Friday, May 13, 2022

A Curious Choice

Faded image of first page of Booker T. Washington letter to Dartmouth PresidentTucker.
On September 24th and 25th, 1901, Dartmouth threw a big gala event to celebrate the Webster Centennial. It was a big deal with dignitaries from all over the country descending on Dartmouth, speeches, parades, a recap of the last century of Dartmouth's history, a football game pitting alumni against students, a bonfire, and lots of cooing over how great Daniel Webster was. There was a also a special commencement to confer honorary degrees on a select group of people, among them Booker T. Washington.

Washington was a curious choice, perhaps inspired by then President Tucker's modern liberalism. You see, Daniel Webster is most famous as a great orator, fierce lawyer, and as a U.S. Senator who could get bill passed. Less talked about is his infamy for rousing the votes needed to pass the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. That law forced federal officers to capture and return runaway enslaved people in Northern States and made it a crime to assist those enslaved persons whom had fled to the North. As you can imagine, the law was hated in the North, but Webster, seeking to preserve the Union, saw fit to give the speech that persuaded enough Senators to pass the bill. So here is Tucker, celebrating Webster's legacy by conferring an honorary doctorate on the most well-known civil rights leader in the United States who had been born into slavery. He must have known exactly what he was doing--a moment of symbolic resistance among the celebrations.

Second page of Washington letter featuring his signature

To see the letter Washington wrote to Tucker to accept the invitation to the Centennial, ask for MS 901557.1. The D has a great account of the festivities in the September 27th, 1901 issue on our reference shelves.

Friday, May 6, 2022

"Editorial Rutland"

Cover image from Frost's "New Hampshire"
Here at Rauner, we're fortunate to have one of the best, if not the best, collections of Robert Frost books and manuscripts anywhere in the world. In addition to his notebooks, correspondence, and calendars (among other things), we have first editions of all of his books of poetry, many of them duplicated many times over. Most of those editions are presentation copies, and Frost was fond of scribbling a message or a poem of his in the flyleaf along with his signature.

First page of Frost's letter to DuntonIn one of our copies of New Hampshire, instead of a poem or lengthy address, there is a letter from Frost to the book's owner, Edith Dunton, who lived in Rutland, Vermont. In his letter, Frost says that he hopes that the recipient will find this book of poems preferable to his previous works, which he notes "seem to have made no great hit in Rutland." He goes on to say that he had been told that "Editorial Rutland saw nothing in [his] work to compare with the work of some judge or other."

Despite Editorial Rutland's misgivings about Frost's work, New Hampshire would go on to win the 1924 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and included such well-known favorites as "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and "Fire and Ice."

To read Frost's letter for yourself, come to Rauner and ask to see Frost PS3511.R94 N4 1923.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Peddling Plaster of Paris

Bernardi smiling and holding his hat to the cameraWithin Dartmouth College's Photo Files Collection, we have several folders titled "Hanover People". Browsing through those folders, one discovers the faces of many of Hanover’s residents all the way back to the 19th century. There are images of men, young and old, babies, and women of all ages in crinolines, bustles and corsets. Many are identified by names written on the back of the photographs in pencil.

In addition to their name, a few have been annotated with the word "Characters". One such character was Americo Bernardi, a peddler who visited primarily college towns all over the nation to sell statuettes and other objects made of plaster of Paris. Bernardi applied for a license to sell his wares in Hanover on May 25, 1908, and for the next 25 years, Dartmouth College was one of his regular spots. The pictures in the Photo Files Collection show him peddling his masks and statues on the steps of Webster Hall around 1927 during one of Bernardi’s last visits to Dartmouth.

Bernardi selling figurines on the steps of Webster HallAccording to an entry in the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine of January 1933, Bernardi left the United States to return to his "Sunny Italy" because he was "feeling kind of homesick." Bernardi is also quoted as saying: “Now when I get home I will start drinking some of my ginger ale I told you about. I will try to save some for you when you come to visit me…Remember me to the President and also the Dean and Miss Bianchi; also, all my friends."

Bernardi, to whom students gave an insensitive sobriquet that was related to his heritage, also pops up in a 1926 notice in Banta’s Greek Exchange, an American magazine about college fraternities and sororities. There the writer comments on Bernadi’s remarkable memory: “If the name of a friend of college is mentioned, [Bernardi] will name his fraternity and hometown.” The notice also mentions his return to Borgo a Mozzano, Tuscany, in his native Italy because he “made his pile” and at the age of fifty wanted to enjoy life with his wife and six children.

To browse through photographs of Bernardi and other Hanover characters, visit Digital by Dartmouth Library's Dartmouth Photo Files Collection online and search for "Hanover people." You're also welcome to come to Special Collections and explore the original photographs in person.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Finding Community: The Life of Edward Mitchell 1828

View of Georgeville, Canada
We have blogged about Edward Mitchell before, and we even did a podcast episode on him. Now we are excited to announce a new exhibition here in Rauner Special Collections Library that traces his life from Saint-Pierre, Martinique, to Hanover, and on to Georgeville, Canada.

He is a favorite topic because his life was so extraordinary. Mitchell was the first student of African descent to attend Dartmouth College--or any of the schools that would later become the Ivy League. In 1824, students protested the Board of Trustees decision not to admit Mitchell because of his race. The students’ activism was supported by the faculty, the Board relented, and Mitchell took his rightful place in the student body. Born in 1792, he had been a sailor and a porter before coming to Hanover. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1828, was ordained, and moved to Georgeville, Canada, where he became the first ordained minister in Canada of African descent. Throughout, Mitchell had an knack for finding community. 

Come in and take a look at his amazing life. The exhibit will be on display though June 16, 2022, in the Class of 1965 Galleries. If you want to see any of the documents after the exhibit comes down, we have a checklist with the exhibit text for you. The cool image of Georgeville above actually shows Mitchell's church. It is from Nathaniel Parker Willis and W. H. Bartlett's Canadian Scenery Illustrated (London: G. Virtue, 1842). You can see that by asking for Illus B258c.

Friday, April 15, 2022

A Woven Prayer Book

An open book with grey and black pages. The lefthand page illustrates a nativity scene.
We recently added a book to our collections created using an unconventional piece of technology: the loom. Livre de Prières tissé debuted at the 1889 Paris World's Fair as a stunning example of the artistry and technological merit of Lyon's silk-weaving industry. Ours is one of only fifty or sixty copies, all woven on a Jacquard loom.

The Jacquard loom, invented earlier in the 19th century, was a partially automated weaving machine that simplified the production of intricately patterned textiles. The weaving of individual designs would depend on a sequence of punch cards, each of which would direct mechanized hooks to lift threads as a worker sent their own thread back and forth. This mechanism is considered by some to be a precursor to early programming hardware and it's useful to imagine the loom as a computer printer, building an image one row of pixels at a time. The creators of this woven prayer book - produced in Europe's silk capital of Lyon - capitalized on the Jacquard technology to effectively "print out" 58 individual pages of text and illustrations. 

Modeled on the medieval book of hours, each page of Livre de Prières tissé is a marvel of precisely woven silk thread. While finely detailed, the Jacquard technology creates an effect that strikes the modern eye as almost pixelated, imparting a visual dissonance that only grows when examined. In The Woven Prayer Book: Cocoon to Codex, Matthew J. Westerby describes this uncanny quality as occupying a place "of both familiarity and discomfort, rooted in the way it blends the look and feel of the illuminated manuscript with the tactility and luster  of woven silk, all made possible by a complicated technology." It's an odd and lovely little book, and we recommend that you come see it for yourself! 

To see Livre de Prières tissé in person, ask for Rare Book BX2113 .A1 1886. To read more about its production and sister copies in The Woven Prayer Book, ask for Rare Book BX2113 .W47 2019.



Monday, April 4, 2022

Collective Genius

The myth of the self-made man is strong here in the United States, where it is inextricable from the American Dream. We often are tempted to idolize and then mythologize individuals who appear to have improved their own situation in life through hard work and true grit. The truth is, most of our iconoclastic heroes have relied upon a long line of minor innovations and discoveries by other people who came before them. Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Edison, and a host of other figures have become integral threads in the fabric of our national identity based upon self-reliance.

But rarely do these myths hold up when one starts to pick at them. A great example is that of Albert Einstein. Although a brilliant theoretical physicist, Einstein relied upon other brilliant minds to support him and collaborate with him in his research. One such mind was a research assistant named John Kemeny. Kemeny, a grad student in mathematics at Princeton in the 1940s, had emigrated from Hungary because of the war. He later went on to become a professor of mathematics at Dartmouth College, where he would invent the BASIC computer programming language with colleague Thomas Kurtz. In 1970, John Kemeny became president of Dartmouth College and ushered in co-education as well as other initiatives meant to diversify the student body.

Here in Special Collections, we have evidence of the fact that it often takes teamwork, and not individual genius, to accomplish great things: an incorrect mathematical proof written out by Albert Einstein that has been dutifully corrected by Kemeny. To see it, come to Rauner and ask for MS-988, Box 22, Folder 1.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

A Subway for Hanover?

Photo of the broadside, "A Subway for Hanover?"Recently, I found this gem in our “Transportation II” vertical file, entitled “A Subway for Hanover?” Dated 1976, it lays out plans for a rural subway system that would transport Hanover denizens on such lines as the “WART,” the “CHORT,” and the “BOPFAFA-LOOP.” Between these silly names and suggestions like holding discos in the subway stations for revenue, it seemed too good to be true. But it also seemed too detailed to be fake: it includes a New York Times article, a proposed map, and even the name of the planning group. I had to know how much, if any of it, was real.

The supposed New York Times article lists various obstacles to the subway project, including that New Hampshire governor Meldrim Thomson wanted to block funding for it, and speculated to the Union Leader newspaper that “ex-convicts” could be involved. This article appears nowhere in the real New York Times archive, but I suspected that these details were satirizing something else. It turns out that in 1975, just a year before the “Subway for Hanover,” the liberal Franconia College requested a federal grant for an experimental education plan, and Thomson and the conservative Union Leader attacked the college for this plan as well as for its alleged support of “ex-convicts.”

Also according to the “NYT” article, the subway project originated at Brown University, and the broadside credits the plans to the “Carberry Research and Planning Group.” A Brown tradition, beginning with a fake lecture announcement in 1929, claimed that “Josiah Carberry” was a professor who never appeared for his speaking engagements. For decades after, Carberry’s name frequently appeared attached to joke news items. If there was still any doubt that this was intentional, the date on the bottom of the broadside fell on Friday the 13th, which would have been observed at Brown as “Carberry Day.”

But this still doesn’t answer the question: who would put so much effort into these fake Hanover subway plans? Clues are scarce, but there is one interesting coincidence. When the (legitimate) New York Times reported on the Franconia College situation, it mentioned that Arthur E. Jensen, a former professor and dean at Dartmouth College, had criticized Governor Thomson’s actions and endorsed Franconia’s plan. Even though it wasn’t much of a lead, I decided to check Jensen’s affiliate file. Imagine my shock when I opened the file to find it full of articles about the mythical Professor Carberry—because Jensen himself had made the fake posting that started it all in 1929.

Does this prove Jensen is behind the “Subway for Hanover”? Not really. And there’s a long list of other questions that remain tragically unanswered. To those who were here in 1976, we implore you to contact us with any tips you have about this mysterious broadside. In the meantime, we can rest easy knowing no one seriously planned a subway line called the CHORT.

If you want to see everything for yourself, come to Rauner and ask for the “Transportation II” vertical file or Arthur E. Jensen’s affiliate file. Or if you just want to spend a few hours solving a mystery like this one, there are plenty to be found here.