Subscribe to the Rosenblog!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Training New Docents

On the evening of September 23, twelve brave Philadelphia-area citizens came to the Rosenbach to attend the first of the Rosenbach Docent training sessions! Some faces were familiar and some had never been to the museum before. As each of the participants in the training course introduced themselves, we asked them to share a story about a formative museum experience. Some spoke about the awe of being children in natural history museums, some of libraries which inspired and welcomed them, others of the experience of seeing a work of art they had spent hours studying in books. As we discussed their museum experiences, one thing was made clear--these are all people passionate about culture, public access, and talking! All great qualities in docents!

In the next eleven training sessions the class will begin to learn all about the Rosenbach, from our founders, the Rosenbach brothers, to how to operate the light switches in the historic house.  Between meetings, class members are assigned readings for discussion.  For instance, before we have a lecture on Book History and the trajectory from manuscript to book, to later editions and even on to the e-book (or digital reading), they will read an excerpt from Marianne Wolf’s book, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. In this excerpt Wolf discusses the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates’ objection to young people learning through reading. Socrates believed strongly in oral culture and learning by memorization. He argued that reading required less intensive, personal, and attentive learning than the act of memorizing.  Wolf writes “Like the ancient Greeks we are embarked on a powerfully important transition—in our case from a written culture to one that is more digital and visual.”  

If the new Rosenbach docent class can talk with visitors in the rare book library about the transition from oral tradition, to written tradition, and looking forward a digital tradition I think we will be truly engaging the public with history, collections, and the Rosenbach!



Farrar Fitzgerald is the Sunstein Family Assistant Director of Education and the coordinator of the Rosenbach's docent program

Friday, September 21, 2012

Detail Detective

You may not have tried this, but if you visit the Rosenbach with children there is a "detail detective" packet that your docent can provide for the house tour, which shows close-ups of collections objects and encourages kids to spot them on the tour. My own children were  guinea pigs for this project and they had a blast trying to locate them all. But why should kids have all the fun? Here are some details from objects on display in the house (these are different images than we use in the children's packet). How many can you identify?




If you're stumped, answers will be in a future post, or you can stop by for a tour (or our Sept. 29 Open House...) and keep your eyes open as a detail detective!




Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog




Thursday, September 13, 2012

Antietam 150

After last week's shout-out to the bicentennial of the War of 1812, this week we return to the Civil War 150 with the anniversary of the battle of Antietam coming up on Monday, September 17.

The day after the battle, John Henry Brown, a painter living in Philadelphia wrote in his journal  "Desperate fighting at Sharpsburg, My. The exact result not yet known"
John Henry Brown, autograph journal/account book. Philadelphia, 1844-1890. AMs 573/14.1 Rosenbach Museum & Library

 By the next day he knew "Gen McClennan [sic] gained a Victory at Sharpsburg. Heavy loss on both sides."
John Henry Brown, autograph journal/account book. Philadelphia, 1844-1890. AMs 573/14.1 Rosenbach Museum & Library

The loss was very heavy--Antietam was the bloodiest single day battle of the war, with about 23,000 soldiers killed, wounded or missing on both sides. Of these men, over 3500 were dead. The unit with the highest casualty rate, the First Texas Infantry, which lost 82% of its men. To be honest, I find casualty numbers this large hard to wrap my mind around. Even having read eyewitness accounts, I can't imagine what it must have been like to have lived through it.

Alexander Biddle was a major in the 121st Pennsylvania; his regiment had just been organized in early September and was not involved with the battle, but they arrived at the site about a month later. Here is Biddle's description from October 19:

 "Ben Richards rode with us over the Antietam battle field and we saw the ground over which Ricketts division advanced He lost one in every three of his men as the reports show. I saw wheels broken 30 or 40 dead horses, quantities of cartridge box tins. Old haversacks, trees scored shattered and perforated by shot and in two instances large trees cut down. One tree had been twice nearly cut in half. A meeting house with 25 or 30 shot holes through it. Many unexploded shells still on the ground We passed over the part which Ricketts marched over and then went towards our Camp."

Alexander Biddle, autograph letter signed to Julia Williams Rush Biddle. 19 October 1862. Rush:IV:30:24
The bloody, destructive fighting at Antietam was especially important because it provided Abraham Lincoln with the Union victory he needed to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all slaves in areas still in rebellion on January 1, 1863 would be free. A military victory was necessary so that the Proclamation could appear as a strong move, not a desperate one.

Nonetheless, the Proclamation was not greeted with enthusiasm by all in the North. Back in Philadelphia, John Henry Brown, who was a Democrat wrote: 

"[September] 24  Proclamation by the president, suspending the writ of Habeas Corpus throughout the whole country. In heavens name, what means this. Is it to close the mouths of those who are opposed to making this an Abolition War. This Proclamation & the one declaring the slaves of all rebels free, after the 1st of Jan. next has terror stricken the people. The air is tremulous with emotion & full of revolution. All our fond hopes of Lincolns conservatism have melted into heart sickening disappointment. Our earnest prayers for the restoration of the Union as it was and the maintenance of the Constitution as it is, have been disregarded."

John Henry Brown, autograph journal/account book. Philadelphia, 1844-1890. AMs 573/14.1 Rosenbach Museum & Library

Just a reminder, these and many more documents by Alexander Biddle and John Henry Brown are part of the Today in The Civil War, a Rosenbach web project which posts Civil War documents 150 years after they were written. It's a fascinating way to watch the war unfold in the words of the people who lived it, so join us for the rest of the sesquicentennial.




Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

Friday, September 07, 2012

War of 1812

Amidst the hoopla for the Dickens 200 and the Civil War 150, it is all too easy to overlook another anniversary this year--the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. It's a war that few Americans know much about, myself sadly included--when I tested my knowledge on an online 1812 quiz, I scored only 40% . And that was on the easy quiz! But the Bicentennial offers us a chance to mend our ways. You can check out the official Bicentennial website,the Maryland Bicentennial website, as well as this webpage from CBSPhilly listing local sites related to the war--did you know that Lewes, Delaware was shelled by the British?

One thing that we all do know about the War of 1812 is that it inspired the writing of the Star-Spangled Banner. (Of course, that makes it even stranger that we don't, in general, know much about the war that inspired our national anthem.) The bombardment of Ft. McHenry took took place September 13-14, 1814, and the famous flag was raised on the 14th. Inspired by the battle and the flag, Francis Scott Key wrote his famous poem; it was initially printed as a broadside and then in newspapers, with at least 17 newspapers printing it by mid-October. The song appeared in book form in four 1814 songsters, of which the National Songster is often thought to be the first.

The  full title of the National Songster is great: National Songster, or, A Collection of the Most Admired Patriotic Songs, on the Brilliant Victories, Achieved by the Naval and Military Heroes of the United States of America, over Equal and Superior Forces of the British.  It's a patriotic title in what was in many ways a war abut patriotism--a war fought in part to prove that the United States was not a flash in the pan and that it would defend its national honor against perceived British insults and encroachment.



National songster. Hagers-town, Md.: Printed by John Gruber and Daniel May, 1814. A 814n. Rosenbach Museum & Library

Here are the Star-Spangled Banner pages--note that the song is titled 'The Defence of Fort McHenry" and  attributed to "an American gentleman who was compelled to witness the bombardment of Fort McHenry on board a flag vessel at the mouth of the Patapsco." 


National songster. Hagers-town, Md.: Printed by John Gruber and Daniel May, 1814. A 814n. Rosenbach Museum & Library


National songster. Hagers-town, Md.: Printed by John Gruber and Daniel May, 1814. A 814n. Rosenbach Museum & Library

Although the National Songster is best remembered for the Star-Spangled Banner, it also includes a number of other great songs, including Columbia, The Land of Heroes, The Battle of Baltimore (which is a re-write of Yankee Doodle), and even one entitled "National Song" which ends "Thy footsteps are brighten'd with triumph and fame/High o'er the waste of war/Blazons thy naval car/Ocean is free and its freedom we claim."
 So let us sing or whistle a patriotic tune as we remember to commemorate the War of 1812.





Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog