During the early 20th century it was common for Dartmouth students to create scrap books, commonly called “Membooks” books. The student would then, over the course of his college career, use the book to collect various artifacts and memories. These include ticket stubs, report cards, and photos. Presumably, most of these students thought of the books as a fun way to save memories of Dartmouth.
However, when I was looking through Charles Shaw Batchelder’s book I found something much different. The book contains some of the usual staples of Membooks, including ticket stubs, and invitations. However, on the front page, there is an unusual inscription that is unique to Batchelder’s book. The note reads, “If this book should chance to roam will the one who finds it think of the deepest ties that can bind men and earthly things together; and thinking this please return it to me.” While certainly an interesting opening to the book, it seems out of place. The rest of the Membook is filled with sarcastic inscriptions and memorabilia from dance parties and sports games. It is certainly odd that anybody would be so concerned about losing a book filled with jokes and tickets to college performances.
However, after reading through the entirety of the Membook, I have a much better sense of the original note. This was a place where a college student could explore without the prying eyes of administrators or parents. The book allowed Batchelder to reveal an inner, private part of his personality. He could give obnoxious nicknames to college presidents, or mock his fraternity brothers. Batchelder wrote the first note because he was afraid of losing the book, and exposing his true inner self, that the book had allowed him to create. A close reading of the inscription further reinforces this idea. Batchelder focused on “the deepest ties that can bind men and earthly things together,” not on ties that bind men together. Meaning that Batchelder’s private relationship with this book was more important than his relationships with other people. Presumably, this is because the book witnessed and created his private self, while other people only saw the façade that he presents.
Currently, college students no longer have scrap books. Instead we post photos on Facebook for the world to see. I think that in a way we lose something that the membooks gave to Batchelder’s generation. We lose the ability to create separate identities away from others. Instead Facebook feeds are littered with pictures and posts that people have filtered out, concerned about the world’s perception.
Posted for Alexander Leibowitz ‘19