Friday, July 12, 2024

Rambling Boys and Ballads Migrant

A handwritten page of song lyrics.In 1889, William Butler Yeats published his poem "Down by the Salley Gardens," based on a half-remembered song he'd heard sung by a woman in the village of Ballisodare, Ireland. The general consensus is that the song was probably the folk ballad "Rambling Boys of Pleasure" (Roud Index 386). The earliest identified versions of "Rambling Boys" in print are dated from the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. However, our collections have a curious instance of this song that dates even earlier. 

Joseph Goffe was a New England minister and member of Dartmouth's Class of 1791. We have a few manuscripts connected with him -- primarily letters and sermons. We also have his 1783-85 notebook where young Goffe did some accounting for the labor and costs of building a new sawmill in Bedford, N.H. At the back of this notebook Goffe transcribed a few songs, one of which is "Rambling Boys." The manuscript is discussed by the Vermont-based ballad collectors Helen Hartness Flanders and Marguerite Olney in their 1953 book Ballads Migrant in New England, as well as in modern folk song indexes. As far as we can determine, Goffe's notebook represents the oldest surviving version of the song. 

The intentional collection and recording of folklore gained momentum in the 19th century, influenced in part by nationalism and concerns that the lore of rural people, passed along by oral tradition rather than in writing, would be corrupted or lost in a rapidly changing world. While this premise was flawed and led to a lot of questionable academic practices, it also led to a mass recording of beliefs, crafts, music, and other ways that people engaged with their world. Goffe recording "Rambling Boys" at the back of his sawmill ledger established a small fixed point -- how one version of this song went at this specific time, and that a teenage boy liked it well enough to write down the words. 

To see the manuscript, ask for Mss 783626. To see Ballads Migrant, ask for Alumni Alcove F9296bal.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

John Locke Corrected

Title page to corrected copy of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
Independence Day seems like a good time to take a look at our first issues of John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The Declaration of Independence is, after all, an attempt to actualize Locke's philosophy and turn it into a revolution. We have three variants of the first edition of Human Understanding--one printed with two upside down letters "S" on the title page. The "S" looks a little weird, but your brain can't quite figure out why until you look at the other variant and you realize an "S" isn't really symmetrical in most typefaces.

Hand-corrected errata sheet

The really cool thing about the copy with the correct "S" orientations is that all of the errata have been carefully corrected in manuscript. Each mistake as identified on the errata sheet has been crossed out with a corresponding manuscript correction in the proper place in the book. Because these same corrections, in the same hand, appear in other copies in other libraries, we are pretty sure they were done by the original publisher. For the upside down S copy, there is one correction we believe to be in Locke's hand.

Now here is the weird thing--we didn't know we had the copy with all of the corrections. It showed up during a big shelf reading project we are doing. Somehow a lot of our "copy 2" books vanished from the catalog and we are (re)discovering treasures in our collections.

To see the corrected issue, ask for Val 121 L793eb copy 2. The upside down "S" issue is Val121 L793eba.

Friday, June 28, 2024

No Such "Thing" as a "Game"

The 1951 Dartmouth-Princeton football game was rough from the start. But its infamy didn't begin to cement until the second quarter, when the star quarterback of Princeton's undefeated team suffered a broken nose and a concussion. Later, a Dartmouth player's leg was broken. Players and spectators began accusing the other side of playing dirty well before the game had ended. Once the battle on the football field was over, it resumed in the media: The Dartmouth, the Daily Princetonian, even the New Yorker. No one could agree what had happened that day—but they had all seen the same game, hadn't they?

Psychology professors Albert Hastorf and Hadley Cantril, of Dartmouth and Princeton respectively, decided to test that very question. In what would become a classic study in social psychology, they showed a group of Dartmouth students and a separate group of Princeton students the same film of the game. Students were asked simply to note any infractions they observed. On average, Dartmouth students attributed approximately four infractions to each team. Princeton students agreed that their own team had committed about four infractions, but they saw Dartmouth make nearly ten. The study even mentions a Dartmouth alumnus who viewed a copy of the film and insisted parts must have been cut out, as he literally "couldn’t see the infractions he had heard publicized." From this, Hastorf and Cantril concluded that "there is no such 'thing' as a 'game' existing 'out there' in its own right which people merely 'observe.'" In other words, no, not everyone had seen the same game.

This was all very nice for Hastorf, Cantril, and the future of psychology, but not everyone enjoyed the aftermath of the game so much. Poor President Dickey, who was busy trying to recover from strep throat, received a deluge of angry, disappointed, supportive, and occasionally bewildered letters from alumni of Dartmouth and Princeton alike. Hiding in one of the two folders full of such letters, we have a familiar telegram from Norris E. Williamson '26:

Preview of Princeton movies indicates considerable cutting of important part please wire explanation and possible air mail missing part before showing scheduled for January 25 we have splicing equipment.

This is the very telegram Hastorf and Cantril quote in their study as "one of the most interesting examples" of the phenomenon they were studying! Williamson was planning to show the film to his fellow Denver alumni, at least one of whom was so distraught over the news of the game that he could not sleep at night. Executive Officer Edward Chamberlain was eager to oblige his friend "Norrie." At the bottom of the telegram is a scribbled reply to Williamson, which Chamberlain would later convey over the phone:

Print whole when sent from here to you via a Printing group—what parts do you think were cut. Can’t understand it. Eddie.

It appears Chamberlain was able to assure Williamson that the tape he had been sent was intact. Later, Williamson would write back to inform Chamberlain that "a good many experts" had viewed the film, and "they all agreed that it was a good game and not as reported in the papers." But whose perspective can we really trust?

To read more impassioned letters about this historic football game, visit Rauner Library and ask for DP-12, box 7114.

Friday, June 21, 2024

More than a Monster: Medusa as a Mutation

An illustration of a snake with a woman's head, and accompanying text.For those of you who have visited Rauner to see the exhibit on display right now, “More than a Monster: Medusa Misunderstood,” you might now realize the nuance in Medusa’s myth and have sympathy for her tragic backstory: while many know her as the monster with snakes for hair, she was a woman raped, blamed, and weaponized. However, this Mindy Belloff artist's book adopts the “Monster Medusa,” only referenced as "the Gorgon," as a metaphor for her mother’s breast cancer.

In a way, Medusa in this monstrous metaphor makes sense in that the snakes in her hair are similar to the “fibrous mass” of the cancer: the line “snake hair multiplying” references the growing cancer cells. Belloff also calls Medusa an “insidious mutation,” which mirrors the cancerous cells’ mutative behavior.

An illustration of a woman's face with multiple eyes and accompanying text.
In addition, the author adopts Medusa’s paralyzing nature–a central aspect to Medusa’s myth–in this metaphor. In the beginning of the book, the author’s mother, the cancer victim, is also the Gorgon’s or Medusa’s victim. However, Belloff indicates a turn towards the middle of the book: “Yet it is I who becomes immobile / paralyzed by the mythic gaze / helpless to save her from this fate.” Both the cancer patient and her loved ones become victims to the Gorgon’s “paralyzing gaze,” speaking to the fact that all suffer in different ways when someone we love falls ill to such a frightening disease. Cancer seizes many as its victims.

On one hand, in these ways Medusa as the “mythical tormentor” in this story makes sense, but the author does not seem to root the metaphor much in myth beyond the serpentine imagery and the paralyzing nature of both Medusa and cancer. The author frequently refers to the cancer as “the Gorgon’s eye” in the singular yet the illustrator depicts the cancer with multiple eyes, morphing eyes and multiplying cancer cells as one. The artist even portrays Medusa with multiple eyes–a creature more reminiscent of the giant Argos (given the nickname “all-seeing” for his thousands of eyes) or even a mutated cyclops of some sort. So you may still be wondering: why does Belloff ultimately chose Medusa over thousands of mythological monsters? 

An illustration of an eye above a pile of breasts and eyes, with accompanying text.
Maybe it’s the familiarity of Medusa’s myth, or the fact that she started out human and becomes a mutated female, similar to how cancer slowly takes away one’s life. Maybe the author picked a female monster for a cancer that predominately impacts women. Regardless, this author certainly decided to embrace Medusa’s monstrous side in a powerful metaphor and story about her mother’s cancer.

Come into Rauner to view the Medusa exhibit on display in the Mezzanine until June 28th. To request Belloff’s book, ask for Presses I68bec

Friday, June 14, 2024

Cornelia Meigs: A Wildly Successful Experiment

Cornelia Meigs. The Recipient of the Newbery Medal in 1933 for her children’s book Invincible Louisa, a biography of Louisa May Alcott. Even if you were to Google her, her accomplishments as a fiction writer and English professor dominate. What you might not know about her is that Meigs was also a dedicated cryptographer who decoded enemies’ messages during WWII. Rauner holds many of Meigs’s cryptography workbooks, lesson plans, letters, and applications from this time in her life.

With the increased need for manpower and military men in WWII, women were encouraged to take their place in the production line and step outside the bounds of traditional domestic work. Countless women stepped up and worked behind the scenes (and on the battlefield), helping the U.S. bring back a victory, too. And they did this work not just in factories; women flew planes and became cryptographers like Meigs.

Yet, even with this need for workers, Meigs’s example shows that women at the time still faced pushback. In December of 1941, Meigs applied for a job as an Information Specialist in the Research and Writing department, as she was an English professor and a writer. In 1944, already an experienced cryptographer, she applied under the Bureau of Facts and Figures. However, she checked the “Male” box for gender on the application form. Given that cryptography is fundamentally a profession focused on small details, it’s difficult to believe that she made such a blatant error and reasonable to suggest that she is responding to the discrimination she certainly faced as a woman entering a field traditionally dominated by men.

One particular document from her training, “The Introduction to the Cryptography course in the Navy for Students,” provides insight into cultural attitudes towards women taking over male tasks, such as cryptography. The second paragraph calls Meigs’s cryptography class “experimental” and ends with the statement that “cryptanalytic work has usually been done by men in the previous years. Whether women can take it over successfully remains to be proved…”

However, Meigs proved that women can, indeed, succeed as a cryptographer: she completed the class and became a talented crypto-analyst during the war. We have many of her exams, all with high marks; as shown by this featured test, Meigs frequently earned a perfect score. 

Meigs can inspire women who, even today, face pushback as they break into predominantly male spaces. Between her Newbery Medal and her cryptography work, Meigs shows us that women can–and did–do it all.

To see Meigs’s cryptography coursework, ask for ML-41, Boxes 28 and 29.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Singing the Song of Himself

Walt Whitman's Books poster
Walt Whitman was never shy about self promotion. He famously wrote anonymous reviews of his own Leaves of Grass (think what he could have done on Amazon...) and made sure Emerson's quote, "I greet you at the beginning of a great career," was stamped on the spine of the second edition. Here we see him singing the song of himself by selling his books with a poster he had printed for booksellers. Not a lot of copies survive, but we are fortunate to have acquired one recently. We were particularly excited to see him trumpeting his recent "As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free," which he calls the "Commencement Poem delivered at Dartmouth College." That is sort of accurate, as we have chronicled in a previous post, he came to Dartmouth to deliver a poem in 1872, but it was at the invitation of the students on Class Day, not actually at Commencement. They paid him $17.50 but he made some hay from the honor in this advertisement.

So many typefaces! So much hype! So expansive! So Walt Whitman!

Stop by and take a look by asking for Broadside 001475. And there is plenty more if you are into Whitman!


Friday, May 31, 2024


The cover of a pamphlet titled "Shark Sense," featuring a cartoon man screaming in the water as a small fish nibbles his toes, with a speech bubble showing a large shark.
"Men who know most about sharks are the men who fear them the least... landlubbers will believe any shark story they hear, provided it is gory enough." In March of 1944, the U.S. Navy issued an illustrated pamphlet called Shark Sense, filled with information for the unfortunate sailor who might come into contact with sharks in tropical waters. The main gist of the piece is to assure readers that sharks are highly unlikely to actually attack uninjured humans and to offer some general facts about the animals. The problem with that latter part is that, according to Shark Sense, scientists just haven't devoted much attention to understanding them yet. 

The publication pads its sparse but sensible advice with legends of the shark's supposed ferocity, culminating in an account of the development of the first horror film to feature them. This apparently resulted in "an epidemic of shark pictures," a funny idea to consider thirty-one years before Jaws would be released. Our copy was apparently sent from its writer, Roark Bradford, to George Matthew Adams 1931. His inscription reads "Dear George: This is the little number I did for the Navy about our long-toothed friends of the briny -- Brad."

To read Shark Sense, ask for Val 817 7273 W5.

An open page of "Shark Sense," featuring text and several small cartoons of sharks.