathology at the University of Iowa in 1968, retiring in 1992. While he was working for the University of Iowa, Rose autopsied Roy J. Carver, a benefactor of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, when he died in 1981. This experience is described in another of Rose’s personal writings, My Ana. He and his wife Marilyn were quite active in the Iowa City community later in life as well, which included donating his materials to the University of Iowa Special Collections & Archives. In this collection, there are actual pieces to the story that was just told. Newspapers, slides and reports from Lee Harvey Oswald’s and Jack Ruby’s autopsies, the test bullet shot out of the gun used to kill Lee Harvey Oswald, personal writings describing the monumental period of history that he lived through and played a role in. The items work alongside Rose’s personal writings and actual legal documentation to give the researcher a unique perspective into a highly publicized event in American history. It is arranged in a way that allows the researcher to learn about the event through Rose’s words and then to view supplemental materials that strengthen the narrative. Finally, the collection concludes with correspondence between Rose and conspiracy theorists that leave the researcher either considering other outcomes or amused by the ideas that others had when conducting their own research. The Earl F. Rose Papers is a collection with exceptional depth and we welcome researchers to come discover more about the John F. Kennedy Assassination as well as the unknown key player Earl F. Rose.

 

Find more on the Earl F. Rose Papers online finding aid

Anti-Asian Racism Historically Archived

“From the Classroom” is a series that features some of the great work and research from students who visit our collections. Below is a blog by Robert Henderson from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “History of Readers and Reading” (SLIS:5600:0001).

A note from the University Libraries:  Some resources in our collections may contain offensive stereotypes, visuals, or language. Such materials serve as evidence of the time period in which they were created, and are part of the historical record. These items do not represent the views of the library or the institution.

 

Anti-Asian Racism Historically Archived

By Robert Henderson

Race and ethnic representation in the United States (U.S.) continues to be a white-centric consensus on the branding of non-white peoples. Alongside heightened scrutiny into race relations, the COVID-19 pandemic has manifested damning rhetoric blaming the Asian diaspora for the creation and spread of the virus. As hate crimes against people of Asian descent rise globally, conducting research on the struggles of race and ethnic identity within the U.S. is pertinent to understanding the continued misrepresentations of the Asian-American. With pandemic restrictions on in-person research impeded, the digital collections within the University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections & Archives provide a historical account on the mass conditioning of false ethnic representation found within Iowa’s periodicals.

Editorial cartoons have long been sources of sociopolitical imagery. Reaching across populations, these caricatures have the capacity to relay information without the confines of age and literacy. Within the editorial cartoons of J.N. “Ding” Darling Collection, we see the exacerbation of ethnic discrimination through Darling’s satirical perversions on Asians in the early 20th century. A figurehead in editorial cartoons, Darling’s images can be interpreted as foundations for continued ideologies on race and ethnic relations in popular culture within the U.S. Midwest.

Referencing sociopolitical discord, Darling’s images are records of the white-American stance on international relations. Imagine being a young Asian-American child of the 21st century and coming across a cartoon window promoting racial exclusion. With the digital age of information technologies, we can research and challenge conforms of racial misinterpretation. Now, imagine being a young Asian person in the U.S. during the early 20th century and seeing oppressive imagery of your familial lineage reaching across the entirety of the immediate white populace.

Fig. 1: Ding Darling’s It tastes so different when you make it yourself, 1927

Printed in 1927, It tastes so different when you make it yourself [Fig. 1], is an example of such relays on Asian separatism. Over four decades since the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act enactment, Darling relishes in the irony of the U.S. receiving karmic retribution for such atrocious foreign legislation. Shown as satirical, the depiction of the Chinese man, taking the medicine of exclusion and feeding it back to Uncle Sam, does nothing to uphold inclusion and racial equity. In fact, many may see the child-like facial expressions and U.S. inspired mimicry to measure inferior intellect.

The proliferation of anti-Asian imagery within Darling’s cartoons spans a career from 1900-1949. During this era of world wars, reflections on Asians are incredibly perpetuated by the institution of the white-savior-complex. In 1941, Darling reflects on Nazism with Beginning to understand the Nazi philosophy [Fig.2], an editorial cartoon reflecting hostile Japanese occupation and the American intervention. Carrying a seemingly dead Asian child while hordes of Asian people grasp at his feet for help, the symbolic Uncle Sam casts a farfetched rendition of peace without acknowledging the U.S. contribution to colonial induced war within Asia.

Fig 2: Ding Darling’s Beginning to understand the Nazi philosophy, 1941

Rising to over 150% in 2020, anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S. continue to climb. From “China virus” to “Kung-flu,” the white political platform refrains from accountability; and without accountability, there is no racial equity. As an Asian-American academic in the Midwest, the fear of violence is very real. The structural heart of white America is rooted in ethnic and racial exploitation. Understanding the roots of oppression through Iowan-created content and imagery found in Special Collections is a great step toward social repair. Until the U.S. accepts the harsh realities of its history and associated imagery, there can be no evolution to racial equity. Special Collections & Archives is a resource not to be overlooked and should be your first stop into acquiring regional archives that can teach the social structures of the region.

 

Robert Henderson is a gay Korean-American artist and activist living in Iowa City, IA.

 

Further reading:

Lee, Jennifer and Min Zhou. Asian American Youth Culture, Identity, and Ethnicity. Routledge, New York, NY, 2004.

Pak, Jenny Hyun Chung. Korean American Women: Stories of Acculturation and Changing Selves. Routledge, New York, NY, 2006.

Park, Hee Sun, Doshik Yun, Hye Jeong Choi, Hye Eun Lee, Dong Wook Lee, and Jiyoung Ahn. “Social Identity, Attribution, and Emotion: Comparisons of Americans, Korean Americans, and Koreans.” International Journal of Psychology 48, no. 5 (2013): 922-34.

Rienzi, Elizabeth S. “A Part Yet Apart: Exploring Racial and Ethnic Identity Formation for Korean Transracial Adoptees Raised in the U.S. Midwest.” Dissertation, University of Oregon, 2012.

Read Behind the Lines: Recovering Deleted Verses in a 15th-century Manuscript

“From the Classroom” is a series that features some of the great work and research from students who visit our collections. Below is a blog by Laura Moser from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “History of Readers and Reading” (SLIS:5600:0001).

Read Behind the Lines: Recovering Deleted Verses in a 15th-century Manuscript

By Laura Moser

Some may know Latin as a “dead language,” but here in Special Collections & Archives it is still very much alive. It lives not only in ancient literature preserved by manuscripts and printed books, but also in centuries-old notes scribbled in their margins by past readers. A few Latin words penned in the back of a book, like that of a 15th-century Latin manuscript of Lucan’s Pharsalia (xMMs. Hi1), can open up a whole new story about an object.

A history written in verse,  Pharsalia narrates the civil war led by Julius Caesar against the Roman Republic in 49-45 BCE. As an epic poem, its literary predecessors include the works of Homer and Virgil, but its focus on historical events and grim pessimism about human nature set it apart from other poetic works at this time. Thue author, Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (better known as Lucan today), was just 26 years old when he fell out of emperor Nero’s favor and was sentenced to death in 65 AD, before the poem was finished.

Perhaps it was this grisly history that drew a young Italian schoolboy named Tommaso Baldinotti, fourteen hundred years later, to undertake the task of copying the poem. In addition to the poem, Tommaso included in the margins a detailed commentary on the text, interlinear vocabulary notes, and two hand-drawn maps depicting scenes in the narrative (see Figs. 1 and 2). Though Tommaso’s copy of Pharsalia is far from the only surviving copy of this poem, his edition offers unique insight into the reception of Latin literature and educational practices in Italy during this time period, when copying texts by hand was a crucial part of education in Latin. It is also a work of visual beauty; neatly written in humanist miniscule, the pages show careful planning and attention to detail, with a richly decorated initial marking the beginning of each of the poem’s ten sections (see Fig. 3).

Fig 3: Verso 19 of the Pharsalia, with a richly decorated “I” marking the start of Book II, rubricated capitals beginning each line, and generous marginal and interlinear notes.

But just as interesting as what was put into this book is what was removed from it—not in edits to the poem itself, but in four lines added at the end that were carefully crossed out in black ink (see Fig. 4). An occasional error in a handwritten manuscript is to be expected (as anyone who still writes by hand can attest!), but the removal of entire lines after the end of the poem is more puzzling: what had our scribe written and why was it taken out? Did the same hand write and remove these words, or was it a later reader who wished to exclude them?

Luckily, with the careful eyes of a scholar and some help from digital technology has gotten us closer to answering these questions. Classical scholar and digital humanist Samuel J. Huskey, who has worked extensively with this manuscript, observed that the final page of the manuscript was unusual in that it held more than one “colophon,” which refers in manuscripts to the brief statement (usually found at the end of a book) that records the scribe’s name and the date of the work’s completion, often among other details. In this Pharsalia, we find three such colophons. The first, following directly after the word FINIS (Latin for “the end”) in a recognizably similar color and style of handwriting, is just a single line of Latin: Hoc scripsi totum pro p[o]ena da mihi potus, which translates to something like, “I wrote all this; give me a drink for my trouble.”

The lines that follow look to have been written in the same hand and shade of red, but are obscured by two heavy lines of black ink, a clearly deliberate attempt to make the underlying text illegible. Beyond making out a few letters here and there, deciphering these lost lines might have seemed a hopeless task. That is, until Huskey was inspired to try and recover them through some unusual means; he enlisted the help of a local Criminalistics Lab, where they were able to produce infrared images of the page in question and render the excised text visible once more. What this revealed was a second colophon written in verse, similar in spirit to the first, but with a far more personal touch that can only be Tommaso’s. Huskey transcribes and translates the passage as follows:

Thommas adolescens Lucanum hunc scripsit & ipsi

De baldinoctis atque manu propria.

Det veniam Christus moritur cum & debita purget

Dirigat atque ipsum per loca sacra deus.

Tommaso Baldinotti, a young man, wrote this Lucan for himself and with his own hand. May Christ grant him mercy when he dies, and may the Lord forgive his debts and direct him along the path of righteousness.

Fig. 4: Verso 141 of the Pharsalia, showing the end of the poem followed by three separate colophons, including one that has been crossed out.

Whether Tommaso immediately disliked these verses, or he came in at a later age and was embarrassed by the poetic aspirations of his teenage self (something we can all perhaps relate to), or the pen which excised these lines belonged to a later reader, we will perhaps never know. But what we do know is that another manuscript copied by Tommaso includes a similar poem as its colophon, and that one evaded deletion.

The third colophon, then, is the closest thing this book has to a scribe’s signature, in including both his name (Latinized in the accusative as Tomam) and the date of the copy (January 1465). What Huskey noticed was peculiar about this, however—and easily missed by the untrained eye—is that the handwriting and ink color differ from the other words on this page, despite an apparent attempt to match them. Not only that, Huskey saw whoever wrote the colophon didn’t have the scribal skill Tommaso did (or, apparently, strong Latin—it contains at least one grammatical error). Leaving us to ask, who would have gone to such trouble to essentially forge the scribe’s signature, thus rescuing his efforts from anonymity? Huskey’s guess: Tommaso’s nephew, who inherited the book and loved his uncle too much to let his work go unacknowledged.

Maybe this kind of manuscript detective work doesn’t change how history will remember the Pharsalia. But it does tell us more about the people who have chosen to read, copy, and share these kinds of books across history. And if that’s not a reason to study Latin, I don’t know what is.

 

Further Reading:

Samuel J. Huskey, “Three Colophons in Tommaso Baldinotti’s Manuscript of Lucan,” Textual Cultures 5, 1 (2010): 99–110.

Samuel J. Huskey, “Fragments of an Anonymous Medieval Commentary in a Manuscript of Lucan’s ‘De bello civili,” International Journal of Medieval and Humanistic Studies 46 (2011): 91–110.

Armando Petrucci, “Baldinotti, Tommaso,” Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 5 (1963): https://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/tommaso-baldinotti

Eva Matthews Sanford, “The Manuscripts of Lucan: Accessus and Marginalia,” Speculum 9, 3 (1934): 278-295

Civilian Conservation Corps, Civilian Climate Corps: The CCC Then and Now

The following is written by Olson Graduate Research Assistant, Rachel Miller-Haughton 

The Civilian Conservation Corps was a program established in 1933 under Franklin Delano Roosevelt to provide jobs for “young, unemployed men during the Great Depression.” As a program, it existed for 9 years and employed about 3 million men across the country, ages 17 to 28, who were US citizens. The men enrolled served 6-month terms, and could serve up to two years. They were required to send a large chunk of the $30 a month they made home to their families 

During the Great Depression, these men were fed, clothed, and housed. They made the equivalent of $500 a month in today’s dollars and worked physically demanding jobs. The money made a huge difference to these men and their families (they were usually unmarried). At the beginning of the CCC program, the program was about creating model manual laborers; by the end of 1942, men enrolled were seen as future soldiers and many enlisted in WWII after finishing their time in the Corps.  

The men in the CCC “made valuable contributions to forest management, flood control, conservation projects, and the development of state and national parks, forests, and historic sites. In return, the men received the benefits of education and training, a small paycheck, and the dignity of honest work.  One such man was Harry L. Hogancamp, whose scrapbook is held in Special Collections & Archives.

A member of CCC Company 3728 in Bancroft, Iowa, Hogancamp was an Iowa native with a camera who documented his bunkmates, peers and officers, and daily work. His certificate of proficiency in “Stump Blasting” is found at the beginning of his scrapbook, along with a cigarette purchase card, both from 1940. What follows are images of trucks of explosives, his friends at work, and portraits of men about camp. Harry’s photos offer us some insight into the realities of President Roosevelt’s favorite New Deal program, according to Jean Edward Smith in her 2007 biography FDR 

Other sources of information about the historic CCC in Special Collections are the Frederick Elliott Biermann Papers (Msc0128) and the Quenton C. Nolte Collection of WWI and CCC Materials (MsC0996). The program has a strong history in Iowa.  

Of course, the realities of the CCC program were far from perfect. It was segregated, and Black men were not allowed into supervisory positions except as educational directors in the all-Black camps; the majority of all CCC camps were led by white men. There was also a separate division for federally recognized tribes: the “Indian Emergency Conservation Work Division” (IECW), also known as CCC-ID (“Indian Division”) [Gower].  

President Joe Biden has reinstated the CCC, but with a different aim, and certainly one that is inclusive. His Civilian Climate Corps borrows the letters of FDR’s CCC and spins it on its head: it is an initiative “to put a new generation of Americans to work conserving and restoring public lands and waters, increasing reforestation, increasing carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protecting biodiversity, improving access to recreation, and addressing the changing climate.”  The establishment of this new Corps was part of a brief from January 27, and shows that the new president, like FDR, wants Americans to have opportunities on improving the environment. Although the setup of Biden’s CCC is likely to be different, it is impossible to deny the parallels between the New Deal and the current administration.  

Like its predecessor, this new CCC uses government programs for jobs and training for “public projects aimed at preparing for, mitigating or forestalling some of the worst environmental impacts of global warming.” This project is, so far, not up and running. But it is worth it to look back on the example set by the 1930s CCC and see what to emulate and what to change. With examples from the archives like the scrapbook of Harry Hogancamp, we can see how the values of hard work and concern for the environment carry on and can help to build a better future for America.  

Page from Harry’s scrapbook showing life working for the CCC

 

Further Reading:

Gower, Calvin W. (1972). “The CCC Indian Division: Aid for Depressed Americans, 1933–1942”. Minnesota History. 3–13.

Gower, Calvin W. (1976). “The Struggle of Blacks for Leadership Positions in the Civilian Conservation Corps: 1933-1942.” The Journal of African American History, 61(2), pp. 123-135. 

Heller, C. E. (2010) ‘The U.S. Army, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and Leadership for World War II, 1933—1942.” Armed Forces & Society, 36(3), pp. 439–453. doi: 10.1177/0095327X09333944.

Stepping into the life of Julia Booker Thompson

“From the Classroom” is a series that features some of the great work and research from students who visit our collections. Below is a blog by Alexa Starry from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “History of Readers and Reading” (SLIS:5600:0001)

Stepping into the life of Julia Booker Thompson

Alexa Starry

Cookbooks are a wonderful way to share things through time, heritage, and generations – recipes, ideas, home remedies, you name it. They are an incredibly valuable source of information for historical narratives. When you follow a recipe that was handwritten with care by someone before you, you’re keeping a piece of that person alive. Cooking can be a beautiful, shared experience throughout history, and, in that case, cookbooks can be the blueprint for interpretations of these experiences. They can help shed a light upon the past.

Through Julia Booker Thompson’s 1898 recipe and travel book, we get a glimpse into the daily life of a woman during the nineteenth century. We know she enjoyed trying new recipes, traveled occasionally, and oftentimes looked through the newspaper for home remedies. The details in the journal point to a woman dedicated to running an efficient household, something expected of many middle- and upper-class women at the time. 

Julia’s recipe collection ranges from sponge cake to pumpkin pie to potato puffs. She includes a recipe for scalloped tomatoes which consists of tomatoes seasoned with sugar, pepper, salt, and butter, then covered with breadcrumbs and baked. There are also recipes for grape juice, orange filling, ice cream, and soda mixtures. She would often leave notes in the margins of these recipes with brief personal reviews such as “fine” and “good.” Though short, these notes are an impression of Julia’s character, her tastes and thoughts. A few of her recipes are credited to a woman named Ella Churchill, and there are also recipes from an “Aunt Florence,” the namesake behind Julia’s entry of “Aunt Florence’s Chicken Pie and Biscuits.” The preservation of cookbooks like this one give us the chance to recreate ideas, such as meals, in the present day. It is a way to vividly reimagine the past in a modern context.

Some of the most interesting things in the book are the home remedies and newspaper clippings tucked inside, including tips on how to remove mildew, a remedy for poison ivy, how to clean silk with a raw potato, a trick to remove ink stains with a “paste of sweet milk and corn meal,” and a cure for Cholera Infantum that calls for boiled strawberry leaves. These remedies not only provide a glimpse into common ailments that might afflict a household during this time, but also a look into how people were applying their knowledge and resources to fight these afflictions. 

Another noteworthy and unique component of the book is that a short portion of it serves as a travel journal. There are notes of a trip to Montreal, followed by a quick journey to St. Paul, as well. It is a look into not only the ordinary home life of Julia Booker Thompson, but also an exciting moment in time for her. 

Though we often associate women of the nineteenth century with the home, this little book shows several facets to Julia Booker Thompson. The recipes and reviews show a woman who cared about the food she cooked, and the names with the recipes show a community of women Julia found herself a part of. Paper clippings show someone interested in furthering her knowledge of best practices for a healthy, clean, and efficient household. And the unique travel log shows a woman not just confined to one space. In fact, her recipe and travel book offers a vivid and sensorial look into the past. It has been over a hundred years since Julia wrote in this book, but we are still able to see details of a life lived, of Julia’s life, live on. 

 

Further Reading:

Driver, Elizabeth. “Cookbooks as primary sources for writing history: a bibliographer’s view.” Food, Culture & Society, vol. 12, no. 3, 2009, p. 257+. Gale Academic OneFile. Accessed 3 Mar. 2021.

“Everyday Life & Women in America: C.1800-1920 / from the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History & Culture, Duke University, & the New York Public Library.” Marlborough, Wiltshire, England: Adam Matthew Publications, Marlborough, Wiltshire, England, 2006.

Robinson, Jane. Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers. Oxford University Press, 2001.

Wessell, A. “Cookbooks for Making History: As Sources for Historians and As Records of the Past”. M/C Journal, vol. 16, no. 3, Aug. 2013.