Friday, May 17, 2024

A Swingin' Green Key

Duke Ellington preforming in Alumni Gym
In the Spring of 1946, Dartmouth was trying to get back to normal. World War II had transformed campus into a training ground for Naval officers and the usual cycle of student life had been utterly disrupted for four years. But with the end of the War, there was a desire to bring back old traditions. One of the first to return was the Green Key Prom so they did it in style by bringing in one of music's biggest stars and among the greatest jazz composers of all time. None other than Duke Ellington regaled the students and their dates in Alumni Gym. As The D reported it:

Dartmouth has been waiting a long time for this one, and tonight Dartmouth will be amply repaid for waiting, when Dartmouth and Dartmouth's girl circle the floor or stand and sway to the mellow golden flow of Hodges' sax or the throaty warble of Kay Davis or the rippling ivories of The Duke himself.

It was a return visit for Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. They had played Green Key in 1937 as well, but this one was special--the specter of war was lifted and folks were ready for party.

To see the coverage, come in and ask for the May 4th, 1946, issue of The Dartmouth.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Theatre of the World

A two page spread showing a late 16th century map of the globe.What did the world look like in 1592? Abraham Ortelius's Theatrvm orbis terrarvum, or, Theater of the world attempts to answer that question. Cited as the first true modern atlas, Theatrvm was initially  published in 1570 in Antwerp, the richest city in the world at the time. Earlier compilations of maps did exist, but this work's combination of the best available maps with textual description lacked precedent.

Our edition is the 19th, with Latin text and a whopping 134 maps. Each map was printed from copper plates engraved by the Antwerp artist Frans Hogenberg and his assistants. While not reflective of global geography as we now know it -- there are, for instance, only five continents in Ortelius's world -- they are a massive artistic achievement, hand-colored and decorated with allusions to Classical and biblical events. We particularly recommend the maps of the Holy Land, Ancient Egypt, and Iceland (which has the best sea monsters).

The title-page for Theatrvm, showing four women representing the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, and the bust of a fifth woan represnting Terra Australis.Ultimately, this book is worth checking out for the title page alone. It features allegorical representations of the five known continents as women, and those images are just as fraught as the modern viewer might expect. We'll draw your eye to the smallest figure on the page -- only a bust of a woman where the other four have complete bodies. This is Terra Australis or Magellanica, the unknown but plenty theorized continent to the south. Europeans would not reach the (already inhabited) Australian continent until 1606, after which the idea of yet another unknown southern continent would persist until the discovery of Antarctica in the 19th century.

To take a look at Ortelius's world, ask for Rare Book G1006 .T5 1592.

Friday, May 3, 2024

Eugenics Exposed: Peering into the Eugenics Record Office's Archives

Front page of the Family-Tree Folder form from the Eugenics Records OfficeIn the early 20th century, eugenics—or the study of optimizing reproduction to promote “favorable traits” in a human population—took root throughout the United States. The scope of projects relating to the promotion of eugenical philosophies—ranging from forced sterilization to encouraging reproduction between “more fit” individuals—influenced policies and projects at governmental, social, and scientific levels. While most principles regarding eugenics have now been proven false and based in discriminatory principles, they were an active area of study and concern for many decades. Consequently, the public interest in the discipline during this time created several unique programs centered at better understanding familial genetics and heritability.

One of these projects, created by the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Eugenics Record Office (ERO), was the “Family-Tree Folder”. The ERO branded itself as “a repository of eugenic data, with an ‘analytical index’ to allow the study of the hereditary transmission of the ‘inborn traits’ of American families.” (EugenicsArchive) The organization built this archive, containing massive amounts of data, through the general public’s completion of voluntary surveys. Questionnaires were mailed to interested parties, who input detailed demographic information about their family members and then sent their data to the Eugenics Records Office for indexing and storage. This personal data was then used for eugenical research projects until the closure of the ERO in 1939.

A Dartmouth professor, William B. Unger, took interest in the study of genetics and heredity. As an employee of the College for 40 years, from 1925-1965, he taught coursework in zoology. His archives housed in the Rauner Library, however, demonstrate a close personal interest in genetics not reflected in his academic research or teaching. A search revealed a copy of the “Family-Tree Folder” he had completed for his own relatives.

This booklet, sent to him on January 12, 1923, consisted of several components. The first was a pedigree chart aimed at tracking marriages, births, and deaths. Beyond explicit familial relationships, the chart also recommended tracking some of the “hundreds of mental, physical, and moral traits which characterize different families”—including traits like “‘leadership’, ‘talent in vocal music’, or ‘alcoholism.’” This pedigree chart was accompanied by an individual analysis card, where each family member was tracked over 62 characteristics. These included genetically-related traits, such as chronic diseases or hair color, and more subjective traits. Examples included “strength, quality, or register in singing,” any talent in “craftsmanship, carpentry, masonry, or stone cutting”, or “nervous peculiarities - excitability; fretfulness; cruelty conceit; self-depreciation; holds a grudge.”

Close analysis of materials like this reflects the nature of the evidence used to support the claims of the eugenics movement. While some elements of the field eventually translated into legitimate practices—such as genetic counseling, a term coined by Dartmouth alumnus Sheldon Reed '28, referring to risk assessment for genetic and inherited conditions like cystic fibrosis—many data points were collected using practices not scientifically backed, on traits subjectively assessed with little genetic correlation. The ERO, however, largely relied on this mode of data collection to fill their archives. Other materials in the papers of William Unger—including a separate survey titled “Record of Family Traits”—utilized identical practices to collect evidence.

Front page of the Record of Family Traits form from the Eugenics Records Office

The eugenical ideas of the early 20th century have largely been disproven, as their foundations often lie on scientific racism and pseudoscientific methods. Closer analyses of “scientific tools,” such as Unger’s Family-Tree Folder, reveal why the data used to prove once certain conclusions has crumbled under increasing scrutiny. Nonetheless, projects like these informed policies that were used to discriminate against and often physically harm communities of marginalized identities nationally for decades. In hindsight, history serves as a reminder of the perils that arise when bigotry masquerades as science.

To review William B. Unger's eugenical data, come to Rauner and ask to see MS-833, Box 3, Folder 102.

Posted for Manu Onteeru '24, recipient of a Historical Accountability Student Research Fellowship for the 2024 Spring term. The Historical Accountability Student Research Program provides funding for Dartmouth students to conduct research with primary sources on a topic related to issues of inclusivity and diversity in the college's past. For more information, visit the program's website.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Munchausen on the Cheap

Handcolored woodcut of Baron MunchausenIf you're reading this blog on the regular, then you likely know what a penny dreadful is. We've got a bunch of them as a result of a significant acquisition made a few years ago. But have you ever heard of chapbooks?

Chapbooks were cheap and ephemeral publications made to fill a demand for reading material by the working class who, while increasingly literate, could not afford to purchase a book outright. Chapbooks were an important means of disseminating popular culture as well as improving literacy rates. In England, roving peddlers called chapmen would depart from London or other printing centers with their bags full of these flimsy, poorly made books and sell them all over the countryside.

The subject matter was always widely accessible, usually centering on popular tales of love and loss, adventures both historical and fictitious, or humor. Traditional ballads and poems were also crowd-pleasers and often would be read or sung aloud at taverns and alehouses. Chapbooks also could be abridgements of well-known novels or other works of literature, condensed for quick consumption. Here at Rauner, we have a chapbook version of Baron Munchausen's Narrative of his Marvelous Travels that was printed in Derby in the early 1800s. Although the original novel was written by German author Rudolf Erich Raspe in 1785 and runs well over a hundred pages, the chapbook is an efficient 21 pages in length and purports to tell only "the most interesting part" of the Baron's adventures.

To see the chapbook, come to Rauner and ask for Rare G560 .B37 1830z.

Friday, April 19, 2024

25 Years of Rauner Library

Dust jacket to A Room of One's Own
This past week we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the opening of Rauner Special Collections Library. We kicked off the week with faculty panel discussions about research and teaching in Special Collections, then had a series of events throughout the week with our various library partners. We were delighted and honored to have Gina Barreca '79, the Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Connecticut, deliver our keynote address on Thursday. 

In commemoration of Gina's talk, we acquired a truly great work: the first trade edition of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own from the Hogarth Press that includes the iconic dust jacket designed by her sister Vanessa Bell. We already had the fancy limited edition first printing, but the trade edition is really far more important. After all, it was the one people actually read and that spread the Woolfs' ideas about women writers and the social conditions necessary for writing success.

Also out all week was Mario Puzo's 1965 portable Olympia typewriter on which parts of The Godfather were composed. We invited students and other visitors to type up a message. It was an offer that many could not refuse. In fact, it was such a hit, we plan to leave it out in the reading room for a few more weeks if you have an urgent missive that needs that certain special delivery.

Mario Puzo's typewriter

To see the new A Room of One's Own, ask for Rare PR6045.O72 Z474 1929b. For Puzo's typewriter, ask at the desk. When we move it out of the reading room it will be in Box 55 of Puzo's Papers (MS-1371).

Friday, April 12, 2024

The Mystery of the Helms Incident

A photograph of a typed letter.One of the more interesting phenomena in reading archived correspondence is the realization that everyone’s discussing the same event without explaining what actually happened. The writers and the recipients know what they’re talking about and don’t need to summarize for some outside audience — they’re private letters after all. But as a result, a researcher can read pages and pages of reactions to something apparently significant enough to elicit commentary, all while missing out on the instigating incident.

In looking through our collection of papers for the activist and philanthropist W. H. Ferry, we recently came to the conclusion that a man named Paul Helms once got himself in big, big trouble. What kind of trouble, you might ask? The details are frustratingly elusive, but it sounds like he said something about Senator Joseph McCarthy that struck a nerve. Helms was a businessman with friends in politics, including President Eisenhower. He must have put his foot in it, because in 1954 the letters between him and Ferry all begin turning towards the subject of Helms’s apparent censure in the public eye. Helms forwards copies of some of the letters he’s received, containing sentiments such as “I understood you were a real helper in the field of humanity — now I know it was just a cover up for your communist aims” and “We wish you were a good enough American to unlatch Joe McCarthy's shoes.” He warns Ferry not to tell him that he deserved it and in response Ferry assures him that he did the right thing, intimating that the fallout is in fact Eisenhower’s fault. However juicy this sounds, the details of the incident aren’t readily identifiable. 

To try to untangle this particular piece of gossip, ask for ML-21, Box 18 Folder 14.


Friday, April 5, 2024

New Exhibition: More than a Monster: Medusa Misunderstood

Exhibition poster
You might know her from Caravaggio’s famous Medusa, the face of Versace, the book, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, or some other adaptation of the ancient myth.  Medusa is ubiquitous, appearing in Greek and Roman literature (from Hesiod’s Theogony to Ovid’s Metamorphoses) and in architecture, metalwork, vases, sculptures, and paintings throughout history. Yet the most well-known portrayals of her all predictably converge upon one brief moment from her life’s story: her beheading and the use of her decapitated head by a man to petrify others. Medusa then becomes an apotropaic symbol warding off evil, similar to the evil eye. She is imagined more often as an object or a monster than as a human.  Even though Classical and Hellenistic depictions presented Medusa as more human than in the previous Archaic period, the popular conception of Medusa today still upholds her “otherness,” her monstrosity. Modern-day artists have embraced Medusa as an emblem of female power, a beautiful monster, and used her story in the service of social movements; for example, Luciano Garbati’s Medusa with the Head of Perseus went viral in 2020 in connection with the #MeToo movement.

This exhibition, "More than a Monster: Medusa Misunderstood", serves to highlight the other half of her story as it appears in Ovid – Medusa as a maiden, not a monster – her overlooked and overshadowed past. The exhibition was curated by Elizabeth Hadley '23, the Edward Connery Lathem '51 Special Collections Fellow, and will be on display from March 25th, 2024, through June 28, 2024. To learn more, visit the exhibition website here.