What’s in An Ad?: Examining Advertisements in Theater Programs

Some of the more popular collections we bring out for class use– comics and Boston College athletic programs— engage students’ curiosity not just because of their content but also due to the presence of advertisements. While in our present day, we skim past or become frustrated when ads pop up and interrupt our reading, advertisements from previous decades can provide both entertainment and insight into the culture of that time period.

The Theater programs collection is a  personal favorite for finding interesting advertisements. Spanning from 1850 to 2005, the collection contains theater playbills, programs, and scrapbooks, mostly from Boston and New England, though other regions of the United States, Europe and Asia can be found. They’re a great resource on popular culture in19th and 20th century Boston, featuring not only what plays were being staged,  but also what actors were playing  their roles. The scrapbook compilers often provided commentaries on their favorite actors in addition to plays being performed. 

While there are many research avenues to be found in the tracking of performances and actors, the advertisements surrounding the edges of the playbills are ripe for analysis as well. 

Plenty of advertisements can be found and analyzed in this 1885 playbill for Bijou Theater in Boston. Box 8, Folder 2, Theater Programs Collection, MS2011-024
The playbill for the week of October 5 to 10, 1885 for the Park Theater in Boston, volume 2, Theater Programs Collection, MS2011-024.

Earlier this semester, Dr. Maia McAleavey’s Dickens and His World class came in to examine Victorian publishing and to think about the audience for Victorian publishing efforts. Drawing from the Georgia Historical Society’s lesson plan on historical advertising, we asked students to examine advertisements in Victorian books by asking the following questions:

  • What product is the advertisement selling?
  • Who is the audience for this ad (to whom is the product being sold?)
  • What emotions are being used  to sell this product to the main audience?
  • What text and images are used to sell this product to your main audience?
    • Why do you think these words/images will be successful in reaching a specific audience?
    • Is there an unintended audience that could also be captured? Why?
  • How do words and images work to make the audience feel the intended emotion?

Asking those same questions of an advertisement in a Park Theater playbill for May Blossom: Between Two Lovers  can illuminate more about Boston culture in 1885. 

One of the ads on our playbill. volume 2, Theater Programs Collection, MS2011-024

This is an advertisement for face-powder, “The Famous Lablache Face Powder”!, which is immediately described as the “the only perfect Toilet Powder in the market.” The fact that it is “used and endorsed by the most refined ladies in public and private life” indicates it is a product intended for women. Since there’s no mention of how much a buyer’s mother/wife/sister would love it, we can venture to say that the ad is meant to be read by prospective female buyers, not male buyers. 

The ad itself is drawing on emotions around aspirations of class and European sophistication. The name is French, and the central image connects the store, Ben Levy & Co, with both Boston and Paris– as well as the assurance that is sold by French perfumers. Unlike modern advertising campaigns about the comparative advantages and features of a particular makeup or skincare product, there’s little mention of what the product does, just who is using it. The focus on the endorsement of ‘refined ladies’ indicates an audience who wants to either blend in or aspire to become part of Boston’s upper class — though that’s slightly negated by the mention that over 500,000 boxes had been sold. 

While the emotional draw of the ad is towards female theater-goers who either are or (more likely) aspire to be part of Boston’s upper milieu, it could potentially capture the attention of male buyers who wish to impress the women in their lives (if this wasn’t too personal a product for a man to purchase for a woman!). However, the focus on the ad shows that this ad, at least, is very certain that women with some sort of independent purchasing power (however small it might be) were attending plays in Boston, wanted to keep up with Europe, and aspired to be seen as refined and cultured. 

Asking the same questions of multiple ads over multiple programs for a given theater or city can begin to build a larger picture of who was expected to be attending plays and their major concerns (or, more accurately, what advertisers believed to be their major concerns).

More advertisements from the same playbill provide broader context of who was expected to attend the play. volume 2, Theater Programs Collection, MS2011-024

Adding in other ads for analysis furthers the impression that keeping up with European culture was very important in 1885 in Boston. F.L. Dunne Tailor is drawing buyers in by selling their newly imported clothing– presumably from Europe. There’s also indication of business trying to push a shift towards needing to buy new clothes or have them professionally altered rather than alter them at home– as seen by the “Five Foolish Virgins who Ripped Their Dresses for Dyeing” ad. That ad is also aimed at women, confirming the idea that businesses thought there was an audience of women with independent purchasing power who could be persuaded by ideas of refinement and fears of looking foolish or lower-class. 

The furniture ad also contributes to the impression that Boston playgoers wanted or were able to ascend to higher social status — one who did not already have ‘fine furniture’ but had an ability to purchase it. The ad for “Decker’s Brothers Estey Pianos” follows a similar line. Prospective buyers for this ad want to have “the finest instruments,” but are also enticed by low prices and convenient terms — perhaps an audience who could not easily buy a piano outright without worries about the cost. 

More advertisements from the same playbill provide broader context of who was expected to attend the play. volume 2, Theater Programs Collection, MS2011-024

Taken together, a picture emerges for the 1885 audience of May Blossom: one who has enough wealth to comfortably aspire towards an upper class, but hasn’t quite achieved it yet. They are interested in acquiring the accoutrements of a higher class, and are, presumably, swayed either by positive indications that a product is used by ‘refined’ Bostonians or fear that their actions will make them stick out as not belonging to the desired social group. 

While present-day advertisements may continue to be a source of annoyance as they pop up on website after website, examining advertisements from other times and places can be an entertaining and informative way to learn more about the cultural norms and fears of that place and time, as well as to think about what types of people were expected to interact with a given book, play, or other item.  Whether you’re interested in analyzing which plays a particular theater staged or what products were being advertised for the audience of that play, the Theater programs can be a rich resource for further exploration. They are available for use in our reading room

–Kathleen Monahan, Reference, Instruction & Digital Services Librarian, Burns Library

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Learning Mildred: Provenance and Inclusion Materials

One of the more interesting aspects of my job as a cataloger is that I manage and maintain the inclusion files for Burns Library. The inclusion files are just what they sound like: four filing cabinets, stuffed to the brim with acid-free file folders housing the wide variety of materials found tucked between the pages or covers of books that were donated, sold, or otherwise found their way to our stacks.

These materials range from the humorous (like the coupon for one hour of uninterrupted television time referenced in my last post on the subject), to the intensely personal (bank statements and medical records), to the organic (many people press flowers or other plants between the pages of heavy books). All inclusion materials offer some insight into the previous owner(s) of the book in question, but sometimes there’s a lot more on offer than usual.

Cover of The New Roman Missal, with gilt stamp: Mildred E. Coen
The New Roman Missal by Rev. F.X. Lasance (1942), 04-7470 LITURGY AND LIFE

While recataloging The New Roman Missal by Rev. F.X. Lasance (New York : Benziger Brothers, Inc., 1942) in our Liturgy and Life collection, I pulled no less than 105 items from between the book’s thin pages. My best clue on who would have filled the missal with so many items is a name stamped on the cover of the book: Mildred E. Coen. By sorting through the massive amount of inclusion material, I was able to discover a lot about Ms. Coen.

Of the 105 items, no less than eighty have to do with prayers. Half are holy cards, 3×5 inch pieces  of cardstock with an image on one side and a prayer on the other, often issued in memory of a deceased religious figure, or in honor of someone’s investiture into the Church. (See our exhibit Pray for Us for more on holy cards in our collections). The other half are longer prayers without any images. The rest of the stack is made up of bookmarks, religious portraits, one photograph, one Christmas card, various pamphlets, and other assorted miscellany.

My search for Mildred E. Coen started on Google, but I failed to turn up much. There’s a reference to a Mildred E. Coen in the 1940 census. However,she lived in Ohio, and the vast majority of the inclusion material is from Massachusetts (primarily Watertown), with a few from Pennsylvania and scattered other states. So that’s unlikely to be our Mildred E. Coen.

My Google-Fu having failed me, I turned to the holy cards for my next clue. One of them, with a detail of “Jesus in the Temple” by Heinrich Hofmann, was issued in honor of a Rev. William R. Coen in 1949, whom I took to be a relative. There is also a poem, “The Ideal Girl,” signed “Love, Mary.” With a little searching, I found the obituary of Rev. Msgr. William R. Coen, which referenced his work in Dorchester, Mass., and his late sisters Mary and Mildred, among others.


Armed with proof that she had, in fact, existed, I went back to Google, and found the (slightly terrifying) website sortedbyname.com, which listed a Mildred E. Coen, dates 1917-1995, from Massachusetts. This would have made her 25 at the time of the Missal’s publishing, and appropriately listed as “late” in (I presume) her brother’s obituary. The inclusion material’s dates ranged from 1933-1965, which also fit neatly into this Mildred’s lifespan. I felt fairly confident that this was, indeed, our Mildred.

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Can I Have Your Autograph?

The Authors Collection here at Burns Library is one of the most wide ranging – subject wise as well as timeframe. It covers 340 years (ranging from 1665-2005), though the bulk of the collection dates from 1790 to 1900. The collection contains documents written by or regarding prominent literary and historical figures. Though figures represented in this collection are predominantly American and European, they are otherwise extremely varied. A large part of the collection are from a disassembled nineteenth century autograph book as well as items from a survey done by bibliographer and indexer William Maccrillis Griswold.

With over 1,000 entries, it would be impossible to mention every interesting person represented in the collection. This post will focus on the five American Presidents and two early American political figures in the collection. Be sure to click on the images in order to read the full descriptions of the items.

If United States political history isn’t your cup of tea, there are many, many other persons of interest in the collection, including scientists like Charles Darwin, activists like Dorothea Dix, and authors such as Robert Frost and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Materials created by and regarding religious figures, including Popes Pius X and XII, make up a significant portion of the collection and include both the oldest document – a letter penned in 1665 by Antonio Cardinal Bichi, a member of the College of Cardinals under Pope Alexander VII – and the most recent document, a 2005 letter to Mother Marie Lufkin of the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich, Connecticut.

If you are interested in viewing these items or any other collection in Burns Library, please contact us to set up an appointment.

-Andrew Isidoro, Public Services Specialist

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Reconsidering Witchcraft This Halloween

The leaves are changing, the air finally has that crisp New England bite, and Halloween is finally upon us here at Boston College. Even just being in Burns Library makes me feel like I am at Hogwarts with our Gothic architecture. At the beginning of this semester, I thought I would write a blog post that leaned into the witch aesthetic of Halloween with some of the demonology books in our collections.  However,I am also in Dr. Virginia Reinburg’s history class The Witch, the Church, and the Law this semester, and the longer I think about witchcraft and demonology, the farther divorced they become from the pointed hats and Halloween fun.

Title page, Compendium Maleficarum, BF1520 .G8 1608 GENERAL

Each day we come to class, we attempt to put ourselves into the minds of the early modern Europeans to whom the devil was a real and ever-present threat, taking away their children, causing crop failure, and the deaths of livestock. Demonology was a science popular among the upper-class and some theologians during the witch craze. Even King James I considered himself an amateur demonologist and published Demonologie in 1597. Demonology texts and witchcraft trials were closely tied together, with interrogators asking leading questions informed by their readings of demonology texts like Malleus Maleficarum (1487), which was based on German folk beliefs of witches and demons. 

Burns Library has a copy of Compendium Maleficarum, written in 1608 by Francesco Maria Guazzo, a member of the Ambrosian order in Milan. The Compendium discusses how the devil comes into the “imagination” of witches. Guazzo lays out who is most at risk to have the devil take advantage of them, using the then scientific language of humours. He explains that “the feminine sex is more foolish” and that “women are of a more humid and viscous nature, more easily influenced to perceive various phantoms” (137). The witch craze certainly targeted women, especially older women past their years of fertility, but men also faced trial for witchcraft, particularly if they were related to a woman tried for witchcraft. 

The devil urging his followers to dance on the cross. Compendium Maleficarum, BF1520 .G8 1608 GENERAL

Demonology texts and the actual witch trials themselves created a feedback loop, confirming the other’s claim that those on trial were in fact witches. This is especially evident in the use of torture. In the Compendium, Guazzo claims that posession by the devil makes one “insensible to torture.” In practice, that meant that if interrogators tortured an accused witch and he or she did not confess, to them that was further proof that the accused had communed with the devil. Eventually, either the torture would force a confession or the accused would die. Guazzo gives the example from Loys Charondas le Caron’s Antichrist Unmasked

“He knew a woman of fifty who endured boiling fat poured over her whole body and severe racking of all her limbs without feeling anything. For she was taken away from the rack free from any sense of pain, whole and uninjured, except that her great toe which had been torn off during her questioning, which had not been restored, but this did not hinder or hurt her at all. After she had undergone every torture and had obstinately denied all her crimes, she cut her throat in prison. So the devil, having accused her of witchcraft through the mouth of a possessed woman, killed her” (56). 

The Witches’ Sabbat. Compendium Maleficarum, BF1520 .G8 1608 GENERAL

It is estimated that around 12,000 people accused of witchcraft were executed in early modern Europe. Though the witch hunts ended centuries ago, our imagination of the old crone witch, communing with the devil, riding a broomstick, and brewing potions still exists. To us, it seems unimaginable to believe the devil is at work in our world, but to the early-modern Europeans, with unexplained death, disease and famine, village tensions rose and people scapegoated others. This Halloween, in addition to dressing up with my roommates, watching a scary movie, and eating entirely too much candy, I plan on taking a pause and thinking about just how powerful fear is. 

-Erin Sheedy, Reading Room Assistant, MCAS ‘22 

Works Cited: 

-Guazzo, Francesco Maria. Compendium Maleficarum.Edited by Montague Summers, translated by. E.A. Ashwin. San Francisco, CA: Book Tree,2004.

Works Consulted:

-Guazzo, Francesco Maria. Compendium Maleficarum. Milan, Italy: Bernardino Lantoni Printer, 1608. 
-Roper, Lyndal. Witch craze: terror and fantasy in baroque Germany. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2004. 
-Barry, Jonathan, Marianne Hester, and Gareth Roberts. Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe: studies in culture and belief. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 

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New Blog for Irish Music Archives

For readers who have been enjoying our Irish music blog posts, we are happy to announce the launch of a new blog dedicated to Burns Library’s Irish Music Archives. The new site (bcirishmusic.wordpress.com) will reflect the vibrant tradition of Irish music and dance at Boston College. 

Mícheál Ó Súilleabhain performs in BC's Gasson Hall.

Mícheál Ó Súilleabhain performs at BC’s Gasson Hall in 2005. Photo by Justin Knight.

The University’s Irish music programming dates back to 1990, when Dr. Mícheál Ó Súilleabhain (1950-2018), musicologist, composer, and pianist, was a visiting faculty member at BC. During his six month tenure he created the landmark Irish fiddle festival, “My Love is in America,” taught undergraduate coursework, and helped to establish an archive of Irish music. Ó Súilleabháin’s influence at Boston College can be seen and heard today in both the Gaelic Roots Series (established by Séamus Connolly and currently directed by Sheila Falls) and in our Irish Music Archives. 

While we were already known by 1990 for our special collections of Irish history and literature, Ó Súilleabhain’s visiting professorship prompted us to begin actively collecting materials documenting the history of traditional Irish music and dance in America. In addition to books, recordings, and sheet music, our collections include unpublished archival materials: manuscripts, photographs, letters, field recordings (both physical and digital), musical instruments, and more.

Irish music exhibit at Burns Library. Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert.

In the new Irish Music Archives blog, forthcoming posts by Burns staff and guest writers will highlight collection materials–including audio and video–and spotlight campus activities. We hope you will enjoy exploring more about our Irish music collections through the site. We welcome readers to contact Elizabeth Sweeney, Irish Music Librarian, with your feedback and questions.

Elizabeth Sweeney, Irish Music Librarian, John J. Burns Library

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Puzzling Out Ownership

Most of the books at Burns Library have passed through the hands of many owners before arriving on our shelves. Discerning a book’s sequence of owners, or provenance, is fascinating, and the inevitable comparisons to puzzles and mystery solving are as apt as they are ubiquitous. Catalogers record provenance because researchers are as interested in the people who used a text as they are in the text itself, and because marks of ownership, bindings, and imperfections make each copy of a book unique. Even when the book itself bears no physical evidence of its provenance, a book’s history is often documented in other sources, such as deeds of gift, bookseller’s descriptions, or auction records.

Signatures, such as this one on The Elements of Armories (London: George Eld, 1610,  are clues to the provenance of a volume.

As a rare book cataloger, I interpret the physical evidence of ownership, such as inscriptions, signatures, and bookplates. Recording names as they appear on bookplates and inscription, however, is only the first step. Library catalogs need authority control to distinguish among people who have the same name to be useful to researchers.

While local context and institutional knowledge will sometimes show the way (the autograph of the 19th-century attorney and abolitionist Robert Morris, for instance, has become familiar to Burns Library staff), typically clues such as dates, place names, and initials can positively identify a book-owner with a stubbornly common name.

As a case in point, I recently updated the catalog record of The Elements of Armories (London: George Eld, 1610), an illustrated work on heraldry. The Burns Library copy is signed on the title page “Wm: Cole, Coll: Regal: Cantab: A:M: 1745″ and has the bookplate of “Robert Day, Jun., F.S.A., M.R.I.A.” The abbreviated Latin in the signature translates to King’s College, Cambridge, so I was looking for a William Cole who graduated King’s College before 1745. My first stop was the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF), where I predictably found a profusion of William Coles, but not so many active from the middle of the 18th century, and only one, a Cambridgeshire clergyman and historian, with the requisite academic credentials.

This bookplate provides a second prior owner to be identified for  The Elements of Armories (London: George Eld, 1610]

Now on to the bookplate. VIAF presented me with a daunting array of Robert Days to choose from. The Irish photographer and antiquarian Robert Day (1836-1914), looked promising, with his concurrent period of activity and interest in collecting old things, but how to be sure? The initials again provided the clue. Our Robert Day was both a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London (F.S.A) and a member of the Royal Irish Academy (M.R.I.A.). Like Cole, his interest in heraldry is well documented, and I like to think Day may have consulted The Elements of Armories as he commissioned his own armorial bookplate.

Bookplates will occasionally try to play sneaky tricks on the provenance detective, as in the case of a recently acquired first edition of Henry James’s The Golden Bowl (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904). It would be reasonable to suppose this is the bookplate of the famed Art Nouveau glass designer René Lalique. In fact, Lalique designed the bookplate, for Emilie B. Grigsby, whose biography is the stuff of a real-life Henry James novel, replete with the themes of adultery, social class, and wealth. She made headlines in the 1890s as the youthful “ward” of the older, and married, transportation magnate Charles T. Yerkes. Grigsby amassed a spectacular library and art collection which she sold before moving to England, where she became a high society hostess and friend to prominent European artists and writers.

This bookplate is a trickier provenance clue for this 1904 copy of The Golden Bowl

Often glossed over in discussions of provenance is the stubborn fact that so many, perhaps most, former owners turn out to be regular folk with low-profile occupations, who cannot be found in biographical dictionaries, Wikipedia, or any name authority file. I do my best to trace their ownership all the same. I recently cataloged a copy of the anti-Catholic narrative The French Convert, printed in 1794 at Exeter, New Hampshire, and found not only the bookplate of noted collector Arthur T. Connolly (1853-1933), but also the earlier signatures of unsung Massachusetts residents Rachel Guild and Vashti Drake of Stoughton.

Both well-known and no-so-well-known prior owners can be found for this copy of The French Convert.

I had thought to conclude this blog post with a by-no-means comprehensive list of book provenance resources, but cannot improve much upon the fine libguide by the staff of Princeton University Library. The databases maintained by the Consortium of European Research Libraries are particularly useful for very early books and the inscriptions from monastic libraries. In the modern period, provenance research shares research strategies with genealogy, including biographical dictionaries, student registers, obituaries, and even census records. For a reference work in print, see David Pearson’s Provenance Research in Book History: A Handbook, available at Burns Library. Perhaps of less practical use but a great read nonetheless is Seymour de Ricci’s English Collectors of Books & Manuscripts (1530-1930) and Their Marks of Ownership, first published in 1930 and available from the Internet Archive.

–Noah Sheola, Special Collections Cataloging Librarian, Burns Library

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The Personalized Library: Links Between People and Books

Sheet music with hand-drawn notation of the traditional irish hornpipe, “The quarrelsome piper,” found in Irish Tunes for the Scottish and Irish War-Pipes by Glen, David et al., in Sir Jimmy Shand’s family music collection, part of the Irish Music Archives.

It’s a near universal rule that you should never write in any library book. However, you can nevertheless find notes in many of our books, remnants of their pasts before being acquired by Burns Library. These marks provide hints about the previous owners of a book. Readers wrote commentary in margins, gift-givers offered sentimental inscriptions, children drew in them, owners recorded their names, and everyone left all sorts of things between their pages. A few of our favorite examples are included in this post.

Burns Library’s copy of Matthew Tindal’s Christianity as Old as the Creation was printed in 1730. Its catalog record tells us that former owners include an English bishop and two libraries (not including us!). At some point in its long life, someone placed a small, delicate work of art between its pages for safekeeping. It is an example of the craft of paper cutting and its motifs are flowers, trees, animals, houses, hearts, and people, including some jumping rope. What, if anything, can you deduce about this book’s prior owner based on this? Can it be a valentine? Was someone really interested in deer hunting or gardening depictions? 

When Burns staff locate such material in our books, it’s removed to “inclusion files” (a more secure location, but still available upon request) and a descriptive note is added to the book’s record to inform researchers and staff. The type of material in these files showcases the wide variety of materials people leave in their books Some are impersonal– like purchase receipts or promotional material from the publisher. Others, such as photos, letters, news clippings, and prayer cards, tell us more about the book’s readers or owners. People left pressed flowers in both What Mr. Darwin Saw in His Voyage Round the World in the Ship “Beagle” (1880) and The Illustrated Guide to the Dolomites (1890).  Can we draw any connections between the type of flower and the content of each book? (For more about inclusion files, see our previous post)

When presented as a gift, books sometimes include inscriptions commemorating the event. In 1812, Daniel Robinson, a Liverpool resident,inscribed his prized copy of the popular 18th-century handwriting manual, The Universal Penman, offering it to whichever of his grandchildren best understood its potential to help them succeed in life. Good handwriting was an essential business skill.

To my Sons and Grandsons in general; I give the study and use of this Book,
But more particularly to those who prove anxious, and desirous, to Shine in
The Noble art of writing a fine and Expeditious hand;

For hopefull Youths that would be happy Men
There lies a precious portion in the Pen.
Great places and preferments are attaind;
By those who in its use, knowledge have gaind;
Then happy he, who learns to use this Tool.
For he that cannot Looks just like a Fool.

I give this Book to Daniel the Son of Thos Robinson at the age of 14 years
Should he survive And prove fond of fine Writing and a wish to Excel in that Art.
Should that not prove to be the Case, my wish is that the Universal Penman goes
On to be the property of all or such of his Brothers as take the most pains and wish To shine in such Noble Accomplishments as Writing & Accounts

Daniel Robinson, 74

Partially colored black-and white book illustration of two children at the foot of steps from a yard or garden into a house, being confronted by three adults,  above the caption “‘I’m afraid we’re a little untidy,’ he said politely.” The untidiness is represented by blobs of bright colors.
Hand colored black-and-white illustration from In Mischief; Adventures of John and Topsy, Burns copy missing title page.

A different type of inscription is found in The Schoolmaster’s Assistant: Being a Compendium of Arithmetic, Both Practical and Theoretical: in Five Parts, a school book from 1805. Inside the cover of Burns’ copy, someone wrote several student names, along with this helpfully menacing advice: Steal not this book my honest friend, for if you do, I know that the gallows will be your end.

In addition to writing, we occasionally find art in a book. Children (and other artists) are the primary culprits. Burns Library holds British writer Hilaire Belloc’s household library. His five children (presumably) added words and illustrations to many of these books. What can you determine about the personalities and habits of the Belloc children based on these markings?

Irish writer and artist George William Russell, known as Æ, added a wonderful color drawing and his signature to the title page of his 1925 poetry volume, Voices of the Stones

On the book’s title page is an epigraph: “The shining rock, From which arise a hundred strains. - The Voyage of Bran.” Between it and the printed name of the publisher, below, is the signature “Geo. W. Russell ‘A.E’” under a color drawing of a person looking out across a sea or plain toward an island or mountain in the distance.
Author’s signature and drawing from Voices of the Stones by Russell, George

A more unusual gift inscription is one from a fan to the author of his favorite book – in his favorite book. Soviet cosmonaut Georgy Grechko logged 134 days and 20 hours orbiting Earth. In 1985 he sent his own copy of Our man in Havana to English writer Graham Greene.

There are books which you forget as soon as you’ve read them, there are some which make you read them a second time. And as to this one – I’ve been rereading it all my life, both on Earth and in space. I’ve learnt it by heart. While in Havana I specially visited all the places described here. This is the most valuable thing of mine and I give it back to you with gratitude.

Examples of connections between people and books can be found throughout our collections. When you visit Burns Library, see what you can learn about our books’ histories. Read notes scribbled by author Graham Greene inside back covers of his books and learn what he was thinking about each text; read elegant, sentimental inscriptions in books shared between members of the family of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ; examine the symbols chosen for personal bookplates that owners used to identify volumes that belonging to them. These personalized markings in books can reveal a great deal about both the individual personalities of prior owners and, taken as a whole, about reading habits and books in culture over time. 

We encourage you to write in your own books (not ours!). Add a bookplate or write your name; inscribe a book with a message when you give it as a gift; lose a train ticket, a note or any bookmark in one; or press a flower. When you personalize your books, you tell their stories. 

-Shelley Barber, Outreach & Reference Specialist, Burns Library

See also:
Thomas J. Shamon’s mystery recommendations
Internal context: A Look Into the Inclusion File

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DC One Million

Cover. DC One Million, No. 1 Nov. 1998, PN6728.D401 COMICS

In 1998, as many long running DC Comics such as Action Comics and Detective Comics were approaching their 750th issues, the writers at DC speculated what the universe would look like when issue one million was published. This gave birth to the four issue DC 1,000,000 miniseries, as well as 35 tie-in issues, all taking place in the year 85,271 – one million months from the first published comic book in 1938. In the Edward J. Kane Collection of comics, Burns Library has all four issues of DC 1,000,000, 14 of the tie-in issues, as well as a DC One Million 80 page giant released in 1999.

The main plot of the miniseries involves a 853rd century version of the Justice League (Justice Legion A) traveling back to 1998 to bring the current Justice League forward in time. Superman Prime (the original Superman from the 20th century) is emerging from his Fortress of Solitude after a 15,000 year, self-imposed exile. To celebrate this momentous occasion, there are special events planned for the Justice Leaguers to show off their skills to the multitudes of fans throughout the universe. Justice Legion A remains in 1998 to ensure the safety of the Earth while the Justice League is off in the future, reminiscing with Superman Prime.

Justice Legion A members Starman, Superman, Hourman, Wonder Woman, Batman, The Flash, and Aquaman. DC One Million, No. 1 Nov. 1998, PN6728.D401 COMICS
Jimmy Olson being infected with the Hourman Virus. Superman: The Man of Steel, No. 1,000,000 Nov. 1998, PN6728.S827 COMICS

Of course, things go terribly wrong from the moment the Justice League travels through time. On 20th century Earth, Hourman, a Justice Legion A member, unwittingly releases a horrible techno-virus, infecting people and machines at a rapid rate. The Hourman Virus makes people suspicious, paranoid and violent to the point where there is worldwide rioting. Because the virus was created in the 853rd century, there is no comparable technology around to cure it. On top of this, supervillain Vandall Savage has stolen four thermonuclear robots and crashes one into Montevideo, Uruguay, causing untold destruction and death. It is up to Justice Legion A, along with some help from 20th century superheroes like Steel, Big Barda and Huntress, to defeat Vandall Savage and the Hourman Virus. I won’t go into too much detail, but it does involve Superman literally punching a hole through the space-time continuum.

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Interview with “Historian of Memory” Guy Beiner, New BC Irish Studies Director

As frequent readers of our blog may know, Burns Library holds the most comprehensive collections pertaining to modern Irish history, literature and culture outside the island of Ireland, and we enjoy working with Irish Studies scholars from around the world. For this week’s post, we are pleased that Boston College’s newly appointed director of Irish Studies, Professor Guy Beiner, has kindly talked with us about his work as a historian and his perspectives on libraries and archives, including Burns Library.

Portrait of Guy Beiner, newly appointed Professor (with tenure) and the holder of the Sullivan Chair of Irish Studies. Photo by Lee Pellegrini, Boston College

Following an international search, Boston College announced Beiner’s appointment as the Craig and Maureen Sullivan Millennium Professor in Irish Studies earlier this month. Beiner will also serve as director of Boston College’s interdisciplinary Irish Studies program, one of the leading programs in the United States and one of the first, founded in 1978. 

An Israeli native, Beiner previously served as professor of history at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He earned his doctorate at University College Dublin and was a Government of Ireland Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin. Among other visiting fellowships, he was the Burns Library Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies at Boston College during the 2019-2020 academic year.

As a Burns Scholar, Beiner taught courses on the memorialization of the 1972 “Bloody Sunday” massacre in Northern Ireland and the “memory boom” in contemporary Ireland characterized by intensive commemoration of key events in the last century. He also lectured on unexpected lessons gleaned from his study of the works of 19th-century amateur Irish historians held in Burns Library.

You have been called a “historian of memory.” Is that an appropriate description of your work?

Beiner’s 2018 book won four major international awards

I have indeed specialized in the historical study of social and cultural remembrance in the late-modern period (as apparent in my first book, Remembering the Year of the French). In recent years, I have tried to “rebrand” myself as a historian of forgetting, only to realize that this is another side of the same coin (a conclusion that is evident in my recent book, Forgetful Remembrance). Apart from my investigations of how events were remembered and forgotten by local communities in Ireland from the eighteenth century to present times, the dialectics of remembering and forgetting have also informed my research on other topics, such as the history of terrorism or the legacy of the so-called “Spanish” Flu pandemic of 1918-1919.

There has been a trend in recent years to refer to libraries, archives, and museums as “memory institutions.” What do you think of this practice?

With the rapid pace of technological innovation that seems to sweep away traditional forms of sustaining knowledge, modern societies have become more aware of the imperative for maintaining institutions that preserve our communal memory. In this sense, libraries, archives, museums, and galleries serve as repositories of cultural memory (though this was the case from antiquity onwards). There are, however, also many other public bodies that host memory and offer platforms for its performance, such as television and cinema, theatre, radio and of course the internet. Once we become aware of them, we can realize that interactions with memory are ubiquitous.

What roles have libraries and archives played in your work as a scholar?

Libraries and archives are at the heart of my work as a historian, which is often based on eclectic reading of large volumes of texts in pursuit of themes that require a critical rethinking of the ways in which we approach knowledge about the past. I have an appreciation of vernacular practices through which historical narratives have been recounted by local communities. I am therefore keenly interested in finding in archives and specialist library collections traces of oral traditions that were recorded and documented by folklorists and ethnographers and have too often been neglected in historical research.

What other kinds of services would you like libraries and archives to offer?

Increasingly, libraries and archives need to take on board the possibilities opened by digitalization and the internet revolution. The emerging field of digital humanities has become the “new frontier” of research, and this development requires investment in databases and software, as well as experimentation with new forms of presentation, such as augmented reality.

How did you engage with Burns Library resources during your residence as a Burns Visiting Scholar?

Among its many treasures, Burns Library has remarkable Irish Studies collections. During my year as a Burns Scholar, I was engaged in reading rare nineteenth-century antiquarian, historical and literary books. For my teaching, I also availed of pamphlets from the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which allowed me to present students with unique primary sources through which they could get a sense of how the eruption of violence was perceived by the people who were eye-witnesses to the historical events. In addition, as a historian who recognizes the importance of songs and ballads for understanding Irish popular culture, I found interest in the library’s traditional music collections.

Guy Beiner in Burns Library’s Irish Room. Photo by Peter Julian, Boston College.

As the new director of Irish Studies at Boston College, how do you envision Burns Library supporting curricular and other initiatives?

Burns Library is a great asset for the Irish Studies program at Boston College. It provides faculty and students with the essential bibliographical resources of a world-class specialist library, which can facilitate research projects at undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate levels. It is also a stunning venue for hosting high profile events, and a magnet for attracting leading scholars from around the world.

We congratulate Professor Beiner on his recent appointment and look forward to continuing our close collaboration with him and colleagues in BC’s Irish Studies program.

-Christian Dupont, Burns Librarian

Further Reading:

Guy Beiner named Sullivan Chair in Irish Studies
BC News article on Beiner’s appointment as BC Irish Studies program director

“Forgetful Remembrance”
BC News article on Beiner’s appointment as 2019-2020 Burns Visiting Scholar

Burns Visiting Scholar Program

Guy Beiner’s Burns Visiting Scholar page (includes link to recorded lecture)

Guy Beiner’s BC faculty page

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The Campus of the Future? The Chestnut Hill Campus, Real and Imagined

The Chestnut Hill campus of Boston College (BC) has beautiful architecture, views, greenspaces, and recreation areas. Construction projects occasionally add less peaceful notes to the scene, but the resulting disruption is a sign of growth. As the university develops, new facilities follow. 

The University Archives contain resources illustrating campus growth, with examples of aspirational as well as actual building projects. They are used here to illustrate a sampling of campus facilities that were planned – but never completed.

In 1913, BC faculty and students began to occupy its new Chestnut Hill property on the Boston-Newton border. At the time of the purchase, the area included a house and barn atop a dramatic cliffside expanse overlooking orchards and fields, with a view of two reservoirs – only one of which remains. BC President Thomas I. Gasson, SJ, named the spot “University Heights.” The school’s first building on the site was the Recitation Building, now known as Gasson Hall. Plentiful photos of the early Chestnut Hill campus exist in the work of intrepid local photographer, Clifton Church. Early plans for BC’s imposing Gothic buildings can also be seen through drawings which are part of the Boston College building and campus images collection (BC1987-012). A1930 drawing from campus architects Maginnis & Walsh includes the four buildings completed at that time (Gasson Hall, St. Mary’s Hall, Bapst Library, and Devlin Hall) and many others that were never begun – including a student chapel on what’s now St. Mary’s lawn, and a gymnasium on what’s now the Bapst lawn.

Proposed campus by Maginnis and Walsh, postcard, undated [1930], box 29, folder 7, Boston College building and campus images (BC1987-012).

Boston College President’s Office records provide high-level and detailed administrative information on decisions and changes at Boston College. A 1921 fundraising pamphlet in the records of William J. Devlin, SJ includes drawings of individual buildings that were part of the original Maginnis & Walsh campus plan. Shown is the gymnasium, which is depicted with Gasson Hall in the background.

Detail of Building Fund Campaign pamphlet, box 1, folder 14, William J. Devlin, SJ, President’s Office Records, (BC1986-020F).

Soon after BC began to plan its campus in Chestnut Hill, there was a movement in Boston to build an Irish Hall of Fame – a cultural center for the area’s Irish Americans – between the proposed Gasson Hall and Bapst Library. The plan did not go forward, but its legacy is the stained glass window, St. Patrick at Tara, in Gasson 100, which was funded by money that had been raised. Evidence of the Hall of Fame can be found at Burns in the Charles D. Maginnis and Timothy F. Walsh papers (MS1998-034).

“Irish Hall of Fame for Boston,” clipping from the Boston Globe, 15 Aug 1909, Scrapbook, 1902-1942, box 5, Charles D. Maginnis and Timothy F. Walsh papers (MS1998-034).

In addition to student newspapers, changes to the campus are also featured in publications aimed at Alumni. These began in 1933 and can also be found online. The cover illustration of a proposed Law School building in the Gothic architectural style of the Chestnut Hill campus decorated the cover of BC’s alumni magazine in 1949. 

Detail of the cover of Alumni News, June, 1949.

The Boston College athletic programs collection (BC1997-006) includes programs, media guides, and occasional score sheets for both men’s and women’s athletic teams and clubs for home events and tournaments. They often include articles about athletic topics. The first Alumni Stadium opened in 1957 in the approximate location of today’s newer stadium. Of the three connected buildings labelled in this drawing, the gym and hockey rink were eventually built as the Roberts Center and McHugh Forum, but the proposed student union remains only a dream. The Service Building, a constant feature amidst the continual campus expansion surrounding it, is visible in the drawing.

Scorecard for BC vs. Holy Cross, June 7, 1957, Football, 1956-1958, box 8, The Boston College athletic programs collection (BC1997-006)

An excellent general resource is the database newspapers.bc.edu. It includes full text searchable newspapers published by the students and administration of BC, 1883-present. In 1975, the long-running student newspaper, The Heights, published an article about transportation to and around the main campus. Within it was the report that the addition of an escalator between Lower and Middle Campus was under consideration. Sadly, no illustration was included, leaving this unfulfilled innovation to our imaginations.

There is a section of the Boston College building and campus images collection called “Proposed buildings (unbuilt).” An example is a set of images for a proposed student center and Humanities building in 1995. The images in the collection are arranged into six main series: Individual buildings and structures; Multiple buildings; Exteriors and landscapes; Devlin Hall/Higgins Hall interiors; Aerial views; and Bound volumes. They are described in the collection’s finding aid where you’ll see links to images already digitized. Those that haven’t been can be used at Burns.

Burns Library’s University Archives Guide describes a variety of resources for many BC history topics. The Libraries’ BC Digital Collections page Boston College History is also a good starting point.

-Shelley Barber, ​Outreach & Reference Specialist, Burns Library

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