Black Literature as American History: The Works of Phillis Wheatley, Countee Cullen, and Richard Wright

The <a href = "http://www.naacp.org/blog/entry/naacp-commemorates-black-history-month-2015">NAACP's</a> poster for Black History Month 2015.

The NAACP’s poster for Black History Month 2015.

Black History Month has been celebrated during the month of February since its precursor—Carter G. Woodson’s Negro History Week—was first observed in 1926. Black History Month provides an opportunity to commemorate the various contributions of black Americans to the history and culture of the United States, but this tribute should extend throughout the calendar year rather than be confined to a single twenty-eight day period.

Although the Burns Library is best known for its collections relating to Irish studies, Jesuitica, Catholic liturgy and life in America, and Boston history, the library’s expansive holdings include many materials outside of these topics. In efforts to extend the spirit of Black History Month, this post highlights a less prominent portion of the Burns collection: the works of black American writers such as Phillis Wheatley, Countee Cullen, and Richard Wright. These writers were essential contributors to the American literary canon and their texts help illuminate not just African American history, but American history more broadly from the antebellum period through the twentieth century.

Engraving of Phillis Wheatley from <a href = "http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&vid=bclib&onCampus=true&group=GUEST&loc=local,scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21371939730001021">Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley</a>, PS 866 .W5 1838, Boston Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Engraving of Phillis Wheatley from Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, PS 866 .W5 1838, Boston Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In 1761, Phillis Wheatley endured the Middle Passage of the transatlantic slave trade and arrived in colonial Massachusetts, where she was purchased by Boston merchant John Wheatley as a ladies maid for his wife. Phillis learned to read and write from the Wheatleys’ daughter Mary and soon demonstrated an “uncommon intelligence” and a proclivity for poetry. In 1773, with the publication of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, Phillis Wheatley became the first published African American woman.

Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, a Native African and a Slave was originally published in Boston in 1834. In the Burns Library’s Boston Collection is a copy of this text’s third edition, published in 1838, which contains the full text of Wheatley’s 1773 anthology in addition to extensive biographical information provided by Margaretta Matilda Odell, “a collateral descendant of Mrs. Wheatley.” Odell’s account is the only comprehensive documentation of Wheatley’s life, continuing to serve as the primary source of biographical material for modern biographers of Wheatley. Odell chronicles the life of Wheatley, describing her girlhood in Boston, travels in London, emancipation, marriage, motherhood, decline into poverty, and ultimate death at the age of thirty-one.

Title page from <a href = "http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&vid=bclib&onCampus=true&group=GUEST&loc=local,scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21371939730001021">Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley</a>, PS 866 .W5 1838, Boston Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Title page from Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, PS 866 .W5 1838, Boston Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In response to tempered praise of Wheatley as talented, but “a solitary instance of African genius,” Odell insisted that other enslaved individuals would have undoubtedly demonstrated similar intelligence had they, like Phillis Wheatley, fallen into “generous and affectionate hands.” According to Odell, slavery fettered both the bodies and minds of the individuals in its grip. “How then can it be known,” Odell implored, “how often the light of genius is quenched in suffering and death?”

Interestingly, Odell’s anthology also contains the works of George Moses Horton, who became the first black poet published in the American South in 1829. His first book of poems, entitled The Hope of Liberty, was published while he was still a slave in Chatham County, North Carolina. In combining the work of Wheatley and Horton, Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, a Native African and a Slave, represents two of the three black American authors (the third is Jupiter Hammon) who were published while still enslaved.

Front cover of <a href="http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&vid=bclib&onCampus=true&group=GUEST&loc=local,scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21379413330001021">Caroling Dusk</a>, PS 591 .N4 C8, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Front cover of Caroling Dusk, PS 591 .N4 C8, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Born in 1903, poet Countee Cullen was raised in Harlem, New York City. After attending high school in the Bronx, Cullen entered New York University, where his work enjoyed wide publication and received numerous awards. In 1925, Cullen matriculated at Harvard University to pursue a masters degree in English. In the same year, Cullen’s poetry was first anthologized in a collection entitled Color. Countee Cullen was a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance—the 1920s cultural movement that produced an outpouring of African American art, literature, music, and cultural expression. His poetry was nationally known, he received more literary awards than any other black writer in the 1920s, and he received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1928.

Title page featuring decorations by Aaron Douglas from <a href = "http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&vid=bclib&onCampus=true&group=GUEST&loc=local,scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21379413330001021">Caroling Dusk</a>, PS 591 .N4 C8, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Title page featuring decorations by Aaron Douglas from Caroling Dusk, PS 591 .N4 C8, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Burns Library has a first edition copy of Countee Cullen’s Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Negro Poets. Published in 1927 by Harper and Brothers, Caroling Dusk collectively presents the poetry of many prominent and lesser-known black poets of the Harlem Renaissance era, including Langston Hughes, Anne Spencer, Claude McKay, Gwendolyn Bennett, James Weldon Johnson, Mary Effie Lee Newsome, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Countee Cullen himself. The book also includes decorations by black artist Aaron Douglas, another famous figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

The purpose of Caroling Dusk, as Cullen explained in the foreword, was to make more widely available the collected works of black poets gaining popularity during the Harlem Renaissance. Although Cullen was committed to publicizing the work of black poets, he was insistent that the art of poetry transcended racial difference. In the text’s foreword, Cullen explained his reasons for subtitling his anthology “An Anthology of Verse by Negro Poets” rather than “An Anthology of Negro Verse.” According to Cullen, skin color was the only factor distinguishing black poets from white poets in the early twentieth century. “This country’s Negro writers may here and there turn some singular facet toward the literary sun,” Cullen wrote, “but in the main, since theirs is also the heritage of the English language, their work will not present any serious aberration from the poetic tendencies of their times.” Cullen believed that black poets were fundamentally American poets and that any distinction between the two was “needless.”

Front cover  of <a href="(BCL)&amp;query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21356194250001021">Native Son</a> with original dust jacket, 03-187, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Front cover of Native Son with original dust jacket, 03-187, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Richard Wright was one of the most widely acclaimed black writers of the twentieth century. Born in 1908 in Mississippi, Wright left the Jim Crow South for Chicago in 1927, where he joined the Communist Party and began developing his writing craft. In 1937, Wright moved to New York. Wright came to national attention after the publication of his short story collection Uncle Tom’s Children in 1938, which also earned him a 1939 Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1940, Wright published the novel Native Son, followed by Black Boy in 1945. In 1946, disillusioned by the racial climate of the United States, Wright moved to Paris and became a permanent American expatriate. He continued to write extensively until his death in 1960.

Title page of  <a href = "http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&vid=bclib&onCampus=true&group=GUEST&loc=local,scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21356194250001021 >Native Son</a>, 03-187, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Title page of Native Son, 03-187, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Burns Library possesses a first edition of Wright’s Native Son. The book retains its original dust jacket and was originally owned—as evidenced by an extant bookplate—by Gertrude M. Dagnino of Wakefield, MA. The novel is illustrative of the themes of race, violence, and class that emerge throughout Richard Wright’s work. Native Son follows the character of Bigger Thomas, a black nineteen year old living in Chicago’s South Side who commits two murders and is put on trial for his life. In Native Son, Wright sought to demonstrate the systemic societal, economic, and political forces behind black crime and poverty. The novel was a best-seller, and was the first book written by a black American author selected by the Book of the Month Club. Despite its popularity, Native Son drew criticism—most notably from James Baldwin—for its stereotypical depiction of a brutish black male. The popularity and controversy surrounding Native Son is a testament to the novel’s significance within American history and the American literary canon.

In addition to possessing great literary merit, these three texts guide readers through several of the most significant moments in American history: slavery, the Harlem Renaissance, and the tense racial climate of mid-twentieth century US. The works of Phillis Wheatley, Countee Cullen, and Richard Wright therefore underscore the literary and historical significance of black writers to a broader understanding of American cultural history. Their work should be read, discussed, and appreciated throughout the year, not only in February.

If you would like to learn more about these books, contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.  For more information on African American Literature, read BC Librarian Brendan Rapple’s African American Literature Guide and the American Antiquarian Society’s African American History Resources page.

  • Grace West, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & BC’15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Featured Collections & Books, Rare books, Student Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crossroads of Culture: Cristobál de Morales’ Missarum Liber Primus and Early Music Printing in Europe

Title page of <a title="Cristobál de Morales, Missarum liber primus (1546)" href="http://bclib.bc.edu/libsearch/bc/keyword/ALMA-BC21325919040001021" target="_blank"><em>Missarum liber primus</em></a> by Cristobál de Morales, M 1490.M67 1546 Oversize, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. A <a title="Cristobál de Morales, Missarum liber primus (1546)" href="http://hdl.handle.net/2345/3146" target="_blank">digital copy</a> of this volume is also available via the <a href = "http://www.bc.edu//libraries/collections/collinfo/digitalcollections.html">Boston College Digital Collections</a>.

Title page of Missarum liber primus by Cristobál de Morales, M 1490.M67 1546 Oversize, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. A digital copy of this volume is also available via the Boston College Digital Collections.

A book of polyphony written by a Spanish composer who worked in Rome, printed by an Italian living in France, inscribed with the ownership markings of a Portuguese monastery, sits in an American university library. The Missarum liber primus (First Book of Masses), printed by Jacques Moderne (c.1500-1560) in 1546, contains eight settings of the Catholic mass in four-, five-, and six-voice polyphony. These settings were composed by Cristobál de Morales (c.1500-1553), who published them while working in the papal service. Still in its original binding, this volume is remarkable for its preservation, as well as for its contents.

Visually, the book is striking. Folio sized, it measures forty-three centimeters tall and is bound in fine morocco leather. Like most books in the sixteenth century, it would have been most likely sold as unbound sheets. The purchaser would have taken these pages to a binder and ordered a binding unique to the book, called a “bespoke” binding. A fine binding such as this would have been a large expenditure, indicating a wealthy purchaser who anticipated using and possibly displaying this large book of music. It was purchased with the intent that many people would use it, and it shows signs of that use.

Binding of the Missarum liber primus.

“Bespoke” (custom-ordered) binding of the Missarum liber primus. The blind tooling is complex – a patterned border runs around the board, connected by diagonal lines to a patterned rectangle in the middle of the board, with a medallion of leaves and flowers in the very center. The tooling is finely executed, and the same design is repeated on the front and the back of the volume, with additional decoration on the spine.

The front flyleaf bears inscriptions from the royal monastery of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, Portugal, which owned the book beginning in the sixteenth century onward and possibly well into the eighteenth or nineteenth century. It is assembled in “choirbook” format, with each part displayed on each page (for example, one voice part in each quadrant of the open book), which allows a group of singers to stand around the book and each see their own part.

The book shows further signs of use – folio 3, for instance, displays a large patch, as does folio 4, which has been patched using a piece of another musical manuscript. The repairs indicate that the book was used extensively, and their concentration at the beginning indicates that the first setting, the Missa de beata virgine (Mass of the Blessed Virgin), was used more frequently than the others. Perhaps the canons of Santa Cruz favored that setting on the many celebrations of Mary in the Catholic liturgical calendar.

Santa Cruz was one of the oldest monasteries in Portugal, and it is not surprising to find a book of liturgical music with their ownership markings. Indeed, between 1520 and 1570, Coimbra experienced a transformation as the medieval university grew and stimulated the importation of goods from other parts of Europe, particularly books. This volume reflects connections between the Iberian Peninsula and a wider European network of trade and intellectual exchange. But how did the Missarum liber primus, which first appeared in Rome in 1544, come to be republished in Lyon, and finally end up in the monastery in Coimbra?

Missa de Beata Virgine

Kyrie from the Missa de Beata Virgine for four voices. All four parts are visible at once in this choirbook layout.  The initial “K” of each voice part is emphasized with a woodcut illustration. Note also the repairs to the left-hand folio, which indicate that this particular mass setting was frequently used among the canons of Santa Cruz.

Situated on the road from Paris to Italy, Lyon was a center of Renaissance printing, thought, and, trade. Printing was an incredibly important part of the city economy, and many printers, including Jacques Moderne, who published the Missarum liber primus, were immigrants. Moderne, whose original name was Jacopo Moderno, was from Istria, a peninsula in the Adriatic then under the control of the Republic of Venice.

Cristobál de Morales (c.1500-1553).

Cristobál de Morales (c.1500-1553). For Renaissance composers like Morales, composition and publication were one means for securing patronage. But for printers like Jacques Moderne, pirating and publication were the means to secure an income.

Moderne initially printed a variety of texts, but possibly because of increasing competition from other printers, Moderne began to specialize in music. Though Moderne pirated much of the non-musical literature he published, most of his printed music (as much as 78 percent) appears nowhere else before his editions. The Missarum liber primus is a significant exception to this rule. It was copied directly from an earlier Roman edition of 1544, down to the dedications, woodcuts, and decorative borders on the pages.

The Spanish-born composer, Cristobál de Morales, had been personally involved in publishing this first edition. Morales, like other musicians, depended on patronage and publication to make ends meet. But while Morales wrote for the papal choir between 1535 and 1545, the dedication of Missarum liber primus was to Cosimo de Medici, then-Duke of Florence. The connection between the two is blurry. While Cosimo certainly benefitted from this connection with the Pope through the papal singers, the benefit Morales received is unclear. In 1543, Morales signed a contract with Valerio Dorico, a printer in Rome, and two other publishers. Over the next year, he oversaw publication of the Missarum liber primus, which appeared on the market in 1544.

Dedication to Missarum liber primus.

Dedication to Cosimo de Medici, Duke of Florence (1389-1464). The reasons for this unexpected dedication remain obscure, but when Jacques Moderne published his pirated edition of the work, he reprinted the original dedication without change.

Moderne’s 1546 edition of Missarum liber primus was therefore neither the first edition nor a particularly original one. Moderne borrowed and re-used, saving money by not ordering new woodcuts in order to maximize his profits. Borrowing and even copying woodcuts from other printers was common practice, making it no trouble at all for Moderne to include very little original material in this book.

But the Missarum liber primus remains an important reminder of the complex world of music, publishing, and trade in the early sixteenth century ­– a reminder that cultural achievements cannot be separated from their social and economic contexts. Copying a recent edition of Morales’ Missarum liber primus was good business sense, not plagiarism. The book passed along the network of merchants connecting Lyons with the Iberian Peninsula, until it ended up at the monastery of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, Portugal, which was experiencing its own cultural renaissance. Far from being a dusty relic of the musical past, the 1546 Missarum liber primus demonstrates the complex intersections of music and print during the Renaissance.

If you would like to look at this volume, visit the John J. Burns Library Reading Room or view it online at http://hdl.handle.net/2345/3146.   For more information, contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.  For a different perspective on the Missarum liber primus, read this 2013 BC Libraries newsletter article about performing music using this volume.

  • Marie Pellissier, BC’15 & Student in Professor Virginia Reinburg’s Fall 2014 Early Printed Books: History and Craft

This blog post comes from the Early Printed Books:  History and Craft class, which was taught by BC History Professor Virginia Reinburg in Fall 2014. 

Posted in Featured Collections & Books, Rare books, Student Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Feeling the Cold?: Robert Boyle’s Experiments with Temperature

This <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Shannon_Portrait_of_the_Hon_Robert_Boyle.jpg">portrait</a> of Boyle by Johann Kerseboom is owned by the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, PA. Photo by Will Brown.

This portrait of Boyle by Johann Kerseboom is owned by the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, PA. Photo by Will Brown.

The seventeenth century was a crucial turning point for chemistry; it marked the beginning of the transition from alchemy to modern chemistry and the scientific method. Robert Boyle (1627–1691) is widely considered to be one of the period’s most influential chemists. Boyle made two important contributions to the field: he convincingly established chemistry as an important and distinct branch of natural philosophy, and he developed the experimental method as it relates to chemistry. He is best known for defining the inverse relationship between the pressure and volume of a gas—what is now known as Boyle’s Law. One of Boyle’s lesser known works is New Experiments and Observations Touching Cold, in which he attempts to deal with the nature of temperature.

Illustration from <a href =http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&vid=bclib&onCampus=true&group=GUEST&loc=local,scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21343495500001021><i>New Experiments and Observations Touching Cold</i></a> by Robert Boyle, QC 271 .B69 1683, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Illustration from New Experiments and Observations Touching Cold by Robert Boyle, QC 271 .B69 1683, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The work was originally published in 1664 with the second edition issued in 1683. A copy of the second edition is held by the Burns Library. In New Experiments and Observations Touching Cold, part of Boyle’s challenge is to prove the difference between the subjective perception of one’s senses and the objective perception of a thermometer. He showed that if your hand was previously in cold water and then placed in water of ambient temperature, it would feel warm; conversely, if your hand was in hot water and then placed in water of ambient temperature, the water would feel cool when, in fact, it was the same temperature the whole time as the thermometer would corroborate. Boyle and his contemporaries saw heat and cold as separate entities. He observed that living organisms could regulate their temperatures: they can cool themselves in the heat and warm themselves in the cold. He interpreted these observations to mean that organisms produce heat and cold. Boyle concludes:

[W]hen a Body, wherein either [heat or cold] resides, happens to be surrounded by other Bodies, wherein the contrary Quality is predominant, the besieg’d Quality by retiring to the innermost parts of that which it possesses, and thereby recollecting its forces, and as it were animating itself to a vigorous defence, is intended or increased in its degree, and so becomes able to resist an adversary, that would otherwise easily destroy it.

Here, Boyle draws a number of false conclusions. He states that heat and cold can destroy each other if they are mixed together—a reasonable conclusion based on his assumption that heat and cold are separate entities. The heat or cold—whichever is being attacked—withdraws to within the body so as to defend itself against the opposing extreme. This explanation is now known to be false. Boyle’s biggest obstacle was seeing heat and cold as separate entities. According to modern thermodynamics, temperature is the measure of the average energy of a substance. The more energy a substance possesses, the higher the temperature and the hotter it feels. Cold is simply a lack of energy, a lack of heat. When two objects of different temperatures come in contact with one another, the object with more energy transfers some of its energy to the object with less energy until they reach equilibrium.

Title page from <a href="http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&amp;vid=bclib&amp;onCampus=true&amp;group=GUEST&amp;loc=local,scope:(BCL)&amp;query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21343495500001021"><i>New Experiments and Observations Touching Cold</i></a> by Robert Boyle, QC 271 .B69 1683, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Title page from New Experiments and Observations Touching Cold by Robert Boyle, QC 271 .B69 1683, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In regard to the provenance of this particular volume, I have some information. The Burns Library’s copy second edition, which was issued in 1683. Ownership for this copy is unknown until the Mathematical Society in the London parish of Spitalfields acquired it, but the Mathematical Society in Spitalfields was founded in 1717 and was therefore not the original owner. The boards are stamped, both front and back, with “MATHEML SOCIETY,” and there is a “Mathematical Society, Spitalfields” stamp on the title page and the penultimate page. In 1845, the society dissolved and transferred its 3000 volume library and remaining members to the Royal Astronomical Society. The title page has a “Royal Astronomical Society” stamp above which is written “sold by” and below which is written “1951 Aug. 3 / E.W.” After the Royal Astronomical Society sold the book-copy to an unknown party in 1951, ownership remains uncertain until Boston College acquired the volume from a rare books dealer in 2009.

If you would like to peruse this volume, visit the John J. Burns Library Reading Room.  For more information, contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.  If you’d like to learn more about early scientific works in the Burns Library’s collections, read this blog post about a previous exhibit of scientific works at Burns.

  • Christopher Petroff, BC’15 & Student in Professor Virginia Reinburg’s Fall 2014 Early Printed Books: History and Craft

This blog post comes from the Early Printed Books: History and Craft class, which was taught by BC History Professor Virginia Reinburg in Fall 2014. 

 

Posted in Featured Collections & Books, Rare books, Student Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

History in the Making

"Early Printed Books: History and Craft" students working in the Burns Conservation lab.

“Early Printed Books: History and Craft” students working in the Burns Conservation lab.

During the Fall 2014 semester, Professor Virginia Reinburg’s history class “Early Printed Books:  History and Craft” was enhanced by integrating books from the John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections into the curriculum, and by incorporating hands-on workshops in the conservation lab, as a part of the course. Professor Reinburg specifically requested that the workshops happen in the Burns conservation lab, thereby re-defining the lab as a “makerspace” within the library.

Mason Bratberg '17 using a nipping press.  Photograph by Associate Professor Karen Miller.

Mason Bratberg ’17 using a nipping press. Photograph by Associate Professor Karen Miller.

Makerspaces are becoming popular as university libraries focus on ways to facilitate professors’ need to assist students in learning new skills and creating tangible projects. Often this relates to new and innovative technologies, but at Boston College, University Librarian Thomas B. Wall approved the use of the conservation lab as a makerspace for students to learn historic skills and traditional technologies. I taught 5 workshops to students in this class. Professor Reinburg, as well as Associate Professor Karen Miller, attended the workshops along with the students. The course focused on the revolution in ideas, culture, and technology spurred by Johan Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press around 1450, through reading and hands-on practice. The history of the book prior to 1800 was specifically addressed in the workshops. Because the conservation lab is associated with the Burns Library, I began each of the workshops by showing the students rare books in the Burns collections which illustrated the materials and techniques to be covered during the hands-on sessions. The projects in the workshops were chosen to help the students learn more about the properties of materials used by pre-1800 bookbinders, and to give them the opportunity to interact with the tools and equipment typically in use at that time.

Conservation assistants Anna Whitham '15 (on left) and James Heffernan '15 help Emma Dwyer '16 install one of the class's exhibits in the O'Neill Reading Room. Photograph by Burns Conservator Barbara Adams Hebard.

Conservation assistants Anna Whitham ’15 (on left) and James Heffernan ’15 help Emma Dwyer ’16 install one of the class’s exhibits in the O’Neill Reading Room. Photograph by Burns Conservator Barbara Adams Hebard.

The students produced imaginative items during the workshops and these items were exhibited in the Reading Room at the Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Library. This proved to be an additional educational opportunity for the students. The class installed 5 exhibits in total, each curated by a particular student from the class. I guided the curators through the exhibit process. In the end, the students learned more about the history of the book prior to 1800 than would have been possible had they only experienced the books in a lecture setting. Additionally, they learned skills not generally taught in university history courses, through the hands-on workshops and exhibit curation, which will prove useful in their careers after graduation.

<a href="http://www.bc.edu/libraries/about/exhibits-new/ONReadingExhibits/puzzle.html">Puzzle purses</a> made and exhibited by students in "Early Printed Books: History and Craft."

Puzzle purses made and exhibited by students in “Early Printed Books: History and Craft.”

A fuller description of the workshops may help readers to better understand this approach to teaching a history course. The first workshop of the semester, puzzle purse construction, involved folding a 12” x 12” sheet of paper to form its own envelope. This project instructed students on the grain of paper, folding paper using a bone folder, and creating an interesting design. They chose images from Burns Library books as the decorative element or drew on the paper using their imagination. Historic books were shown for inspiration and the students browsed through the BC Libraries Digital Collections for ideas as well.

Taylor Delaney '15 smiles as she holds a bone folder.  Photograph by Associate Professor Karen Miller.

Taylor Delaney ’15 smiles as she holds a bone folder. Photograph by Associate Professor Karen Miller.

The second project, the St. Gall Book, gave the students the opportunity to learn how to make a simple booklet (no sewing, no adhesives) based on a book made by a monk using one leaf of vellum (for the workshop, paper was used in the interest of cost.)  The monk used the verso of an architectural drawing of the St. Gall Abbey as the material for his book. He folded the large piece of vellum to form 14 rectangles and then wrote The Life of St. Martin on it. The students used this model and once again working with bone folders, recreated it with their own personal stories. In preparing their books, the students had to think about and then plan their design to work within the pagination of the St. Gall Book.  They were shown vellum covered books and books with vellum pages to learn the properties of that material and see how it was used in bookbinding.

A pamphlet binding workshop followed. This project was more complex because it required a series of steps and additional equipment to complete. The workshop began with making paste paper, which is a technique using pigment in paste applied with brushes to decorate the paper which we used for the book covers. While the decorated covers dried, the class was shown sewing in the 17th century pamphlet-style. The next step was to fold the decorated covers over folded text blocks, followed by using a press to form a tight crease. The 19th century presses that the students used in the lab are essentially the same format as earlier presses.  Once the books were pressed, the class used newly acquired sewing skills to sew their books. The final step was to trim the sewn books using a 19th century board shear, which is a large cutting device which resembles a giant paper cutter. Historic examples of paste paper decorated covers and end sheets were shown to the class during this workshop.

<a href = "http://www.bc.edu/libraries/about/exhibits-new/ONReadingExhibits/portablereads.html">Girdle books</a> made by Professor Reinburg and students on exhibit in the O'Neill Library Reading Room.

Girdle books made by Professor Reinburg and students on exhibit in the O’Neill Library Reading Room.

Because all the students mastered the pamphlet sewing technique, the next workshop offered more sewing. They were challenged to create a chemise girdle book, in this case, a fabric covering to fit over a paperback book. Popular circa 1300 to 1600 girdle books were small books with bindings that extended beyond the book in a tail with a knot at the end.  The knot was tucked into a person’s girdle (belt) from which the book would then hang. The books were meant to hang upside down, so that they could be easily read when swung up from the belt. Images of historic models were available for the students to view on-line. Although no girdle books are in The Burns Library collections, surviving examples most commonly feature devotional texts. Comparable small-scaled devotional books from the Jesuitica collection were shown during the workshop. All the students in the class made a chemise-style covering for the book What Are We? This publication is distributed to incoming Boston College freshmen. Special thanks to the Center for Ignatian Spirituality for generously donating copies to the class.

Students working in the Burns Conservation Lab -  from left to right: Barbara Adams Hebard, Christopher Petroff ’15 blind tooling, Kelli Farrington graduate student, Marie Pellissier ’15.

Students working in the Burns Conservation Lab – from left to right: Barbara Adams Hebard, Christopher Petroff ’15 blind tooling, Kelli Farrington graduate student, Marie Pellissier ’15.

Blind tooling was the final workshop for this class. Tooling is part of the finishing process, defined by Etherington and Roberts in Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books as “A method of decorating a book in which impressions are made in the covering material, usually leather or tawed skin, by means of heated tools, pallets, rolls, fillets, or combinations of one or more of these.” After I demonstrated blind tooling techniques, and showed the students how to heat the tools on a stove, they blind tooled small leather plaquettes both to experience the use of finishing tools and to learn to design patterns on leather. Tools regularly used in the conservation lab to recreate historic bookbinding styles were put into use by the class. Period books with tooled patterns on the covers were available for the students to see before they planned their own patterns.

John Sullivan '15 curator of the <a href="http://www.bc.edu/libraries/about/exhibits-new/ONReadingExhibits/leatherplaquettes.html">plaquette exhibit</a> for "Early Printed Books: History and Craft."

John Sullivan ’15 curator of the plaquette exhibit for “Early Printed Books: History and Craft.”

The conservation lab, as a makerspace for students to learn historic skills and traditional technologies, proved worthwhile.  Through the series of workshops, the students learned more about book production prior to 1800 than would have been possible only in a lecture setting. The workshops I planned explored book structure beginning with the interior of the book and ending with the exterior. The students experienced using tools and equipment traditionally used by the artisans who made the very books that they were introduced to during the course lectures given by Professor Reinburg.

Barbara Adams Hebard, Burns Library Conservator.

Barbara Adams Hebard, Conservator, John J. Burns Library

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Exhibitions Update: One Story Draws Another

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Scéal a tharraingíonn scéal.  Just as the Burns Library’s iconic Ford Tower evokes the tower of Ballylee Castle, which Irish poet W. B. Yeats purchased, restored, and celebrated in the popular anthology of his verse depicted in our exhibit poster, so does one story draw another, as the Irish proverb goes.  As staff in the Burns Library, we frequently find ourselves exploring connections behind our rare book and manuscript collections in just this way.  When we pull at their narrative threads, we often discover a web of related materials.  Following the stories we uncover leads us on to more stories.  When we share these stories with our researchers, they in turn share their discoveries with us.  As the Irish proverb goes,  scéal a tharraingíonn scéal or one story draws another.

There are many such stories in the Irish collections, which are the most frequently consulted materials in the Burns Library.  Whether a book, a manuscript, a broadside, a letter, or a musical instrument, each component of the Irish collections offers an opportunity to learn more about the history, literature, and culture of Ireland and Irish America.

The exhibit is divided into four sections:  Irish-American Fine Press Books, Irish Traditional Music, Irish American History in Boston, and Irish Literature.  Beginning in March, the exhibit will also feature a fifth section highlighting published scholarship that utilizes research materials from the Burns Library’s Irish collections.  To learn more about this exhibit, including a list of sources for further study, read this handout.

One Story Draws Another will be on display in the Burns Library through May 8th, 2015.  The exhibit is open whenever the Burns Library is open, so please check the BC Libraries hours page for the Burns Library’s open hours.

Ccdupontportraithristian Dupont                                                                                         Burns Librarian and                                                                   Associate University Librarian for Special Collections

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lexica Jesuitica: Missioner Dictionaries of Madagascar

Malagasy Dictionaries

Three French-Malagasy dictionaries. John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Burns Library owns copies of the three earliest French-Malagasy dictionaries, dating from 1853, 1888, and 1899. These three volumes uniquely document the histories of Madagascans and their changing place in the world during the turbulent decades of the late 19th century.

The first of these dictionaries was published in precarious circumstances. The volume opens with an austere title, and its publishers call themselves the Catholic Missionaries of Madagascar. Their claim was more aspirational than actual: the publication information reveals that their work was headquartered on the distant French island of Réunion (formerly Île Bourbon) some five hundred miles away.

Dictionnaire Malgache-Français (1853)

Title Page from Dictionnaire Malgache-Français, 1st edn. (1853). 03-24399 General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

This dictionary consequently shows the struggles of missionaries striving for a toehold in Madagascan society. The abbreviations guide explains how it derived its contents from an earlier “dictionnaire hova,” published in Antananarivo (formerly Tananarivo). Antananarivo was the capital of the highland kingdom of Merina, whose subjects spoke the Hova dialect of central Madagascar. The Merina monarchs had previously allowed the London Missionary Society to operate in Antananarivo, but when British-Merina relations cooled, these evangelical missionaries published a dictionary based on the Hova dialect and abandoned further work.

The Merina kingdom continued resisting foreign influence throughout the mid-1800s, and the Catholic missionaries from Réunion had little choice but to rely on the earlier English dictionary for the Hova dialect. But as the title page notes, the French dictionary had also been “adapted into the dialects of each province,” augmenting the Hova vocabulary with words taken from local and specialized dialects. This emphasis on non-Hova dialects reflects an attempt to circumvent the hostile Merina kingdom, focusing instead on the peripheral societies along the coasts. Conversely, by accommodating these missionaries, the coastal communities were asserting their independence from isolationist Merina rule.

Malagache Dictionnaire 1888

Title Page from Dictionnaire Malgache-Français (1888). PL5376.A2 Williams Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The second edition of this dictionary, published in 1888, reflects strikingly different circumstances. The format is larger, less likely to be carried by an itinerant missionary, more likely to rest on a shelf. It was published by Jesuits working in Antananarivo, suggesting a new position of institutional strength for Catholics in Madagascar. And the regional dialects have been left out, showing decreased interest in the peripheries and the increasing consolidation of Merina power, as the Hova dialect assimilated the vocabularies of subordinated regions.

As the editors noted: “We provide only those words which are used in the common Hova language. We believe this will be sufficient, since Hova is understood almost universally. Furthermore, as relationships have increased among the various tribes, many words from the provincial dialects are being used even in Antananarivo, so that words unique to other dialects are relatively few.”

Dictionnaire Malgache-Français, 3d edn. (1899)

Introduction to Dictionnaire Malgache-Français, 3d edn. (1899). The handwritten notes appear to be emendations for an intended 4th edition (never published). 09-000014587 General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The third edition of this dictionary was published in 1899, also in Antananarivo. It exudes even greater confidence. The preface speaks to “the many French who have come to Madagascar,” and it promotes its use for “the great many Madagascans who have enthusiastically begun to study French.” The editors go on to assert that the French language has become “an essential necessity for all those who would enter into relations of sympathy or interest with the motherland.” What happened, then, that these dictionaries so quickly changed in tone, from one of restraint to one of confidence, going so far as to proclaim France to be the motherland of Madagascar?

In the years following the first edition in 1853, Merina isolationism had softened, in part due to conflicts within the ruling family. One aspiring prince agreed to privilege French traders in exchange for their support, but the Merina monarchs who succeeded him revoked these concessions and began to court British interests instead. In response, a French expeditionary force invaded the island in 1883.

Jacques Berthieu (1838-1896)

Jacques Berthieu (1838-1896), Jesuit Priest and Martyr of Madagascar.

The result was ambiguous. The French claimed Madagascar as a semi-autonomous colony, but the Merina government rejected this relationship. These were the uncertain years when the 1888 edition of the French-Malagasy dictionary was published, with the Catholic missionaries claiming a position of strength in the Merina capital.

But Madagascan resistance to colonial rule led to a second conflict. In an uprising against the French, many missionaries and Catholic converts suffered, including the sainted Jesuit martyr, Jacques Berthieu. French troops ultimately defeated the Madagascans, and by the time the 1899 French-Malagasy dictionary proclaimed France as the motherland of Madagascar, colonial rule was a fait accompli.

French-Malagasy dictionaries may seem an unlikely record of these events, but their changing tone and content provide unique insight into decades of Merina isolationism and rapprochement, Jesuit hardship and sacrifice, and French conquest and colonialism. These dictionaries add a new perspective to this story, showing how peripheral communities resisted the expanding rule of Merina isolationists, pointedly accepting European missionaries and teaching them their local dialects; and later how these local dialects were suppressed as political consolidation homogenized Malagasy language and Madagascan culture, a work begun by the Merina and continued by the French.

These French-Malagasy dictionaries are part of the Jesuitica Collection of the Burns Library. They are among other rare Jesuit dictionaries documenting the languages of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, such as a Visayan-English dictionary (Philippine Islands, 1928) and a Chinese-Latin dictionary (Xianxian, 1930). To learn more about the Jesuitica Collection and the Burns Library, please visit the digitized book and manuscript holdings in the BC Libraries Digital Collections or read about exhibits of the Jesuitica Collection on the Burns exhibits page. If you have further questions or would like to do research in the Jesuitica collection, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Matthew Delvaux, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & Ph.D. Student in the Department of History.
Posted in Featured Collections & Books, Student Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Caribbean Travel Guides in the Williams Collection

Front cover of Stark’s <a href="http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&amp;vid=bclib&amp;onCampus=true&amp;group=GUEST&amp;loc=local,scope:(BCL)&amp;query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21317741150001021"><i>History and Guide to Barbados and the Caribbee Islands</i></a> by James H. Stark, F 2001 .S79, Williams Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Front cover of Stark’s History and Guide to Barbados and the Caribbee Islands by James H. Stark, F 2001 .S79, Williams Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In the middle of this New England winter, it’s easy for all of us to get lost in daydreams of faraway places. Images of sun-dappled beaches, tropical islands, and swaying palms might flood our minds as we trudge through the snowy sludge and biting wind on our way to work or classes.

Title page from <a href = "http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&vid=bclib&onCampus=true&group=GUEST&loc=local,scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21319026130001021"><i>A Guide to Trinidad: A Hand-book for the Use of Tourists and Visitors</i></a> by J.H. Collens, F 2121 .C69,  Williams Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Title page from A Guide to Trinidad: A Hand-book for the Use of Tourists and Visitors by J.H. Collens, F 2121 .C69, Williams Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Travel for leisure has occupied an increasingly large space in our lives and imaginations. While travel in early history was largely motivated by transportation and exploration needs, mass tourism emerged in the nineteenth century. Technological advancements expanded the ability of individuals with disposable income to travel for fun and leisure, in turn fostering the development of a robust tourist industry. This industry, of course, largely remained the domain of the world’s elite classes, as working class families could not afford the exorbitant costs (in terms of time and money) of extensive travel.

Map of the Caribbean from <a href = "http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&vid=bclib&onCampus=true&group=GUEST&loc=local,scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21317741150001021"><i>Stark’s History and Guide to Barbados and the Caribbee Islands</i></a> by James H. Stark, F 2001 .S79, Williams Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Map of the Caribbean from Stark’s History and Guide to Barbados and the Caribbee Islands by James H. Stark, F 2001 .S79, Williams Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

1836 was a particularly pivotal year in the history of tourism, marking the first publication of John Murray’s guidebooks in England. In contrast to early travel accounts, in which authors typically produced guides that recounted their personal travels, Murray’s handbooks were the first travel guides to provide methodical information about whole countries and continents. Murray’s organizational structure and inclusion of practical information regarding transportation, accommodation, and currency allowed tourists to manage their journey easily and to tailor itineraries to their personal tastes. Indeed, Murray’s handbooks set the standard for modern travel guides. Travel guidebooks that followed in Murray’s wake adopted his style of including pertinent logistical information instead of the flowery personal anecdotes that dominated earlier forms of travel writing.

The Burns Library possesses an impressive collection of travel guides, including many of Murray’s handbooks, and a variety of guidebooks for the tropical Caribbean. Panama, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, and Bermuda are just a few of the many destinations represented by late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Caribbean travel guides in the Williams Ethnological Collection at Burns Library. The collection, which has particular strengths in Africana and Caribbeana texts, was compiled by Joseph J. Williams, a member of the Society of Jesus who served as a missionary in Jamaica and helped establish a (now defunct) department of anthropology at Boston College.

Illustration of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-of-Spain from  <a href = "http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&vid=bclib&onCampus=true&group=GUEST&loc=local,scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21319026130001021"><i>Trinidad from A Guide to Trinidad: A Hand-book for the Use of Tourists and Visitors</i></a> by J.H. Collens, F 2121 .C69, Williams Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Illustration of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-of-Spain from Trinidad from A Guide to Trinidad: A Hand-book for the Use of Tourists and Visitors by J.H. Collens, F 2121 .C69, Williams Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Like Murray’s handbooks, the Caribbean travel guides of the Williams collection contain practical information about transportation, currency, weather, geography, and so on. J.H. Collens’s 1888 A Guide to Trinidad: A Handbook for the Use of Tourists and Visitors, for example, includes sections on “Early History and People,” “Soil, Productions, and Climate,” and “How to Reach Trinidad.” The preface to James H. Stark’s 1903 History and Guide to Barbados and Caribbee Islands promises readers information about “some of the many attractions to be found there, how to reach these beautiful islands, their resources and productions; and a brief history of their discovery and settlement; also the manners and customs of the inhabitants, and a complete index and guide to all points of interest.”

Illustration of the Titchfield Hotel in Jamaica from  <a href="http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&amp;vid=bclib&amp;onCampus=true&amp;group=GUEST&amp;loc=local,scope:(BCL)&amp;query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21317741150001021"><i>History and Guide to Barbados and the Caribbee Islands</i></a> by James H. Stark, F 2001 .S79, Williams Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Illustration of the Titchfield Hotel in Jamaica from History and Guide to Barbados and the Caribbee Islands by James H. Stark, F 2001 .S79, Williams Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Beyond providing tourists with the practical information needed to plan and execute their journeys, the Williams collection guidebooks provide a fascinating look into turn-of-the-century upper class lifestyles and mindsets. There is no doubt that these Caribbean guidebooks were directed at Europe and America’s most elite classes. After a discussion of the island’s favorable weather and geographic location, for example, Collens writes that “with so many natural advantages, it will indeed be surprising if Trinidad in time to come does not become one of the most fashionable places of winter resort for well-to-do Europeans and Americans.” Both Collens and Stark also emphasize the health benefits of the Caribbean for wealthy invalids “desirous of escaping the bitterness of an English or American winter.” Collens even includes a list of appropriate servants’ wages in his guidebook, providing a clear indication of his readers’ high economic status. The cost of traveling to the Caribbean also suggests that these guidebooks were written for the elite classes that dominated the tourism industry at the time. The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, for example, which dispatched steamships between England and Trinidad, offered round-trip tickets ranging from £40-65 in 1888. In today’s inflation-adjusted rates, the tickets would range from £3772-6129  (or $5877-9549), a staggering sum beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest of individuals.

Illustration of black islanders Illustration of the Titchfield Hotel in Jamaica from  <a href="http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&amp;vid=bclib&amp;onCampus=true&amp;group=GUEST&amp;loc=local,scope:(BCL)&amp;query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21317741150001021"><i>History and Guide to Barbados and the Caribbee Islands</i></a> by James H. Stark, F 2001 .S79, Williams Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Illustration of black islanders Illustration of the Titchfield Hotel in Jamaica from History and Guide to Barbados and the Caribbee Islands by James H. Stark, F 2001 .S79, Williams Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

People traveling to the Caribbean from their homes in America and Europe brought with them their social and political opinions, including those on the subject of race. Denigration of the islands’ black populations emerge throughout late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century travel guides. Stark refers repeatedly to the “islands of the savage, man-eating Caribs,” for example, and Collens’s guide to Trinidad includes a section on “Habits and Peculiarities of the Lower Classes” which degrades the natives’ practice of voodoo and asserts that “it is a waste of time to attempt to reason with them about the improbability and inconsistency of some of their beliefs.” Stark’s guide in particular, published in Boston in 1903, overflows with derisive comments about the black populations of Caribbean islands. “On the whole,” writes Stark, “the Barbadian negro does not improve on close acquaintance, and a residence for a short time on the island will go far to evaporate any enthusiasm for ‘Free Suffrage, or the Brotherhood of Man.’ For notwithstanding some remarkable exceptions, the general verdict passed upon the negro as he appears in this island must be that he is a creature of a low type of humanity, whether his present condition be one of arrested development or of retrogression from a higher state.” These hostile comments are followed by an appeal to the racist pseudoscience of phrenology and a diatribe about the dangers of black rule, which Stark asserts is “the greatest danger today that menaces the West Indies and Barbados in particular.” Historic travel guides, therefore, not only provide helpful information about a certain locale, but also exist as important historical sources for understanding upper class lifestyles and ideologies.

This winter, make your way through the wind and snow to Burns Library, where you can get lost in the sunny, tropical destinations represented in the Williams Ethnological Collection, which consists of books as well as writings, legal documents, government documents, correspondence, maps and engravings pertaining to Jamaica, the Caribbean and Africa.  The books are cataloged and searchable in Holmes.  To see catalog records for the books in the Williams Collection, in the advanced search form in Holmes, do a local collection name search for “Williams.”  To learn more about the documents and correspondence, read the finding aid for the Williams Ethnological Collection.  You can also read learn more about travel-themed books from the Williams Collection in these recent blog posts written by students from Professor Sylvia Seller-Garcia’s Spring 2014 Making History Public class. If have you have additional questions, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Grace West, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & BC’15
Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment