Picture of Micaela

An Olson’s Goodbye

An Olson’s Goodbye

By Micaela Terronez
Picture of Micaela
Micaela Terronez

For the past two years, I have had the great fortune of learning about the inner workings of special collections and archives as the Olson Graduate Assistant at The University of Iowa Special

Collections. It’s hard to believe my time at Iowa has already come to an end. It feels like just yesterday when I arrived on my first day and was in complete awe of the amazing collections and people in the department. I remember being so utterly terrified, however, of the stacks upon stacks of materials. How would I ever figure out where something was?! It took time and, well, a library catalog. But I also relied heavily on the talented staff and students of the department to help me adjust to what seemed like a never-ending world of manuscripts, books, maps, and artifacts. I have learned so much in the past two years, and I am forever grateful to the department for their guidance and knowledge that they have graciously shared with me. Also, thank you to my friends – both old and new—and my family for your unconditional support and love over the past two years. Like former Olson Hannah Hacker’s goodbye, I have also decided to leave with my own spin on a classic song. Here is “The Stacks are Alive,” a rendition of “Prelude/ The Sound of Music.”

 

The stacks are alive with the sound of book carts
With squeaks that they have sung for several years
The books fill my heart with the sound of reading
My heart wants to hear every word that appears

My heart wants to beat like archival boxes
that open and close by patrons
My heart wants to sigh like brittle paper
from near and far places
To laugh with a friend when you are working
tears on the way
To sing through the day like an old book cart hoping to stay

I go to the stacks when my heart is lonely
I know I will hear what I’ve heard before
My heart will be blessed with the sound of libraries
And I’ll return once more

 

Thank you Micaela for everything you’ve done for this department! We wish you the absolute best in the next chapter of your adventure. 

Clay Tablet in hands

A Unique Document, a Unique Opportunity

The following is a post written by graduate student Kristi Hager, who recently finished her certificate for Book Studies at Center for the Book. As a student in Dr. Jennifer Burke Pierce’s History of Readers and Reading course through the School of Library and Information Science, Hager was given the opportunity to explore and learn more about an unexpected item found in the archives.

 

Imagine how many pieces of paper are used each year to record population changes, business transactions, or taxes.  Even in an era of digital processes and storage, many companies and individuals still rely on paper as a secure version of a document and will print hundreds of pages of records.  Finding secure ways to document business is not a new process. Thousands of years ago, administrative documents were being recorded, and some still are readable today.

On recent visits to the University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collections, I was drawn repeatedly to a small display box covered with grey buckram holding a single object, an object that seems so out of place among the other books and papers displayed. In an archive full of unique items, it can be tough to stand out, but this clay tablet does.

Labeled simply as “Clay tablet dated to ca. 2050 b.c., from Umma, modern Djoka,” (call number xPJ4054.U55) this lump of dried clay is the oldest item in the archive.  The tablet is small and almost square, only about 1.5 inches per side and no thicker than a slice of bread.  There are black markings now on the tablet, almost reminiscent of small black ink droplets. It is hard to say where these marks came from or what they are.  Even the content is unusual: written in Sumerian cuneiform, the tablet is actually a receipt.

For a sacrificial offering. Of a goat. 

Proof that even 4,000 years ago in the Third Dynasty of Ur in Mesopotamia, in what is today part of Iraq, administrative and bureaucratic paperwork were a common enough occurrence that documentation was necessary.

In the center of the back of the tablet, there is the seal of the scribe who recorded this transaction.  He identifies himself as Akala, a son of the “chief cattle manager.” The seal is a bit difficult to see, as it isn’t as deeply inscribed as the text of the receipt.

This seal and the date next to it are also proof of the importance of administrative documentation.  The name of the scribe and the year the offering was given are evidence of a population large enough that members of the priesthood who received the sacrificial goat may not have known those giving the offering on sight.

This receipt is one of thousands that still exist.  According to the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, there are nearly 103,000 administrative texts from the same period as this one in museums and archives around the world.  The Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI) is a joint project of the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Oxford; and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science that sought out cuneiform manuscripts in institutions and compiled the archival information.  Materials from places such as the Louvre in Paris; the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia; the Iraq Museum in Baghdad; the Israel Museum in Jerusalem; the New York Public Library; National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh; and the Semitic Museum at Harvard reveal a wide range of documents.  Photographs, translations, location information, age, and purpose of the document have allowed scholars access to manuscripts that may have been difficult to access due to travel and budget concerns.

And right alongside the documents from these prestigious museums is xPJ4054.U55, the clay tablet in Special Collections here at Iowa.  Being able to view a document with this sort of history up close is an opportunity a casual or budding scholar may not realize is possible.  But it is here, available for anyone interested in learning more about ancient cuneiform, historic manuscripts, administration records, Sumerian religion, and about any other subject you could think of, ready to be studied.

 

Written by Kristi Hager

For Further Exploration

 Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, 2019.

Archival view of P235777.”  Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, 2019.

Eleanor Robson, “The Clay Tablet Book in Sumer, Assyria, and Babylonia” in A Companion to the History of the Book, ed. Simon Eliot & Jonathan Rose, 2007.

 

Chronicles of a Coleopterists Strikingly Curious Swarm

Olson Graduate Assistant Acquisitions Project

Olson Graduate Assistant Acquisitions Project

Every year, Special Collections hosts two Olson Graduate Assistants who have chosen to specialize in the field of Special Collections Librarianship or Archives for a two-year assistantship. These prestigious positions supplement knowledge gained in the classroom with experience gained from real-world application, balancing theory with practice.

The H. John and Florence Hawkinson Libraries Acquisition Endowment has introduced an exciting new element to this experience: in the second year of their assistantship, the Olson Graduate Assistant can now be given a budget for material acquisitions. The Graduate Assistant chooses a curatorial area of interest in alignment with collection strengths, and works with the Curator in that area to learn about the material selection process. They may attend meetings with book artists and book dealers, peruse catalogs, and search online for the right item(s). They then formally recommend items for purchase and, once the Curator approves of the recommendation, are looped in on the relevant communication. This is a spectacular learning opportunity for them, and a valuable way for Curators to remain in touch with how the next generation of librarians is approaching the work of acquisitions.

This year, Olson Graduate Assistant Micaela Terronez selected four items that will be purchased for the Special Collections department using the Hawkinson Endowment. Working with Head of Special Collections, Margaret Gamm, Micaela located materials that would either develop or fill in gaps within the collections. Below, Micaela has provided a brief description of the selected works and why she was interested in them.

 

Forming Common Threads

By Mari Eckstein Gower

Redmond, Washington: Mari Eckstein Gower, 2018.

My eyes were immediately drawn to the vibrant colors and structure of Mari Eckstein Gower’s Forming Common Threads. The artist’s book features beautiful watercolor paintings by the artist, as well as silk and paper threads attached to a series of words such as “inspire,” “support,” and “heal.” Gower’s work links the many stories of strong women from history in contrast to the toxic and misogynistic rhetoric she grew up with.  From the Japanese Tarasen patterned papers to the modified stitched drumleaf format, I was also interested in this book because of the multitude of materials and techniques utilized in its creation.

Vamp and Tramp description

 

Chronicles of a Coleopterists Strikingly Curious Swarm

Chronicles of a Coleopterists Strikingly Curious Swarm
Images of Gabrielle Cooksey’s book courtesy of Vamp and Tramp website

By Gabrielle Cooksey

Tacoma, Washington: Gabrielle Cooksey, 2018.

Anyone that knows me well knows I absolutely hate bugs. Spiders, flies, beetles – I squirm at the sight of them all. Gabrielle Cooksey’s Chronicles of a Coleopterists Strikingly Curious Swarm has officially changed my mind about the beauty of these tiny creatures. Included in the artist’s book are twelve aluminum beetles with stories from the author, as well as Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Darwin, Hans Christian Anderson, and Aesop. The book, bound in Cave Paper, was meant to mirror a research field guide. Perhaps one day I’ll have the courage to do my own research on insects. Until then, I think I’ll stick to examining and admiring them from afar with the help of Cooksey’s work. The book will certainly be an enchanting addition to the artists’ books collections.

Vamp and Tramp description

 

One Day · Un Día

By Alex Appella
San Antonio de Arredondo, Córdoba, Argentina: Alex Appella, 2018.

I am not a native Spanish speaker, but the language certainly carries an emotional connection to my roots and upbringing. Some of my earliest memories of Spanish, for example, originate from daily experiences with my grandparents. One Day · Un Día by Alex Appella utilizes bilingual text (Spanish, English) and a collage of family photographs to document the last day of her grandfather’s life and the last days of her mother’s life. By interweaving family and language, Alex Apella’s work recalled memories of my childhood with my grandparents – both living and passed. When I first arrived at Iowa, I had a difficult time locating bilingual, visual works in Spanish and English. Now, I hope that this work will supplement research, teachings, and emotional reunions. 

Vamp and Tramp description

 

Enumerations

By Stephanie Gibbs

Los Angeles: Stephanie Gibbs, 2018. 

As a humanities-focused graduate student, I rarely have the opportunity to truly explore the sciences. Mathematics, in particular, has never been my strongest point. Anyone else still count with their hands, or is it just me? Whether you are a science enthusiast or not, Enumerations by Stephanie Gibbs will allow you to consider the interesting intersections between the sciences and humanities. Designed within a clamshell box, the artist’s book includes different forms of memory and computing. A slide rule, memory diagram, diskettes, and Trigonometry screenprints are just a few of the interesting components. Enumerations also includes Ada Lovelace’s description of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. I’m incredibly excited to add another bookwork representing women in science to the collections.

Vamp and Tramp description 

 

Thank you to Margaret Gamm and Micaela Terronez for sharing this experience with us. 

Image of Arthur Bonfield

Discovering the Rich World of the Encyclopedia

Encyclopedias.

If you’re like me, then you haven’t really given them much thought. Growing up in pre-Google days, my family owned a 1988 set that was used and abused by my siblings and I, for both school reports and building forts, and they proved a go-to for school projects and reports in those early years of my education. However, I was more concerned about the information contained within these volumes that I never thought about these encyclopedias as an object in themselves. 

On February 13th, Iowa Bibliophiles will finally give you and me the chance to take a moment to appreciate the encyclopedia as an object. Professor Emeritus Arthur Bonfield will be giving his talk “Development of the Eighteenth Century English Encyclopedia or Dictionary of the Arts and Sciences,” exploring not only the history of the English encyclopedia, but also examining early Latin and French encyclopedias that preceded the 18th century English publications.

Image of Arthur Bonfield
Professor Arthur Bonfield among his collection.

Professor Emeritus Bonfield has been collecting rare books for over 60 years now. His collections includes over 1,000 original copies of books from early printing days, including volumes on exploration, geography, English literature and history, and of course encyclopedias. 

Encyclopedias might seem like an uncommon topic to collect, but as Rebecca Romney and J.P. Romeny explain in their book Printer’s Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History

“The ability to organize information and distribute it to the public is an incredibly powerful tool…to prioritize information is to control information. And to control information is to control people.” (Romeny 90)

Please join Special Collections and Iowa Bibliophiles on February 13th to hear a fascinating talk about something so many of us take for granted with Professor Bonfield. 

An image of ‘electricity’ found in an 18th C. English Encyclopedia

Event starts at 7pm in the Special Collection’s Reading Room (3rd floor of the Main Library), with refreshments served at 6:30pm. Find out more on our Facebook event or on the UI Event Calendar

A Special Goodbye from Hannah Hacker

My Favorite Things (a la Special Collections) by Hannah Hacker

For the past two and a half years, I have had the honor to work as a graduate assistant at the University of Iowa Special Collections. I am thrilled about graduating from my Library Science and Book Arts program this semester, and I am excited to see what adventures I’ll embark on next, but I will certainly miss my Special Collections family. I am thankful for the friends I have met here and the opportunities that I was given. I’m not the best at waxing emotional, so, instead, I will leave you all with my own little rendition of a classic, “My Favorite Things”:

 

Archival boxes
And sketches of spaceships
Bright crimson wax on some very aged papers
Gray Wonder boxes high on the shelves
These are a few of my favorite things

Cream-colored parchment and crisp comic pages
Dress swords and old maps
And Medieval doodles
Really small books with tiny wood-prints
These are a few of my favorite things

Kids in the classroom with handwritten letters
Red rot that stays on my shirts and nice sweaters
Staple-bound fanzines and pulp magazines
These are a few of my favorite things

When the day’s long
When the class is done
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

 

Thanks to Hannah for the hard work, laughs, and pure librarian magic that you brought Special Collections!


Creating First-hand Experiences with Manuscript Open Houses

Below is a reflection from Micaela Terronez, Olson Graduate Assistant, on the “Manuscripts at Special Collections” open houses.

Can I really touch it?

One curious visitor asked this question in amazement as they gazed at one of the twenty-one visiting manuscripts from Les Enluminures, a gallery of unique text manuscripts with locations in New York, Paris, and Chicago. As a part of the program, “Manuscripts in the Curriculum,” Les Enluminures temporarily loans a select group of unique manuscripts to educational institutions. Fortunately, The University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collections was able to host the manuscripts, covering various contexts and locations from the 13th to the 19th century. In addition to classroom integration, Special Collections planned a series of open houses for the University and broader community to have hands-on experience engaging with these one-of-a-kind pieces. From August to November, around 200 visitors viewed the visiting manuscripts—along with a couple favorites from our own collections.

Logistically speaking, each open house exhibited 10 to 12 manuscripts aligned with a pre-decided theme. The themes included: Signs of Production, Decoration and Illumination, Script and Scribe, Manuscripts Outside Latin West, Medieval Society, Vernacular Texts, Music, Medieval Authors, and Bestsellers. This diverse set of themes allowed us to highlight certain texts each week without exhausting the materials or the visitors. The open houses were marketed through classroom instructions, social media, departmental networking, events, newsletters, and blogs. These efforts garnered an audience of students, scholars, and outside community members of various ages and backgrounds.

At the open houses, guests were given brief guidelines to handling the manuscripts and were encouraged to turn the leaves by the margins. Like the curious visitor above, many could not believe that they could touch, let alone, move through the leaves of a codex to see every script and image. However, in cases with a large number of visitors, guests were advised to admire the manuscripts without touching as to protect the longevity and structure of the manuscript. During these events, special precautions were taken to make sure the manuscripts were handled carefully, while also allowing the viewer to engage and ask questions. Non-flash photographs were highly encouraged, and many patrons took away some amazing captures to keep and share with friends and family. We also offered an interactive matching game of medieval authors, temporary tattoos, buttons, and bookmarks for visitors to take home.

Because of an increase in public visitors, the fall semester was a whirlwind of planning, marketing, curation, learning, and teaching. For example, Elizabeth Riordan (Outreach and Engagement Librarian) and I created specially made description cards for each manuscript on display—that’s a lot of writing and research! The description cards served two purposes. First, it was the perfect way for us to learn more about the visiting manuscripts, along with the interesting details and histories. This knowledge proved highly valuable during open houses and classes. Secondly, visitors were able to easily understand the terminology, history, production, and uses of the items exhibited. These descriptions also helped to spur questions and discussions throughout the weeks. Riordan and I also enjoyed choosing manuscripts from our own collections to feature alongside the visiting manuscripts. In this way, we were both able to think more contextually about the manuscripts from Iowa and what themes can be highlighted throughout them. In addition to our visitors, we both walked away from the open houses more knowledgeable about medieval manuscripts, their features, and histories.

There were several other benefits and take-aways from these open houses. Perhaps most importantly, we learned a great deal about the value of increasing access and visibility of the manuscripts through hands-on exploration. Patrons made incredible observations about the texts, while also initiating fruitful discussions amongst themselves and with staff.  They also inquired about the contexts, materiality, users, producers, and authors. More so, visitors were able to actually feel the hair of the parchment, translate scripts, study the bindings, and so much more! With calm medieval chants playing in the background, many also took the events as an opportunity to relax and purely admire the artistry behind the texts. I would say friendships and interactions were created among these beautiful works, an effect that perhaps wouldn’t have happened without the hands-on experience with the manuscripts.

The open house series ended with one last exhibit, as well as a visit and talk titled “People and the Book: the Voices of Manuscripts from the Middle Ages” from Laura Light of Les Enluminures. These final events allowed visitors to ask intriguing questions about the visiting manuscripts from Light, an expert historian on medieval works. As November comes to a close, it is now time to say goodbye to these works. I, for one, am going to miss the manuscripts very much. Here are a couple of photographs from my favorite visiting manuscript, a “Roll of Arms” created during the Elizabethan period in England. The manuscript features stunningly detailed shields, illustrated crowns, and stylized arms shaking hands to signify marriage. Like myself, I am sure many visitors appreciated the work and talent that went into these lovely pieces.

The successful planning and implementation of the open houses was a team effort of the library and conservation staff, and we were incredibly grateful for the opportunity to engage with the community, students, and faculty during these open houses. Thank you to all that visited Special Collections, asked questions, and made us ponder the creation and use of these manuscripts. We hope you continue to visit us in the future, whether it is for research, exploration, or just admiring a cool book or leaf.

Relevant links:

Les Enluminures manuscripts

Manuscripts in the Curriculum program

A look at Mary Shelley the Film

This Halloween season, Frankenstein is everywhere. And no wonder, for the book turned 200 this year and is overdue for a party. While the monster is everywhere, what about the woman who created the famous story? We’ve asked our own Frankenstein expert and Curator of Science Fiction and Popular Culture, Peter Balestrieri to review the latest film on the famed female author. 

Review of Mary Shelley, from Peter Balestrieri

In 2018, the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a new film by director, Haifaa Al-Mansour, Mary Shelley, opened and died quietly. Not the subject, writing, direction, nor the talent and reputations of its stars could save it. I saw it and enjoyed it very much. I anxiously waited for this film after it went into production and hoped it could do justice to its subject and the Romantic period. It comes not long after a recent biopic of doomed John Keats, and, featuring doomed Percy Bysshe Shelley, doomed Lord Byron, and doomed John Polidori, along with possibly the greatest teenage author ever, Mary Shelley, it promised to be a welcome addition to all the scholarly and pop culture attention focused on Frankenstein. Alas, it bombed.

Elle Fanning and Douglas Booth in Mary Shelley (2017)

Some critics panned the film for deviating from historical fact; it is actually very close to the mark with a few notable exceptions. Some have objected to the acting; it was certainly good enough, with Elle Fanning doing a wonderful job, proving again that she is one of film’s best young talents. Familiar faces from Game of Thrones and BBC productions round out the cast. Most reviewers agree Mary Shelley is a very good film to look at; I thought so too, especially the costumes and interior shots. Also good: the dialog, both sharp and poetic. For me, though, one feature more than any other makes this a film worth seeing for anyone interested in the period, the subject, the personalities involved: the troubled, complex relationship between Mary and Percy.

I began research into Frankenstein years ago, using materials from Special Collections and Shelley biographies and it was Mary’s story that impressed me the most. I think Mary put much of her pain and frustration with Percy and his treatment of her into the novel, writing Percy as Victor Frankenstein and herself as the Creature. The film goes into this territory in a way unseen before and I loved it. Percy Shelley is a Bad Boy, who, along with Byron and others, creates the lifestyle emblematic of the Romantics, doomed libertine artists who blaze comet-like and are gone too soon. When Mary rejects her husband’s hypocrisy, cruelty, and excess, the film sends a powerful message to young women and men. See Mary Shelley if you get the chance. I will definitely be seeing it again. It is, however, not a good Halloween film; the only monsters in Mary Shelley are the people in her life.