Joe Derrane and his Gaillard Accordion

The Irish Music Archives at John J. Burns Library is delighted to announce the acquisition and display of Joe Derrane’s D/C# Gaillard accordion, a gift to the Library from his children, Joseph P. Derrane, Jr. and Sheila A. Harvey. The instrument is the second button accordion that Derrane commissioned from Bertrand Gaillard, a French accordion maker.

Copy of _DSC9875

Photo of Gaillard accordion. Joe Derrane Irish Music Materials, IM.M208.2017, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Boston-based Joe Derrane (1930-2016), an Irish-American musician and composer, was well known for his innovative approach to the D/C# button accordion in Irish traditional music. He was born in Boston in 1930 to Irish immigrants Patrick J. Derrane and Helen E. (Galvin) Derrane. His family was musical, and, as a boy, he was captivated by performances by Cork-born melodeon player Jerry O’Brien on local radio.

From age 10 to 12, Derrane studied the single-row melodeon with O’Brien, and, as a teenager, taught himself to play piano accordion and D/C# button accordion. Derrane’s widespread early musical influences also included recordings of German-American melodeonist John J. Kimmel (1866-1942), the “Irish Dutchman.”

Derrane’s music career spanned over 60 years. From the mid-1940s to circa 1960, Derrane performed Irish traditional music in a wide range of venues across Boston, appearing frequently in bands in the Dudley Street dance halls. He was also a regular soloist on live radio. Copley Records first invited him to record commercially while he was a high school senior, and he went on to record with collaborators such as his mentor Jerry O’Brien.


Photo of Joe Derrane with his Gaillard accordion. Photo by Sheila A. Harvey circa 2006.

Derrane met Anne Connaughton while doing a series of gigs in New York City, and the couple married in 1955. Within a few years they were settled in Randolph, Massachusetts with their two children. With Irish music gig opportunities in Boston declining, Derrane switched to other instruments and music styles to support his family. Between 1962 and 1989, while holding various administrative positions at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), he performed jazz, pop, and repertoire from other ethnic traditions. For ten years he played keyboard and synthesizer in a pop/jazz duo called Nightlife, with his son Joe on vocals and bass. Continue reading

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Wifredo Lam and Graham Greene

Over my past three years working as Assistant Conservator at the Burns Library, one project has been a constant: jacketing the Graham Greene collection. On Monday, March 26th, 2018, I finally wrapped the final dust jacket in a sheet of mylar. This final book–just by chance–was quite a special volume.

Before I explore this last volume, some background is required. Firstly, what is the Graham Greene collection? Graham Greene is a celebrated, 20th century, British author. The bulk of the collection was purchased in 1995 from Bloomsbury Book Auctions. His notable works include novels such as The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, and The Third Man, as well as plays like “The Living Room” and “The Potting Shed”. He also wrote travel books, essays, children’s stories and autobiographies.

Greene’s Library, along with a large amount of archival material including correspondence and notes, includes his entire canon as well as books given to the author and those that he chose to add to his own collection. As an established and gifted author, the Graham Greene collection is quite substantial.

Due to the valuable nature of this collection, conservation staff decided to protect the books’ dust jackets with a second cover in thin plastic called mylar in order to preserve the paper covers as well as to protect the books themselves. This is a time consuming processes that requires measuring out mylar as well as cutting and folding the excess to perfectly cover the dust jacket.

After three years, we reached the final volume in the Graham Greene collection. A part of the “Oversized” collection, Le nouveau Nouveau monde de Lam by Alain Jouffroy is an impressive volume. The most impressive part of the two part set is the title page of the first volume (Image 1). Le nouveau Nouveau monde de Lam was sent as a gift to Graham Greene from Wifredo Lam, most likely due to the friendship between the two men.

Title page of

Title page
Le nouveau Nouveau monde de Lam Alain Jouffroy
John J. Burns Library, Boston College

According to Wifredo Lam’s website, Greene had consulted Lam when writing his spy novel, Our Man in Havana, and the two took dinner together when Lam visited Paris. This relationship between two creative men may not have been widely known but it was close enough for Lam to send, sign and illustrate the copy of Le nouveau Nouveau monde de Lam for Graham Greene. Continue reading

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Internal Context: A Look Into the Inclusion Files

One of the most rewarding aspects of rare book cataloging is seeing and decoding the various markers of history that make their way into the pages. Most of these markers are permanent – bookplates, sellers’ and binders’ tickets, annotations, and doodles are inextricably linked to the physical item and can’t be removed.

Boarding pass, Belfast

Boarding pass, Belfast, March 26, 1968 Found in: High Upon the Gallows Tree, by Anthony Glynn (1967) DA690 .M4 G58 IRISH

However, for a lot of the books in the Burns Library, the most revealing clues about an item’s history can be removed, and in fact should be. Due to their potential research value, these materials aren’t thrown out, but housed in an acid-free folder, and can be pulled and viewed

Illustrated short poem: Worry is like a rocking chair- it gives you something to do but it doesn't get you anywhere

Illustrated poem Found in: Light from the West, by William H. Marnell (1978) BX4659 .I7 M28 1978

alongside the book they came from. Think of everything you shove into your books – notes, official bookmarks, unofficial bookmarks, flowers or leaves to press, Post-Its (public service announcement: please don’t stick Post-Its to your books). This isn’t a new practice, and a lot of the books we get at Burns aren’t cleared out before arrival (and rightly so!). Continue reading

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The United Fruit Company in the Williams Collection

In the constitution of this small, banana republic was a forgotten section that provided for the maintenance of a navy.

–O. Henry, “The Admiral” (147)

Food Value

A ruddy-cheeked boy eating a banana on the cover of a United Fruit Company booklet, John J Burns Library, Boston College.

The unremarkable sentence above, which appeared in O. Henry’s 1904 collection Cabbages and Kings, constitutes the first use of the term “banana republic” to refer to a Latin American nation under the sway of U.S.-based fruit companies. O. Henry based the “banana republic” in question, called “Anchuria” in the book, on his experiences in Honduras. Ever since, “banana republic” has carried connotations of corruption, mismanagement, and imperial meddling. The United Fruit Company was foremost among the corporations engaged in the economic imperialism that created banana republics. A 1950 poem by Pablo Neruda, “United Fruit Co.,” suggests how some perceived the company: “It re-baptized the lands/ ‘Banana Republics’/ and on the sleeping dead…it alienated free wills,/ gave crowns of Caesar as gifts,/ unsheathed jealousy, attracted/ the dictatorship of the flies” (95). That reputation, and the “exoticness” of the banana as a relative newcomer in the American diet, were obstacles which the United Fruit Company was highly conscious of. The Burns Library holds a number of works printed by the United Fruit Company. As part of the Williams Ethnological Collection, the United Fruit Company pamphlets and tracts were once part of the personal library of Joseph J. Williams, SJ, These texts afford a view into how the United Fruit Company wished to present itself to the world.

In order to sell more bananas, the United Fruit Company first had to persuade people to eat more bananas. A good deal of research seems to have gone into this effort. A four-page pamphlet titled Bibliography on the Food Value of the Banana, compiled by the company’s Research Department in 1930, contains nothing but a list of 51 sources, suggesting that it was intended for internal, rather than public, use.  The bibliography


The back cover of The Food Value of the Banana demonstrates the stages of ripening banana.

includes such scientific articles of apparent significance as P. Rohmer’s “The Stimulating Action of Vitamin C on Certain Forms of Chronic Indigestion in Infancy” and J.J. McNamara’s “Lowell Fights Undernourishment Among Its School Children”. A simple browse through the bibliography’s titles suggests that the company was interested in the potential of the banana to combat medical conditions including nephritis, scurvy, constipation, and especially celiac disease. No fewer than nine of the 51 items in the bibliography include the word “celiac” in their titles. (In fact, bananas were considered a miracle cure for symptoms of celiac, with doctors sometimes prescribing children to eat as many as 200 bananas per week. Bananas were, in fact, so good at masking its symptoms that this practice contributed to a widespread tendency to under-diagnose the disease [Neimark 2017].)

Other documents were more clearly intended for mass distribution. A sense for the tone of this banana propaganda may be gleaned from Bananas: A Food Children Need:

Like the Good Fairy at the Royal Christening, Mother Nature bestowed a precious gift on childhood when she fashioned the banana. Thinking to create a food both nutritious and delightful to taste, she combined in its tender pulp all the sustenance of a vegetable and the sweet succulence of a fruit. Then with golden sunshine for her color scheme, she sealed it safe from dust and dirt in a germ-proof packaging. (2)

This pamphlet consists of 24 pages of nutritional banana facts, banana recipes, and expert medical opinions on bananas, aimed toward children and the parents responsible for feeding them. Another pamphlet, The New Banana, affords not only 63 recipes for those wishing to eat bananas literally morning, noon, and night, but fun “banana news,” as well – including the tale of “a young Norwegian” who (purportedly) walked the 250 miles from Olso to Christianssand entirely on a diet of bananas and milk (United Fruit Company 1931).

A small map on the inside cover of The New Banana shows the area of the United Fruit Company’s operations in Central America.

Carib Map

A small map on the inside cover of The New Banana shows the area of the United Fruit Company’s operations in Central America. John J Burns Library, Boston College

The increasing popularity of the banana among American consumers meant a great deal of work for the company – not just in the direct growing and harvesting of bananas,  but in building infrastructure and communities for its employees, as well. A publicity brochure for the company, United Fruit Company: Nature and Scope of its Activities claims that tropical diseases made the 3,482,042 acres owned or leased by the company unworkable prior to the company’s intervention, which “transformed the zone of its tropical operation into modern sanitary and healthful communities” (United Fruit Company 1931, 6). Its 80,000 employees “maintain[ed] water works, electric light and ice plants, laundries and bakeries… churches, schools, baseball grounds, tennis courts, golf courses and swimming pools” (United Fruit Company 1931, 7). These amenities, the brochure stresses, were for both American and local employees, and the greater communities at large. Perhaps out of sensitivity to a widespread perception of the company as an overbearing imperialist power, the brochure emphasizes corporate policies geared toward making its employees decent and respectful guests:

It is the fixed policy of the United Fruit Company that its officials and employees in the


An illustration accompanying the recipes in The New Banana, captioned: “Bananas are something to rave about in pies and tarts….  For icebox desserts, too, so newly popular with the universal use of automatic refrigerators, they are delectable. They give the mixture a creamy, melt-in-the-mouth smoothness. A frozen mousse is illustrated.”

tropics speak the Spanish language, and that while those who are not citizens refrain from all political activities and affiliations, yet they must support all that is best in the social and cultural life of the countries in which they work. (United Fruit Company 1931, 7)

Sensitivity to the company’s image as an overbearing imperial power seems to inform much of the company’s messaging. In a speech given to Institute of Politics in 1925 (published in a collection of Cutter’s speeches under the title Trade Relations with Latin America), United Fruit Company president Victor M. Cutter attempts to head off such characterizations at the outset:

I hold no brief for imperialism and deprecate any slightest imperialistic tendency on the part of the United States towards Latin America. I have, however, no patience with theorists who hold that commercial relations do not bring closer understanding between people… Cultural and intellectual harmony between nations has invariably followed commercial and industrial relationships which have enabled them to acquire the physical comforts and mechanical devices which give leisure for cultural and intellectual pursuits. (Cutter 1929, 5)

The idea that international trade would foster a flourishing of international peace, understanding, and mutual prosperity is an old one; former slave and memoirist Olaudah Equiano ends his 1789 Interesting Narrative by recommending the same program for Britain’s relationship with Africa, for example. Cutter returns to this theme


The United Fruit Company had a sideline in passenger cruises. This photograph from Jamaica Via the Great White Fleet shows Americans on vacation in the Caribbean. John J Burns Library, Boston College

at numerous points in his address, and even positions himself as an emissary for Americans’ understanding of Central America:  “Nearly all Americans,” Cutter says, “have a very badly exaggerated impression of unstable political conditions, and an almost total lack of appreciation of the ancient art and culture to be found in the Central American cities” (48). In Cutter’s account, and in those of his company’s publications, the United Fruit Company functions as a benevolent entity respectfully bringing industry and infrastructure to a disadvantaged but proud region’s people.

Was this the case? Pablo Neruda clearly didn’t believe it was, and history supply evidence for his view of the company as a meddling imperial presence. The United Fruit Company’s literature for public consumption neglects, for example, to mention the 1928 Banana Massacre, when Colombian soldiers murdered a number (somewhere between 47 and 2000, depending on whether one believes the army’s account or local folk history) of striking United Fruit Company workers.  Although the company’s direct involvement with the massacre has never been proven, it’s willingness to cooperate with the Colombian government before and after it contributed to the company’s reputation for repressive activities and support for despotism (Bucheli 2005, 183). That reputation may go some way to explaining why the company pursued such an aggressive propaganda campaign beginning just a few years later. Whether the company was ultimately a force for the development or the exploitation of Latin America may still be open to debate, but scholars wishing to investigate the company’s side of the argument are welcome to do so at our library.


  • Eric Pencek, Boston College PhD Candidate (Reading Room Assistant), John J. Burns Library


Works Consulted:


  • Bucheli, Marcelo. Bananas and Business: The United Fruit Company in Columbia, 1899-2000. New York: NYU Press, 2005.
  • Cutter, Victor Macomber. Trade Relations with Latin America. Boston: United Fruit Company, 1929.
  • Henry, O. “The Admiral.” In Cabbages and Kings. New York: McClure, Phillips & Co, 1904.
  • Neimark, Jill. “Doctors Once Thought Bananas Cured Celiac Disease. They Saved Kids’ Lives – At a Cost.” National Public Radio, Incorporated online, last modified May 24, 2017.
  • Neruda, Pablo. The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems. Edited by Mark Eisner. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2004.
  • United Fruit Company. The New Banana. Boston: United Fruit Company, 1931.
  • —. Jamaica Via the Great White Fleet. Boston: United Fruit Company, 1913.
  • United Fruit Company Educational Department. Bananas: A Food Children Need. Boston: United Fruit Company, 1930 (?).
  • United Fruit Company Publicity Department. United Fruit Company: Nature and Scope of Its Activities. Boston (?): s.n., 1931.
  • United Fruit Company Research Department. Bibliography on the Food Value of the Banana. Boston: United Fruit Company, 1930.
  • —. The Food Value of the Banana: A Compilation from Recognized Authorities. Boston: United Fruit Company, 1929.
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The many business endeavors of Pamela Colman Smith

You’ve probably encountered the artwork of Pamela Colman Smith before, even if you didn’t realize.  Colman Smith drew the images for the most well-known tarot deck, and these popular images are still commonly reprinted and used on tarot decks today.

Hand-colored print and poem by P.C.S.

“The Green Sheaf” from The Green Sheaf by Pamela Colman Smith (ed.), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Colman Smith produced more than a tarot deck, however. Going by the nickname Pixie, she was an active part of Irish poet William Butler Yeats’ literary circle. She and Irish artist Jack B. Yeats co-published the literary magazine The Broad Sheet.   Colman Smith eventually decided she wanted her own journal, however, and began The Green Sheaf, which Burns Library has in its holdings.

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Buried Treasure: A Fresh Look at a Well-loved Collection Unearths Some Rarely-used Gems

Flat cardboard box with lid removed and placed to the side. The lid has a photograph of post-earthquake Kingston, Jamaica attached to it. Inside the box is a scrapbook with leaves on the cover.

“Souvenir of the Isle of Springs,” Box 15, Joseph J. Williams, SJ ethnological collection, MS.2009.030, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

The Joseph J. Williams, SJ Ethnological Collection is known for its wealth of material about the Caribbean and Africa, including maps, wills, ship logs, and stories of the folk character Anansi. But even the most well-used archival collections can contain some surprises.

Close up of scrapbook, showing linen overlay and hand-stitched binding.

While re-processing the Williams Collection, archives staff came across an item with the mysterious title “Souvenir of the Isle of Springs” — which didn’t tell us much about its format or content. At first glance, the object appeared to be a photograph of Kingston, Jamaica after the 1907 earthquake, mounted on a thick piece of worn cardboard. But we soon realized that it was a box, and when we removed the top, a delicate handmade scrapbook was revealed inside.

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Medicine in the Middle Ages: Rare Books in the Burns Library

While working in the library catalog, I set to searching one of my favorite topics, the Medieval period. Trying to narrow the search results, I added the term medicine to see what would come up. There were a number of modern books, though one in particular stood out. It was a book concerning medical thought in the Middle Ages, published in the Middle Ages, titled Marsilius Ficinus Florentinus De triplici vita. (This roughly translates to The Triple Life by Marsilio Ficino of Florence, better known as Three Books on Life.) It was an important work at the time, as it combined his philosophy of Neoplatonism (more on that later), medicine, and astrology. Contained within are three books, each detailing different aspects of health, including methods to increase longevity and how to maintain a healthy body through nourishment of the spiritus (a somewhat ambiguous human feature that relates the physical body to the soul). The work is particularly aimed at scholars, seeing them as distinctly prone to ailments and melancholy, and suggested remedies in astrological changes.

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