It isn’t hoarding if it’s books – or is it?

“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 Lisa Tuzel from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “Reading Culture History & Research in Media” (SLIS:5600:0001). 

It isn’t hoarding if it’s books – or is it?

By Lisa Tuzel

Meme of Marie Kondo saying on 30 books followed by overcrowded nightstand of books saying "Like on the nightstand?"
Image from boredpanda.com

In her NYT Best Seller The Life-Changing Magic of Cleaning Up, Marie Kondo made headlines with her strategy for minimizing belongings, including books. Kondo claimed to winnow down her own collection to just 30 titles (93 – 95). Book lovers and readers on social media had a visceral reaction to Kondo’s plan – “30 books, you mean on my nightstand, right?” Kondo’s tendency toward minimalism is one that has been common in the United States since World War II, however, this tendency is at odds with an older aspect of book culture: bibliomania.

Bibliomania, the passion for collecting books, was coined by John Ferriar, a physician at the Manchester Royal Infirmary, in an 1809 poem dedicated to his friend, Richard Heber. The term was commonly used through the nineteenth century to describe obsessive book collecting. It is widely agreed that a tense bidding war over Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decamerone between Lord Spencer and the marquis of Blandford in 1812, which ended in a staggering price of £2,260, marks the “central, defining moment in what was known as the ‘bibliomania’” (Connell 25). From this moment, writings concerning the trend of book collecting flourished. In them, the obsession of book collecting by the upper classes in the 19th century is optimistically attributed to saving the literary and cultural history of a nation, to a more cynical view of “book gluttony” that saw collectors “preserve learning … almost in spite of themselves” (Connell 36).

Table of Contents in book
Table of Contents in Bibilomania or Book Madness (Z99.D56 1811, x collection)

One of the seminal works regarding bibliomania is Rev Thomas Frognall Dibdin’s Bibliomania or Book Madness (1811), of which two editions can be found in the University of Iowa Special Collections & Archives. Written as a series of dialogues about book collecting, the work offers up a satiric mock-explanation of the disease bibliomania, its symptoms, and possible cures. 

In the 20th century, Holbrook Jackson, a British journalist and avid book lover, published a number of essay collections that extolled the virtues of books and reading. UI Special Collections owns a copy of The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1930) and Bookman’s Pleasure: a recreation for book lovers (1945). Anatomy of Bibliomania explores questions that all book lovers and collectors mull over, such as The Art of Reading, The Uses of Books, and How Bookmen Conquer Time

Table of contents
Table of Contents for The Anatomy of Bibliomania (Leigh Hunt Collection 010. J12a)

and Place . The Table of Contents proceeds beyond the love of books to Parts XXIII through XXIX, a discussion of the evolution to bibliomania.

The conversation regarding bibliomania was not confined to Great Britain. In the United States, Eugene Field, also a journalist, published The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac in 1896, which became part of the canon of books about books. Following a fictionalized bibliomaniac protagonist, The Love Affair highlights the sensual nature of loving books (Shaddy 53-54).

Maybe the most unique title book about book collecting from UI Special Collections is The Joys and Sorrows of a Book Collector by Luther A. Brewer. It is an essay Brewer wrote about his hobby: book collecting. But what makes this specific item so interesting is that it was not for national or international consumption. The Joys and Sorrows of a Book Collector was privately printed in Cedar Rapids, IA, and given to friends for Christmas in 1928.

Title page of Leigh Hunt's book with red floral design
Title page of The Joys and Sorrows of a Book Collector (Z992.B84, x collection)

The conversation around book collecting has continued for more than 200 years. Why does this conversation persist? It could be the symbolism attributed to books: that the number of books on one’s shelves is directly proportional to the value placed on knowledge and learning. Perhaps the number of books is equal to the intelligence of the collector. Or maybe a full bookshelf is aspirational. Perusing the Table of Contents of these foundational works about bibliomania demonstrates the varied paths collectors take. Whether they collect for love of knowledge, appreciation of the physical artifact, preservation of text, or for vanity, book collectors enjoy the meta-exercise of thinking about why they collect books. Whatever the reason, critics and authors continue to delve into what it means to be a collector of books and whether or not the tendency is symptomatic of mania.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Connell, Philip. “Bibliomania: Book Collecting, Cultural Politics, and the Rise of Literary Heritage in Romantic Britain.” Representations, vol. 71, 2000, pp 24 – 47.

Kondo, Marie. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Ten Speed Press, 2014.

Shaddy, Robert A. “Mad About Books: Eugene Field’s The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac.” Midamerica: The Yearbook of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, Vol.24, 1997, pp. 53 – 73.

 

For Further Reading:

Berry, Lorraine. “Bibliomania: the strange history of compulsive book buying.”

Purcell, Mark. “The Book Disease: On Bibliomania” 

Young, Lauren. “Bibliomania, the Dark Desire for Books that Infected Europe in the 1800s.” 

Private Catholic: Zines for Catholic School Kids

“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 Abbie Steuhm  from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “Reading Culture History & Research in Media” (SLIS:5600:0001). 

Private Catholic: Zines for Catholic School Kids

By Abbie Steuhm

In the U.S. education system, private schools are unique as scholarly institutions that stand outside of government funding and therefore government regulations. Catholic private schools in particular mix religion and education for young students. While there is a lot of debate around these schools, we find ourselves knowing little about the stories and thoughts of the students themselves who attend. However, some of these stories are told within the minor-league zine Private Catholic found within the Sarah and Jen Wolfe Zines Collection (MsC0878) held in the University of Iowa’s Special Collections & Archives.

“Zines” are handmade booklets self-published by a variety of people, usually members of alternative subcultures. Due to the accessibility of self-publishing and lack of mainstream censorship, many zines detail deeply personal experiences relating to issues of misogyny, classism, racism, anarchism, and empowerment. This makes zines rather difficult to collect and showcase to a wide audience, since these stories were meant to be seen by a small group of collectors and self-publishers instead of an entire academic institution. However, the University of Iowa Libraries staff—many of whom are part of the zine subculture—are dedicated to preserving this small history. This allows stories from unheard voices like Catholic students to be read and experienced by researchers today.

The unnamed creator of the Private Catholic zine gave their personal statement in the first issue, starting with an all-caps statement “OK, LET’S BOND.” They continue by saying they had “originally intended this zine to be a handbook… for poor souls like me who are stuck in Private Catholic school—and trust me, it is HELL” (Private Catholic, no. 1). While the average reader may take this statement as an intense dislike for private Catholic schools, the author explicitly states in issue two how they are “not decidedly for or against Private Catholic schools… They can be pretty cool (uniform means you don’t have to worry what to wear), etc.” Private Catholic allows teenage Catholic school-goers a place to vent their frustrations and air some outrageous stories. For example, underneath the “True Stories” section of the zine’s first edition, someone named Gina tells her single-sentence story of how she received detention for, quote, “being bad at volleyball.”

Author Note found in Private Catholic

 

Private Catholic earns its place within the zine subculture as it details narratives that go against the strict grain of private Catholic schools. In the first issue, one contributor talks about how the spelling book Wordly Wise “introduces and incorporates alternative philosophies and lifestyles” besides an image of Alice from Alice in Wonderland surrounded by definitions of various words such as “anarchy” and “funeral.” Within the same issue, a two-page spread of cut-and-paste pictures from popular magazines displays various images of girls posing in Catholic school uniforms. The commentary on these pages tells how those magazines were selling the look of a Catholic school girl as “sexy, alternative” despite how students were conforming to authoritarian standards with those uniforms.

Both current and former students cognizant and articulate difficult topics that even adults find trouble voicing at times. This is the reason zines deserve their space within Special Collections & Archives; the original, unedited thoughts of underrepresented groups, minorities, and the youth of the past are scissored, glued and typed in various, abstract ways into self-published magazines, a feat worthy of preservation and admiration from fellow students who made their way from Catholic school to public university.

 

Further Reading:

Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism by Alison Piepmeier (2009)

Stolen Sharpie Revolution by Alex Wrekk (2014)

Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture by Stephen Duncombe (1997)

page from acrobats

Poems That Just Are

“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 Luke Allan from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “Reading Culture History & Research in Media” (SLIS:5600:0001). 

Poems That Just Are

By Luke Allan

Ian Finlay in front of wall with letters on it
FIG 1: Ian Hamilton Finlay with his poem acrobats on the wall of his house in 1965. Photo by Jonathan Williams

In a letter to a friend in the late 1950s, Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925–2006) admits to feeling that he must be “about the only contemporary writer who believes that the purpose of art is to—oh dearie me, I forget exactly what—let’s say: be beautiful.” Finlay is in his early thirties, living alone on a remote Scottish island, recovering from the collapse of his marriage, struggling with his mental health problems, and desperately poor. In 1959 he’ll move to Edinburgh, and from there to a dilapidated farmhouse in the Highlands. In the meantime he’ll meet his second wife, Sue, and in 1966 the young couple will move into a slightly less dilapidated farmhouse in the Pentland Hills, called Stonypath, and have their first child. For the next fifty years Ian and Sue will transform Stonypath, and the square acre of wilderness it sits on, nicknamed Little Sparta, into a unique “poem garden”, cultivated by the world’s first self-proclaimed “avant-gardeners”.

But let us take a step back. At some point in those years between moving to the city and leaving it again with Sue, Ian meets Paul Pond and Jessie McGuffie, and together they start a small poetry magazine, Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. The title is borrowed from a Robert Creeley poem, “Please”, and this borrowing itself hints at one of the motivations behind Ian’s interest in running a magazine: the wish to establish a community of likeminded poets and friends. In the mid-sixties Ian was diagnosed with agoraphobia, an event that, if nothing else, gave a name to the feelings of anxiety and alienation that had troubled him for many years, and which fenced him off from the world. Running a magazine would be, whatever else it would be, a way of having friendships in exile.

Editing POTH took Finlay on a long journey into the contemporary poetic avant-garde that would radically reorient his own writing. He already sensed that he no longer cared for poems that were merely “about” things, that he wanted instead poems “that just are” (letter to Gael Turnbull, 29 April 1963). But it was his encounter with the work of the Brazilian poet Augusto de Campos in winter 1962, while editing issue 6 of POTH, that lit the fuse for Finlay. De Campos’s poems were concretos—concrete. They demonstrated a way of thinking and writing that short-circuited traditional logical and grammatical structures. Feeling alienated from the “ordinary syntax” of “social reality”, as he put it in a letter to Jerome Rothenberg in 1963, Finlay found in concrete poetry a mode of thinking and writing that freed him from the grammar of a world he didn’t recognize as his own: concrete poetry became, for Finlay, “a model of order” within a world “full of doubt” (letter to Pierre Garnier, 17 September 1963). The encounter is crucial for Finlay. In POTH 8 (1963) Finlay publishes his first concrete poem, “Homage to Malevich”, and over the next five years he produces some of his greatest hits, including “acrobats” (1964) and “wave/rock” (1966). Much as Finlay used the magazine to establish a safe social space inside a larger, unstable world, so the concrete poem served as a microcosm of stillness and clarity within the disorder of modern life.

The poem-object shown in the images below is a calendar. Published in 1968, it collects twelve of Finlay’s early concrete poems, and is his first real encounter with a US readership. The calendar’s title, The Blue and the Brown Poems, is a reference to Wittgenstein’s Blue and Brown Books, transcriptions of lecture notes in which the philosopher first develops his destabilizing ideas about the relationship between words and meanings. The calendar is larger than you might think: at 20 inches tall, it’s probably too big for your fridge door or the space beside your desk. It asks, unusually for a calendar, for a more monumental setting, hung on a large wall like a framed painting or poster.

The calendar begins, also unusually, in September. This may be a reference to the calendar of the Roman Empire, in which case it’s an early example of Finlay’s interest in classical culture, a central theme of his later work. Each month features a concrete poem printed in color on white paper, accompanied by a short commentary by the critic Stephen Bann.

Finlay believed that concrete poems were for contemplating, so it followed that their ideal presentation was in a place where they could be readily contemplated. The calendar, like the wall or the garden, is a quintessentially Finlayian form. It is a way to turn the poem into something we can live around or within. Underpinning these considerations of form and space is a more fundamental belief in the relationship between poetry and ordinary experience: the calendar is a bridge between the heavens of literary culture and the ovens of real life in the home.

In ‘wave/rock’, the words “wave” and “rock” bear the colors of the sea and the land, and where the two words overlap there is a sonic collision that produces the “wrack”—seaweed washed up on the shore. Visually, the superimposed blue and brown letterforms give an impression of seaweed-covered rocks. A “wrack” is also a wrecked ship, the word suggesting sudden violent damage, and as these two words collide the wreckage miraculously takes on the form of a word for wreckage. In this sense the poem borrows the kind of forces found at sea as metaphors for the kinds of forces found in language.

FIG 4: “wave/rock” (February) The poem was first realized as a glass poem-object in 1966 (pictured here) and later exhibited as a sculpture in a park in Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1969. It was also printed across a page spread in the magazine Aspen. Later still it was realized as a fabric wall hanging

Finlay started out as a writer of short stories and plays. In the middle of his life he found concrete poetry, and he set out on a journey into small-press publishing that would serve as his primary medium of friendship. In the final third of his life he realized the full potential of the concrete poem as a part of a landscape. Later, Finlay disassociated himself from concrete as a movement, because he felt that it did not share his views on the important function of tradition within the avant-garde. Today it is his garden domain, Little Sparta, for which he is best remembered, but at one level the garden is only the final manifestation of a poetic impulse to make enclosures that characterized Finlay’s oeuvre. The social enclosure of the magazine and the press, the aesthetic enclose of the concrete poem, and the physical and philosophical enclosure of the garden: these were ways of dealing with a sickness Finlay had diagnosed in the world and for which he spent his life discovering—oh dearie me, I forget exactly what—let’s say: beautiful cures.

FIG 5: “you / me” (April). The yellow of “you” and the blue of “me” combine to make the compound green of “us”. The two colors then separate again, continuing on a path that is at once shared and separate, on which they are, so to speak, alone together. The metaphor of color—one crucial to Wittgenstein too, we should remember—reminds us that relationships, like compound colors, are more than the sum of their parts. Blue and yellow make something unique, called green, that was in neither, and that cannot be kept if the colors are separated back out.

* * *

When the University of Iowa acquired The Sackner Archive in 2019, work began to unpack and classify the 75,000 works of visual and concrete poetry that Ruth and Marvin Sackner had collected over the course of their lives. Ruth Sackner passed away in 2015, and Marvin Sackner joined her just a few weeks after the Archive’s inaugural exhibition, in September 2019. The work required to process the many books, prints, periodicals, letters, and objects that make up their enormous collection continues behind the scenes, and items from the archive are currently available to view by special request. Over time, the archive will be fully integrated into ArchivesSpace, but even now it is possible to browse the archive here.

Over the course of forty years Finlay published more than a thousand books, booklets, cards, prints and poem-objects, many through his publishing imprint Wild Hawthorn Press. It’s clear that Ruth and Marvin Sackner were enormous fans of Finlay’s work, because their collection contains several hundred of these publications.  It’s a rich seam, and one that is still largely unexplored.

 

FURTHER READING

In print:

Yves Abrioux and Stephen Bann, Ian Hamilton Finlay: A Visual Primer (London: Reaktion Books, 1985; 2nd edition, revised and expanded, 1994)

A Model of Order: Selected Letters for Ian Hamilton Finlay, ed. Thomas A Clark (Glasgow: Wax366, 2009)

Patrick Eyres, “Gardens of Exile”, New Arcadian Journal 10 (1983)

Ian Hamilton Finlay: Selections, ed. Alec Finlay (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012)

Wood Notes Wild: Essays on the Poetry of Ian Hamilton Finlay, ed. Alec Finlay (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1995)

Ian Hamilton Finlay, Rapel: 10 Fauve and Suprematist Poems (Edinburgh: Wild Hawthorn Press, 1963)

John Dixon Hunt, Nature Over Again: The Garden Art of Ian Hamilton Finlay (London: Reaktion Books, 2008)

Caitlin Murray and Tim Johnson, eds., The Present Order: Writings on the Work of Ian Hamilton Finlay (Marfa, TX: Marfa Book Company, 2011)

Jessie Sheeler, Little Sparta: The Garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay, Photographs by Andrew Lawson (London: Frances Lincoln, 2003)

 

Online:

Carli Teproff, “A force on the Miami art scene, Ruth Sackner dies at 79”, Miami Herald, October 12, 2015. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/obituaries/article38777727.html

Andres Viglucci, “Marvin Sackner, a physician, inventor and renowned collector of word art, has died”, Miami Herald, September 30, 2020 https://www.miamiherald.com/article246121525.html?fbclid=IwAR1Tur1UbivcjHp3HaTx6AN2r8KJNNYXIcdFQc0meVeUXPieXJvQYhuUEJ8

Padded Cell Pictures, Concrete! (documentary about Marvin and Ruth Sackner) https://www.kaltura.com/index.php/extwidget/preview/partner_id/1004581/uiconf_id/15920232/entry_id/1_bv84gwjw/embed/dynamic?

Sackner Archive Live Exhibition. 

Sackner Archive Exhibition Guide. 

University of Iowa Library Guide to the Sackner Archive. 

Anti-Asian Racism Historically Archived

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

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

 

Anti-Asian Racism Historically Archived

By Robert Henderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Laura Moser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thommas adolescens Lucanum hunc scripsit & ipsi

De baldinoctis atque manu propria.

Det veniam Christus moritur cum & debita purget

Dirigat atque ipsum per loca sacra deus.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Further Reading:

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

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

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

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

Stepping into the life of Julia Booker Thompson

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

Stepping into the life of Julia Booker Thompson

Alexa Starry

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Further Reading:

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

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

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

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

17th Century Armenian Bookbinding Traditions

“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 Natasha Otteson from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “History of Readers and Reading” (SLIS:5600:0001)

17th Century Armenian Bookbinding Traditions

By Natasha Otteson

The University of Iowa Libraries has a number of bookbinding models available for research in its Book Model Collection, found in the Conservation Department located at the Main Library. Often utilized in Special Collections classes, this collection is used to exemplify and demonstrate the various mechanisms of books. One of these models is a reproduction of a 17th century Armenian codex Hayrapet Gospels, and was produced by Shanna Leino (Collection Number: 17a.01).

Though the printing press came to the Western world in the fifteenth century through German inventor Johannes Gutenberg, hand-written manuscripts continued to be produced in Armenia until the First World War in the early twentieth century. This was likely due to either one of two reasons. Creating a manuscript by hand was seen as a holy act, one that paid homage to the monk-scribes before them, or, as in the case with texts of religious significance, multi-colored illustrations and illuminations were of higher quality when done by hand, rather than at the press.

A flap was part of the binding to protect the pages within

There are several qualities that distinguish Armenian bookbinding traditions from others. Armenian codices were bound in either calf or goatskin leather, and the color of the leather would be a shade of brown. The surface of the leather would contain blind tooling (though never in gilt) on both the front and the back covers. Attached to the back cover was a fore-edge flap. This flap was also bound in the same leather as the cover, and it would contain tooling in the same style as that on the front and back covers. The flap was precisely the same size of the fore-edge, and the purpose of this flap was to protect the leaves from damage. The inclusion of this flap created a protective, almost box-like container for the text block. 

The spine of the codex was composed of thin, vertical fillets intended to aid in opening. Armenian books were bound in the Coptic style, where the quires of the text block were sewn together through the folds. Armenian bookbinders would employ the use of “grecquage”, a technique that inserted V-shaped notches into the quires. This would allow the sewing needle to pass through the notches with ease, as well as the support cords to be recessed within the spine of the codex. Endbands were utilized to protect the structural integrity of the spine, and a chevron design was often used. [insert “Blog Image 3.jpg” photo]

Close up of the endbands

The size of the boards used in the binding are the same size as the text block of the codex. Compared to other books of this time period, the boards used are relatively thin, usually between 2-5mm thick. In a typical codex the grain of the wood runs vertically, but in most Armenian books, the wood grain of the board runs horizontally. Lastly, instead of paper, parchment, or vellum, like most other books of this era, Armenian books utilize a cloth covering on the inside of the front and back boards, usually linen. Together, these characteristics make early Armenian books a fascinating study in bookbinding techniques.

 

 

For further reading on Armenian binding practices, see:

1. Kouymjian, Dickran. Armenian bookbinding from manuscript to printed book (Sixteenth to nineteenth century). In: Gazette du livre médiéval, n°49. Automne 2006. pp. 1-14; doi : https://doi.org/10.3406/galim.2006.1715.

2. Merian, Sylvie M. “The Structure of Armenian Bookbinding and Its Relation to Near-Eastern Bookmaking Traditions”. Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1993.

To learn more about the Book Model Collection, or to schedule a time to view it, please check out the Conservation Department’s website or contact Head of Conservation, Giselle Simon (giselle-simon@uiowa.edu).