The following is written by Elizabeth Riordan and Anna Holland for Silent-ology‘s Buster Keaton Blogathon
Sitting in a dark auditorium in Iola, Kansas, two friends watched Our Hospitality with a live band accompaniment. The annual Buster Keaton Celebration had begun, and the audience around them clapped and cheered as the screen illuminated Keaton donning his signature pork pie hat. The utter glee of watching the antics of this silent cinema star filled the room almost a century later.
But there lies the magic of Buster Keaton. Time may pass, but Keaton’s stunts and storytelling continue to intrigue audiences, old and young alike. Associate Curator of Iowa Women’s Archives Anna Holland and Lead Instruction and Outreach Librarian Elizabeth Riordan sat in that auditorium back in 2012, partaking in the Keaton Celebration. Neither one realized that they would soon be working in the archives that held the research files of Marion Meade, Buster Keaton biographer.
Meade undertook the monumental task of capturing the life of Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton for a biography on the actor. She had already made a name for herself in the literary world with a series of feminist-themed novels and had broken into the biography scene in 1988 with a book on American poet Dorothy Parker. By the mid 1990s, she was ready to discover what was under the “Great Stone Face.”
Buster Keaton – Cut to the Chase by Marion Meade hit bookstores in 1995 nearly 30 years after Keaton’s death. Published on the 100th anniversary of Keaton’s birth, it aimed to underline his cinematic legacy with a definitive biography and introduce him to a new generation of cinephiles who may not have gotten a hold of a VHS copy of The Navigator or encountered his 1960 autobiography. Since its release, the book has received critiques for its sometimes-harsh take on Buster’s early life, as well as a general lack of objectivity. Despite critiques, the book still holds sway, with rumors that it will soon be turned into a film with 20th Century Studios.
Meade’s chapters are reminiscent of silent film shorts, barely any exceed 20 pages, making Keaton’s life easily digestible. She sets scenes artistically, and engagingly. Meade introduces Keaton by transplanting us in a noisy, cold Times Square before describing a 21-year-old who “looks younger, with a solemn, pretty-boy face and a shock of straight dark hair” (Meade, 1). After setting the mood, she takes a deep dive into the history of Keaton’s family and then on a step-by-step journey through his life and career. The book gives ample attention, and several pages of photographs, to the joys and scandals in his personal life along with his films.
Despite its shortcomings, Meade’s meticulous research is evident throughout the book. Not only did she dig into details like Keaton genealogy, but Meade also held dozens of interviews. She went out to gather oral histories with family, friends, and colleagues of Keaton. Tapes and tapes of interviews soon stacked up, including interviews with Keaton’s third wife Eleanor, his son John, and those who worked behind the scenes on his famous film The General. Meade took advantage of something biographers today can only dream of: still-living vaudevillians, actors from the golden age of Hollywood, and members of Keaton’s own family who all told detailed stories of their lives and Keaton’s. These interviews, doggedly pursued by Meade, are perhaps the most important and lasting contribution of Cut to the Chase.
Meade’s research and interviews on Buster Keaton were bought by the University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections & Archives, along with her work on Woody Allen, Nathanael West, and Eileen McKenney. Meade’s papers are open to researchers, or simply the curious public, and anyone can find out more about what is in the collection by exploring the online finding aid here.
For Keaton fans Elizabeth and Anna, using this collection at work has been a dream come true, but anyone can access these research files. For those of you interested in following in the research footsteps of Marion Meade, contact UI Libraries’ Special Collections & Archives , and we’ll walk you through visiting the collections.
The following is written by Kathryn Reuter, Academic Outreach Coordinator for Special Collections & Archives and for Stanley Museum of Art
In 1938, Chester Carlson invented the process of electrophotographic printing. Later rebranded as xerography, this process is what fuels photocopy machines around the world. Carlson’s invention forever changed the nature of office work and schoolwork, but it also sparked creativity for artists around the globe. While many of us associate the Xerox machine with the monotony of paper pushing and working nine to five under office florescent lights, members of the International Society of Copier Artists (I.S.C.A.) saw the copy machine as an artist’s medium and eagerly embraced the possibilities of this tool.
Louise Neaderland founded the I.S.C.A. in 1981 as “a non-profit professional organization composed of artists who use the copier both alone and in conjunction with other medium to create prints, murals, billboards, postcards and an innovative array of bookworks.” (I.S.C.A. Quarterly vol. 1 no.1, 1982) Neaderland is a printmaker, book artist, and alum of Bard College and the University of Iowa. Beginning in the early 1980s, her New York City studio became a hub of copier artist activity. Rather than gathering and sharing their work in person, artists corresponded with Neaderland primarily through the postal system. In addition to artists, membership in the I.S.C.A. was open to art collectors and institutions like libraries and archives.
At the core of the I.S.C.A. was the I.S.C.A. Quarterly, a publication of work by member artists. Neaderland published the first volume of the I.S.C.A. Quarterly in April of 1982, and aside from the occasional guest editor, it appears that the operation was largely a one-woman show. Artists would mail copies of their work to Neaderland, who would organize the submissions and publish the pieces in the Quarterly. Then she would package and mail each issue to I.S.C.A. members and subscribers.
The first issue of the Quarterly contained the work of all 48 copier artist members and was released as a file of loose papers in a flat folder. By the third issue, the Quarterly had grown to over 120 members and had found its form as a plastic comb bound volume of pages, a format it would (mostly) maintain until the final issue in June of 2004.
Copier artists creatively stretch the expectations of photocopies by using different colors, sizes, and textures of paper. In issues of the I.S.C.A. Quarterly there are works that have pasted on collages, unique paper cut-outs, applied paint, ink, and sewed on appliques. So long as an artist was using a photocopier as a component of their work, their pieces were fair game for submission to the Quarterly. While some issues were a hodgepodge of works with vastly different subject matter, Neaderland frequently issued calls for work based on a theme, resulting in I.S.C.A. Quarterly issues on “Statues of Liberty”, “Walls”, “The Artist’s Studio”, and “Charles Dickens”, just as a few examples.
In the summer of 1986, Neaderland published the first of what would become an annual issue of the I.S.C.A. Quarterly: the Bookworks edition. The Bookworks issues featured xerographic artists books and book objects and were packaged in cardboard box mailers. Printed on the back of the catalogue for the first Bookworks edition are the opening lines of Ulises Carrion’s essay “What A Book Is”:
A book is a sequence of spaces. Each of these spaces is perceived at a different moment—a book is also a sequence of moments. A book is not a case of words, nor a bag of words, nor a bearer of words. A writer, contrary to popular opinion, does not write books. A writer writes texts.
This series of statements makes clear that the Bookworks editions of the I.S.C.A. Quarterly were meant to challenge our notions of what makes a book.
Because they corresponded and submitted art through the mail, the I.S.C.A. was undoubtedly embedded in the “Eternal Network”. Dating back to the 1950s and still active today, the Network is an informal, global network of artists who communicate by exchanging their mail art via the postal system. Postage stamps, envelopes, and other postal themes frequently appeared in the work of I.S.C.A. members.
Like the Network, the I.S.C.A. was truly international in scope, in Neaderland’s files of correspondence with other artists, there is mail from Japan, Greece, Panama, Spain, Uruguay, and what was formally Czechoslovakia and West Germany. Neaderlander must have gotten quite a lot of mail; in her Editorial Letter from December 1995, Neaderland urges fellow I.S.C.A. members to send packages to a separate mailing address instead of to her Brooklyn address because she had “a small mailbox here in Brooklyn, and a very angry postman.”
Sitting at the intersection of book works and mail art, the work of the I.S.C.A. attracted the attention of Ruth and Marvin Sackner: a Miami based couple who became leading collectors of concrete poetry, artist books, and book objects. When the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry arrived at the University of Iowa in 2019, their issues of the I.S.C.A. Bookworks editions, which Neaderland had mailed out to Miami over the course of over two decades, were shelved just five rows away from Neaderland’s own personal copies of the I.S.C.A. Quarterly, which had never left New York City until she gifted her records to Special Collections and Archives in 2003.
The records of the International Society of Copier Artists are in good company here in Iowa City with the thousands of pieces of mail art in the ATCA, Fluxus, and Sackner collections. The I.S.C.A. Quarterlies and Bookworks editions are truly delightful to page though. They serve as records of how copier artists responded to major political, environmental, and social issues of their time. In addition, they are reflections of the rapidly changing technology of the 90s and early aughts. For instance, in 1995 Neaderland wrote in her editorial letter that she would soon be purchasing her first personal computer and was excited to not have to literally cut and paste her letters from typewritten pages. Two years later, she had established an email address for the I.S.C.A. and was working on a web site. At their core, though, the I.S.C.A. Quarterlies are a testament to artist’s abilities to find creativity and inspiration within the drudgery of the ordinary, like copy machines – and the twenty-one-year run of the Quarterly serves as a shining example of the radical power of self-publishing.
He’s served as the University of Iowa’s institutional memory for the last 21 years, which includes writing the beloved Old Gold series. Now, University Archivist David McCartney is starting a new chapter.
McCartney, who is retiring on March 1, has been dedicated to ensuring access to Iowa’s history and also highlighting voices that are underrepresented in the University Archives. Throughout his career, McCartney also developed relationships across campus, working with classes or faculty in every department, as well as with many different people throughout the state, region, and beyond.
“David has tied together research questions and historical threads across campus, from the College of Medicine to the School of Art and Art History. He has such a passion for constantly learning more about the people and events represented in our collections and for uniting materials with those who need them,” said Margaret Gamm, director of Special Collections & Archives in the University of Iowa Libraries.
After publishing an award-winning article on the life of UI student Stephen Smith, a young man from Marion, Iowa, who found his voice through civil rights activism in the 1960s, McCartney organized the Historical Iowa Civil Rights Network to bring together related repositories and collections from across the state. He also established the Stephen Lynn Smith Memorial Scholarship for Social Justice. David has served as a consultant for many smaller archives and libraries throughout the Midwest, and volunteers much of his time with smaller nonprofit organizations. In addition, McCartney received the 2020 Staff Excellence Award from the Board of Regents, State of Iowa. He’s also held many positions in the Midwest Archives Conference, including president, and made invaluable contributions to the Big Ten Academic Alliance University Archivist Group and the Consortium of Iowa Archivists.
Throughout his time at the University of Iowa, McCartney has proven to be not only a leader in his field, but an advocate for growing the archives to include the many voices that make up Hawkeye history, as demonstrated in the current Main Library Gallery Exhibit “We Are Hawkeyes: Celebrating 175 Years of Student Life at the University of Iowa.” Curated by McCartney, along with Denise Anderson and Aiden Bettine, the exhibit is a fitting final showcase of McCartney’s work of collecting and lifting all voices to be heard.
“David’s contributions and dedication during his time serving as university archivist are unmatched,” said John Culshaw, Jack B. King University Librarian. “We wish him well and know that current and future generations will continue to benefit from his preservation of university history.”
The following is written by Olson Graduate Research Assistant Matrice Young
Frederick Wayman “Duke” Slater was born in 1898 in Normal, IL to George and Letha Slater. Slater’s first experience playing football came on the streets of the Southside of Chicago, playing pick-up games with the neighborhood kids. During their time playing, Slater discovered a love for tackling, while many of the other kids in the neighborhood much preferred carrying the ball. As such, Slater always had a spot as a lineman in the games he played as a child.
When Slater was 13, his father, who was a nationally recognized Black Methodist minister, moved his family to Clinton, IA to become the pastor of the A.M.E. church. When Slater became a freshman at Clinton High School, he told his father he wanted to play football. His father forbade it, feeling that football was dangerous.
Slater, however, didn’t really take no for an answer. He secretly joined his high school’s football team during the summer leading into his sophomore year.
Slater’s father discovered his son’s football career when he came home one day and saw his wife, Slater’s stepmom, sewing and repairing a uniform that Slater had inherited. Slater’s father told his son to quit. Instead, Slater went on a hunger strike in protest, which lasted several days. Eventually, his father relented and gave Slater the condition that he be careful when he played, that he did his best to avoid getting hurt. With that in mind, Slater often hid his injuries instead of talking about them.
After Slater joined the Clinton Football team in 1913, he was faced with a tough choice: helmet or shoes. During this time, students had to pay for their own football equipment, and that left lower-income and poor families stranded. Slater’s family was no different. He was the oldest of six children, and had to pick between a helmet, or shoes that had to be custom made to fit him. Slater picked the shoes, which, given his 14 ½ FF size, would’ve likely been harder to find, or play without. Though after he’d picked the shoes, Slater went his entire high school and most of his college career playing without a helmet.
Slater attended the University of Iowa for his undergraduate career and was involved in a variety of extracurriculars including track, an all-Black Fraternity: Kappa Alpha Psi, and of course football.
Slater’s career at University of Iowa held many accomplishments: he was the first Black All-American football player, one of the inaugural class members of the College Football Hall of Fame, and in 1946, he was selected on “an all-time college football All-American team” by a panel of nationwide voters.
One of his biggest accomplishments on the Hawkeyes football team, however, was his play on the field versus Notre Dame. Hawkeyes ruined Notre Dame’s 20 game win streak, and Slater’s helmetless form is not only featured in the forefront of this famous picture but is also now immortalized as a statue at Kinnick Stadium.
After Iowa, Slater joined the NFL’s Rock Island Independents in 1922, where he became the first African American lineman in the NFL, briefly played for the NFL’s Milwaukee Badgers (only for two games), came back to the Independents, and then after the Independents went bankrupt, Slater played for the Chicago Cardinals. By the late 1920s, the NFL was going to ban Black players, but Slater’s reputation as the best lineman in the game held the NFL at bay. Slater was one of the few African American players in the NFL during the late 1920s, and depending on the year the only African American player on the field. He was also named all-pro from 1923-1930 and was the first NFL lineman to make all-pro teams for seven different seasons. Slater’s presence in the NFL delayed the implementation of the color ban until he retired in 1931.
After his retirement, Slater still took part in sports, however, it was more on the lines of being a social justice advocate for Black Americans. He was the head coach of the Chicago Negro All-Stars in 1933, the Chicago Bombers in 1937, the Chicago Comets in 1939 and the Chicago Panthers in 1940. When the NFL banned Black players in 1934, Slater coached the barnstorming teams that had Black players to fight against the color ban. His fight for representation didn’t end with sports either, it also transferred into his law career.
While playing for the NFL, Slater attended the University of Iowa for law school. He received his degree and passed the bar exam in 1928, then began his professional law career while playing for the Chicago Cardinals.
Slater started his practice on the South Side of Chicago and became an assistant district attorney and the assistant Illinois commerce commissioner. In 1948, Slater became Chicago’s second Black-American elected judge on the Cook County Municipal Court. In another great feat, in 1960, Slater was the first Black judge to be appointed to Chicago Superior Court, which was the highest court in the city during that time. In 1964, Slater left the Superior Court to help the newly created Circuit Court of Cook County. Slater’s career as a judge, while not as largely documented, was a push against stereotypes against Black individuals, particularly Black athletes. His almost two-decade career as a respected judge on the South Side of Chicago proved that not only could Black athletes succeed, but that they weren’t unintelligent as well.
In 1966, Judge Slater passed away from stomach cancer. He was buried at Mt. Glenwood Memorial Gardens in Greenwood IL, a historic cemetery where many prominent Black Americans were buried. To honor him, in 1972, the University of Iowa renamed their newest residency hall on campus from Rienow II to Slater Hall. Still, Slater’s story and accomplishments are swept away in the tide of history, and so University of Iowa honored him again in 2019 by erecting a relief of the famous picture from the Notre Dame game, placing it at the North End Zone of Kinnick Stadium. In early 2021, the playing field at the Kinnick Stadium was named Duke Slater Field.
Duke Slater was not just a football star, he was an advocate for Black Americans, a loving brother and uncle, a respected and highly regarded judge, and according to his niece, Hoskin Wilkins, “A man of character.”
You can learn more about Judge Slater’s football career at the University of Iowa through the book Slater of Iowa in our University Archives, and more on his life afterwards through his vertical file.
The following was written by Camille Davis, curatorial assistant to Dr. Eric Ensley
Jacques Auguste de Thou (8 October 1553, Paris – 7 May 1617, Paris), also known by his Latin name, Thuanus, was a French historian and president of the Parliament of Paris. He was also the key negotiator in the Edict of Nantes with the French Huegonots. In special collections libraries, he is known by his distinct provenance bindings that leave a trail of his history throughout the stacks.
While he inherited his father’s library in 1583, de Thou was also known to be an avid book collector himself. Unlike other collectors, his books have three distinct decorative styles that inform us of when in his life he acquired these books. As the Conservation Online databasenotes, “many of [de Thou’s] books were simply bound in red, olive, or citron colored morocco, with plain boards, a few border lines in gilt, and his coat of arms in the center of the upper cover, surrounded by laurel branches, but with only the title and his cipher on the spine” (“Jacques Auguste de Thou”). This distinctive style makes his bindings particularly easy to spot when pulling from the stacks. The first binding style is simply his coat of arms: argent, a chevron between three sable flies, and his initials. We know that he had these books bound when he was a bachelor as his other two bindings were always ciphers of his coat of arms and initials. When he was married to his first wife, Marie Barbançon, the provenance bindings seamlessly integrate his sable fly insignia with her triple lion coat-of-arms. A cipher of their initials also appears at the bottom of this gilt binding (Fig.1). After she dies and he is remarried to Gasparde de la Chastre, he will once more ask for his custom bindings to represent their shared coat of arms. After his death, his son, François Auguste de Thou would continue to have books bound with this final cipher. This moving tribute to both of his parents also can make it difficult to discern which of the De Thous had the book bound.
Typically, these coats of arms are gilt and are on plain brown calf bindings that have minimal tooling. However, the British Library, specifically, has many particularly interesting bindings that had belonged to de Thou. Karen Limper-Herz, binding expert and the curator of incunabula at the British Library, has previously discussed how de Thou, as a bachelor, had several lovely green and gold gilt fanfare bindings made for him as a bachelor. Another book in the British Library’s holdings that is distinctly different than his later bindings is a painted goatskin binding that was bound for de Thou during his marriage with his second wife, Gasparde de la Chastre.
During the time that we have been recataloging the 16th century books at the University of Iowa Special Collections & Archives, we have spotted at least one of de Thou’s bindings and we certainly expect that there are more yet to be discovered in the stacks. The binding that was spotted was from the time when de Thou was married to his first wife, Marie Barbançon. As is typical for de Thou’s bindings, a laurel wreath surrounds their insignias (Fig. 2). Above the combined coats-of-arms, there is a ribbon that says “Jac August Thaunus.” In the center of the coats-of-arms is a cipher of the combined “IAT” (the “I” being a replacement for “J” at the time) and “M” so that both spouses are represented.
Fascinatingly, this book is a copy of letters to and responses from John Calvin as well as “several letters from distinguished men in the church of God” (or, as the title actually is in Latin, “Ioannis Calvini Epistolae et responsa: quibus interiectae sunt insignium in ecclesia Dei virorum aliquot etiam epistolae,” FOLIO BX9420 .A5). Since we know that this book was in de Thou’s possession, it gives further proof of how he was actively reading the work of the major Protestant minds of the time so that he might be able to work with them on behalf of the French government. If it were ever possible, it would be compelling to see a full compendium of the works in his library so that more could be known about which works de Thou thought were the most relevant to his time, his life and his work.
It is likely that the University of Iowa has more of de Thou’s bindings within their stacks. After de Thou’s death, his collection of 13,000 books became the property of Jean-Jacques Charron before they were sold off in 1789. Since that time, these books have found happy homes in many special collection stacks. However, unless a library is particularly attuned to those researchers who wish to search library catalogs for bindings and provenance, like the British Library or the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, then it can be particularly hard to find these bindings. Another interesting future digital humanities project would be to follow where all of de Thou’s books ended up; especially if a significant portion ended up in publicly accessible holdings. Then we would be able to piece together a more complete portrait of what books this significant bibliophile, statesman and historian of the 16th century found to be the most valuable books both for his own edification and for his writing. It would have significant implications for the book trade of the time. But, until such a project could happen, we will have to keep one eye open for this unique cipher that winks at us whenever we pass through the stacks.
“Thou, Jacques Auguste De ( 1553-1617 ).” [CoOL], https://cool.culturalheritage.org/don/dt/dt3491.html.
The following is written by Olson Graduate Research Assistant Matrice Young
Special Collections & Archives recently acquired two artists books from Monica Ong, a second generation Chinese-Filipino American woman born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Her family history, like many Americans, is a complex one. During World War II, her grandparents left Fujian, China and immigrated to Manila in the Philippines. There, both of her parents were born and raised. Her father, a medical resident, moved to the US in the early 1970s with his family to settle down.
Ong studied studio art as an undergraduate at New York University and earned her MFA in digital media from the Rhode Island School of Design. She currently works as the user-experience designer at the Yale Digital Humanities Lab at the Yale University Library in Connecticut. Ong was also a literary fellow with the organization Kundiman: which seeks to create a mentorship and community space for Asian Americans exploring their creative craft, artistic freedom, and the challenges within the Asian-American diaspora. When it comes to her influences, some of them include Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Claudia Rankine and Barbara Kruger, Daisaku Ikeda, her family, and learning and connecting more with her own cultural history and heritage. Monica Ong is also a Bodhisattva, and Buddhism has influenced her work and her personhood, which you can learn more about from her interview on the podcast Buddhability, “Episode #30: How to overcome resistance in creative work.”
Her first book, Silent Anomalies, is a combination of her visual art and poetry that touches on many subjects of her life and family history. The poems speak on Chinese and Filipino history, politics, and identity from her perspective and understanding. She also speaks on social norms, cultural silence, and the “medical-emotional family diaspora” of her family which extends from China to the Philippines to the United States.
Ong spoke in an interview on Off the Shelfwith Yvonne Wolfe about how ashamed her grandpa was at having 5 daughters, as in their culture, having sons was considered a true blessing. As a result, her grandfather dressed her mother as a boy for family portraits for several years, and Ong saw how that made her think about the cultural narratives of women’s bodies, the shame and negative values placed upon them.
She then spoke about her maternal aunt who struggled with mental illness, and how her dad, trained in Western medicine, attempted to help her but was at odds with Ong’s grandmother who was superstitious and said her daughter was possessed as a way of saving face in a world that did not understand, and still struggles with, mental illness. As such, Ong’s aunt remained undiagnosed and untreated for most of her life. Ong’s mother and aunt’s experiences were two crucial moments in her development of what she wanted to accomplish in Silent Anomalies. She wanted to think of art as a safe space to create and entertain dialogue about health issues, particularly where health and culture intersect.
Ong’s latest work, the exhibition Planetaria, is full of visual poetry inspired by astronomy, where text is integral to her artistic creation. The works in her exhibition has many different forms: shadow boxes, slideshow reels, and book carts are a few. Her pieces combine different representations of cosmological forms and celestial bodies, examples being tarot cards and Chinese astronomy.
Ong’s interest stemmed from wanting to know more about astronomy and Chinese cosmology. In an article for the New Haven Independent, she mentions how she was only semi-familiar with the Chinese system of constellations as a child. “Every fall we would have a moon festival and my family would get together, play games, and have a feast, and then there would be the story about a woman who drank a potion for everlasting life, and she went to the moon, but her lover stayed on Earth.”
When she became an adult and a parent, she wanted to pass her cultural heritage down to her son, so she began learning more about Chinese cosmology. She learned that some of the constellations in Greek cosmology appear in Chinese cosmology, as do some of the same star forms, but they are interpreted differently. For example, the stars that make Orion’s belt are three Gods of fortune in China. “There’s a lot less emphasis on mythical gods,” Ong said. “It’s a lot more a reflection of the hierarchy of society. So there are asterisms for accountants and archivists, as well as the king’s chariot drivers, and empty wells and fields. It’s a geography of the way the Emperor saw life (New Haven Independent).”
As Ong learned more about Chinese cosmology, she saw how it, like the Greek system, is “centered around male power.” She sought to change that in her work by using a feminist and personal narrative. She does this by using womanhood, the body, female scientists, and female cosmonauts. Her exhibition pieces also include her family’s ancestral history and immigration stories. Ong states that “What’s empowering about being an artist is that you can say, ‘how can we flip the script and write from a different point of view that centers the reader? How can we rethink our stories in a way that’s more inclusive for everyone?’ The palace is not up there; it’s actually your own life.”
This flipped script can especially be seen in the pieces here at Special Collections & Archives. The Star Gazer: Planisphere Poetry depicts the Chinese night sky from the northern hemisphere. It is based on the Soochow Astronomical Chart of 1193. This star chart holds small phrases of beautiful prose weaved around constellational lines to form the poetry within this piece. Taken directly from her Proxima Vera site, there are a few steps to read this structured poem:
“To view the stars, turn the disc to align the desired date with the hour of night. Face south and hold the planisphere overhead with the corner marked North facing north. The map will reveal a celestial poem that awaits you among the asterisms. Let the eyes wander and read aloud to someone dear.”
Her other work in our collection, Lunar Volvelle, also demonstrates how science, family, and poetry can weave together. Based on a device from the medieval era, Ong’s volvelle includes fragments of poetry along with an image of her paternal grandmother, whose image waxes and wanes with the phases of the moon. Ong explains her design on Proxima Vera stating, “During the full moon, my father’s mother will watch over you.”*
Overall, Ong’s work has been an exploration, a dive into family and research, connections and experiences, and solving the mysteries of what she wishes to learn more about.
Monica Ong is a visual poet, an artist, a mother, a sister, a daughter. She’s a driven Asian American woman who speaks her story, her family’s story, the story of women, particularly Asian American women, the story of immigrants and their families, cultural politics and traditions, and what it means to bean Asian American woman living in today’s society. You can check out her works at the Special Collections & Archives, and her book Silent Anomaliesfrom our Main Library! Happy Explorations, everyone.
*Correction on description of Lunar Volvelle made 1/13/2022. Original content said piece contained multiple images of family members. Imagery in piece does not include multiple faces as described before, but one, Ong’s paternal grandmother.
Aidasani, S. (2018, November 24). Monica Ong: Capturing poetry’s healing power – positively Filipino: Online magazine for Filipinos in the Diaspora. Positively Filipino | Online Magazine for Filipinos in the Diaspora. Retrieved December 16, 2021, from http://www.positivelyfilipino.com/magazine/monica-ong-capturing-poetrys-healing-power
Bigelow, K. (2021, April 15). 2021 cover artist: Monica Ong. Dogwood. Retrieved December 16, 2021, from https://dogwoodliterary.com/2021/04/15/2021-cover-artist-monica-ong/
Institute Library Press Release (2021). The Gallery Upstairs at the Institute Library presents: Monica Ong: Planetaria. Retrieved December 16, 2021, from https://institutelibrary.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/planetaria-PR-final.pdf
Posted on July 2, 2021. (2021, November 9). Episode #30: How to overcome resistance in creative work. buddhability. Retrieved December 16, 2021, from https://buddhability.org/podcast/monicaong/%C2%A0%C2%A0
Slattery, B. (2021, June 15). Art exhibit traces a path to the stars. New Haven Independent. Retrieved December 16, 2021, from https://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/planetaria/
Yau, J. (2021, August 6). A poet-artist looks to the stars. Hyperallergic. Retrieved December 16, 2021, from https://hyperallergic.com/667278/monica-ong-poet-artist-looks-to-the-stars/%C2%A0
The following is written by Asian Alumni and Student Oral History Project Intern Jin Chang
This a multi-part series reconstructing the history of the Asian American Coalition, a pan-ethnic Asian American student group from 1998-2017. This second blog post covers the Asian American Coalition’s early attempts to define their new student organization. It traces out their early attempts to identify their purpose, the activities they did as friends, and their engagement in socio-political activism from 1998-2002.
The Asian American Coalition had multiple purposes in its first four years of its existence. The group existed as a social, political, and educational organization throughout this time. While the students emphasized different aspects of the organization in different years, Asian American Coalition always had an eye towards the future.
As a social organization, the early iteration of the Asian American Coalition differed from the structure of a typical student organization at the University of Iowa: it had both graduate and undergraduate students involved, with an even ratio of graduate to undergraduate students. This meant their social events such as bowling nights, picnics, or general parties had both undergraduate and graduate students together. Some of the undergraduate students spoke fondly about having a built-in mentor from this arrangement. Meanwhile, the graduate students saw the inclusion of undergraduates as a way to ensure the future of the organization. In other words, the graduate students took the lead in running many aspects of the organization with the intention of handing off the Asian American Coalition to the undergraduates.
Here alumnus Kim Long discusses what it meant to have a graduate mentor in the Asian American Coalition:
This structure of mentorship enabled the Asian American Coalition to be a political organization. One of their first political goals was the creation of an Asian American Studies Program. The stated purpose of this academic program was to provide courses that reflected the history and culture of the Asian American community at the University of Iowa specifically. However, the graduate students that were involved with the Asian American Coalition saw even more potential with these courses as they viewed them as a way to politicize the undergraduate cohort of the organization to maintain their political agenda.
Beyond the classroom, the political nature of the Asian American Coalition can be seen immediately through its name. Their goal was to be an “umbrella organization” for Asian and Asian American students throughout the university. For these students, the idea of an “umbrella organization” meant they would be there to support other Asian students in their activities and times of need while providing a pan-Asian home for those that did not quite fit the mold of the other Asian organizations. One clear example this coalitional support was after an earthquake that devastated Taiwan in 1999, the Asian American Coalition offered their support to the Taiwanese Student Association to fundraise for their community. The original student leaders felt the name, Asian American Coalition, captured this notion of an “umbrella organization.”
While the Asian American Coalition primarily focused their efforts in building the future Asian community at Iowa, they also supported other multicultural organizations. For instance, the Asian American Coalition stood behind Black, Native, and Latino student groups on campus to maintain their unique cultural houses, now called Afro-House and the Latino Native American Cultural Center, rejecting a University plan to house all cultural centers in one residence hall. This multi-racial solidarity also meant that when the Asian American Coalition began advocating for the creation of an Asian American Cultural Center, the Black, Native, and Latino student groups on campus stood in solidarity with the Asian American Coalition.
Hear former student member Rosalind Sagara speak on the necessity of solidary between multicultural student groups on campus:
Finally, the Asian American Coalition served as an educational organization as they had a goal to spread cultural awareness throughout the larger community beyond the University. One of the first things many of the founding members of the Asian American Coalition spoke about was this feeling of constantly being watched in Iowa City because they were Asian. They saw the Asian American Coalition as an organization that could introduce the general public to the idea that Asian people lived in Iowa. They primarily did this through a sub-group of the Asian American Coalition called ChopStix Theatre.
Chopstix Theatre was a small group started by Asian American Coalition Members. They created puppet shows and reenacted children’s stories from various Asian countries as well as Asian American specific stories. They performed at the Iowa City Public Library, the Iowa Children’s Museum, Barnes & Noble, and at cultural festivals for kids. The goal was to introduce Asian culture and people to the children of the predominately white community in the Iowa City area with the hope that these fun stories would help kids grow into accepting adults.
Listen to alumnus Omega Dancel talk about the origins and purpose of Chopstix Theatre:
The Asian American Coalition was a social group, a political organization, and an educational theatre troupe. They were always future oriented, planning ahead to prolong the life of the organization and make an impact for Asian students living in Iowa. The graduate students that started it saw the potential for it to be a political organization, but they recognized social activities were important to build community. They sought Asian American Studies as a way to cultivate future political leaders for the Asian American Coalition. They created relationships with other Asian organizations and multicultural groups to respond to future events. They felt unwelcomed in the community and tried to find ways to change this by bringing Asian culture to children in the Iowa City Area. In short, the Asian American Coalition had the goal of creating a better Iowa for Asian Americans and the community at large.
The following was written by Marie Ernster, practicum student from School of Library and Information Science
The field of mathematics was in a period of philosophical volatility in England in the 19th century. A huge debate raged in the area of geometry over whether they should allow non-Euclidean concepts to enter the pedagogy. Among the traditionalists, geometry represented a means of providing consistent models that would bring certainty to the universe. Non-Euclidean geometry threatened this certainty because it went against the established metrics of empiricism in mathematics. In exploring extra dimensionality through mathematics, this new paradigm would change the very foundation of how geometry could be used as a piece of evidence in the consistency of the universe.
In 1883 President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Arthur Cayley, addressed these
concerns by pointing out that mathematics was pushing beyond its established boundaries, and his fellow mathematicians should proceed cautiously with their exploration in this new field. He understood that mathematicians would use geometry to explore beyond three dimensions, so he asked that they not leave their more traditional peers behind. One year later, under the pseudonym of “A Square,” Edwin Abbott Abbott (yes, two Abbotts) decided to take a different path from Cayley and explain non-Euclidean geometry in the ground-breaking work Flatland.
Abbott himself was an avid writer at this point in his life, while still working as headmaster for the City School of London until his retirement in 1889. He usually published English guides, such as How to Write Clearly and English Lessons for English People, as well as theological writings like Silanus the Christian and Philochristus. As headmaster, he made elementary knowledge of chemistry compulsory because he believed that students should have a reverence for science. Abbott understood that some of the fears of English mathematicians came from how the association between certainty and geometry made their very faith in Universal Truths shakable as well. After all, if the unassailable reality of geometry could be so affected, then what else could prove the certainty of their own lives? Well, Edwin Abbott Abbott took the proverbial hands of these people, and showed them how to maintain certainty despite these fears.
In the world of Flatland: a romance of many dimensions, A Square describes a world that exists on an infinite plane; essentially, he lives on a huge piece of paper. A Square describes the basic mechanics of living in such a land: how they can see and navigate, how they know what shapes are and how to differentiate them, how the social structures based on sidedness works, and so on and so forth. But then, A Square meets a circle (the shape considered most important because of its near incalculable sidedness) unlike any circle he had ever met before because this circle was actually a sphere capable, to the eyes of the square, of reducing itself to a small point and then to complete invisibility. A Square eventually learns from the sphere that there are more dimensions than the two he uses to navigate his plane of existence. The gospel of the third dimension is radical to A Square, and near incomprehensible when he exists in his own plane because he has no vocabulary to adequately describe the concept of the third dimension. To make things even more difficult, the priestly circles who govern his world declare that any teaching of the third dimension would lead to imprisonment, or even death. As it goes, A Square ends his story imprisoned for the rest of his life for speaking about the third dimension because he couldn’t contain his excitement about this new paradigm of existence.
Considering the infighting amongst mathematicians at the time, it seems more calculated than cute of Abbott to publish this story under a pseudonym. After all, he uses Flatland to conceptualize the fourth dimension and more beyond that. But he wasn’t just critiquing the traditionalist dogma of mathematics; Abbott was attempting to show that non-Euclidean geometry was the next natural step in the evolution of mathematics—a means to find deeper, more certain truths about the universe than what Euclidean geometry could hope to achieve.
Beyond that, Abbott used Flatland to critique English culture at the time, especially the rigid social dogmas that restricted creative thought and expression. In the second edition of his story, Abbott added a preface under a new pseudonym (called the “Editor”) where he explained that women need greater consideration in wider culture. He uses the treatment of women in Flatland to demonstrate that the rigid social and educational control over women in England prevents them from contributing intellectually to the cultural discourse. The women of Flatland are vapid fools because this is the only option given to them.
Jumping almost a hundred years later, the 1980 Arion Press edition of Flatland found in the Sackner Archive provides an interesting tangibility to Flatland and its inhabitants. Printed on a single, accordion folded sheet of paper, this edition of Flatland provides unique type formatting and crisp illustrations to the story. It can be rather daunting to read a short story that comes with handling instructions, but that makes this copy all the more fascinating. The introduction in this edition is by Ray Bradbury, who presents a wholly literary perspective on the piece and its merits. Bradbury explains Abbott’s creation of Flatland as a process of building strange and silly ideas on top of each other, one after another. Abbott takes the serious and straightforward concept of mathematical geometry and turns it into a silly allegorical story about circles oppressing the creative intellectual growth of other shapes under their purview. Bradbury’s final note is that this book “won’t necessarily prevent us from being fools, but it may help us not to be absolute fools.” Flatland is a story about our own world and imperfect perspectives, presented through the whimsical lens of polygons and lines and points.
137 years later and Flatland still remains an interesting touchstone of debate and discussion about the mathematical concepts, feminist interpretations, and even genre definitions it encompasses. Even conventional genre labels cannot encompass the themes and ideas of a story about A Square living in a world of shapes. People debate whether it could technically be called science fiction when there isn’t anything all that scientific about it, or maybe literary culture as a whole should break down and call it “mathematical fiction,” even though such a label might only really exist for this story and the few pieces inspired by it.
Considering he never wrote another piece like it ever again, it seems as though Abbott expected his other works to become his greater legacy, or maybe he thought there could be no more to say about Flatland besides some minor corrections or clarifications from edition to edition. In fact, it is one of the shortest pieces he ever published. But the reality is Flatland: a romance of many dimensions became his most famous and enduring work because it presents a fantastical world so different and so similar to our own, with ideas that spark questions and debate to this day about intention and culture, that there could only ever be one
The Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual poetry has a treasure trove of materials yet to be uncovered as parts of it awaits processing in Special Collections & Archives. The Arion Press edition in the Sackner Collection has not yet been processed, but it will soon be accessible from the Special Collections & Archives website.
Gilbert, Elliot L. “’Upward, Not Northward’: Flatland and the Quest for the New.” English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, vol. 34, no. 4, Arizona State University, Department of English, 1991, pp. 391–404.
School of Mathematics and Statistics. “Edwin Abbott Abbott – Biography.” Maths History, University of St. Andrews, Feb. 2005, https://mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Abbott/.
Valente, K. G. “Transgression and Transcendence: Flatland as a Response to “A New Philosophy”.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts, vol. 26, no. 1, Taylor and Francis Ltd, 2004, pp. 61–77, doi:10.1080/08905490410001683309.
Different Editions of Flatland at Special Collections & Archives:
Flatland by Edwin Abbot Abbott, Introduction by Ray Bradbury, Printer’s Note by Andrew Hoyem, 18th American Edition, 1980
The Annotated Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbott, Introduction and Notes by Ian Stewart, 2008
Flatland: a romance of many dimensions by Derek Beaulieu, Afterword by Marjorie Perloff, 2007
The following is written by University Archivist David McCartney
In the early morning hours of Saturday, May 9, 1970, the building housing the Dept. of Rhetoric mysteriously caught fire and was declared a total loss. Although the cause of the blaze was never determined, many to this day believe it was the work of arsonists. No one was injured. The building, Old Armory Temporary – nicknamed “Big Pink” – was a wooden frame structure situated roughly where the Adler Journalism and Mass Communication Building is now, just east of EPB and across the railroad tracks.
The building’s destruction came just days after the deadly Kent State shootings in Ohio on May 4, 1970, and was emblematic of the anti-war protest movement that closed or threatened to close campuses across the U.S. that spring. While UI remained open, students were given the option to complete their semester’s work early and leave the campus, or remain on campus until semester’s end.
Fast forward 51 years. In the Dept. of Special Collections & Archives, University Archives Assistant Denise Anderson is processing the Rhetoric Department’s records and recently noted a set of files that appear to have been singed on the papers’ edges. We are speculating that these records survived the 1970 fire, and were saved by Rhetoric staff.
Among the surviving records are documents concerning Paul J. Kleinberger, a graduate assistant in Rhetoric who in late 1967 had been suspended from his position by the university following his participation in the Dec. 5, 1967 Dow Chemical protest at the Iowa Memorial Union. Newspaper clippings, correspondence, and other records document this tumultuous chapter. Kleinberger was reinstated in early 1968 and continued to teach, but we don’t know what became of him; his last listing in the student directory is in the 1967-68 edition.
Mr. Kleinberger’s letter to the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Dewey Stuit, dated February 4, 1968, is his appeal to be reinstated. Also included here are a January 1968 article appearing in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, reporting his plan to appeal, and a portion of the Dept. of Rhetoric newsletter, dated November 9, 1967, about a month before the Kleinberger controversy unfolded.
The following is written by Olson Graduate Research Assistant, Rachel Miller-Haughton
This article will use the words ‘Native American’ and ‘Indigenous’ to refer to the people and cuisines mentioned. Other words, some of which are considered offensive or slurs, are used in these books, and are only mentioned if necessary, in direct quotes.
November is National Native American Heritage Month, and at Special Collections & Archives we would like to highlight the books within the Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts and Cookbooks Collection that feature Indigenous foods. While not a huge swath of the collection, there are a few materials that range from mid-1900s white-narrated accounts of stereotypes about Indigenous people interspersed with recipes for broadly named “typical foods;” to contemporary cookbooks by Indigenous chefs like The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen (2017).
Thanksgiving is a time that can mean vastly different things to different people. Stories are written and rewritten about the ways in which white Europeans interacted with the Native communities on whose lands they settled. For Indigenous activists, this can be a painful day: in 2017, Karlos Baca, a chef who is Diné, Tewa and Nuche, said he had a tradition of fasting on Thanksgiving. Sean Sherman, a chef who is Oglala Lakota, reminds us that when we forget the impact of Indigenous cuisines on the holiday, we are forgetting the people who shaped American food and culture. “It’s the one time of the year that people, whether they know it or not, are largely making indigenous-based foods […] There’s turkey, squash, cranberries — and all these pieces that represent indigenous America” (from the article “‘This is not a trend’: Native American chefs resist the ‘Columbusing’ of indigenous foods”).
Remembering contributions of some Native Americans to the survival of others’ white ancestors is one step. A few books in the Szathmary Collection highlight the past. One is The Indian Cook Book by The Indian Women’s Club of Tulsa, Oklahoma, written in 1933.
It is a compilation of different women’s short recipes, listed above their name and tribe. The foreword reads, “We are sending forth this little pamphlet to you and the public as a souvenir of other days among the early Indian homekeepers, hoping it will prove to be not only a useful, but one of your cherished possessions. Sincerely, Lilah D. Lindsey, President, Creek and Cherokee.”
A further step to take is to acknowledge that Native American people are very much a part of the fabric of contemporary life, not historic figures that just occupied the past. Indian Recipeswas compiled by the staff of United Tribes Employment Training Center, North Dakota in 1977.
A small orange booklet with illustrations and recipes, there is little context or history given. The last page says, “United Tribes Employment Training Center (UTETC) is a non-profit vocational-educational training center operated by the Indian people of North Dakota for Indians, regardless of educational background. The basic objective of the Center is to educate Indian people of low socio-economic backgrounds so that they are capable of living in today’s changing society.” Made by people in North Dakota and intended to be distributed to any Indigenous community member who needed recipes, this cookbook created both connections to heritage foods and everyday recipes for the household.
Some cookbooks come from non-Indigenous authors. The Art of American Indian Cooking by Yeffe Kimball and Jean Anderson (1965) is one such book. It’s intended to give a sampling of many regions, from many different Indigenous nations. The foreword and introduction to this volume start off innocuously, noting that “our debt to the American Indian is much greater than we had supposed at first.” It goes on to describe origins of Indigenous foods, their origins of cultivation, and the importance of corn in many Indigenous communities across the continent. However, it veers into whitewashing as author Yeffe Kimball then paints a simple and tidy picture of the first Thanksgiving. Interestingly, Kimball (born Effie Violetta Goodman) was born to white parents and self-identified as an Osage Native American, though she was not.
As with any archive, a blend of the old and new paints a timeline of the ways in which a marginalized and underrepresented community has appeared, portrayed first by others and later by members of those communities. The power to tell your own story is incredibly important.
Some of the most recent cookbooks are by individual chefs who have compiled recipes they have perfected. One is
Dale Carson’s (Abenaki) 1996 book, New Native American Cooking: More than 125 traditional foods & contemporary dishes made from America’s indigenous ingredients. Carson says she’s “included recipes that represent the foodstuff and culinary traditions of all the North American culture groups. You’ll notice many Woodland dishes from both the Easter and Great Lakes regions. I’ve also adapted a number of Southeastern, Plains, Western and Northwestern dishes for this collection […] like other Americans, Native peoples shop at supermarkets, buy butcher shop meats, and stock canned and frozen fruits and vegetables on the pantry shelves of modern kitchens […] this book is not intended as a history of Native foods, nor is it a collection of purely traditional recipes. In many ways, I consider it a bridge, a means of reintroducing Native American food and culinary traditions into mainstream kitchens.” Carson is still active in sharing Abenaki and other Indigenous food through her writing.
A project to “re-identify North American Cuisine” is the work of chef Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota) and his partner Dana Thompson. Sherman’s The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen (written with Beth Dooley, 2017) is the most recent Indigenous cookbook in Special Collections. “Sherman dispels outdated notions of Native American fare—no fry bread or Indian tacos here—and uses no European staples such as wheat flour, dairy products, sugar, and domestic pork and beef […] The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen is a rich education in and a delectable introduction to modern indigenous cuisine of the Dakota and Minnesota territories” (Introduction).
Whether you have never considered the roots of Thanksgiving before, or whether you have dedicated your life to the work of decolonizing, we hope you can appreciate the heritage of the foods you consume on November 25th this year. We are thankful to house Native American recipes and histories here at the University of Iowa, which is located on the homelands of many Indigenous nations (please visit the UI Indigenous Land Acknowledgement). We hope to build a stronger relationship with Indigenous students, faculty, and staff, so that their voices will be better represented in the archives.
I-Collective: “An autonomous group of Indigenous chefs, activists, herbalists, seed, and knowledge keepers, the I-Collective strives to open a dialogue and create a new narrative that highlights not only historical Indigenous contributions, but also promotes our community’s resilience and innovations in gastronomy, agriculture, the arts, and society at large.”