Feelin’ Blue: Cyano-HYPE at AAS

Ali Phaneuf is a junior at Fairfield University and was a page in the Reader’s Services Department this past summer. As a journalism major and a studio art minor, Ali has always been an avid book reader and art enthusiast, and her love of books and creativity was able to grow through her experience at AAS.

As a Studio Art minor, I’m fortunate enough to be constantly exposed to new and unique art courses at Fairfield University. A class I took in the spring of my sophomore year proved to be one of my most challenging thus far, as I was thrust into a time machine that took me back to the art of nineteenth-century photography—well, for the most part. Throughout the semester I had the opportunity to create prints in nineteenth-century styles, including cyanotype, kallitype, and albumen; however, we simulated these nineteenth-century processes using digital technology.

When I returned to AAS after completing my sophomore year at Fairfield, I showed some of my prints to fellow co-workers in the Readers’ Services Department, who then directed me to photo albums of cyanotype prints in the AAS collections. Thanks to the help of Ashley Cataldo, assistant curator of manuscripts, and Lauren Hewes, curator of graphic arts, I was able to view the album of Lyford J. Chauncey and photos contributed by the Worcester Natural History Society. The AAS photo album of Lyford J. Chauncey includes 101 cyanotypes. Each cyanotype has a caption written underneath the mount, and most of the images are landscape views of locations in Spencer and Worcester, Massachusetts. These beautiful images inspired me to create some of my own cyanotypes as they would have been created during the nineteenth century.

Anna Atkins, part XII, Plate III, entitled “Alaria Esculenta,” from her collection of “Photographs of British Algae.” As seen in Carol M. Armstrong, “Scenes In a Library: Reading the Photograph in the Book, 1843-1875” (Cambridge, Mass, c.1998).

Another book at AAS that was particularly interesting to me included the work of Anna Atkins, one of the first cyanotype artists. Rather than using cyanotype to develop a negative, Atkins used it to showcase botany through photographs. She would take flowers and plants and place them on the paper coated with the cyanotype chemicals. She then placed the contact frame outside in the sunlight, just as photographers would when developing a negative. After the print had reached its prime exposure time, Atkins would remove the plants from the frame and rinse the cyanotype under cold water to develop an image showing the shape of the flower or plant. Atkins’s creativity and ingenuity contributed to my enthusiasm for the cyanotype process.

Many people are familiar with the term “camera obscura,” which literally means “dark room”, as explained by A History and Handbook of Photography by Gaston Tissandier, held at AAS. The concept of the camera obscura was first used in the later part of the sixteenth century by philosophers who discovered that making a small opening in the shutter of a window—which was so tightly closed no other light could get through—allowed the rays of light to penetrate through the small hole and project onto a white screen a reverse image of exterior scenery or objects.

An illustration of the original “dark room” camera obscura in which photographers would trace the displayed image projected through a small hole onto a white screen. From Gaston Tissandier, “A History and Handbook of Photography,” 1877.

Early photographers would use the camera obscura to then trace the image reflected into the room to create a dimensionally accurate illustration of the outdoors. Camera obscuras were later used in a portable manner. Eventually, light-sensitive material adhered to glass or fiber-based paper were used within the camera obscura to retain an image.

I created my own camera obscura by painting a shoe box completely black. I then used an X-acto knife to cut out a small square on one side of the shoe box, which I then filled with aluminum foil. To make my small hole in the camera, I poked a minute opening through the foil with a thumb tack. I had my own nineteenth-century portable camera obscura, also known as a pinhole camera.

My homemade camera obscura.

Before I could work with the light-sensitive paper, I had to somehow create a low-cost dark room. The place in my home with the fewest windows and the least amount of light is my dad’s basement workroom. There is only one small rectangular window, which I covered with a black trash bag to make the room completely dark. I unpacked the desk lamp I use at college and put a red light bulb in it so that I could see what I was doing while in my makeshift darkroom. I was finally ready to get started.

For light-sensitive photo paper, I used Ilford Multigrade black and white glossy paper and taped a piece to the inside of the shoebox opposite the hole. I then closed the box and covered the hole with a piece of black electrical tape so that light would not shine into the box prematurely. I went outside on a clear sunny day and set up the camera in my backyard. I removed the tape for a little less than one minute, placed it back on, and then went downstairs into my dark room. In order for the image to appear and remain permanent when in sunlight, I had to remove the paper from the camera and insert it into a tray filled with liquid developer composed of  water, sodium carbonate, sodium sulfite, hydroquinone, and (methylamino) phenol sulfate. I then continued to put the print through a second tub of water, followed by a water, sodium thiosulfate, sodium metabisulphite, boric anhydride, and sodium tetraborate fixer. I then finished by rinsing the print off with more water. The results from my first attempt using a self-made camera obscura were less than underwhelming—a solid black image is what appeared.

The above image shows negative print of a chair and flower pot in my backyard, taken via my own camera obscura.

This could mean one of two things: I exposed the image for too long, or my camera obscura was not sealed tightly enough and extra light was coming in through the sides. I decided to focus my energy on the latter issue. For my second attempt, I sealed my box tighter, wrapping all sides with black electrical tape. However, the results were yet again a solid black image. I then decided to shift my focus towards timing. I cut my exposure time in half and left the pinhole open for about thirty seconds. This time I finally started to see some sort of dull image. Then, I tried shooting my images from the shade, rather than from the direct sunlight. After opening the pinhole for about thirty seconds in the shade, I finally received a clear Image of my backyard — yes, this means I actually took a picture using a shoebox!

So, how does it work? Each point of the scene that the camera is angled towards emits light, which passes through the pinhole and creates a point of light on the back of box (onto the light-sensitive paper). The light-sensitive paper records the image that is projected onto the back of the box, which is how the picture is created.

This diagram, found in Henry Hunt Snelling’s “The History and Practice of The Art of Photography,” c. 1849, shows how an object is reflected onto the back of a camera obscura. 

When light shining through the pinhole hits the Ilford photo paper, it causes a chemical reaction with the silver-halide crystals in the paper. This reaction causes the crystals to turn black when processed with developing chemicals, thus the parts hit with the most light (the brightest parts of the scene) turn the blackest. This inverted image is referred to as a negative. In order to make this negative image into a positive image, photographers would take the negative and develop it using an alternative process. I chose to use the cyanotype process.

The cyanotype process was first invented by Sir John Hershel in 1842 and requires the use of natural fiber paper (I used watercolor paper). Hershel’s formula requires one mixture of 20g of ammonium citrate with 100ml of water and a second mixture made up of 16g of potassium ferricyanide with 100ml of water. The process then requires the artist to mix these two formulas together in a 1:1 ratio in an amount that’s only required to saturate the paper (for example, I used about 12 drops of each solution to make a small mixture). I then poured the solution that I mixed onto the watercolor paper and brushed it over the paper using a foam brush (the combination of the two formulas should result in a greenish color on the paper). I let the paper dry overnight, and the next day I was ready to print my image. I placed the negative image face down on top of the paper coated with the cyanotype mixture and put the two papers into a glass picture frame to press the two papers together, which I then laid outside in direct sunlight like so:


The above images shows the cyanotype-coated papers after they and the negatives were removed from the frame, inserted into cold water, and fixed with lemon juice.

When placing the negative image on top of the cyanotype, values are reversed to their original state as they appeared in “real life.” When light shines through the negative, the dark parts block the most light. This blocking of the sun results in those spots remaining the greenish color, whereas the rest of the image should appear dark silver. Once you see this silver color appear on your print, you can take the print inside to be developed. Unlike developing the negative, developing the cyanotype is a lot less complicated. I simply went back into my darkroom and put the print into a bin of cold water. The greenish color washed away (making those areas white) and the silver colors became blue. Once rinsed in water, the print is safe to bring back into the sunlight. As the print is exposed to light longer, the chemistry becomes darker and the tonal ranges intensify. To gain a greater Prussian blue, cyan color, I inserted the print into a wash of lemon juice to achieve my final product.

Lyford J. Chauncey’s photos were printed during the years 1885 to 1900, meaning that Chauncey may have used a camera that didn’t differ too much from my shoebox. Chauncey most likely used some sort of box camera composed of wood and metals. There were many different types of box cameras that emerged after 1880, including the Change-Box Camera, Magazine Camera, and Reflex Camera. The key difference would have been that Chauncey used a lens with his camera rather than a simple hole, which would have resulted in clearer images. It is also possible that Chauncey used a glass negative or even film, rather than the photo paper I used. However, after looking through the album, Chauncey’s work demonstrates some of the same struggles that I faced. Some of his images appear very dark—a result from a large amount of chemicals being used to saturate the fabric paper or overexposure in the sunlight—while other images appeared very faint—a result of not enough chemical solution or not enough exposure to the sunlight. Below are some Chauncey images that inspired my own cyanotypes.

Four images from the album “Pictures of Early Worcester” taken by J. Chauncey Lyford, beloved and long-time principal at Windsor Street School at the turn of the century. Taken between 1887 and 1890.

The above picture is the cyanotype print I created of myself.

I even made an attempt at a nineteenth-century “selfie.” I had to set up my shoebox on a milk crate in order for the pinhole to be the right height and have my face in view. Then, I quickly removed the black electrical tape from the pinhole, ran into place, held my pose for about one minute, and then ran back to the camera to re-cover the hole. I appear a bit blurred in the image because of my racing to uncover and recover the hole in the camera.

Throughout the summer I learned that photography is a complicated process that comes in many forms, styles, and appearances. From using a small portable box to not using a camera at all, photographs can be made with almost anything. Chauncey used a photographic process to capture the beauty of his surroundings, while Atkins worked to preserve the natural form of botany through this same process. How a photographer or artist hopes to preserve certain scenes, objects, or memories is an individual decision, which can allow their own thoughts to radiate through their work. I’ve learned that many factors went into nineteenth-century photography. Such elements as the chemical mixture, sunlight density, and exposure time all made these alternative processes a somewhat tedious, yet fascinating art form. This summer I was lucky enough to discover the beauty in practicing something old to create something new with the help of something blue.

Cross-Dress and Gender Expression: Re-Considering Amelia Bloomer

The second in a two-part series, this blog post features an AAS-based undergraduate project, “Queering the Archive” at College of the Holy Cross.  Under the advisement of Professor Stephanie Yuhl of the History Department, Carly Priest ‘18 and Emily Breakell ‘17 spent the summer searching for resources relevant to the history of transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the United States. Please find their first post here.


During our search for transgender-related materials in the archives of the American Antiquarian Society, we came across over 140 pieces that depicted cross-dressing in public. Unsurprisingly, the reception to cross-dressing in the nineteenth-century records we identified appeared overwhelmingly negative. Time and time again, we encountered police reports that equated cross-dressing with sexual deviance and spectacle, and sensationalist newspaper accounts that berated individuals for their aberrance from gender norms.

We found many of the sources that featured depictions of cross-dressing expressed social anxieties over the shifting role of white women in society. The voices of these concerns often characterized women who “masqueraded as the other sex”— who bent traditional gender norms through dress—as attempts to transcend gender roles, part and parcel of the fundamental threat facing the patriarchal structure of the emerging American democracy. One lithograph in particular, The Great Bloomer Prize Fight for the Champions Belt (1851), shed new light on some of these negative public reactions.

The Great Bloomer Prize Fight for the Champion’s Belt (1851)

The focal point of the lithograph is a caricature of Amelia Bloomer, social activist for women’s rights, editor of The Lilythe first periodical published for women, by women—and fashion icon. For all her roles in American political culture, many recall Bloomer for her contribution to female apparel: bloomer trousers.

Masthead of The Lilly: Devoted to the Interests of Women

Bloomer trousers were loose-fitted pantaloons often paired with an overdress, worn by women and children. While many praised bloomers only as a less-constrictive clothing alternative for women, others embraced the bloomer-trouser style as a symbol of the literal movement for female mobility and equality in the public sphere. The Lily cited bloomers a political issue “too intimately connected with the elevation of women to be neglected.”[1]

The Lily, and other publications like it, were not without criticism. Many opposed bloomers as the vehicle for disruption to established social order. In this line of argument, women who wore bloomers did so to appear male and acquire the power naturally held by men in society. “Her Bicycle Clothes Didn’t Suit” (The Illustrated Police News, 1898) follows such narrative— the article detailed the story of Maggie White, who wore “men’s clothing in too extreme a style to suit the critical eye of the police” and was arrested for it. According to the apprehending officer, Sergeant Connealy, “[White’s] black coat was cut like a man’s; but the things she wore on her legs were too tight for the taste of any man.”[2] Connealy acted on his suspicions, and followed White for several blocks before arresting her on New York City’s Sixty-eighth street. The charge? Disorderly conduct. White donned pantaloons— likely bloomers—that closely resembled knickers (short pants worn by men).

Though published thirty years’ prior, The Great Bloomer Prize Fight for the Champions Belt reflects concerns similar to those expressed in “Her Bicycle Clothes Didn’t Suit.” The piece features a larger-than-life Bloomer engaged in a bare-knuckle boxing match, dressed in the pants that came to bear her name. A crying woman (also appareled in bloomers) frames Bloomer to her right, and sits on the knee of a male figure. On Bloomer’s left, a second kneeling man holds a bottle of alcohol in one hand and offers Bloomer the “Champions Belt” with his other.

In the piece, bloomers offer a visual clue to the absurdity of a woman who wants to act as a man. Though Bloomer shares the frame with three others, including two men, she towers over them, her body disproportionately large. Bizarrely, Bloomer appears both masculinized and hyper-feminized all at once— though with long limbs and macho stance, the artist depicts Bloomer with perfectly coiffed and curled hair. She wears a tight white shirt, her features clearly defined and her breasts emphasized.

The caption of The Great Bloomer Prize Fight for the Champions Belt offers a further critique of cross-dressing in society. Bloomer flaunts victory in the caption, and requests another challenger— specifically, Tom “Young America” Hyer. Hyer, a famous bare-knuckle boxer, beat the Irish-born James Sullivan in 1849 (two years prior to circulation of this lithograph). Though bare-knuckle boxing was illegal, the widely-publicized fight was one of the first organized boxing championship bouts in the United States.

The threat of disorder to society is the core theme of this lithograph— the two women in bloomers and the alcohol bottles held by the men make for a clear and deferential critique of low society. But, perhaps more compellingly, we see the suggestion that Bloomer is trying to become a man by participating in bare-knuckle boxing— an illegal sport in a distinctively male sphere. With her nipples exposed, Bloomer resembles male boxers— like Hyer and Sullivan—but her appearance becomes offset by the exaggerated femininity of her breasts and hair.[3] The intended effect of this portrayal— a larger-than-life woman who towers over the men frame— is a clownish figure, one which resembles both a man and a woman.

The Great Bloomer Prize Fight for the Champions Belt reaches further than just an aversion to cross-dressing. In the piece, we see the suggestion that Bloomer’s gender boundary transgression— wearing bloomers—bends gender norms in a way emblematic of a greater deterioration to American society. Bloomer suggests a corruption of American society. The creator of The Great Bloomer Prize Fight for the Champions Belt relied on the symbolic threats of amalgamation—alcohol-fueled fights and boxing as corruptive low-society influences to American sensibilities— to illustrate the danger of a woman who dressesand acts like a man. With this understanding, we may begin re-consider The Great Bloomer Prize Fight for the Champions Belt as more than just a critique of bloomers.


[1] THOMAS, MARY F. “DRESS REFORM.” Lily: Devoted To The Interest Of Women 4, no. 8 (August 1852): 70-71. American Antiquarian Society (AAS) Historical Periodicals Collection: Series 3, EBSCOhost (accessed July 25, 2017) and “LATEST FASHION.” Lily: Devoted To The Interest Of Women 4, no. 8 (August 1852): 71. American Antiquarian Society (AAS) Historical Periodicals Collection: Series 3, EBSCOhost (accessed July 25, 2017).

[2] “Her Bicycle Clothes Didn’t Suit.” Criminal Columns section of the Illustrated Police News, 16 July 1898, p. 6. Crime, Punishment, and Popular Culture 1790-1920, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/4xQra0. Accessed 11 July. 2017.

[3] “The Great Fight.” From Underbelly, The Maryland Historical Society Library.  March 27, 2014, accessed 27 July 2017. http://www.mdhs.org/underbelly/2014/03/27/the-great-fight/.


Interview with Susanna Blumenthal

In this episode of the Past is Present podcast we speak with Susanna Blumenthal, a professor in the law school and the Department of History at the University of Minnesota and AAS-NEH Fellow at the Society during the 2016-17 academic year. Susanna’s most recent book, Law and the Modern Mind: Consciousness and Responsibility in American Legal Culture, was published in 2016 by Harvard University Press. Susanna has published widely on psychiatry, consciousness, and the law, and her current project is an examination of the ways that American capitalism is intimately tied to fraud. 

In this interview Susanna discusses everything from her early years as a graduate student in the law school and History Department at Yale, where she worked with David Brion Davis, to the philosophical foundations of her first book. She also talks about the important role AAS played in her efforts to understand critical legal cases having to do with fraud in the nineteenth-century U.S.

L’Utilité des deux Mondes: Joseph de Nancrède and the Courier de Boston

Guest blogger Nicole Mahoney is a Ph.D. candidate in American History at the University of Maryland, College Park, currently writing her dissertation, “Liberty, Gentility, and Dangerous Liaisons: French Culture and Polite Society in Early National America.” She recently attended AAS’s  Program in the History of the Book in American Culture (PHBAC) annual seminar

2017 PHBAC seminar outside AAS’s Goddard-Daniels House

This past July, the Society hosted “Other Languages, Other Americas, a week-long seminar focused on American print culture in languages other than English and on how different colonial and national cultures influenced, received, and translated early U.S. publications. Participants also discussed how scholarship today might incorporate multilingual sources into narratives of American history, literature, and cultural expression. As part of the seminar and my dissertation research, I examined French-language newspapers printed in the United States in the decades after the Revolutionary War as Americans grappled with national identity and varying foreign allegiances and alliances. One of the most remarkable of these newspapers, of which the American Antiquarian Society holds all twenty-six issues, was the Courier de Boston.

AAS’s complete run of Courier de Boston was acquired by Isaiah Thomas.

In September 1788, Paul Joseph Guérard de Nancrède made a long and eloquent plea to the American public on behalf of the French language and its service to the United States. “This language seems to be necessary to America,” he wrote in the Massachusetts Centinel.[1] Nancrède saw it as his mission to provide that essential language to the citizens of Boston.

Born in France, Nancrède served in the French expeditionary with the Comte de Rochambeau in the American Revolution, later settled in Boston and became a French instructor at Harvard. While teaching at Harvard, he found it difficult to put French texts in the hands of his students. Either the books had not yet been imported from France or American editions had not yet been published. His solution was to publish a French-language journal himself. The chief functions of the journal, according to an address to the public written by Nancrède, were to further friendship and commerce between the French and American people and to disseminate a digest of domestic and foreign news. The Courier de Boston would, he promised, be “the Interpreter, the Organ of every citizen–of every husbandman.”[2] He anticipated readers from Canada to the West Indies and from Europe to the United States. The subtitle of Nancrède’s journal was “L’Utilité des deux Mondes”—the utility of two worlds.

The May 14, 1789 issue includes George Washington’s inaugural address in both French and English.

Nancrède published the Courier de Boston weekly from April to October 1789. He abandoned the journal after six months and twenty-six issues. But that tenure was perhaps the most remarkable half year in the history of the Atlantic world. The first issue on April 23, 1789 reported on the first meeting of the new American Congress, the elections of George Washington as president and John Adams as vice president, and it printed a list of the first American senators and representatives. Two months later, the journal published the text of George Washington’s first inaugural address. Nancrède also translated and printed American congressional debates on the first amendments to the Constitution–the Bill of Rights.

The idea of France in turmoil provoked great anxiety for Nancrède and the journal increasingly focused on the outbreak of the French Revolution. During the summer of 1789, the journal published accounts of the opening and dissolution of the Estates General in Versailles, the subsequent formation of the National Constituent Assembly, and the “millions” of pamphlets in Paris concerning the political crisis–a testament to the ongoing fortitude of the liberty of the press.[3] It offered details on Lafayette and the Declaration of Rights, quoted Rousseau, and reprinted speeches given by King Louis XVI. On September 24, 1789, the journal announced: “France: Révolte, Massacre, Confusion, Tranquillité” followed by a precise account of the fall of the Bastille.

Despite its breathless reporting on the new American democratic government and the collapse of the French ancien régime, the journal did not prosper. On October 15, 1789, Nancrède announced abruptly the suspension of the journal. He disclosed in the last issue that two robberies had depleted his funds. But it was primarily an unimpressive list of subscribers—many of whom never paid for their subscriptions—that ended the journal.

Even though the Courier de Boston was short-lived, it coincided with the high point of publication of French newspapers and periodicals in the United States. The journal waged a battle, according to its editor, to free the new nation from linguistic and moral servitude to England under which it still trembled because inhabitants of the United States relied on English newspapers and spoke English. The key to independence, Nancrède wrote in the journal’s prospectus, was the French language. The publication of the Courier de Boston represents a critical moment in early American history when the post-revolutionary generation faced the tricky task of establishing both equality with and separation from Great Britain. By taking their eyes off the British and instead turning their gaze toward the French, Americans were perhaps truly employing the “utility of two worlds.”

[1] Massachusetts Centinel, 17 September 1788, page 4.

[2] Massachusetts Centinel, 3 January 1789, page 1. A husbandman is a farmer or a person who cultivates the land.

[3] Courier de Boston, 28 May 1789, page 47.

Fall Issue of Almanac Now Available

The fall issue of the AAS newsletter, Almanac, is hot off the press and ready for your reading! There are some great pieces in this installment including:

  • An update on the expansion and renovation of Antiquarian Hall featuring coverage of the groundbreaking and progress of the construction. This September edition also takes an in-depth look at the stunning conservation lab, including a full-page artist’s rendering of the new space.
  • We also have a feature on the history of the AAS seal and a reveal of the new emblem and logo! This item needed to be color-matched to make sure the color usage was correct with our new style guide. The Dylux and Epson Color proofs we received from the printer were matched to make sure the Pantone spot colors were correct (a true-printer geek out moment!).
  • There is also information about staff changes in our program division, our upcoming programs, workshops, and annual meeting lineup, including the naming of the next Christopher Columbus Baldwin Award recipient!

This was a wonderful issue to put together for readers – happy reading and we hope to see you at some of the exciting events this fall!

Pasted Pandemonium!

Jacob Wilhelm Imhof, 1651-1728. Historia Italiae et Hispaniae Genealogica. Nuremberg: Joannis Hoffmani and Engelberti Streckii, 1701. This volume has colorful daubed endpapers, with finger-made swirls.

[Unused sheets of paste paper]. These paste papers were created by AAS conservation staff.

After highlighting marbled paper in a blog post last year, I received this suggestion from several people: Why not explore another popular kind of decorative paper- paste paper? Paste papers are much simpler than marbled papers, but the art form has a rich history and has produced countless beautiful examples. I searched through the AAS collections and with assistance from our online catalog, found plenty of pretty paste papers, used as both covers and endpapers on books and pamphlets. Before I realized it, I was swept up in an obsessive search for these pasted decorative sheets. Forget marbled madness, this is pasted pandemonium!

Paste papers are one of the early styles of decorative paper used in bookbinding, becoming a popular feature in books toward the end of the sixteenth century. They remained popular into the early nineteenth century, but were gradually replaced by marbled papers as industrial processes made marbling easier. Nevertheless, just as with marbling, individual practitioners of the craft continue to produce beautiful handmade papers to this day. Paste papers (at least the simpler patterns) are relatively quick and easy to produce, and this meant that historically, bookbinders themselves would create the papers in their own shops. Further contributing to their popularity, paste papers were inexpensive to produce compared to other forms of decorative paper. Often, bookbinders would simply reuse their bookbinding paste to create the papers. By the eighteenth century, a wide array of patterns and techniques had emerged, and paste paper-making had developed into a dynamic art form as well as a practical component of bookbinding.

Friend of Youth. The Happy Family; or, Winter Evenings’ Employment. New Haven: Increase Cooke & Co., 1804. The boards of this small volume are covered with combed paste paper.

The History of Little King Pippin. London: E. Newbery, 1793. The printed paste paper on this pamphlet has a floral design.

At its core, this craft is strikingly simple: colored paste is applied to a sheet of paper, and then the still-wet paste is manipulated in various ways to create a pattern. The paste is left to dry and voilà—decorative paste paper! Of course, the devil’s in the details, and there are countless ways for an artist to produce differing effects for their paste papers. The paste itself can be produced (usually with starch or cellulose) in varying consistencies, different amounts of pigment can be added to the paste (for more or less opacity), multiple colors can be combined, and—perhaps most importantly—various means of working the wet paste can produce markedly diverse patterns. An artist can use a virtually limitless number of tools, ranging from their fingers to brushes to stamps, to yield different and interesting effects.

[Modern paste paper with combed and fingerprint patterns]. AAS’s chief conservator created this striking paste paper.

Combed, brushed, and drawn patterns—the most basic types of paste paper—involve the simple process of making lines and shapes in the wet paste using tools. A comb can be raked across the paste to create rows of intricate lines, a finger can be used to create spiral shapes, a brush can create subtle color-gradient effects, and so on. So-called “pulled” paste papers involve the use of two paste-coated sheets. The two pieces of paper (often of different colors) are placed together, rubbed gently against each other, and then gradually pulled apart. This results in a complex, veiny pattern that is very distinct. Daubed and spatter paste papers are unique from other patterns in that they involve a particular application of paste to paper, as opposed to the manipulation of paste already on paper. To create a daubed pattern, an artist applies pigmented paste to a sponge then uses it to repeatedly blot a paper with color. With spatter papers, an artist runs a paste-covered brush across a sieve, keeping the paper underneath. This results in a fine, speckled pattern on the sheet of paper below.

John Bunyan, 1628-1688. Divine Emblems: or, Temporal Things Spiritualized. Philadelphia: Mathew Carey, 1796. This printed paste paper has a beautiful floral motif.

There are two other key paste paper techniques, both of which involve printing. Printed paste papers are created by applying a woodblock or metal plate to the sheet covered in paste: the colored paste is displaced in a particular way, leaving the desired pattern. Designs cut in relief or intaglio can both work for this purpose, each imparting a different effect. On the other hand, “prints in paste” require a process more akin to traditional printing: an artist takes colored paste and applies it directly to a plate or woodblock, then uses a press to produce prints in the typical way. Prints in paste are usually elaborate and often include repeating floral designs and multiple colors.

The appeal of paste papers lies in both their simplicity and the potential for creativity they offer. Just about anyone can acquire some paste, pigments, paper, and a brush and begin producing their own creations. Importantly though, an artist can start to experiment with different tools and techniques to produce increasingly complex and unique patterns. When anything from a fork to a sponge can be used as a tool for creating patterns, the creative possibilities are truly endless. With some imagination and a few household objects, any of us can create our own unique (and hopefully beautiful) decorative paste papers!

Top row, left to right: Combed pattern, Pittsfield, MA, 1816; Pulled paste, New York, 1849; Print in paste, Hartford, 1801. Middle row, left to right: Daubed with swirls, Nuremberg, 1701; Printed paste, Philadelphia, 1796; Brushed pattern, Boston, 1810. Bottom row, left to right: Print in paste, Baltimore, 1806; Pulled paste, New York, 1818; Combed pattern, 1783.

Time for a New Illustrated Inventory – Watch Papers

After many years of inventorying, identifying and digitizing, the Society’s collection of nearly 500 watch papers are now available as an illustrated inventory! Watch papers are small, decorative pieces of paper or cloth that are meant to protect the mechanisms of watches, and were also used to indicate when a watch was last repaired and by whom. The subjects of the images are varied, and include scenes of Father Time, beehives, horses, factories and of course watches.

In 1951, AAS staffer Dorothea Spear cataloged all of the watch papers in the collection, publishing her findings in the Society’s Proceedings that year. It wasn’t until 2011 that Wellesley College intern Dominique Ledoux took on the challenge of updating the list, making an editable digital list. At the same time, our photographer digitized the fronts and backs of each watch paper. All of that information has once again been updated and has come together to create an easily searchable visual inventory.

New to this exhibit is the “Browse” tab. As there are so many items in this inventory, this feature makes it much easier to sort the items by the watchmaker/jeweler. Simply click on the tab, and click on “Creator” in the “Sort by” menu. This will present an alphabetized list of all 493 items. As with all of the Omeka illustrated inventories, clicking on a tag will present a list of all of the other items that fall into this category, whether it be by watchmaker, location or subject matter. For a list of the other illustrated inventories available online, click here!


Back to School (supplies!)

In the AAS Penmanship Collection, a group of penmanship exercises  and copy books by various students, there is a poem titled “After Vacation” by an unknown pupil from the Parkerville School in Westford, Massachusetts. The poem is on the first page of one of the mostly-filled volumes and captures an adieu to summer with the refrain: “Work is coming! Coming! O!….Play is ending! Ending! O!”

The bittersweet (but lovely!) poem has put us in the mood for an archive-inspired back-to-school supplies hunt. We hope you will enjoy this selection of items pulled from several of our favorite collections and worked against a (contemporary) school’s supply list. We tried to find versions of composition books, erasers, packs of pencils, cases, and other items which (we hope) will make us leader of the class.

Let us know if there is anything missing which you’d like to see checked off!

Are pens and pencils near the top of your list? We got that. We have a set of nine quill pens in a box that slides open; the “Congress quill pens” were manufactured by E. De Young in mid-nineteenth-century New York.






If a good name-brand is your game, might we interest you in the pencil we have made in Concord by Thoreau & Co. (yes, the same family!) This pencil and label for “Thoreau’s improved drawing pencils” is from a set of four (we alas, have one) but is “for the nicest uses of the drawing master, surveyor, engineer, architect, and artists generally:  Graduated from 1 to 4, in proportion to their hardness.”



Do you require a box to store your supplies? You might find this one appealing – the Louis Maurer Archival Collection dating from 1850-1932 contains boxes (and as you can see, boxes of boxes!) of material. Pictured here is also a package of Charles Currier Lithographic crayons, No. 2 with the crayons and a label as well as the wooden toolbox;  an inventory of the items contained can be found here.









Crayons not enough to satisfy the fine art supplies you demand this year? Might you also need some blotter paper? We have some paints in an account notebook from Bass Otis (1784-1861) which is a DIY-version. Otis, a Philadelphia artist and portrait-painter, as well as lithographer, took notes in the volume on artistic-technique in addition to using some inner pages for oil-testing.






Need inspiration for your workbooks, nameplates, desk tags, or other classroom belongings? We’ve got you covered – literally. Presented here are examples from the copybook cover collection. The Society has three boxes of copy, drawing or writing book covers – many with aids for learning such as multiplication or mathematical tables and a place for the pupil to inscribe his or her name (such as the hand-colored example, bottom). These printed wrappers were originally from blank composition books which were made into their own collection because of their rich printed imagery. You see these covers at work protecting content in the Society’s penmanship collection.






Have a special interest in portability? We don’t have laptops, cases or tablets, but we do have a mobile device – this Civil War envelope shows the Soldiers’ Portable Camp Writing Case printed by J.M. Whittemore & Co. in Boston during the Civil War years. The image on the envelope shows illustrated details for writing instrument and paper storage (and how it rolls up).



Need a way to safely display your hanging posters? This 1865 advertisement for “Diagram of Lloyd’s patent revolving double maps of Europe and America” is pretty handy and illustrates in detail how to jerk the cord to roll the map.






Want to go old school with your supplies? Do you require a slate? We have a ca. 1811 one which has its original sponge eraser. This example with marbled boards is over a sheep-back spine; there are also faded chalk notes with sums. Make sure to do your own work!






Teachers:  are you looking for stickers or other incentives for your students? Look no further than our reward of merit collection! We have lovely ones filled in for students and blank ones ready for you to heap praise on your favorites for anything from spelling to punctuality. Several are handmade beauties, such as this top one, “Mr. Moody A. Pilsbury has made very good improvement in learning since he has attended school, for which he is entitled to much praise. – Martha Prichard”

….while another example here presented on the bottom to Arthur Holt by his teacher Edna F. Pike shows a boy chased up a fruit tree by a dog – there has to be an easier way to get an apple for your teacher, Arthur!

With the summer staff returning to college (and before the new crop of academic fellows join us in the reading room this fall) we enjoyed collecting items for our own mini-back-to-school. Yes, the bug bites us all. And no, fear not! There won’t be a quiz later!



Collaborative Bibliographic Data Production: AAS and Lyle Wright’s American Fiction, 1851-1875

Nigel Lepianka is a graduate student in the English Department at Texas A&M. He recently spent a month under the generous dome researching his dissertation, “‘Yet of Books There Are A Plenty’: The Bibliography of Literary Data.” Nigel and AAS Director for Digital and Book History Initiatives Molly Hardy co-authored this post.

The trend towards using catalog data to analyze bibliographic data continues as the Library of Congress recently announced that they have “opened their catalogs to the world.” This means that they have made 25 million records created between 1968 to 2014 available in bulk. We at AAS who work on the American printing record prior to 1900 don’t deal in such largess, and yet, data downloads of any size can be daunting. How do I know that I am getting all of the records for a given set of criteria — say, all books printed in Philadelphia from 1790-1800? When the criteria are temporal and spatial and when you are working with a comprehensive data set like the North American Imprint Program (NAIP), you can be pretty certain. But, what about when you are looking for types of authors or of books? Just as we are underway to enable increasingly users to be able to search for “blacks as authors” or have made it possible to search American reprints of English prose and verse before the Revolution, we also want to make it possible to search for “fiction” as a category. As a genre term, “fiction” can be very sticky, and so rather than reassessing thousands of records ourselves and deciding which to label as fiction, we did what we often do: we included citations to the definitive bibliography on the subject. In this case, we used volume two of Lyle Henry Wright’s three-volume American Fiction, 1774-1900. In volume two, Wright lists “the American editions of novels, novelettes, tales, romances, short stories and allegories, in prose, written by Americans” from 1851 to 1875. Wright excludes from his list “annuals and gift books, publications of the American Tract Society and the Sunday School Union, juveniles, fictitious Indian captivities, jestbooks, folklore, collections of anecdotes, periodicals, and extra numbers of periodicals.”  

Using Wright as a basis for the improvement of fiction title metadata is a choice that is far more precedented for the Society than one might imagine. During the composition of the bibliography, particularly the first volume covering 1774-1850, Wright spent a decent portion of the leave he received from the Huntington Library at the AAS.  Several decades of both publishing and revising the three volumes produced a robust collection of letters between Wright and AAS staff inquiring about titles, potential authors, editions, and the various minutiae of bibliographic detail amidst more genial discussions of the how-is-the-weather sort. These letters even include a suggestion by Robert Vail for Wright to read Arthur Hobson Quinn’s American Fiction: An Historical and Critical Survey (1936), which would ultimately inform Wright’s decision to use the term “fiction” over “novel” in the bibliography “to avoid trouble with the purists.” 

Verso of Wright letter with Vail’s notes towards a response

Letter from Wright to Vail, February 2, 1937. AAS Records, Box 171.










AAS itself has invested in the Wright bibliography periodically to inform its holdings. Several copies of the first and second volumes of American Fiction are held in the AAS; they point to both physical, intellectual, and institutional labor spent in thinking about Wright’s listings. For the first volume, there are four copies of the published bibliography and a mimeograph checklist composed by Wright before publication. These copies include handwritten annotations and notes for particular titles listed by Wright as the Society acquired them. Wright already included in his descriptions the libraries in which he found a particular title, but the AAS staff in several cases continued to point out the evolution of their holdings in respect to American fiction. As Wright revised the first volume for the 1948 edition, he incorporated approximately 600 more titles and editions. Of these, close to 100 titles were found penciled in by AAS in the earlier 1939 edition.  In the flip book below, see for example, the expansion of the entries for “Goodrich, Samuel Griswold” from half a page in the 1939 edition to two pages in the 1948 edition to three pages in the 1969 edition based on Clarence Brigham’s pencilled notes in the 1935 edition.

It is no surprise then that Wright included this dedication to the 1948 edition of his bibliography he gave to the Society, “To Clarence S. Brigham — Without whose aid this work would have been woefully incomplete.” 

Wright inscription to Clarence Brigham in 1948 edition of his bibliography

This sort of collaborative effort would continue, as acquisitions of fiction would continue to be described as either “Found in Wright” or “Not in Wright.” The 1969 edition would feature corrections grafted physically into the book that attempted to append authors to anonymous titles.

Given AAS’s longstanding relationship with Wright and his work, the Society has been including Wright numbers as catalogers came across records for included titles, either in cataloging nineteenth-century imprints or in enhancing recon records. But, thanks to the University of Indiana’s Wright American Fiction 1851-1875 project we now have comprehensive records for volume 2 of Wright. The Indiana project includes 2,340 texts included (2,040 unedited and lightly encoded, 300 fully edited and encoded). The University of Indiana library generously gave us their MARC records for these texts. These records include links to each of the images of and encoded texts in Wright II, but they also enable analysis of the bibliographic data contained in the records. We have enhanced the records by adding to each a field (or fields) listing in hierarchical fashion the place (or places) of publication named in the imprint (e.g. United States–Pennsylvania–Philadelphia). This enables the geo-locating of these records.  We are in the process of further enhancing the records by adding the heading “Women as authors” to all works written by women. Already, we can see the top ten authors based on the number of titles Wright lists.

Top Ten Authors in Wright


These names might come as a bit of a surprise. Timothy Shay Arthur and not Harriet Beecher Stowe? Really? It is hard to imagine that Arthur’s Ten Nights in a Bar-Room, and What I Saw There  could beat out Uncle Tom’s Cabin, say. Wright himself acknowledges this when he reflects on his work for the second volume in the AAS Proceedings, describing Arthur as a “classic example of an author who ground out one hundred or more books during his lifetime, yet was unable to attain the rank of a literary craftsman.” Wright nevertheless acknowledges Shay’s success, writing “…it cannot be denied that his saccharine tales were tremendously popular and influenced the thinking of a large body of his readers.”  Repeated Wright entries are indeed indications of proliferation. Multiple editions of a given book did not receive their own entry; instead, they are merely listed under the original edition’s entry. 

While Wright’s bibliography is a hallmark of both traditional bibliography and American literary study, it has gained new life in an age that has increasingly seen scholars turn towards questions of scale, database, and distant reading. The composition of Wright’s work  as a classical enumerative bibliography demonstrates an ethos that more contemporary distant reading scholars have recently professed. A bibliography such as a Wright’s, while not perfect when you consider his exclusions (i.e. Walt Whitman’s Franklin Evans or Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women) and problematic inclusions (i.e. Harriet Jacobs’ autobiographical Incidents in a list of fiction), represents effort, attention to, and documentation of what Franco Moretti calls the “Slaughterhouse of Literature”, though more recently scholars such as Ted Underwood would question the ethos of the slaughterhouse over more controlled collections. The point, however, is Wright produced a dataset, that can be explored, modeled, and read (and IU and now NAIP have assisted in delivering this). Within this dataset there is an attempt (at the least) to describe those that exist beyond the canon in a way that is synonymous with the democratic “one vote” principle: Moby-Dick, The Scarlet Letter, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin receive one entry. Wright himself embodies this ethos years before when he, echoing the sentiments of the New Bibliography tradition, asserts that it is a “bibliographic impossibility” to say that a text should not be described in a list.


Report from Digital Humanities Conference 2017

I had the pleasure of attending my first Association of Digital Humanities Organizations Conference last week in Montreal. The conference began with two days of workshops, and I attended the Advancing Linked Open Data in the Humanities session on Monday. Overall, the session was helpful in the reassurance that we are not alone in the trials and tribulations of adopting Linked Open Data (LOD) models. The first break out session dedicated its discussion to the challenges that come with making LOD user interfaces that are effective for users without belying the complexity of the data structures behind them. I learned of the Social Networks and Archival Context Cooperative (SNAC) project, hosted by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and funded by IMLS, NEH, and the Mellon Foundation. SNAC looks to “enable archivists, librarians, and scholars to jointly maintain information about the people documented in archival collections.”  Alison Hedley, of  The Yellow Nineties Online, gave a great presentation on their efforts to create a proposopograhy in LOD that was especially relevant to our work on the Printers’ File. She went over “best practices” that I found incredibly instructive as they were concise, yet really sophisticated in addressing how practitioners must “look at the information structure the historical data is embedded in” and “document contingencies.” This presentation as well as those by Constance Compton and others fueled a break out session that centered on one of the most valuable conversations I partook in and heard at DH: the relationship between data as it exists and the representation –both historical and present–we look for it to capyure. In her presentation on “Cultural (Re-)formations: Structuring a Linked Data Ontology for Intersectional Identities”, Susan Brown,  of the Orlando Project (and many others), perhaps summed it up best when she reflected on the “need to talk to data without endorsing an impoverished representation of gender.” Similar points were made about the ways in which data models oversimplify race, and the ways in which we can’t ignore these models (“we need to talk” to them, as Susan said), but we also want to consider how LOD might document more complex and nuanced understandings of these social constructions. In a similar vein, I saw a great panel on “Accessing Alternative Histories and Futures: Afro-Latin American Models for the Digital Humanities” in which Eduard Arriaga examined the ways in which our current understanding of diversity can be an “intellectual pitfall.” In an effort to avoid oversimplification, he called for “more powerful destruction and enablement.” I hope that I am able to carry his reflections into AAS’s continued work with Black Bibliography as well as our potential involvement in Northeastern’s Design for Diversity forum.

Another theme that emerged from the sessions I attended was the need for documentation for all we make. Through these presentations, most notable Livingstone Online: Illuminating Imperial Exploration, I began to understand the potential for documentation not just as a prevention against institutional amnesia in what we at AAS often refer to as the “hit by a bus” scenario, but also as a form of reflective project work. Documentation can be an opportunity to situate a project in time and place:

  • What resources are available and what do we wish were available?
  • What data must we rely on even though we see its limitations (see paragraph above)?
  • With hindsight being 20/20 vision, how might we do things differently next time?

As Megan Elizabeth Ward and Adrian S. Wisnicki reflected on Livingstone Online, such documentation helps us to understand access as a matter of repair (a la Eve Sedgwick’s “reparative reading”) and transparency. This presentation was also incredibly instructive in thinking through how spectral imaging complicates our understanding of the original material object and its digital segregate. The  spectral imaging in this GIF of Linivstone’s 1870 Field Diary page that apparently doubled as a coaster reveals a pre-textual moment for this object, a moment that the human eye could not recapture in the way spectral imaging makes possible. 

An animated spectral image of David Livingstone’s 1870 Field Diary. Copyright David Livingstone Centre. CC BY-NC 3.0. Image published by Livingstone Online (http://livingstoneonline.org/).

Questions around digital publishing, both in terms of scholarly editions and scholarly monographs, percolated throughout  much of the conference. Transcription tools Transkribus, which the Omohundro Institute is using for its Georgian Papers Programme and TextLab, which John Bryant is using for scholarly editions of Herman Melville’s work in the Melville Electronic Library, were showcased. The Digital Scholarly Editions Initial Training Network (DIXiT) panel discussed how digital scholarly editions are often hard to identify in library catalogs as well as how important it is to include the underlying XML for digital editions. Speaking of XML, James Cummings gave a really helpful talk on “Myths and Misconceptions about the Textual Encoding Initiative (TEI)” that demonstrated expectations and preconceived notions with which people come to digital mark-up. Conversation abounded with about new directions in scholarly publishing, with a panel on reports from the Mellon-funded Monograph Publishing in the Digital Age Initiative, including the new Greenhouse Studios at the University of Connecticut

In the conversations that related most to libraries, there was a lot of talk about International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) and how it is changing image sharing among cultural heritage organizations. I saw some really computationally complex uses of bibliographic data in DH projects, including Ben Schmidt’s analysis of Hathi Trust data as well as David-Antoine Williams’s efforts to tag (or to have students tag) all of the entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. Both of these efforts avoided the confusion that often comes when scholars work with MARC data and encounter the 650 (subject) and 655 (genre/form) fields; instead, they use the shelf marks from the Library of Congress Classification system embedded in the data for a much more direct understanding of the content of their corpus. I’m not sure that this necessarily solves the genre troubles questions, but to me, it was a new approach. I presented a paper on Beyond Access: Critical Catalog Constructions entitled “‘The Technology of Shared Cataloging’: A Retrospective,” in which I looked at the creation and re-creation of two rare book union catalogs: the English Short Title Catalog (ESTC) and the North American Imprints Program (NAIP). In 1981, in a Bibliographic Society of America Symposium from which the title of my paper took its name, William Todd wrote, “Perhaps we do not yet fully appreciate the situation, now rapidly materializing, whereby computers converse with each other in any mode, while the rest of us, mere mortals, stand mute before them.” Remarks like this, which abound in the excitement and trepidation expressed during the emergence of these rare book union catalogs, echo a similar exuberance and hesitancy around the transformation from MARC to linked data models. I argued that consideration of the rare book catalog as a digital humanities project invites reassessment of legacy information architecture as well as the many hands that built the bibliographic structures on which so much of the work of the digital humanities rests. This gave me a chance to conclude with a few brief remarks about the Printers’ File and our work with the Advanced Research Consortium (ARC).

The view from Mont Royal, Montreal … a brief respite from conference going & a great place to contemplate what it is all for

I thoroughly enjoyed the DH Conference for much of the same reason that I enjoy The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) conferences: their focuses on methodology bring people of different scholarly and professional backgrounds and perspective together to share frustrations, ideas, and encouragement. Conversations about how we do what we do lead easily into conversations about why we do what we do, and such exchanges, whether partaking in them or listening to them, are most inspiring.

The Acquisitions Table: Little Marian

Little Marian. Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, [ca. 1853-1857]. 

The American Sunday-School Union was a pioneer in the use of the shaped book format and chromolithography, competing directly with secular firms including McLoughlin Brothers. Little Marian serves as a sequel to the Pilgrim’s Progress-inspired children’s book Little Marian’s Pilgrimage, issued by the ASSU ca. 1852. The earlier book was issued in the less visually exciting format of marbled boards with leather spine, which was a much more typical format for children’s tracts. This shaped book has chromolithographs signed by European lithographer Ferdinand Moras (1821-1908) who had moved to Philadelphia and set up shop in 1853.

“the question of [her] sex”: Transgender Histories in Nineteenth-Century News

The first in a two-part series, this blog post features an AAS-based undergraduate project, “Queering the Archive” at College of the Holy Cross.  Under the advisement of Professor Stephanie Yuhl of the History Department, Carly Priest ‘18 and Emily Breakell ‘17 spent the summer searching for resources relevant to the history of transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the United States.

Based in Boston and printed in the late 19th-century, The Illustrated Police News was a sensationalist periodical widely-circulated on the east coast. Much like contemporary tabloids, serials like The Illustrated Police News were interested in stories that would sell.

Their articles featured crime, subversive behavior, and any aberrations from mainstream culture that fell in-between— with little regard for the humanity of the people on whom they “reported,” or whether the stories presented were even true.

Shaw’s story appears in this issue

Though the content of publications like The Illustrated Police News were intentionally sensationalist (and therefore should not be viewed as reporting with journalistic integrity), The Illustrated Police News and similar serials ultimately offer important sources for our project, “Queering the Archive.” The articles, however aggrandized, discuss people on the fringes of society and frequently feature individual departures from nineteenth-century gender norms—even if only to reinforce mainstream social norms.

In July of 1876, The Illustrated Police News reported on Esther Shaw, a chambermaid who lived as a woman for most of her life (while The Illustrated Police News referred to Shaw with he/him/his pronouns, I will use she/her/hers to reflect what Shaw appears to prefer). The article, entitled “A Thirty-Years’ Masquerade: A Mulatto Chambermaid at New Orleans Proves to be a Male” sensationalized Shaw’s life and career as a maid.

Shaw became ill and was admitted to the women’s unit of a local hospital. Several days after her admittance, a medical student suspected Shaw was a biological male, and brought her into “the inspecting room.”  Disturbingly, despite Shaw having “fought and plead[ed],” the report nonchalantly indicated the hospital’s medical staff forcibly physically examined Shaw to determine “the question of [her] sex.”

“A Thirty-Years’ Masquerade: A Mulatto Chambermaid at New Orleans Proves to be a Male” mirrors several other articles we found in the archives of the AAS. While Esther Shaw lived happily, normally, and quietly, as a woman, The Illustrated Police News treated her gender identity as a spectacle. Though sensationalist papers regularly dehumanized the people they reported on, accounts of those who lived outside the boundaries of their assigned gender—those who cross-dressed once to commit a crime, or who lived as a man or woman for thirty years, as Shaw did—were especially derisive. Headline descriptions of people who cross-dressed regularly included the terms “man-woman,” “freak,” and “unnatural.” Such accounts illustrated social anxieties surrounding deviance from gender normativity and positioned periodicals as cultural signposts to reinforce acceptable expression of gender.

On one hand, the story of Shaw stood as a typical example in the  pattern we encountered in periodicals like The Illustrated Police News. As Illustrated by Shaw’s experience, invasive practices to identify gender and sex were common events in stories of people who cross-dressed. Like Shaw, these articles indicated enforcement of the gender binary by police and medical professionals in the nineteenth century.

On the other hand, the story of Shaw stands out from others we encountered in two ways: first, The Illustrated Police News account quoted Shaw in the article, allowing Shaw to explain, at least partly, why she cross-dressed. This marks a significant departure from other sensationalist stories we encountered, both in The Illustrated Police News and other serial publications, which frequently silenced those who subverted social norms. As The Illustrated Police News reported: “Shaw said…during [her] young days, [s]he wore smock frocks, and never felt at ease unless so attired. As [s]he grew up, [s]he found that man’s labor did not agree with [her], and therefore concluded that as a woman [s]he could succeed better.” Whether intentional or not, this brief description of Shaw’s life and preferences not only contextualize her life as a woman, but also gesture toward a depiction of Shaw as a whole person, a person who tried to live inside of gender norms, but found that they, like the boy’s clothes she tried to wear, never “felt” right. This moment of sympathy for Shaw renders her a potentially sympathetic character to The Illustrated Police News reader.

Second, the reporter further garners such sympathy by explaining why Shaw would have wanted to dress in feminine apparel in the context of other cross-dressing individuals.  As The Illustrated Police News pointed out, “Numerous instances are on record of women assuming male attire to better further their ends…on the other hand it is a rare occurrence for a man to don feminine gear, and for years carry out the deception.” In the patriarchal society of the nineteenth-century, biological females sometimes chose to live as men in the search for better jobs, better pay, and better treatment. Biological males who lived as women, therefore, existed in a more enigmatic space and were therefore pushed further to the margins. A society dominated by cisgender people—i.e., people that identify with the gender assigned to them at birth—would have a harder time understanding why a biological male would want to live as a woman. Given the prevailing attitude that no person would choose to live as a woman, male-to-female transitions were riskier, and more criminalized than female-to-male.[1]

NYC scene from Jan 23, 1873 issue of The Illustrated Police News

Prevalent commentary on race throughout this article invites further speculation about the societal norms the unnamed The Illustrated Police News journalist assumed.  Take the initial description of Esther: “Shaw is a medium-sized, delicate looking mulatto, about 30 years of age, with a few scattered hairs on his lip and chin, not any more than a large proportion of creole negroes or sufficient to betray his sex.” As was common practice in the 19th-century, the author of the article identified Esther as “Mulatto” in the subtitle before they flagged Shaw’s non-conforming gender identity. This served to portray Esther as a particular social conundrum: not only of mixed sex, but also of mixed race.  In short then, the story of Esther Shaw was not that of “A Thirty-Years’ Masquerade.” Rather, her story is one of a person who lived and worked as a woman of color in a time when mixed race and gender rendered Esther Shaw doubly marginalized.

[1] The News Desk. “Arresting dress: A timeline of anti-cross-dressing laws in the United States.” PBS Newshour. 31 May 2015. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/arresting-dress-timeline-anti-cross-dressing-laws-u-s/.

New Online Exhibition – Victorian Valentines: Intimacy in the Industrial Age

Editor’s note: Originally from Texas, Zoe Margolis is an Art History major at Smith College, slated to graduate this upcoming spring (class of 2018). Zoe wrote the first draft of this post on behalf of the students in the Spring 2017 course at Smith College “ARH291: Be My Valentine.” It was later revised by Prof. Kalba for clarity and concision.

Students looking at material in Smith College’s archives.

To be honest, I didn’t really know what ephemera was before I joined Professor Laura Kalba’s art history course at Smith College, ARH291: Be My Valentine: Ephemera, Ephemerality and Affect From the Victorian Era to Today. The class caught my eye with the promise of field trips and hands-on experience creating original public scholarship in the field of art history. Focusing on a largely unprocessed collection of Victorian-era valentines held at the American Antiquarian Society, along with a variety of online digital artifacts such as GIFS and emojis, the class invited students to investigate a broad range of popular commercial imagery and reflect on how the study of these everyday images both draws upon and departs from the knowledge and skills foregrounded in most art history courses.

Over the semester, we worked to create the online exhibition Victorian Valentines: Intimacy in the Industrial Age. The exhibition explores both handmade and commercially manufactured valentines, their materials and iconography, as well as the sentiments that inspired them. In addition to romantic valentines, the exhibition also includes vinegar valentines, designed to mock and insult their recipient, and other types of ephemera related to the history of courtship and emotions, such as escort cards and “maps of the heart.”

Some of the AAS material presented for the students to explore.

Students collaborating on the online exhibition.

After visiting AAS and the Smith College Archives, each student chose a few of their favorite objects to research and write about for the exhibition. The class then collaboratively decided upon the exhibition’s themes and worked in smaller groups to write the interpretive “wall texts” and design specific sections of the website. Students assumed additional responsibilities, ranging from copyediting and quality control to social media “ambassador” to project manager. Final revisions to the exhibition were completed over the summer by Sally Stack ’19 and Clara Rosenberg ‘20.

We could not have completed this exhibition without the guidance of our fearless leader, Professor Kalba; Lauren Hewes, Nan Wolverton, and Molly Hardy, to only name a few of the people at AAS who helped us with the research, conceptualization, and design of the exhibition; and Ken Albers, from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, who not only taught us how to use Omeka but also provided Sally with essential technical assistance during the summer. We also wish to thank the Five College Blended-Learning Steering Committee for its generous financial support.

The Acquisitions Table: The Whip

The Whip (New York, New York), Oct. 8, 1842. 

Racy papers were scandalous newspapers mostly published in the 1840s and 1850s in New York and Boston. AAS has one of the larger institutional collections of these lowbrow papers. Opportunities to acquire additional issues of these papers are few and far between.

An issue for one of the New York papers, The Whip, recently showed up on eBay. It happened to be the one issue missing in the Society’s short run of this title. There were numerous bids, but AAS was victorious in acquiring it. There are several articles in this issue related to prostitution and bawdy women. The Whip’s editor, George B. Wooldridge, was in prison when this issue was published, but his imprisonment didn’t stop him from writing pieces for the paper.