My grandmother Sylvia taught me to make pie crust using the Crisco Single Crust recipe printed on the label. This recipe is included in Crisco’s American Pie Celebration, from the Szathmary Recipe Pamphlets collection. Because I have a penchant for oversized pies, I tripled the recipe and cut the dough in half for top and bottom crusts, ensuring there was no difficulty rolling the dough to fit.
The following post comes from Olson Graduate Assistant Rachel Miller-Haughton.
Political cartoons are more fraught and relevant today than ever. The New York Times ended their political cartoons in July 2019, after they pulled an image that was widely perceived as anti-Semitic. Other publications have gone the same way in order to be perceived as more serious, or less controversial. At the same time, cartoonists and their supporters write about the loss of the visual medium. Patrick Chappatte, a New York Times political cartoonist, says, “Political cartoons were born with democracy. And they are challenged when freedom is.” No matter whether you like them or not, the impact of political cartoons cannot be denied. The most extreme example of this in recent memory are the attacks on the offices and contributors to French magazine Charlie Hebdo in response to their portrayal of Islamic prophet Muhammad. The response to a political cartoon, and subsequent conversations over free speech, is something that has colored our understanding of what they look like.
Almost 100 years ago, a cartoonist was illustrating his view of the current election. Jay N. “Ding” Darling was a cartoonist who spent much of his life in Sioux City, Iowa, and spent most of his career at the Des Moines Register. Born in 1876, he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924 and 1942. He was disillusioned with many of the political groups he worked with, but his life’s passion was wildlife conservation. The University of Iowa Libraries now holds many of his works. The “Ding” Darling Papers in Special Collections are a large group of the political cartoons the artist was best known for, as well as other art forms he created over the span of his life. Two images from the 1924 election stand out, even today. That year, Calvin Coolidge, the Republican candidate, won, helped by a divide in the Democratic party where many liberal Democrats left the party and backed third-party Wisconsin Senator, throwing the majority of the rest of the votes to Coolidge. A three-party election with a divided majority party was highly contentious.
The first image is captioned, “The citizens will now go forth and vote their calm, dispassionate judgement.” It features two voters clutching their ballot, pursued by huge ballooning figures carrying signs saying, “campaign lies,” “beware of chaos!” and “the government is run by a bunch of crooks,” among others. Anyone who has spent a few minutes watching TV, or on social media, has been blasted by similar messages around the 2020 election. Darling shows us that voters in the early 1900s were obviously feeling a similar strain, albeit with different names (“red peril” from the newly formed Soviet Union is reflected now as Russian cyber agitation).
The second cartoon, also from 1924, says “It’s a wonder there aren’t more serious accidents” and is commentary about nonvoters. Meant to either galvanize or shame “non voting voters” to be more like “the small percent who take their voting duty seriously,” it is certainly interesting to reflect on today. Already, the 2020 voter turnout is breaking records. Darling hoped this piece would encourage those who were able, and had the right, to vote, while also telling those who didn’t they don’t get to complain about “the gov’t machinery.” This may have been his way of encouraging participation in democracy.
The 2020 election is weighing on all our minds as Americans. Looking in Special Collections, it is almost comforting (albeit frustrating) to look back at history and know this is not the first time we’ve felt bombarded by groups telling us how to vote. Political cartoons have always done a good job of showing us what is important, and cutting through the noise of words with a single image. Who we listen to is up to us. But the importance of voting, although portrayed in a humorous manner by Darling, is no less pressing today than it was in 1924.
For more information on “Ding” Darling, check out the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society
The following blog is written by Rich Dana, Olson Graduate Assistant in Special Collections.
Dr. Marvin Sackner passed away on September 29th. A national leader in the field of pulmonology and an inventor of innovative medical devices, Marvin Sackner was also an internationally recognized authority in the field of word-art, known as concrete or visual poetry. Along with his late wife, Ruth, Dr. Sackner collected the world’s most extensive collection of word-based art, which arrived at the University of Iowa in 2019.
In an October 5th memorial, International Dada Curator Timothy Shipe wrote that “For those of us at Iowa, Dr. Sackner will be forever remembered for selecting the University Libraries as the permanent home of his world-renowned collection of concrete and visual poetry; but as his obituary shows, his memory will be treasured for his countless contributions in many areas—by his numerous patients, by members of the medical profession, by artists, art historians, and literary scholars around the world, and most of all by his beloved family.”
Timothy Shipe later shared with me some personal thoughts about his interactions with Marvin Sackner, recalling that his 2018 New York meetings with Dr. Sackner and Head of Special Collections Margaret Gamm were not just business negotiations. Rather, he remembers working with Marvin as “enjoyable days full of enlightening conversation.”
Dr. Sackner was scheduled to visit Iowa City in April to attend the opening of an exhibition of works from the Sackner Archive at the UI Main Library gallery. Unfortunately, Dr. Sackner’s visit did not come to pass. In March, the world was thrown into the chaos of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The University of Iowa, like most campuses across the United States, quickly closed the campus and moved to virtual classes. The Sackner exhibit was put on hold, and Dr. Sackner’s visit was postponed.
Later in the spring, I had the good fortune to talk at length with Marvin Sackner in a series of phone calls in which I interviewed him for a pair of blog posts. Our discussions were far-ranging, covering everything from the origins of the Sackner Archive to current events, historical medical treatises to science fiction.
When he inquired about my own scholarly interests, I mentioned that I was working on a paper exploring the links between early science fiction fandom and the literary and artistic uses of the mimeograph by the avant-garde. He became quite excited, telling me that “Oh, yes, you are on to something there!” Quickly pivoting from fine art to pulp paperbacks, he went on to share with me his own early interest in science fiction. In hindsight, he thought that the first time he saw an example of concrete poetry was not in a rare book shop or gallery, but rather in the paperback edition of Alfred Bester’s novel The Stars My Destination. “You will find several copies in the collection,” he told me.
At age 88, his memory for detail was impressive and his enthusiasm infectious, even over the phone. His comment about Bester’s book was spot-on, providing me with one of the first critical lynchpins in my thesis. We continued to correspond through occasional emails, and I held out hope that I might one day get to meet him in person after the pandemic had passed.
In late August, the exhibition of highlights from the Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry finally opened in the Main Library Gallery. Sadly, one month later, we received the news of Dr. Sackner’s passing. A portrait of Dr. Sackner was added to the exhibit, next to the portrait of his wife Ruth.
I regret that I won’t be able to talk to Dr. Sackner again, but I will always appreciate how generously he shared his time with me. I also regret that the UI students and faculty will never have a chance to meet him, to experience his infectious enthusiasm, and thank him in person for the gift he has given us. However, we will continue to celebrate his passion and gain inspiration from the fantastic artwork and legacy that he has left in our care.
To see a sample of works from the Sackner Archive, please take the time to visit the Main Library Gallery website. To see more, schedule a private or socially-distanced small group visit by contacting the gallery staff.
The following was written by International Dada Curator Timothy Shipe
It is with profound sorrow that we note the passing of Dr. Marvin Sackner on Tuesday, September 29 at age 88, just a few weeks after the opening of this exhibition. For those of us at Iowa, Dr. Sackner will be forever remembered for selecting the University Libraries as the permanent home of his world-renowned collection of concrete and visual poetry; but as his obituary shows, his memory will be treasured for his countless contributions in many areas—by his numerous patients, by members of the medical profession, by artists, art historians, and literary scholars around the world, and most of all by his beloved family.
We had originally planned to open this exhibition in May 2020 with a gala event featuring a guest lecture by Dr. Sackner accompanied by his entire family. Given Dr. Sackner’s stature as a world-famous pulmonologist, there is a sad irony in the fact that his visit to Iowa was thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those of us who had the privilege of getting to know Marvin—and to hear his engaging manner of telling the story of his collection and the artists represented in it—know what an opportunity the public has missed now that there will be no chance to welcome him back to campus. But we can take comfort in knowing that current and future generations of Iowans and visitors from around the world will be able to engage with the Sackners through their legacy—the magnificent collection they amassed and curated over four decades, which now resides in the UI Libraries Special Collections.
We now rededicate this exhibition to the memory of Ruth and Marvin Sackner, extraordinary art collectors, generous individuals, and above all, kind and loving human beings.
For more about the exhibit and archive, please check out the Sackner Archive LibGuide.
The following is written by Erik Henderson, Graduate Assistant for Iowa Women’s Archives
As we have moved into the digital age, the value of handwritten letters has seemingly faded. Archival repositories nationwide are composed of letters because they once encompassed the most influential and sometimes most intimate moments experienced by their authors. Preserving history allows for people in the 21st century to understand the values, norms, and perspectives of life before them. In an era of prompt communication through smartphones and social media, could we imagine what it would be like waiting weeks, or even months, to hear from loved ones?
Within the UI Special Collections are the letters of Anson Rood Butler, which transport readers to the Civil War era. Consisting of items dating from 1862 to 1900, this collection is primarily correspondence between Butler and his wife, Harriet Saunders. The letters, all transcribed on Iowa Digital Library and DIY History, describe his time aboard the Nashville, a “floating hospital,” traveling through the south: where he served as the third sergeant of the 26th Iowa Infantry Regiment. The 26th Iowa Infantry, organized in Clinton, Iowa, consisted of Black and White soldiers that mustered in three years of Federal service and were a part of the 3rd brigade, 1st division, XV Corps.
For the Black soldiers of the 26th Iowa Infantry, they battled against their white peers in efforts for them to recognize their worth regardless of their status or the obstacles they faced such as deteriorating weapons. Butler writes to his wife, “I want the people to know that Gov Baker of Iowa armed us with old muskets not worth a cuss & he knew it & then reported us as fully armed to General Curtis, who as soon as he found out the matter, gave us good ones & no thanks to Baker”(Butler papers, 10-28-1862, pg 2). Although this integrated brigade was ill-equipped for victory, they prevailed. Black soldiers fought with a sense of pride for their country, for their freedom and for the dignity of basic liberties that had been denied them for too long.
The American Battlefield Trust, a charitable organization that primarily focuses on the preservation of battlefields from the American Civil War, the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, details events leading up to and resulting from the Battle of Milliken’s Bend. Included is an excerpt from their description of the battle, which works to give setting to Butler’s letters:
In late May, 1863, as his Army of the Tennessee encircled the strategic Mississippi River town of Vicksburg, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant established advanced supply bases on the Yazoo River north of the city to feed his army…At the latter, several newly-recruited black regiments were posted to defend the facilities. Confederates, seeking to disrupt Grant’s supply lines, developed plans to attack the bases on the west side of the river. On June 7, the Texas Division under Maj. Gen. John G. Walker attacked the garrison at Milliken’s Bend…Lieb’s former slaves, with little training, fought valiantly against their attackers…Although a small battle, the result proved that Black Union soldiers would fight hard for their freedom.
In historiography, this battle is often overlooked because of the large presence of Black Union soldiers. However, this battle, fought by Butler and his comrades, proved to be a significant victory for the Union army, revealing the resilient nature of disparately supported Black soldiers. Throughout his letters, Butler delivers detailed play by play of what was happening around him; he was observing and living history, then sharing it with his wife through his letters home. In some instances, he was not able to write back to his wife for weeks in between. The uncertainty of the status of his life and the patience to wait for these letters, brings value to them and their inside knowledge of the battles. As he gets closer to the Battle of Milliken’s Bend, Butler shares specific tasks he and others had to do in order to survive:
Every team from 4 to 6 Infantry riding in the wagon in full shooting and [livery] as a part of the guard for them, which opposite our camp they halted and waited a few moments when some 200 cavalry came thundering down the road and past all the teams till out ahead (they were the rest of the guard) then the command “forward march” came. Whips cracked and all started off on a gallop… They came back the next day with 90 loads of corn, potatoes (sweet) etc. gathered from the Secesh. Such is war. Killing and robbing go hand in hand and can’t be helped.
War can often highlight the corruption within governments and military officials. Butler creates a space to reflect on humanity’s values through his letters to his wife and remember those who cared for him before taking on his military duties. Within one of his letters, he reflects on the times he once enjoyed with his own wife and children:
The Chaplain’s wife was along with a baby. I heard it cry one night after I lay down & up I jumped and got after the baby I tell you it made me think of home & when I left I dreamed of you & our baby what may become of me I can’t say but I’ll keep you & the children stowed away in a snug corner of my heart, till I wake (if I do) in the unknown hereafter.
In this intimate moment, Butler gives us a full view of the isolation from and nostalgia for his family that occurs within the military and during war. In a later letter to his daughter and wife, Butler expresses deep emotions that often contradict the killing and robbing mentality needed for survival during war. Instead, he shows a more sensitive and intimate side, pleading, “write again Ida, Pa reads your little letters with tears in his Eyes & you know it does me good to cry once in a while.”
Digging into the letters of the Anson Butler papers, one uncovers the world of a soldier who depicts firsthand accounts of the brutality of the Civil War. He retraces the difficult journeys, both mental and physical, that coincide with surviving in a deadly war. Through personal letters we can observe day-to-day life during wartime, reading the thoughts and wishes soldiers felt most critical to impart on loved ones waiting back home. On the other hand, sharing experiences through letters can ease pressure off soldiers, knowing that someone is listening to what you are going through. Having the ability to personally share through letters about one’s experience, whether in war, during a transition into higher education, or after one’s first day on the job, is not only refreshing, heart breaking, and stress relieving, but it allows for in depth and personal conversations between you and the recipient, wherever you are.
Information about Anson Butler and Milliken’s Bend come from these resources:
Images from Iowa Digital Library
“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 Jacob Roosa from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “History of Readers and Reading” (SLIS:5600:0EXW)
Steal This Zine!
By Jacob Roosa
No, really, steal this zine.
Examples of anti-copyright notices abound in the history of anarchist publishing, and Catherine Baker’s Against Prisons (Firestarter Press, n.d.) from the Special Collections’ Public Space ONE (PS1) zine collection is no exception. Mixing political statement with political practice, this notice and many others like it permit any reader to take “every text, every picture, every sound” from the book to use how they wish. Not only does this ease the distribution and reproduction of these pamphlets and zines, it gives the reader a space to consider the history of copyright in the U.S. and recognize the possibility of a publishing space outside its bounds.
This zine preaches what it practices, asking the reader to journey outside the U.S.’s deep, centuries-long commitment to prisons to imagine life in which people are not forced to surrender their capacity to resolve interpersonal conflict and violence. Baker, a prison abolitionist, interrogates the way in which our justice system, and really our conception of objective Justice, determines the guilt or innocence of an individual on our behalf. They argue that we are constructed entirely as “murderer, journalist, woman, bandit, child, etc…” by this process, abstracted to the point where we have no agency in how we conceive of ourselves or others. For Baker, the point of rejecting this process is to recognize how it denies all of us, in and outside of prisons, the space to reckon with our lives and our relationships to other people.
“We do not want isolation; this goes without saying, otherwise what would we be doing here? We want to think with others about ways of living with others outside pre-existing systems.”
If this kind of thinking with others interests you, the PS1 zine collection has you covered! Donated in 2010 by the folks at Iowa City’s own Public Space ONE, this three-box collection contains around 200 zines, pamphlets, journals, and books, covering topics from anarchism to anti-capitalism, bike repair, youth activism, prisoners’ experiences, feminist theory and practice, race and anti-authoritarianism, and histories of U.S. imperialism, among others. Some of these materials were made with the intention of being freely distributed, and, much like Baker’s text, some actively encouraged readers to reproduce and proliferate their text. Copyright law in the U.S. is very complex and tricky, so always be sure to research whether or not you’re safe to reproduce, manipulate, or distribute any given material before you do so, as it is your legal responsibility (for more information on the University of Iowa Special Collections’ rights, permissions, and copyright policies, please visit their website or contact a librarian). Zines like Against Prisons are invested in educating readers about the histories of familiar institutions, so discover more at Special Collections!
On June 11 University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections started their Summer Seminar Series! This online series features Special Collections & Archives staff talking about what we know best: our collections and our favorite topics featured in the archives. This series of 15-30 minute presentations are recorded, so if you can’t join us for our regularly scheduled time of 2pm CT on Wednesdays and Fridays through the end of July, catch us later on our Youtube channel!
For more information or for how you can partake, please email Liz Riordan at email@example.com
Schedule of Talks:
June 11th–Special Collections in a Nutshell
Join Head of Special Collections, Margaret Gamm, to learn about what’s in Special Collections, how to discover our resources online, and what’s to come in our new Summer Seminar series.
June 12th– University Archives: Our Services and a Hawkeye History Sampler
The University Archives is UI’s institutional memory. Learn from University Archivist, David McCartney, about our holdings and online resources, as well as some Hawkeye history to share at your next (virtual) party.
June 17th–Shining the Limelight on Early Cinema and the Midwest Audience
June 19th–Racial Injustice in Iowa and the Midwest
Learn from Assistant Curator of Iowa Women’s Archives, Janet Weaver, and IWA student worker, Erik Henderson, about the history of local civil rights movements from the perspective of Black and Latinx community leaders who fought for change between the 1940s and the present.
June 24th–Rediscovering Ruth Suckow: A Look Into Her Life and Hidden Materials
Processing Librarian Jenna Silver provides an introduction to Iowa Author Ruth Suckow, her works, her love for animals, and the “hidden” materials of her collection.
June 26th–Out in Iowa City: Lesbian Feminism in the University of Iowa’s Hometown
During the women’s liberation movement from the 1960s to the 1980s, lesbians in Iowa City became writers, printers, business owners, and activists. At this talk by Processing Librarian Anna Tunnicliff, you can learn how their incredible work changed the landscape of the University and the town.
July 8th–Who is Tigrina? Exloring Identity in Early SF Fandom
Olson Graduate Rich Dana will show that among the thousands of amazing documents in the Hevelin Science Fiction Collection there is a series of WWII-era letters from a remarkable woman with a mysterious name… Tigrina!
July 10th–Into the Vault: Iowa’s Privately Printed Peter Rabbit
Learn from Public Service Librarian Lindsay Moen the history of The University of Iowa’s privately printed Tale of Peter Rabbit, from Beatrix Potter’s concept, to the book’s arrival to the Iowa stacks.
July 15th–Processing Collections: A Look Inside the Archivist’s Process
Learn the steps and procedures that archivists must take to process materials, while also learning about the “fun” or “unique” items we have discovered while dealing with materials from Processing Librarian Jenna Silver!
July 17th–Cheap Copies:The Rise of the Amateur Printing, Fanzines and the “Mimeograph Revolution”
Olson Graduate Assistant Rich Dana will explain the use of “cheap copies” and the development of similar visual languages in SF fandom and the Avant-garde.
July 24th–No! Really?: Stories from the Stacks
Flying saucers, propeller beanies, rocket countdowns, Mary Shelley and the Holocaust…Peter Balestrieri has learned some great stories as Curator of Science Fiction and Popular Culture and he’d love to share them with you.
July 29th—One More Round
Join Outreach & Engagement Librarian as she looks into the fight for, and ultimate failed attempt, of Prohibition in Iowa.
July 31st–When Iowans Voted No: The 1916 Referendum on Women’s Suffrage
Although the Iowa General Assembly considered a women’s suffrage amendment in almost every session for over 40 years, the question wasn’t brought to the voters until 1916. The ensuing campaigns for and against women’s suffrage and the reasons for the referendum’s ultimate failure will be considered in this talk from Processing Librarian Anna Tunnicliff on women’s suffrage in Iowa.
“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)
By Leslie Hankins
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.
For theoretical and analytical conceptualizing of the Artists’ Book:
Drucker, Johanna. The Century of Artists’ Books. New York City: Granary Books, 1995.
Drucker, Johanna. The Visible Word: Experimental Typography and Modern Art, 1909-1923. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.
Rothenberg, Jerome and Steven Clay, eds. A Book of the Book: Some Works and Projections about the Book and Writing. New York: Granary Books, 2000.
Smith, Keith. Structure of the Visual Book. Book 95. Third Edition. Keith A. Smith Books, 1994.
“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)
AMERICAN COOKERY MANUSCRIPTS: MAUDE, WILLIAM & JOHN. Brewer’s Duties & Commonplace Books (2), Early 19th Century, England & Frontier America. Ink, in legible hands. Leeds, England: Ca. 1820. Narrow 4to. Ca. 124 & 50 pp. Full contemporary calf., 1820
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>
Further Reading on Commonplace Books:
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’s Shut Your Mouth and Save Your Life found on Internet Archive. See the full digital copy here.
For More Information About the Sackner Collection, click here