“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 Leslie Hankins from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “History of Readers and Reading” (SLIS:5600:0EXW)
The bold imperial purple cover with the title, Sheherezade embossed in gold catches our attention; next, a cryptic graphic raises questions and disorients the viewer. What is this? A close up of fabric? a landscape? a detail from a scientific slide? Awash with questions, we open the book; the deceptively simple title page identifies the book as “a flip book by Janet Zweig with text by Holly Anderson.”
It is an Artists’ book, though paperback and perfect bound. As we begin to turn the pages, we are alerted that something odd is going on as we are drawn in to zoom in to the words of Sheherezade until the letters seem to become a maze of shapes and forms viewed through the loupe or magnifying class of a conscientious letterpress perfectionist. We are hooked. Sheherezade: a flip book by Janet Zweig with text by Holly Anderson flips our conceptions of the flip book and the artists book. In this book, the flip on the left-hand page reveals a small figure of a woman in vintage apparel removing her outer garment; this scene is repeated every 30 pages or so. That is the more traditional flip book dynamic, perhaps making a sly dig at the striptease staple of salacious flip books.
Meanwhile, the right-hand side of the text has another, more intriguing reveal. When we flip that side, we operate as a camera zoom, moving into the text, quite literally, gliding closer and closer into the letters, and into new texts that are revealed within openings in the type itself. This exploratory reveal is repeated with new texts. As we move through the text it becomes a distorted landscape in the exaggerated close up. It is as if we were one of those mini-cameras doctors use to do micro-surgery. Quite literally, then, this book takes close reading to the nth degree. As we continue flipping the pages, in the round opening of one of the letters something new begins to emerge: another whole continent-shape of more words, a story in fact, and so we continue the exploration, engaged and agog. The linear cyclical movement of the flip/strip pulls the reader in one direction, while the zoom in lures us in another. The result is a profound sense of disorientation, or vertigo.
This close reading takes the daring approach to abandon the linear, and moves through the text, tunneling or moving in portals through it, in a magical new way of reading. Innovative and mind-boggling. The book exposes and challenges our expectations about reading as a process; it rebels against linear unfolding, and invents a new tunneling-through movement. We are active agents, readers on a mission as we explore through this book, not passive.
Janet Zweig is a multi-media artist; in addition to her dozens of artists’ books, she is most known for her art in the public realm, including large works such as a sentence-generating sculpture for an engineering school in Orlando, and a kinetic installation on a pier on the Sacramento River. Her many grants and awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts Fellowship, Sculpture, 1994 and the Orchid Award from the San Diego Architectural Foundation for Climate Clocks (Abstraction Devices), 2019.
The best introduction to Artists’ Books is to see examples, in UI Libraries Special Collection, on-line, or in book form:
Salamony, Sandra with Peter and Donna Thomas. 1000 Artists’ Books: Exploring the Book as Art. Quarry Books, 2012.
“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 Elizabeth McKay from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “History of Readers and Reading” (SLIS:5600:0EXW)
Business, Beer, and the Bible: The Case of the Maude’s Commonplace Books
By Elizabeth McKay
William Maude was born in 1787 in England, and his son John emigrated to New England. There he worked in cotton mills before moving to Delaware County, Iowa. These notebooks found their way into Iowa’s Special Collections Culinary Manuscripts collection because of the recipes they hold. Maude recorded many recipes for beer from Morrice’s Treatise on Brewing which was published in 1802. There are more than just beer recipes, though. There are also recipes for ink, medical recipes for coughs and colds, and even a tongue-in-cheek recipe for lovesickness.
However, the primary use of these books pertained to William Maude’s job in the customs business in England. He used the notebook for calculations and charts that he would’ve copied into an official record. He also included useful reference material for work and notes on bookkeeping. Besides William Maude’s business notes, these “commonplace books” were used by his family for several generations. They continued to be used as a space for quick calculations or sometimes to practice handwriting or jot down a note.
Amidst its casual usage, the Maude family kept a record of important moves and new jobs. Other meaningful additions are a thorough scriptural index (probably copied down out of a book or periodical for the Maude’s use), hymns, fables, jokes, as well as the recipes mentioned above. These books seemed to straddle the line between holding valuable reference information and being used as a kind of collective notebook. While some entries are quick and messy, others are written in very clear and legible hand— designed to be referenced again and again.
It is these entries designed to be referenced that makes these volumes “commonplace books.” The term comes from a renaissance pedagogical practice of recording quotes from important works under specific sections in a notebook for memorization and reference. Scholar Ann Moss describes commonplaces as “purpose-built instruments for the collection, classified storage, and recycling of knowledge.” Commonplace books in the renaissance were defined by their “heads” that coincided with strict rules for filing quotations under their proper category. By the time the Maude family is writing, this practice is not strict at all. Today, the term “commonplace books” is used even more loosely. A commonplace book can be any sort of compiling notebook with no organizational structure. In the case of the Maude’s books, these notebooks were not used to organize their reading. Rather, they are at times just the paper at hand, at times a business record, and, occasionally, a place to store a hymn or a story. In fact, these notebooks most resemble commonplace books of old in one particular entry: the scripture index.
In the 19th century, manuals, indexes, and all varieties of textual navigation tools were published as appendixes to bibles or in separate volumes. These indexes were highly valued as reference tools to help understand the Bible. Even as the pedagogical tradition of commonplacing drifted into the past, this organizational practice remained strong as a way to understand the Bible in terms of themes. One of the Maude’s writes above the thorough index: “Select Scriptures arranged under their respective heads” — harkening to the language of an older type of commonplace book.
While the history of what are called “commonplace books” is rooted in educational practice and the ideal of knowledge organization. Its story throughout history is marked by a gradual decline of the ideals of organization, and the commonplace book moves more firmly into the realm of “miscellany.” This also may strike us as the story of many of our own notebooks. Beginning a new notebook with the highest of intentions, by the end, the notebook has taken on a life of its own, collecting various bits and pieces of our experiences. This seems to be the case with William and John Maude’s two volume set of commonplace books. Toward the beginning of the first volume, there is a page that reads “Contents” at the top. This attempt to categorize the contents seems to have never reached fruition— the page remains empty. The result is a delightfully messy notebook showing many facets of the Maude’s lives in the early 19th century.
Moss, Ann, “Commonplace Books.” In Brill’s Encyclopaedia of the Neo-Latin World. Craig Kallendorf, Editor. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/9789004271296_enlo_B9789004271012_0019>
Allan, David. Commonplace Books and Reading in Georgian England. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Finnegan, Ruth, Why Do we Quote? The Culture and History of Quotation. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2011.
Morrice, Alexander. A Treatise on Brewing: Wherein Is Exhibited the Whole Process of the Art and Mystery of Brewing the Various Sorts of Malt Liquor; with Practical Examples upon Each Species. Knight and Compton, 1802.
Moss, Ann. Printed Commonplace-Books and the Structuring of Renaissance Thought. Oxford University Press, 1996.
The following blog comes from Olson Graduate Assistant Rich Dana, who interviewed Marvin Sackner on his collection of concrete and visual poetry.
Among the over 75,000 items in the newly-acquired Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, there are many unique and one-of-a-kind art objects and artists’ books. Along with original artwork, there is an impressive collection of reference material, monographs, and other rare books. Among Dr. Sackner’s favorites is a little-known work written by the 19th-century American painter George Catlin with the alarming title, Shut Your Mouth and Save Your Life. Catlin’s book, first published in 1870, was one of the inspirations for the Sackner’s 1992 “Beauty in Breathing” exhibit.
Dr. Sackner recalls: “Catlin did all of the illustrations, and there is some very interesting typography in the book… on the last page, “Shut Your Mouth” is printed in very large type. When I was giving tours of the collection, sometimes I would show this book at the end of the tour, and say, “Now I’m going to shut MY mouth!”
Catlin, who is most famous for his many paintings of the indigenous people of the North American plains, penned Shut Your Mouth in response to what he observed as the superior health of the tribes among which he traveled. He came to the conclusion that the key to their vigor was their practice of breathing through the nose, and “…that breathing should be done as Nature designed it, through the nostrils, instead of through the mouth.” Although the book was criticized in medical journals at the time for its lack of scientific rigor and the popular press derided the author as “Indian-loving Catlin,” the little book sparked interest among health-conscious readers, and the volume was widely reprinted.
Despite some common terminology of the era that we may find cringe-worthy today, the book reflects Catlin’s deep passion for improving the health of people of all backgrounds, his profound respect for Native Americans, and in some cases, his sense of humor. The illustrations are sometimes comical and often satiric. To some degree, history has proven Catlin’s theory correct: mouth-breathing has been shown to cause health problems ranging from tooth decay to sleep problems – even abnormal jaw growth in children.
What can we learn today from Catlin’s passion for proper breathing and public health? As many of us are now spending our days working from home, the tendency may be to also be less physically active. Dr. Sackner, a retired pulmonologist, reminds us that during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vitally important to protect our lungs. We need to maintain our immune systems by staying physically active, practicing good sleep hygiene, and avoiding smoking, vaping, and other harmful habits.
All images in this blog post come from a 4th edition of George Catlin’sShut Your Mouth and Save Your Life found on Internet Archive. See the full digital copy here.
Today is April 8th, 2020, the day we were supposed to gather for the last Iowa Bibliophiles of the academic year. The plan: come together, eat some tasty snacks, and explore some of the highlights from our collection with the help of our wonderful student workers. Our students had selected manuscripts, books, and more, researched them, and planned to present the information at their own “viewing station” for anyone interested.
That’s how it was supposed to go. However, as all of us have experienced in the last few weeks, plans had to change. The world threw us an unexpected twist, and to protect our family, friends, and community, we cancelled this event.
Yet, the students had picked some interesting collection material, and it would be a shame not to find a way to share them with you. While we cannot meet in person, perhaps this blog can provide some of the entertainment and education we are seeking at this time. Below are a few items described by our hardworking students, a virtual Iowa Bibliophiles if you will. We hope you enjoy.
Star Trek Fandom with Zoë Webb
The Mary Jennara Wenk Star Trek Collection (MsC1031) was originally acquired in 2015 as part of the continuing efforts to collect and preserve pop culture and fandom material. Because we have many new collections, the donor of the L. Falcon Media Fandom Collection gave the library a very generous gift to allow a student (it’s me, Zoë Webb) more time to focus on processing a number of newly acquired fandom collections, including the Wenk Collection.
Mary Jennara Wenk was an active member of the Star Trek and Star Wars fan communities of the 1970s and 1980s, attending conventions, collecting fan art, and engaging in lively correspondence with other fans, as well as creating award-winning content for fanzines. This collection reflects her active lifestyle, containing a number of Star Trek zines, a sizable stack of fan art (including a painting done by author Hal Clement), correspondence, convention material, and an impressive collection of 3D objects—notably including some ears worn by Leonard Nimoy on the set of Star Trek. There are many quality items in this collection, but my personal favorites are the handmade dolls, the Starfleet Academy Class Rings, and, of course, Spock’s ears.
Both the Andorian girl (right) and the Vulcan child (left) were made by Devra Langsam, co-editor of Spockanalia, the very first all-Star Trek zine ever published, and apparently an excellent crafter. The doll version of Spock’s Vulcan father, Sarek (center), was made by a mystery artist in the 1970s. The Andorian girl is perhaps my favorite of the three, with her little pipe cleaner antennae, the pearl-decked gold bikini, and her adorable yarn braids.
The Starfleet Academy Class Rings (Class of ’66 and ’67) were commissioned by an unknown genius of a fan, and was legitimately made by Jostens, the company that still has a monopoly on class rings. The 14k rings depict the Starfleet Command insignia on top, the Academy’s official emblem with the Golden Gate Bridge, and the flag of the United Federation of Planets. I never bought a class ring in high school because they were absurdly expensive, but would I have bought this and worn it in public on a normal day? Yes.
Of course, we can’t talk about this collection without mentioning Spock’s ears. Leonard Nimoy went through dozens of these flimsy foam ears, held on by glue and coated in makeup, melting under the hot lights of the set. Everyone was terribly excited to see them, but during the initial unboxing of the collection, to everyone’s horror, the ears were nowhere to be found. They re-boxed and re-un-boxed the collection several times before someone thought to look in the plastic Barbie purse which, in hindsight, did seem like a very incongruous part of the collection. Now the ears are housed in a sky blue bespoke box with a secret drawer underneath for their original home, the Barbie purse.
The Beauty of Handwritten Cookbooks with Diane Ray
I really admire everyday items that are well made and functional, but also beautiful in a way that enhances use without interfering with functionality. Well-crafted wood furniture comes to mind, or mosaic floors. After looking for items to highlight for Bibliophiles, I have a new item to add to that list—cookbook manuscripts!
This 1818 cookbook from East Hartford shows that the writer was intentionally enhancing the titles, as many of them are unfinished. A few show the writers intent, with flourishing capitals and dark, filled in
letters. However most simply start with the second letter, lightly sketched, as though the author never got around to finishing. I think that’s something most of us can relate to.
The book is only 6 1/4 x 4 inches, bound in marbled paper-covered boards. There is not a lot of information given about the author of this cookbook, and the recipes are in a few different hands, suggesting multiple contributors, maybe from the same family. The last person to write in it gives us a clue of origin, as they write after their last entry “East Hartford, July 29, 1818.”
This is an American cookbook from 1759, written in a style of handwriting that calls to mind cobbled streets, buckle shoes and pewter shops. Similar to the other recipe books from this era in our collection, rather than listing ingredients with detailed instructions as one expects today, the writer assumes a certain level of base knowledge of cooking in a colonial kitchen. Details for preparation are given in a rather conversational tone, as if they were in your kitchen talking you through it.
We presume it is American because at one point it mentions the purchase of “Indian meal and corn”. There are clues to ownership with inscriptions in the beginning and end of the book “M. Ragen” & “From M. Regan to Hannah Wade.”, respectively. Other recipes include: To preserrve Quinces white; To make Marmalad of Orenges; To make Raspberry Cakes, To make Marmalad of Abricots; the best kind of perfuming Cakes to Burne; The Ordinary Sort of perfuming Cakes; and To make Puff & Past, very double & good”
Emma Cornelius Ricketson’s cookbook has the nicest cover of the three cookbook manuscripts mentioned, with the presumed writer’s name “Emma C. Ricketson’’ embossed in gold on the cover. Said author also took the most care to insure proper inheritance, which is spelled on the first page: “Published by Wm. K. Tallman to whom it is willed in case he outlives the above Emma Cornelia. But in case the said Emma Cornela outlives the Publisher then it is to pass over to Abby Y. Gherman provided however she outlives the 2 aforementioned.” Special Collections, while not listed, is proud to take their place in what was surely a distinguished line of previous owners.
Similar to the previous cookbooks, these recipes do not offer extensive instruction. In fact, it often simply lists the ingredients and trusts the reader knows how to do the rest.
Dated 1862 and labeled as being from New Bedford, the recipes are broken into categories such as “Meats,” “Breakfast and Tea,” “Sauces,” “Puddings,” “Pies, Desserts, Jellies, Gingerbread Cookes, Etc.,” “Cake,” “Wines,” and “Miscellaneous,” which includes recipes for such things as cologne, pomade, hair tonic, and to perfume sick rooms (A few drops of oil of sandalwood dropped onto a hot shovel in case you were interested)
An Introduction to the Archival Manuscripts Collection of Chinese Writers with Shu Wan
I feel delighted to introduce the rare Chinese-language collection, Manuscripts of Chinese Writers held in Special Collections & University Archives. Growing up in a family with the tradition of bookworms, I have been passionate about reading literary works since my childhood. Chinese writer Wang Meng’s novels, journalist Xu Chi‘s non-fiction books, and poet Can Xue’s poems were my “pillow books” (Zhen Bian Du Wu). This Chinese phrase refers to the books placed under someone’s pillow, which enables them to read those books for convenience before falling asleep. So, when I found the rare Chinese-language collection containing those writers’ manuscripts, I felt excited to introduce them to my American friends and patrons. As a graduate student working in Special Collections & University Archives, I was given the opportunity to touch those manuscripts in the Chinese Writers’ Collection.
The history of this rare Chinese-language collection can be traced back to the early 1990s. The first Chinese reference librarian in the UI Libraries, Dr. Peter Xinping Zhou, was engaged in the creation of this collection. According to his memoir, “in October 1991, the University of Iowa Libraries authorized the creation of a Chinese writers’ special collection consisting of the complete works and selected manuscripts authored by Chinese writers who have participated in the International Writing Program or the Iowa Writers’ Workshops.” (Peter X. Zhou, “Chinese Writers in Iowa.” Books at Iowa, no.58, 1993, p. 6. https://doi.org/10.17077/0006-7474.1229) Thanks to Dr. Zhou’s efforts in contacting those Chinese writers and seeking the donation of their manuscripts, we can now read them in the reading room of the UI Special Collections.
The most interesting discovery, which I took when processing the manuscripts in the collection, is the new lens to look at the Chinese feminist writer Ting Ling. Different from the impression I took from reading her books, I found a very “personal” face of Ting Ling. As seen in the following photocopy of Ting Ling’s letter to Hualing Nieh Engle in 1980, in its end, she wrote, “let me shake your hand closely again. ” She is so passionate and emotional!
Although the lack of knowledge in the Chinese language may hinder local readers’ exploration of this collection, they may take opportunities to read and grasp those manuscripts very soon. The librarians, archivists, and student workers in the library are working on selectively translating these literary works. For example, I am engaged in establishing a bilingual linked-data database. The initial outcome of this project will be presented in the 2020 LD4 Conference on Linked Data in Libraries in Dallas this summer. Moreover, another in-progress project of an annotated bibliography of those literary works in the collection will be posted online late this summer.
Through some great research, our University Archivist David McCartney discovers some of the “unknown” facts that are part of new UI Presidential Portrait Gallery in the Main Library, as he explains below.
When the UI Presidential Portrait Gallery was formally dedicated late last year, staff in Special Collections responsible for this display knew that there were still some ‘gaps’ in some of the portraits’ stories. For example, labels accompanying some of the displayed portraits note that the artist is unknown. But as we continue to learn more of the history of this collection and how it came into being, we update and correct our records – and labels – as needed.
The George Thacher portrait is a case in point. Thacher (1817-1878) was the University’s fifth president, serving from 1871 to 1877. His portrait is an oil-on-canvas, dark in tone and realistic, a style appropriate for the late nineteenth century. The artist’s name was somehow lost in the records as the portrait, along with others in the collection, moved from one campus location to another for nearly a century, until settling in the Main Library.
Well, now we can fill in this gap. Recently, a closer examination of the portrait revealed a nearly-obscured name in the lower left corner: “E.D. Hale.” The signature is difficult but not impossible to ascertain. From this, we were able to confirm via an internet search that the artist was Ellen Day Hale (1855-1940). Our sources for this include the Smithsonian Archives of American Art and an entry on American Gallery online.
for training in the last quarter of the 19th century. She is best known for her Impressionist figure studies. Hale, the only daughter of the noted orator and author Edward Everett Hale and Emily Baldwin Perkins, came from a family filled with notable figures. Her great-great-uncle Nathan Hale was a Revolutionary War patriot; her great-aunt Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin; and her brother Philip and his wife Lilian Westcott Hale were also professional painters.”
The Boston Art Club was the setting for the first exhibition of her work in 1876. Because both she and George Thacher were from New England, we can speculate that the portrait was completed during the last one or two years of his life, after he left Iowa to return to the northeast to be close to family in light of illness. Hale was perhaps in her early twenties when she completed the portrait, likely one of the first works of a long and distinguished career. She was also the first woman to produce a presidential portrait for the university.
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.
Zoë Webb is a graduate student at the University of Iowa in the School of Library and Information Science and is also pursuing a Book Studies certificate at the Center for the Book. As a student worker in Special Collections, she was recently appointed Processing Intern for the L. Falcon Media Fandom Collection. Below Zoë shares some of the amazing things she has found, as well as the experiences and lessons learned working with this collection.
Special Collections recently acquired the L. Falcon Media Fandom Collection (MsC1108). Since processing collections often require a serious time commitment, the collection’s donor also gave the library a generous gift to allow a student more time to focus on the Falcon collection and be thorough with the processing. That lucky student was me, Zoë Webb. I’ve been spending a portion of every week as a student worker in Special Collections organizing and identifying the weird and wonderful material found within this collection.
This collection consists of books and annuals, zines, fan art, article clippings, scripts, and a couple of recordings. The fandoms range from the 1960s to the 2000s, and are mostly science fiction, with some fantasy and war stories in the mix. Topics covered include Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, Fantastic Journey, War of the Worlds, Rat Patrol, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Avengers (the 1960s British spy Avengers, not the tight-suited American Avengers that grace our screen today), The Professionals, The Sandbaggers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Captain Scarlet, and Due South, just to name a few.
Over the past months I have come across some great, albeit odd, gems that I’d like to share with all of you out there reading this. Below is just the tip of the iceberg of what this collection holds. Thanks to the generous donation from the Falcon family, I have been able to focus my attention on this collection, learning not only more about the world of fandom, but about the skills needed to process and sort such unique material in an archival setting. In the next month, you will be able to enjoy this collection for yourself by searching everything on ArchivesSpace and visiting us.
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.
Chronicles of a Coleopterists Strikingly Curious Swarm
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.
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.
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.
Exciting news from University Archivist, David McCartney, about the incredible recordings found in the Eric Morton Civil Rights Papers.
In 1963 and 1964, attorney Bob Zellner recorded a series of interviews with civil rights activists in Mississippi and Alabama. Zellner conducted the interviews on behalf of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in an effort to document the activists’ experiences, which were often under challenging and violent circumstances.
The interviewees participated in the Mississippi Summer Project in 1964, later to be known as Freedom Summer, a drive to register African Americans in the Magnolia State to vote. For decades, attempts by blacks to register at county court houses across the state were met with intimidation, harassment, and even violence. Freedom Summer was an organized response to this situation, with activists from across the U.S. participating, including over 800 college and university students. Among them were about a dozen students from the University of Iowa.
Why Mississippi? At the time, only seven percent of eligible black adults in the state were registered to vote, the lowest rate in the nation. SNCC, the Council of Federated Organizations, the NAACP, and other civil rights organizations targeted Mississippi for this effort due its discriminatory Jim Crow laws and practices. In response to this, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson the following year.
The interviews are part of the Eric Morton Civil Rights Papers (MsC 0999). Morton (1934-2015), a native of Detroit, Michigan, and a U.S. Army veteran of the Korean Conflict, held various positions with SNCC from 1962 to 1966 in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and North Carolina. He was Materials Coordinator for Freedom Summer and later served as Project Director for the North Carolina Project, which covered nine Black Belt counties. After this he worked to elect black officials including John Conyers and Ron Dellums to Congress and Coleman Young as mayor of Detroit.
In 1968 Morton worked with a group of local activists to organize the 1969 National Black Economic Development Conference where James Forman presented his historic speech, “The Black Manifesto.” In later years, Morton worked as an International Organizer for AFSCME organizing hospital workers and housekeepers in northern California and UC Berkeley. Later, his academic career included the position of Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fort Valley State University of Georgia.
Eric Morton donated his papers to the University of Iowa in 2014, in large part because of his friendship with Stephen Smith (1944-2009), a University of Iowa student from Marion, Iowa. Morton and Smith worked together in Mississippi during Freedom Summer; both were assaulted by white supremacists on the night of July 15, 1964 while delivering voter registration materials from Jackson to Greenwood.
More about how the Eric Morton papers arrived at Iowa is here.
Listen to the interviews from these activists and other recordings from Morton’s collection below:
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.