Friday, July 1, 2022

All Wrong, but So Right

Engraving of fireworks at Versailles
This is silly. This book is 100 years too old, it was created to honor a monarch, it is from France, and it was owned by a member of the British court, "Henry Duke of Kent." So why pull it out on Independence Day? Well, fireworks!

Les plaisirs de l’Isle enchantée: Course de bague; collation ornée de machines; comedie, meslée de danse et de musique; ballet du palais d’Alcine, feu d’artifice: et autres festes galantes et magnifiques (Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1673) is a pretty amazing book. Commissioned in 1673 to document a lavish celebration of Louis XIV at Versailles, it depicts food, parties, elaborate spectacles like papier-mache sea monsters in the pools, and even the staging of one of Moliere's plays. It has all the trappings of royal extravagance and excess, and has nothing to do with a colonial rebellion. We could say featuring it this week on the blog is some kind of subtle indictment of American complacency and decadence (a party is a party), or perhaps just another example of our willingness to appropriate anything, but really, we are just into the imagery and it put us in the mood for a Fourth of July barbecue and day in the park.

Engraving of fireworks at VersaillesEngraving of sea monsters at Versaille


Engraving of fireworks at VersaillesEngraving of banquet table at Versailles

To see the book (it is so worth your time), ask for PQ1840.P2 1673.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

I Musk Ox You A Question

On March 17, 1917, Canadian-Icelandic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson wrote hurriedly to Sir Robert Borden, the Prime Minister of Canada. In his letter, Stefansson enclosed a small sample of wool from a musk ox, which he believed that, "if cultivated, can make Canada, continental and insular, as productive of meat, tallow and wool as the grazing regions of Australia or the Argentine."

Stefansson is clearly excited about the potential that musk ox presents to his nation: he asks Borden to set aside a half-hour for him to regale the PM with the wonders of this creature. He lists the many ways in which the reindeer in particular is an inferior creature and then boldly asserts that musk ox "will replace sheep and cattle on some ranges where these are now profitable."

To touch some musk ox wool, or to compare its texture with samples of camel hair and cashmere, come to Special Collections and ask to see the Papers of Werner Von Bergen (MSS-94).

Friday, June 17, 2022

Elementary BASIC

Photo of the cover of Elementary Basic.

Have you always wanted to learn BASIC? No? Well, would you want to learn BASIC if it were taught by Sherlock Holmes? If so, we have just the book for you!

BASIC, the programming language invented at Dartmouth in the 1960s, revolutionized computing by making it easy for beginners to pick up programming for school, work, or fun. Over the following decades, methods of learning BASIC were in high demand, including at least one creative textbook. Elementary BASIC, by Henry Ledgard and Andrew Singer, resembles a typical Sherlock Holmes book, with a key difference: Sherlock is using BASIC to solve the crime. He explains it to Watson as he goes, giving examples in both BASIC and pseudo-code, such as this one for a conditional loop:

Photo of a sample page of Elementary BASIC.
Do the following:
    get another clue
    examine the clue
until MURDERER ≠ UNKNOWN

While it may seem silly, the book covers a lot of important programming concepts. It could even be useful today if BASIC were replaced with a more modern programming language, though Elementary Python doesn't have the same ring to it.

Now that you’ve been convinced to learn BASIC, come to Rauner and ask for MS-1144 Box 10, Thomas Kurtz’s collection of BASIC texts from around the world. On June 28th, we'll also be opening our summer exhibit on the Dartmouth Time-Sharing System, which BASIC was created for.

Friday, June 10, 2022

"Feeling Great Enjoying Everything"

Today we're taking a quick peek at the letters of Willard S. Smith, a New Hampshire man who served as an army chaplain during World War II. Written between August 1944 and February 1945 from positions in England and France, he describes life in the army, his thoughts on the war's progress, and the news he receives from home. His writing style is verbose and playful, and as such his letters are an absolute delight to read. In one, Willard outlines his seasonal calendar at home with "Nor will it be too long now before sap time, then mud time, then arbutus time, then graduation time, then haying time, then Murphy Cottage time, then (and always) lovin' time!"

There isn't a lot of biographical information out there on Willard, but we do know that he was in his forties  during World War II, with a wife and children back at home. He worked as a minister and was a practicing magician - some of his letters refer to putting on shows for local French children and to his correspondence with all his "magic friends." If his correspondence is anything to go by, he was an enormous personality and we recommend getting to know him better. Until then, we'll leave you with one of the first pieces of correspondence in the collection - a telegram that reads, in full: "Feeling great enjoying everything always remember dear keep smiling."

To read Willard's letters yourself, ask for MS-757.   

Friday, June 3, 2022

Dear (blank),

Photo of the first page of fill-in-the-blank letter stationery

For a student in the 1890s, keeping in touch with friends and family back home could be a chore. But the busy Dartmouth student could dash off his letters a bit quicker with some fill-in-the-blank stationery. We have a sample of such stationery here, in the second of our four Stationery vertical files.

The form covers all of the basic letter-home content:


Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H., 189 (blank)

Dear (blank),—

I have been very busy for the past (blank) with my studies and haven’t found time to answer your last letter before.

I am much interested in (blank)

The weather has been (blank)

I see by the paper (blank)

I shall be home in (blank) weeks and

You said in your last letter that (blank)

There has nothing new happened here and it’s getting late so I shall close.

Your (blank)

The form makes some fair assumptions: this letter will be arriving later than expected, the writer is either busy with studies or willing to lie about being busy with studies, and if anything more interesting than the weather has happened in Hanover, the writer doesn’t care to share.

To see this and more stationery used by the Dartmouth community over the years, visit Rauner and ask for the Stationery vertical files.

Friday, May 27, 2022

An Ice-Free Arctic

Map from the front of Moxon's pamphletThe possibility of an efficient trade route from Europe to East Asia was an idea that gripped the imaginations of European explorers for centuries after Columbus's discovery of the American continent. In 1697, a member of the Royal Society and hydrographer to Charles II, published the second edition of a popular self-authored pamphlet that recommended a new approach to this puzzle.

In the aptly named "A Brief Discourse of a Passage by the North-Pole to Japan, China, Etc.," Moxon spends six pages to explain why he believes that pursuing a course through the Arctic is the most likely strategy to succeed. Moxon says that he has been "credibly informed by a steersman of a Dutch Greenland ship" that the North Pole is actually a warm and open sea. Based on this expert advice, Moxon goes on to say that he is convinced that the ice encountered by ships only appeared near land masses; if that narrow band of Arctic ice could be traversed, then it would be free and warm sailing across the top of the world and down to Japan.

Moxon's hypothesis was eagerly embraced by other reputable Northwest Passage enthusiasts, who further developed his idea to the point that in 1776, Captain Cook embarked on his third voyage to the Pacific with the goal of finding a way through the Arctic to the Atlantic. As you might already know, one of Cook's crewman on that trip was John Ledyard, a non-graduate of the class of 1776.

To skim Moxon's pamphlet and look at his map which shows what was known of the Arctic Circle at the time, come to Rauner and ask for Stefansson G640 .M69 1697.


Friday, May 20, 2022

Bringing Martin Luther King, Jr. to Dartmouth

A letter from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Gene Lyons about his recent visit to Dartmouth.
Martin Luther King III will be speaking on campus on May 23rd, so it’s a good time to reflect back to when his father spoke here, on the same date 60 years ago. Martin Luther King, Jr. lectured in Dartmouth Hall as part of the Great Issues Course, which brought in a variety of guest lecturers to speak on current world issues and was required for all seniors. On that day, King declared to his Dartmouth audience that segregation was “on its deathbed” and spoke on his methods for advancing racial justice. An overflow crowd gave King a standing ovation, and in a letter he wrote after the fact, he said he would “always remember the warm reception” he received.

A letter from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Fred Berthold canceling his speaking engagement at Dartmouth.
Before 1962, Dartmouth had been trying for five years to get King to come to campus. The first time he was invited to speak in the Great Issues course, in 1957, he declined because his schedule was full. He was invited again and agreed to speak at Dartmouth in May of 1960; however, in April, he sent a profusely apologetic letter explaining that on the day of his speaking engagement, he would have to be in an Alabama court fighting a “trumped up perjury charge concerning income tax.” The next attempt was scheduled for May of 1961, but the day before King was first scheduled to speak, the Freedom Riders were brutally attacked in Montgomery, Alabama, and he left Hanover the next morning to address the emergency. After this last disappointment, Professor Gene Lyons wrote to King again and extended an open invitation, allowing him to visit any date in the next academic year when “the situation in the South might permit,” with as few as ten days’ notice. This time, King was able to make his lecture as planned, and the seniors of the class of 1962 had a chance to hear from one of the most celebrated civil rights leaders in history.

To read the correspondence about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s visit to campus, come to Rauner and ask for DA-12, box 1387.