Friday, January 9, 2015

Memories of Blake '08, Part II

At a point in 1904 or 1905, Francis Gilman Blake pasted the “Dartmouth Students’ Hand-Book 1904–1905” into his Memorabilia from College Days scrapbook. The Handbook, an object within a larger object, provides a glimpse into both Francis Blake’s life, and life at Dartmouth College between 1904 and 1908. Blake’s Handbook, an object physically “presented” to him at the beginning of his freshman year provides evidence for advice available to him at the College and the choices he made given such advice.

As a physical object, the “Dartmouth Students’ Hand-Book” is a small, attractive, dark green leather book with gold imprinted lettering and gold page lining. The Handbook’s size, physical appearance and contents suggest frequent interaction with its owner. The Handbook begins with a map of the Dartmouth campus attached to the inside cover. The presence of a foldout map suggests Dartmouth’s unfamiliarity to the reader therefore implying that the Handbooks intended readers are those unacquainted with the college—freshmen. The authors further clarify the primarily first year student audience in the “Greeting” section by saying “The Young Men’s Christian Association of Dartmouth College extends a cordial welcome to all the students of the College and especially to those who come here for the first time. To the latter, in particular, we present this hand-book containing useful information concerning Dartmouth College.”

The Handbook holds a lot of recruitment information for the YMCA at Dartmouth, showing how prevalent Christianity was at the turn of the century at Dartmouth, and it is interesting to compare with today to notice how Dartmouth has changed. By juxtaposing an intention to recruit members to the YMCA by overwhelming the Handbook with information about the YMCA with advice targeted towards first year students, this Handbook presents an image of Dartmouth in the 1900’s tinged with religion which ultimately fades from Francis Blake’s Memorabilia book, illustrating that the YMCA did not hold clout over all of campus. Not only does the Handbook itself overwhelm the reader with information about the YMCA, the College also appears to have been overwhelmed with Handbooks. In the “Student Publications” the authors write: “The Student’s Hand-Book, published annually by the Dartmouth Young Men’s Christian Association, is distributed free to all new students at the beginning of the College year.” To continue the trend, the authors provide explicit recruitment tactics. A direct example of the YMCA pursuing new members from new students occurs in the section “To New Students.” After discussing how new students should commence “Registration and Matriculation,” this section continues by addressing the cost of board and “Text-Books.” A seemingly unrelated sentence follows: “Join the College Y. M. C. A. during your first days in College.” Following a formulaic instruction manual about how to behave at matriculation, this statement emphasizes the YMCA’s underlying intention to coerce possible new members into joining. However, instead of utilizing the Handbook and much of its information, Blake pasted the Handbook into his Memorabilia book and appears to have disengaged from the YMCA.

As the author of his own Memorabilia book, compared to the authors of the Handbook, Blake selected the advice he found useful and appears to have avoided much of the YMCA’s advice. Placing this Handbook as an artifact of his own memory changed the nature of advice from one facet of campus, the YMCA, into his own narrative within his Memorabilia book, thus establishing the Handbook as only a small part of his memory of Dartmouth. Although the views of Young Christians at Dartmouth maintained significance for a time for Francis Blake, by deserting the collective views of the YMCA found in the Handbook, Francis Blake effectively established himself as a unique Dartmouth student maintaining only a memory of the influence of the YMCA’s advice. Francis Blake’s Memorabilia From College Days provides insight into how Dartmouth functioned years ago, and looking individually at objects within the book tells us a lot about similarities and differences between students then and now.

Posted for Margot Littlefield '16

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Memories of Blake '08, Part I

Tucked into the pages of his cumbersome and crumbling “mem book,” which now resides in the Rauner Special Collections Library, lies Francis Gilman Blake’s hand-drawn map of an expedition through the New Hampshire wilderness, annotated with the details of each day’s travel and a branch plucked from the slopes of Mt. Washington. While the practice of scrap-booking at Dartmouth has since been replaced by other hobbies and interests, the Rauner Library has preserved some of the books created by students from the early twentieth century.

Although simplistic in their detail, Blake’s illustrations of the mountains prove stunningly accurate in their physical relationship to each other. The mountains are carefully spaced and aligned, yet they are not drawn from a bird’s-eye view like a traditional map, but from a perspective on the horizon, evoking a deeply personal recollection of the landscape. In terms of geographic orientation however, Blake only offers his audience a single winding line through a series of mountains and towns. But to someone familiar with the mountains, trails, and roads of the region, Blake’s map tells an incredibly vivid and personal story of adventure. The map therefore serves not as a geographical tool, but as an experiential guide. In terms of absolute place and geography it is meaningless, but as a relative measure of place within a shared context, it tells a story more detailed and intimate than any cartographer could draft.

While miles and locations ordinarily serve as measures of distance and place, juxtaposed in this context they convey a measurement of relative time. Blake’s itinerary provides a list of the mountains and mileage that tells not only of where he went, but also of the fast pace and strenuous nature of the hike, allowing those familiar with these steep slopes an intimate perspective on the passing of the journey. Over one hundred years later, these chronological clues prove much more valuable than the dates that accompany them. Notions of absolute time have become lost over the decades, but Blake has preserved these episodes by grounding them in a relative context that survives today.

Blake’s book ends at over one hundred pages, weighs as much as a large dictionary, and holds various large objects between its pages including entire flowers, small books, and notably a 108 year-old pretzel. These characteristics suggest that Blake never intended this book to travel, or even to be opened on a regular basis. Without a title page, cohesive structure, or labels for many of the photographs, Blake’s intended audience likely comprises a small group of those quite familiar to him and his experiences.  This conclusion, drawn from the physical nature of the book, is supported by his uses of time and place within a shared context. Perhaps the chief member of Blake’s audience is his future self, the individual best equipped to unravel the relative contexts of his maps. Blake’s audience is limited only by a reader’s willingness and ability to engage these objects outside of their absolute geographical and chronological contexts, the depth of the connection determined by the extent of the shared experience.

Posted for Edward Harvey '15