Friday, May 1, 2015

Side Table

In 1905, Russia and Japan signed the peace treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War. Though brief in duration, the war was a harbinger of the coming mechanized conflict that tore the world apart in 1914. The treaty was signed at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, just across the border from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

That same year, John Bartlett, Dartmouth 1894, purchased "one of the mahogany tables used in the Peace Conference room." Though not the "large table... at which they sat when they did their actual diplomatic sparring," it was "one of the side tables around which one party or the other gathered when they wanted to whisper to each other." He then offered the table to Dartmouth President William Tucker in the hope that it would be used either in "some reading room" or as a "centre table or reference table." After a bit of prompting, Tucker accepted the gift, complete with an engraved silver plate commemorating the Treaty signing.

Another Dartmouth link to the treaty is Asakawa Kan’ichi, Dartmouth 1899, the first Japanese student to attend Dartmouth. Asakawa was a professor at Dartmouth from 1902-1906 and President Tucker paid Asakawa's expenses to attend the proceedings, presumably as part of Asakawa's ongoing research into the conflict and its resolution. This trip may have helped provide material for his article in the Atlantic Monthly on "Korea and Manchuria Under the New Treaty."

To see the table in its current home, come in to Rauner. Ask for the vertical file "Portsmouth, Treaty of, Table" for more information. To read Asakawa's article, ask for Alumni A798k.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Modern Gods

What will scholars write about us in five hundred years? How will they interpret the objects that we value, or the ways in which we interact with each other?

Acclaimed book artist Sam Winston explores these questions and more in Modern Gods, created in 2013 for an exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. The museum had commissioned twenty artists to create a “walk-in book” experience for Hari Kunzru’s dystopian novel Memory Palace. Set in London, Memory Palace delves into a distant future in which humans have rebuilt society in the aftermath of a massive magnetic storm that destroyed the world’s 21st century information infrastructure. The novel’s protagonist attempts to piece together history with whatever cultural and technological remnants he can find.

In response to Memory Palace, Winston adopts the lens of an archaeologist from the future, trying to unravel the deeper meanings of the objects that we consider mundane today. Modern Gods consists of three scrolls, each meticulously printed with elemental symbols from the periodic table and arranged in the shape of a molecule. Winston juxtaposes science with sacred geometry and mysticism; as he breaks objects down into their elemental structure, he also builds them up into objects of worship, reminiscent of an ancient manuscript from which a priest would chant. Modern Gods forces its readers to think--not only about the ways in which we interpret the belief systems of the past, but also about our modern-day idols: wealth, technology, and knowledge. Winston captions each scroll with an archaeologist’s notes. One scroll (pictured) describes a watch:
These were sometimes hung on walls but more often it was worn on the wrist as an amulet. It was most powerful in the booming, it had the strength to rise millions from sleep and animate their limbs even though they did not wish to move. Giant herds of people were called a ‘commute’ and this objected had command over all ‘commuting.’ Even though it was all-powerful, they called it a gentle name--time peace.
Modern Gods also includes an illustrated copy of Memory Palace, a DVD about the Victoria & Albert Museum exhibition, and a signed copy of Winston’s sketchbook. To unroll Winston’s scrolls and figure out the other two objects for yourself, ask for Presses A252wimo.

Posted for Emily Estelle '15