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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dave Burrell's Civil War time machine


Dave Burrell called last week to say he would no longer be making his weekly visits to the Rosenbach's reading room. After spending months reading through the museum's collection of early civil war letters, broadsides, maps, photographs and diary entries he was retreating to his composition books to process his thoughts into music.

The basic structure that Mr. Burrell chose for this 4th project with the museum is around the idea of composing portraits of people. In 2010 we recognize the start of the civil war sesquicentennial and the idea of composing music about the civil war seemed daunting in it's endless possibilities. But connecting with people and trying to construct their story was a compelling jump off point for Mr. Burrell.

The working titles thus far are:
Elmer Ellsworth--Championship Colors (a march)
John Brown--Life (a battle hymn)
Death (a dirge)
Ulysses S. Grant--Unification (an anthem)
Robert E. Lee--Pride and Heritage (a nocturne)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Now We Are Five

This week marks the 5th anniversary of the Rosen-blog, which began on Thursday August 25, 2005. In lieu of my regular post, I encourage our loyal readers to revisit the blog archives and see where we've been. Here are some of my favorites from deep storage [none written by me], to get you started:

Black and White

You Say Tomato [i.e how to pronounce our name]

Dakota Lessons [Be sure to read the comment]

Harry Houdini

I'd also like to take this opportunity to ask for any feedback you may have on the blog. Would you like to see more discussion of what the staff does on a day-to-day basis? More profiles of our objects? Book reviews? Youtube videos of cute kittens? Please drop us a comment on the blog or on Facebook if that is how you read us. (My apologies for the delay in moderating comments on last week's post--I put the post up as I ran out the door on Friday and this week was so busy that I forgot to check in for comments. No disrespect intended )

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Rose by Any Other Name

No, the Rosenbach does not own the Earl of Oxford’s jug. If you came to the Friend or Faux exhibit you are familiar with the story of our Bellarmine jug; the jug is a genuine Elizabethan era object, but by the mid-20th century an unusual (and false) legend had attached itself to the piece—it was claimed to be the “Earl of Oxford’s jug,” owned by Edward de Vere, whom some insist was the true author behind Shakespeare’s works.

This incorrect identification seems to have been based on three factors: the coat of arms and date, which were interpreted as indications that it was made for Queen Elizabeth herself; the fact that de Vere used a bottle-shaped badge because of his hereditary office of Lord Great Chamberlain and Officer of the Ewrie; and the idea that the boar’s head cap referenced de Vere’s crest.

Under scrutiny, this legend falls apart. The Elizabethan arms were pressed into numerous jugs and did not imply a personal connection with the Queen. Even more importantly, consultation with metals experts in the 1980s indicated that the boar’s head stopper is a 19th-century addition. Furthermore, the heraldic connection was wrong to begin with—the boar’s head is actually the crest of Campbell, Marquess of Lorne and de Vere’s crest would have been a boar passant.

So, no, we do not have the Earl of Oxford's jug, but I think it’s fascinating that people want there to be this connection with de Vere. And this brings me to recommend a new book, which I recently read, Contested Will by James Shapiro.

Shapiro is an English professor at Columbia and what makes this book so great is that it is NOT another book about “who actually wrote Shakespeare.” Instead it is a fascinating look at the historical and literary circumstances that created the “authorship debate” in the first place. Shapiro examines why the competing claims about Shakespeare emerged when and how they did and what draws people, including such famous skeptics as Twain, Freud, and Keller, to these alternative Shakespeare hypotheses.

How have views on fiction and autobiography changed in the past 400 years? How did the Higher Criticism employed in biblical analysis affect views on Shakespeare? What were the norms for 17th-century legal and theatrical documents and how do they affect how we understand the surviving references to Shakespeare? These are but a few of the topics Shapiro delves into as he tangles with the fascinating question of why people want to believe that Shakespeare was not Shakespeare. I found it to be a great and illuminating read; if you don’t want to take my word for it, check out these reviews.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Westward Ho! with Abraham Lincoln

I meant to post a link to this a while back, but back in July the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum announced  that Abraham Lincoln's writing had been found on papers carried by the Donner Party. Apparently James Reed, one of the organizers of the Donner Party, lived in Springfield Illinois and served with Lincoln in the Black Hawk War. Reed carried the muster rolls, which include a coupe of lines in Lincoln’s hand, with him en route to California. More info can be found at CNN and  a hat-tip to the Abraham Lincoln Blog for putting me on to this story.

To bring this back to the Rosenbach, you can check out the Rosenbach’s Lincoln holdings on our Manuscripts Online site and find out more about the Donner Party in our current Westward Ho! exhibit.  Now all we need is to find a long-lost photo of Lincoln in a cowboy hat…

Friday, August 06, 2010

Something New

As promised, the "something new" this week is our new Westward Ho! exhibit, which opened on Wednesday. The exhibit got a nice shout out in the City Paper yesterday, so thanks to them for that. This show, like pretty much everything we do here at the Rosenbach, was a real team effort:it was co-curated by myself and our registrar Karen Schoenewaldt; the art design was done by illustrator and all around nice guy Alexander Stadler, who delved into exhibit design for the first time after working on a variety of Rosen-projects over the years; and the graphic design for all the printed materials was done by our multi-talented Visitor Services Manager and I.T. Coordinator Lauren Abshire.

The young scalp hunters. New York: George Munro. [1872]. DN 25


I've talked a bit about Westward Ho! on the blog already (including my Mammoth Tree post from last Winter) but basically it is a show about the idea of the West. It grew out a desire to explore our dime novel collection, which hadn't been showcased in a while. Dime novels are cheap paperbacks, produced in series, that began in 1860 and persisted into the early twentieth century. About 3/4 of them were set on the frontier, although there were also romances, detective stories etc.

I spent many hours last summer reading through the bulk of our dime novels, which was often an exercise in sheer willpower as the books were often incredibly repetitive. But out of the repetition I could see themes emerge in the way that the authors talked about the West and many of these themes (e.g. the West as a place where everything was larger than life; the West as a place to escape and start over; the west as a place to build character) seemed awfully similar to rhetoric I'd heard about the West in non-fiction sources such as political speeches, travel books, and pioneer journals. So that was the starting point for this exhibit, as Karen and I have worked worked to tease out the "Lure and Lore" of the West in both fiction and non-fiction. To find out more, you'll have to come see the exhibit for yourself.

I can't resist throwing in a couple of semi-related links, since the West is such a large and wonderful topic. One is to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, where our Sendak exhibit Wild New Ways is currently running. I just think it's great that we have a show in Jackson Hole Wyoming, at the same time as we have a show here about the idea of the West.

Another random link is to the classic Oregon Trail game, which anyone who grew up in the eighties will undoubtedly remember from elementary school. It is a very simple game, originally played on the Apple IIe, in which you are trying to get yourself to Oregon without running out of food or dying in some other awful way. If you need some tips, you can always check out Charles Preuss's maps of the trail,featured in the exhibit, which provide useful information on water, fuel resources, and the disposition of local Indian tribes. A very small detail is shown at the left. Sarah Vowell actually a did a piece on Preuss for This American Life which is well worth a listen. Anyway, I briefly toyed with the idea of putting a kiosk with Oregon Trail in the exhibit, as yet another way in which the West has permeated American culture, but decided it was too much of a stretch. But you can enjoy it online. I also just heard this week that someone has come out with a faux movie trailer based on the Oregon Trail game. I took a look and it's pretty funny, although to warn you there are a couple of very minor scatological references.

So enough already, come see the show. It will be up through the end of November, but don't delay, be the first on your block to see it! Who knows, you might be inspired to hit the trail for yourself...