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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Turkey Time

Have you seen this bird?

Nicolas Martinet, illustrator. In Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon; Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière. C3 .B929h

This lovely fellow is an illustration of the turkey (or, in French, Le Dindon) from Buffon's 18th-century Histoire Naturelle.

Here's another plate, also from Buffon, of a rather mean-looking turkey in a barnyard setting.

Nicolas Martinet, illustrator. In Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon; Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière. C3 .B929h

Or, if you prefer your turkeys even older, here is the description of the turkey from John Josselyn's An Account of Two Voyages to New England, published in 1674

John Josselyn, An Account of Two Voyages to New England. London, 1674. A 674a

According to Josselyn, "The Turkie, which is in New England a very large Bird, they breed twice or thrice in a year, if you would preserve the young chickens alive, you must give them no water, for if they come to have their fill of water they will drop away strangely, and you will never be able to rear any of them: they are excellent meat, especially a Turkey-Capon beyond that, for which eight shillings was given, their eggs are very wholesome and restore decayed nature exceedingly. But the French say they breed the leprosie, the Indesses make Coats of Turkie feathers woven for their children."

Josselyn was a Englishman who traveled twice to New England (as his book title states)--once for fifteen months and once for eight years. An Account of Two Voyages and his earlier work New England Rarities provide some of the best and earliest descriptions of New England wildlife.

You can see Josselyn's New England Rarities, as well as volumes from Buffon's massive Histoire Naturelle in the current Creature Comforts exhibit. Or if you want to see live turkeys, you may be able to just look out your window--an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer reports on the prevalence of wild turkeys in South Jersey.

Happy Thanksgiving to all the friends of the Rosenbach and Rosenblog. We at the Rosenbach we are thankful and grateful for each and every one of you!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Families Affected By Wartime: Part III

This is the third post in a series that will explore the Rosenbach’s newest initiative, Families Affected by Wartime. This ground-breaking initiative, which is still in the planning stages, will serve the military community, a population largely ignored by museums. The project aims to connect families from the past with those from the present, demonstrating the relevance of historical documents to our contemporary wartime experience.

Guest Post by Gala True (Philadelphia VA Medical Center)

As a folklorist who conducts research at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, I spend a fair amount of time listening to the stories of combat Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The work calls for an ability to establish rapport and create a ‘safe space’ for sharing sensitive information. Above all, it means being a ‘compassionate witness’ to the lives of people from varied backgrounds who have one thing in common: they chose military service, many of them enlisting in a time of war and knowing it was likely they would be deployed far from home and loved ones.

There is something fundamental about the nature of sharing ones story; it affects both teller and audience alike. The impulse after a traumatic event is to create a cohesive narrative that will impose order onto chaos and to share our stories with others in order to lessen our burden and not feel so alone. When we get stuck, as many combat veterans do, when we don’t know what parts of our story are safe to share or what audiences are safe to share with, it creates a barrier between us and the rest of the world. The result is that our story can get stuck in a particular moment, a negative moment, resulting in deep feelings of isolation, alienation, and hopelessness.

When we break through this barrier and share our story with a listener who makes us feel safe and respected by withholding judgment, accepting our story at face value, and showing compassion for our experiences—this leads to a kind of communalizing of the experience which can result in healing not just for the storyteller, but for the listener as well. In this way, narrative can play a key role in helping combat veterans reconnect—with their loved ones, with civilian society, and, most importantly, with themselves.

Many times, I have been present in the moment when a veteran realizes that he or she is not alone; that his or her story contains universal themes of service and sacrifice, pride and suffering, dislocation and a deep desire to ‘come home.’ It is a powerful moment, and for many it is the beginning of breaking their silence and finding relief in sharing their burden. These moments can be triggered for veterans in a number of ways; through writing or telling their stories, through creating visual images to convey their experiences and inner dialogue, through reading about someone else’s experiences, or experiencing visual or narrative arts created by others with similar stories.

The Rosenbach Museum and Library’s new initiative, Families Affected by Wartime, has great potential to connect combat veterans and their loved ones with materials that convey the universal themes of military service, the experience of war, and the challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life through historical documents. I eagerly await the connections that are made through this innovative project; connections across history, connections between service members and their families, and connections within the minds of those affected by war. I imagine there will be many moments of realization and discovery, and most importantly, an understanding that no one is truly alone in their story.

Gala True is a folklorist and health services researcher at the Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion of the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. Her work focuses on the role of narrative in healing and reintegration for combat veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She is currently conducting a participatory action research project that engages combat veterans in communicating their health care needs and preferences through narrative and visual images.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Mother's Letter

Happy Veterans Day! Our series of Families Affected by Wartime posts will resume shortly, but while we're waiting I thought I'd share an object we showed to the project advisers. In honor of Veteran's Day, which also commemorates the conclusion of World War I, I picked a World War I piece---A Mother's Letter, by Annie Judson Hannigan.

A Mother's Letter is a letter which Mrs. Hannigan sent to the commander of her son's unit, the 104th Infantry Regiment, in April 1918, when the unit was fighting in France. The letter was read to the men of the unit; it was also printed in Hannigan's local paper and then the Hannigans arranged to have it printed up as a pamphlet. Here's Mrs. Hannigan (with a nice inscription to Dr. Rosenbach, whom she knew through her book collector husband).

And here's her letter:

April 13, 1918

Please accept the best wishes of the mothers of the men in your regiment for complete success. We think of the 104th in its time of service without any thought of self or of the things which may happen to our boys to mar them or destroy them. We think only of the more than honor which has come to us to be the mothers of such men. We are asking ourselves--"Are we worthy of the honor their work has already brought to us?" "How can we become more worthy mothers of such good sons."

When my son left this home he took a great big patch of each day's sunshine with him. He has been the tenderest son of an invalid mother. We have been chums for twenty five years--reading, studying, thinking and loving together. I never shed a tear over his being away. I know his great heart could not stand to see love, home, and woman outraged and destroyed. I know he is only a type of every man in your command, and if he dies it is as one of an army of noblemen.

Because you are his war chief and all we could be to him I wanted to speak to you. Daily reports of the 104th at the front show us how splendid you all are and how faithfully you have worked to be ready to do the splendid work you are doing to-day. We send you our most reverent affectionate greeting.

Following the letter is a description of the reading, from an officer in the 104th writing to his wife: "I read this to my men to-night after mess. It made a profound impression on them. it was interesting to watch their faces as I read it. Then I said goodbye to them. Dearie, it was far harder than I thought it was going to be. I have had to father so many of them, it was a hardship to take leave of them. They applauded me and gave me three lusty cheers just like the loyal, faithful men they are. I kept my composure until I turned away, and then I had to set my teeth to overcome the inking feeling that rushed over me."

The pamphlet also includes a patriotic poem from John Hannigan (again inscribed for Dr. R)

A Father's Response
What can one say
When one's only son,
In whom one's hopes and dreams and life are bound up,
Has gone to France, to stay
Perhaps a year, perhaps three years, perhaps forever,
but who is over there to see
That at any cost the Flag is kept flying.
What can one say?

One can say this,--
What a million other fathers to-night are saying,
That is my own strength
And life are of no value to my country
In her fighting line,
I can give a son, and a son too
Who needed no word from me
To give himself.

Hopes and ambitions!
Why, I never dreamt anything so sublime,
I never imagined a destiny for my son
So great as that which he has reached.
He's wearing the uniform
Of an American soldier,
He is interposing his arm and his breast
Between his country and his country's enemies
He's clad in the livery of Heaven.
He's fighting for God.
What can one say?

October 1917

All quotations and images are from [Annie Judson Hannigan], A mother's letter. Boston: Press of Geo. Ellis Co., 1919. A 919m