Friday, January 20, 2012

Lost and Found

We made a wondrous discovery right before the holiday break. In the late 1960s, Mark Lansburgh '49, donated several medieval manuscripts to the collection, among them two stunning leaves from a fifteenth-century Breviary. The leaves were documented in a catalog of Darmouth's manuscript holdings in 1971, but then disappeared. For at least 30 years we have been tormented by the Breviary. Was it sent back to the donor? Could it have been stolen? Is it somewhere right in front of us and we are missing it? We looked and looked and looked, but to no avail.

Then, this December while reshelving some rare books, one of our staff members noticed an unmarked portfolio in amongst our Shakespeare collection. He pulled it off the shelf and lo and behold, there were the Breviary leaves. They had been shelved incorrectly back when Special Collections still resided in the Treasure Room in Baker Library. Some have theorized that the manuscript had been tucked in with the Shakespeare collection in the Treasure Room so it could be pulled out to impress visitors as a colorful accompaniment to our First Folio, then forgotten. Whatever the reason, finding it was a Holiday thrill for us and for Mark Lansbugh whom we called immediately.

Beneventan Antiphony
Liber Glossarum
Two of the most celebrated medieval manuscripts in the Dartmouth College Library were donated by Mark Lansburgh. The earliest item among his gifts is a leaf of a Liber Glossarum circa 825; it is complemented by another ninth-century piece, a leaf of a Beneventan Antiphony that is perhaps the oldest known fragment containing musical notation found in the United States. Also included in the collection are a series of fourteenth-century accounts, bills, and receipts. The eclectic selection (music, a glossary, and the mundane merchant accounts) helps students piece together bits of medieval life for a deeper understanding of abstract descriptions they discuss in class.

If you want to see the long lost Breviary, come in and ask for Lansburgh 53.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tight Lacing

"The human system is a curious and complicated machine, wonderfully wrought by the hand of nature, composed of various organs of different textures, whose natural functions are intimately connected with the enjoyment of perfect health." So opens Jeremiah Lyford’s 1832 thesis on Tight Lacing. Lyford, a medical student at Dartmouth Medical School, goes on to list some of the ill effects on the body caused by the practice of corseting or "tight lacing" prevalent in the early 19th Century. These include diminished lung capacity, which in turn leads to contaminated blood. He also notes that pressure is placed on the heart. The stomach is also affected leading to dyspepsia and heartburn, among other maladies. But it also has a negative effect on the external body. These Lyford states are "disgusting to all admirers of real taste and beauty. It disfigures the beautiful and upright shape, which nature has given to the body…"

As you read this thesis it becomes clear that, while Lyford is approaching this as a medical issue, he has a strong, personal objection to this practice. In concluding he states "The habit deserves the reprobation of a virtuous community; of every individual, who would be helped through life with an agreeable companion and who would see the youth and rising generation blooming and healthy."

This is an interesting perspective by a man of this period on a woman's fashion that would last into the early part of the next century. Lyford, and other medical students writing on this topic for their theses, open the door to some interesting research into male opinion and influence over women’s fashion in the Victorian period. Besides tight lacing, Rauner holds hundreds of medical theses (1797-1882) on a wide variety of topics, which, like tight lacing, lend themselves to historical or social research.

The theses have recently been the focus of a preservation project to disbind them to create better and easier access. This work has been done by the Library's Preservation Services Department. To learn more about this process and see images from some of these theses see Preservation Services blog post: A Look Inside: The Early Medical Thesis Disbound

Ask for DA-3, Medical Theses (1832) to see Lyford's thesis.  The images are from the Nellie Peirce Collection ML-19.