Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Brahe and Blaeu

We have talked before about our luxurious hand-colored copy of the eleven-volume Blaeu Atlas, Geographia (Amsterdam, 1662), but never delved into a curious digression in the first volume. As you move along through maps of northern Europe in a fairly predictable pattern, you suddenly find yourself zeroing in on unexpected details on the island of Hvæna. There, the atlas takes the reader on a tour of Tycho Brahe's observatory with fourteen full-page or double-page engraved illustrations.

Why this obsession?  It is likely that Joan Blaeu was giving a nod to his father Willem Blaeu who started the family mapmaking business. Willem had been a student under Brahe at Hvæna, and it was during his time with Brahe that he developed his skills constructing globes.  It is also a gesture to Joan Blaeu's own qualifications. The attention given to Brahe's measurement instruments suggests a certain level of technical expertise, thus elevating the already grand atlas through association.

To enjoy a walk through Brahe's observatory at Hvæna, ask for volume 1 of Rare G1015.B48 1662.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Wives of Bath

The Wife of Bath is arguably the most enduringly provocative character created by Chaucer.  A serial monogamist who has outlived four of her husbands (and is working on her fifth), she describes herself in the prologue to the Canterbury Tales as being well-versed in the arts of love, especially those practiced in the bedroom. Later, when the Wife of Bath tells her tale about courtly love, she references a fable in which a lion and man examine a painting of a man killing a lion. The lion asks, "Who painted the lion?" suggesting that if a lion had done the job, the outcome would have been much different.

With that in mind, we decided to take a look and see how the Wife of Bath herself has been depicted by various men at various times (as well as obviously being the creation of a man from the start). Displayed here are three artists' renderings. The first is a woodcut from the 1542 edition of Chaucer's Workes; the second, an engraving by William Blake in 1810; and the third by Blake's rival engraver Thomas Stothard from 1817. Each of them provides a different interpretation of the Wife of Bath, be it a typical (if somewhat austere-looking) woman of means from the medieval period, a bawdy and drunken profligate, or a flirtatious high-brow lady. All of these images display an aspect of the Wife of Bath, but we would argue that none of them truly encapsulates her essence.

To form your own opinion in person, come in and examine these images of Alysoun yourself. To see the Blake, ask for Iconography 1596; the Stothard, Iconography 1661; and the 1542 edition, Hickmott 101.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


So what exactly is a Gabberjabb? When you flip through Walter Hamady’s Gabberjabb No. 6, you encounter a multi-layered, surrealist autobiography that walks a tightrope between sense and nonsense. Hamady’s art epitomizes the virtues of letterpress printing and book design while simultaneously poking fun at assumptions about the structure and function of books. In Gabberjabb No. 6 (its lengthier official title is Neopostmodrinism or Dieser Rasen ist kein Hundeklo or Gabberjabb Number 6), Hamady seeks to expand the book form by disturbing codified reading conventions and exploring the nuances of typography through continuously footnoted poetry and prose.

In Gabberjabb No. 6, Hamady calls attention to the structural elements of book form that are normally taken for granted by readers, such as title pages, indices, footnotes, signatures, margins and gutters, and makes them the centerpiece of the book.

A particularly memorable play on book form in Gabberjabb No. 6 consists of a series of page gutters adorned with anatomical drawings of intestines. Hamady draws attention to an empty section of the page that most people never see because of centuries of reading conventions that have conditioned us to focus on the text block in the center of the page and disregard the empty space surrounding it. For Hamady, the gutter or “guts” of an open book is the center of the picture plane and should be considered a significant structural element of the book.

Through his ingenious and abstract play on book structure, Hamady warns against the kind of reductive reading that focuses on the book’s content at the expense of its form. The self-conscious manipulation of standardized rules regulating book form is intended to increase the readers’ awareness that such conventions exist and influence the construction of meaning. In many ways, this book can be considered a meta-critique on conventional understandings of “bookness”; it seeks to challenge our traditional notions of book form by reevaluating how form works in conjunction with content to convey meaning.

To see Gabberjabb No. 6, ask for Presses P4187hne. Gabberjabb No. 6 is part of an eight volume series called Interminable Gabberjabbs and volumes 5-8 are available at Rauner as well, along with over twenty other artists’ books by Hamady.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Homecoming: Edmund B. Dearborn

We recently acquired a small collection of letters addressed to Edmund B. Dearborn. Dearborn was a New England schoolteacher, who, although he prepared for college at Hampton Academy in New Hampshire, never matriculated at an institution. At Hampton Academy, Dearborn was a member of the Olive Branch Society. Incorporated in 1832, the society was founded to promote and improve writing and public speaking skills. However, when a fire at the Academy destroyed their collection of about six hundred valuable books, the society ceased to exist.

The letters in the collection are primarily from Dearborn's former schoolmates. Most had also been members of the Olive Branch Society and many of them went into teaching as well. The letters detail the routine, responsibilities and personal narratives of small town schoolteachers.

Several of them attended Dartmouth College and it is through these letters that we get a first-hand account of student life at Dartmouth in the first half of the 19th century. In a letter from September 1829, Joseph Dow '33 describes his life at Dartmouth, commenting that the "situation [here] is indeed very fine," and that the "situation of Dart. Coll. has been grossly misrepresented." He also implies that he expected Dearborn to join him at Dartmouth the following year and that in preparation for that he would "endeavor to give [him] some ideas of the place by the following uncouth figure." Dow follows this statement with a small drawing in which he describes the buildings in "their situation relative to each other." He also describes the Tontine building, which was destroyed in a fire in 1887, as a
huge building of brick, four stories high and part of a day's journey in length. The lower part contains the Jackson Post Office-lawyer offices- tin plate worker's shop-saddlers etc. The upper part contains rooms for students - principally quacks
Another former member of the Olive Branch Society, John Calvin Webster '32 describes a more
notorious incident when he writes that even though he had no particular news:
last week a negro woman died and was buried and on the night ensuing some of the medical students attempted to dig up the body. There were watchers expecting the attempt would be made, who let them dig down within a few inches of the coffin when they seized them.
Other correspondents in this collection include Amos Tuck, Jesse Eaton Pillsbury, S. P. Dole and David P. Page. To look at these letters please ask for MS-1290.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fantasy Football

Last fall, a new high-definition video scoreboard was erected on Memorial Field. Unbeknownst to most Big Green fans today, this marked the 90th anniversary of a different type of scoreboard: the Grid-Graph from November 1923. In fact, this scoreboard never saw the field at all—it was set up in a handball court at the gym, to recreate away games at home for those who couldn’t make the trip.

The Grid-Graph board measured 15 feet by 12 feet and featured a glass replica of a football field. The team names, score, and number of downs were listed across the top, and player names along the sides. Below that were the various plays, like punt, interception, or touchdown. Operating the board was a multi-person production. One man made transcripts of the Morse code coverage coming in by telegraph, and then another relayed these as instructions to those controlling the lights. A switchboard operator lit up a bulb next to the play being made and the players involved. Meanwhile, a final man moved a free-standing bulb behind the glass to represent the ball’s position on the field. Of course, he only knew the yard markings and not the ball’s exact spot, so some artistic flourishes were allowed to create drama and suspense.

The board cost a thousand dollars at the time, but seems to have been well worth it. Wooden stands in front of the Grid-Graph filled up half an hour early, and each audience member paid admission. During the game, someone led cheers (though there was no team to hear them) and vendors walked among the crowd selling hot dogs and soda. The audience could even get rowdy. In the October 1980 Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, one Grid-Graph operator recalled a game in 1931, when Dartmouth made a miraculous 23-point comeback to tie with Yale. The fans went wild. As in, ravenous.

“That crowd came out of those swaying stands and across the floor bent on getting some souvenirs of the game from the board. We had to rush out in front and fend them off or the whole thing would have caved in on us all. They tore out the players’ names and got a few lights, but we saved the board.”

Although the board survived that trial, it would not survive dwindling attendance and funds over the following decade. In 1941, the Grid-Graph was quietly put to rest.

To see pictures of the old Grid-Graph and a cardboard replica, ask for Rauner Photo Files: Football—Grid-Graph Board. Or, see them online here from the Digital Library Program.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Taj Torah

We just acquired a truly amazing manuscript that has us all a twitter (though we don't Tweet, just blog!). The manuscript is a copy of the Taj Torah produced in Yemen c. 1400-1450. This is one of only three known Hebrew manuscripts with illustrated carpet pages. The Torah is prefaced with a copy of the Tajim, a Yemenite grammar and guide to reading the Torah, so the manuscript is both a sacred text and a pedagogical device for its reading.

The manuscript has many possible uses in the classroom at a time when medieval and early modern Jewish texts are growing in interest and importance in academia. The specific aspects of it that most excite us are the carpet pages that can be compared and contrasted with Western illuminations and elucidate children's education in the middle ages, and the potential for discussion of the manuscript as an object (i.e., its construction, material components). Among the nice carpet pages are  a drawing of the labyrinth of Jericho and a "Magical Square" of letters in a pattern.

Two years ago we worked with a class on medieval Christian, Islamic and Jewish traditions. We were able to lay out excellent medieval representations of the Koran and the Vulgate Bible but we lacked a comparative example of the Torah or similar Jewish text. That gap is now filled. We are able to lay, side by side, representative texts from all three monotheistic faiths, and all from roughly the same time period.

We are just starting to catalog the manuscript. You can ask for it by name at our reference desk and we will update this post when it is cataloged.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

When Size Matters

In 1804 John Wheelock, the son of the founder of Dartmouth College, Eleazar Wheelock, and the second President of the College, got into a snit over control of the local Congregational Church. While the details of this disagreement are important, they are far too complex to cover here. Suffice to say that after ten years of wrangling, Wheelock attempted to enlist the Trustees of the College in this fight. The Trustees, suspecting that they were being asked to act beyond their authority, declined. The resulting battle between Wheelock and the Trustees ended with John Wheelock, a Whig, asking William Plumber, the Federalist Governor of New Hampshire, to remove the College from the control of the Trustees and make it a State institution. The Trustees, and most of the faculty, refused to recognize the State’s authority and took the issue to court. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where Daniel Webster famously argued for the College and won, setting an important and enduring legal precedent.

In the mean time, two institutions of higher education existed side-by-side on the Hanover Plain. On one side was Dartmouth College and on the other was the state run Dartmouth University. Here are the catalogs for the two institutions and the difference between them needs no further comment.

Ask for Mss 817509 and Mss 817509.1 to see the two catalogs. For more information on the Dartmouth College case, see: Will to Resist; the Dartmouth College Case, by Richard Morin (DC History KF 4258 .D3 M65 c.2).