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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Finding Hidden Treasure

In addition to our wonderful Rosenbach summer interns, we've also been hosting some other very special guests this summer: processors from the PACSCL/CLIR Hidden Collections Processing Project. For anyone who doesn't speak acronym, PACSCL is the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries and and CLIR is the Council on Library and Information Resources (now you know why we use acronyms). For the Hidden Collections Project, PACSCL has trained crack teams of graduate students to visit 24 local institutions and process unprocessed and under-processed collections.

This summer, we've been hosting a team composed of Devin Manzullo-Thomas and Dan Cavanaugh. They've been working on a number of archival and manuscript collections here, including the McCarty & Davis, John Thurloe, and Rosenbach Family Papers; and unprocessed portions of the Marianne Moore Papers and the Rosenbach Company Archives. Devin recently wrote a great blog post about his work with the Thurloe papers, a collection which included references to tracking down "wild negroes" on Jamaica, among other interesting tidbits.

The Hidden Collections project provides for what is called minimal processing, which focuses on providing basic arrangement and description of the collections, along with the creation of electronic finding aids, which will be available not only to us, but will also be available through a centralized repository housed at the University of Pennsylvania. Having a centralized place to find information about multiple institutions' collections will be a great resource for researchers, and will help scholars who may not be familiar with the Rosenbach to connect with our collections.

If you want to find out more about Hidden Collections, you can check out the project website, which includes descriptions, as well as a list of participants and a blog; or you can follow the project on Twitter, or like PACSCL on Facebook. Thank you Dan, Devin, and everyone else involved with this project for helping us make our collections more usable and accessible!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bull Run 150

Battle of Bull Run–July 1861. New York, 1863. AMs 834/16

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run/First Manassas, the first major land battle of the Civil War. This is the battle where Stonewall Jackson received his nickname and where civilians and Congressmen came down from Washington to be spectators at the event (one N.Y. Congressman got too close and was captured by the Confederates.) The Rosenbach's Civil War Begins exhibit closed on Sunday, but you can check out selections from Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard's report on Manassas at our Civil War Today website.

If you'd like an introduction to the battle, check out a great page at the Civil War Trust which includes a summary, an animated map, and even photos of the battlefield. Or if you have plans to be in northern Virginia any time soon, there's even an app for that--check out the Bull Run Iphone App, also from the Civil War Trust.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Of Epigrams and Ear-Strings

Today's guest post is by Kate Duffy, a Collections Intern at the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

Greetings, Rosen-blog readers! This post is full of commonplaces. But stifle your yawn! The word "commonplace" did not always carry connotations of triteness and cliché. For early modern Europeans, commonplaces were witty verses, notable observations, or other compelling turns-of-phrase. Here are a few examples:

A fish was sent me in a dish from the Archbish---

Hop shall not be there, because he would give me no beer

Treason is like a basilisk’s eye

First seeing kills, but first being seen doth die

Grave was George Grave, his graveness made him die

Grave should to grave, yet Grave doth graveless lie

Many individuals kept what they referred to as “commonplace books” to record and organize lines that they had heard, read, or come up with themselves. Beginning with a blank book, the owner would fill pages with his or her favorite commonplaces, storing them for future use. The books were mostly handwritten and idiosyncratic, each one representing the tastes of its compiler.

The Rosenbach holds a first-rate collection of seventeenth-century British commonplace books. Edwin Wolfe 2nd, a renowned bibliophile who worked for Dr. Rosenbach in the 1930's and 40's, created a handwritten card index of the thousands of verses they contain. As part of my internship, I am entering information from Wolfe's index into an online database, the Union First Line Index of British Verse. (Kathy Haas, my internship supervisor, blogged a bit about the database when this project first began last summer.)

The commonplaces in our collection capture a certain peculiar essence of seventeenth-century Britain. They can be bawdy, romantic, political, or at times completely mystifying. I've been jotting down my favorite lines, in effect creating my own commonplace book.

Take this verse, an epitaph for Sir Henry Cromwell:

This tomb encloses

one man and three noses.

I'm not sure what it means, but I'm intrigued. And then there's this one, an “Epigram of Tobacco”:

They that will learne to drinke a health in Hell

Must learne on earth to take Tobacco well

To take Tobacco well, to take Tobacco well:

For in Hell they drink nor wine, nor Ale, nor Beere,

but fire, and smoake, and stench, as we do heere.

(Sidenote: archaic English spellings are great! I wish we still used the letter "thorn," which can stand in for "th" and looks like this: þ )

Did you know that fashion-conscious men of the early modern period sometimes threaded strings through holes in their left ears? (Pictures!) The poet William Strode made this trend the subject of a verse entitled "On an ear-string."

When idle words are passing here

I warn and pull you by the ear.

Commonplace books may be compared to Twitter or Facebook feeds; the most popular bons mots were copied or "re-tweeted" again and again. Perhaps today's LOLcat-producers, bloggers, and viral video stars are our versions of poets like Strode, John Donne, and Thomas Carew. No doubt researchers of the future will be as amused by our strange cultural sensibilities as I am by poems about ear-strings and men buried with three noses.

At any rate, commonplace books are invaluable sources for studying the history of readership, literary culture, and the transmission of poetry. If you'd like to find your own favorite commonplaces, visit the Union First Line Index or schedule an appointment at the Rosenbach to view the books in person!

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Fresh Blood

With the oppressive heat and humidity of a Philadelphia summer bearing down on us, our fall Dracula festival seems very far away. But I am excited about a recent addition to our collection of supernatural stories--an early American printing of John Polidori's The Vampyre. The Vampyre was the first English vampire story and established many conventions of vampire literature, including the linkage of sexuality and violence. It is unknown if Bram Stoker ever read Polidori’s story, but it is clear that he was familiar with its motifs. You can find the full text via Project Gutenberg.

The story of Polidori's tale of terror begins with a gathering of literary friends during the chilly summer of 1816--the "year without a summer." On a June evening in a villa on Lake Geneva, Lord Byron read a collection of horror tales aloud to his houseguests: Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, her husband-to-be Percy Bysshe Shelley, their companion Claire Clairmont, and Byron’s physician John Polidori. Byron then suggested they each write a new ghost story. Mary Godwin [Shelley] rose to the task and produced Frankenstein. Percy Shelley wrote the brief "Fragment of a Ghost Story". Byron started but abandoned his "Fragment of a Novel," and, inspired by Bryon’s fragment, Polidori produced The Vampyre.

The Vampyre was published in the New Monthly Magazine in 1819 and was attributed, wrongly, to Lord Byron himself. Polidori wrote a letter of explanation for the next issue, but the association with Byron was already established. Our American edition was also published in 1819 and included the erroneous attribution. The work went on to many further printings, stage productions, and even an opera by Heinrich Marschner. You can check out a very nice medley/explication of the opera on Youtube.