The Story of Emily & Benjamin

IMG_5007Earlier this year the American Antiquarian Society acquired an important archive of manuscripts and drawings related to American missionary activity in Western Africa.  The collection tells the story of a couple, Emily Griswold (1838-1906) and her eventual husband, Benjamin Hartley (1838-1912). Emily was the daughter of the poet and publisher Rufus Wilmot Griswold, who edited anthologies, gift books, and newspapers in Philadelphia and New York.  Rufus Griswold is best known today for his rivalry with Edgar Allan Poe, and is something of a larger-than-life figure in American publishing history. When the Society’s curators were first contacted about the archive, in fact, it was the connection to Rufus that enticed us to take a closer look.

As is often the case with such collections, however, it soon became apparent that the real treasure of the collection was not about Rufus at all, but was material related to what we all started calling “The Emily & Benjamin story.”  After surviving near-death during a railroad accident, Emily devoted herself to missionary work. In 1860, at the age of twenty-two, she traveled to Liberia as part of an Episcopal mission. She wrote letters home to her aunt as the American Civil War raged and by all accounts enjoyed living in the lush climate of coastal Africa, far away from the war.  In 1864, the Scottish-born artist Benjamin Hartley also arrived in Africa.  Educated at the Theological Seminary in Gambier, Ohio, formerly associated with Kenyon College, Hartley was ordained in Brooklyn, New York, in May of 1864, and by July was in Cape Palmas, Liberia. The two missionaries met, worked and prayed together, and eventually fell in love.  Just a year after his arrival, Benjamin and Emily, both aged twenty-seven, married in Cape Palmas.

530377_0001 - CROP2When he traveled to Africa in 1864, Benjamin carried with him empty sketch books, inks, watercolors, and, most surprisingly  perhaps, a camera. He used them all to document the world around him, so different from Scotland and Ohio. He drew and painted the people, their homes, the harbor, and the plants, animals, and architecture of Cape Palmas, Fishtown, the Hoffman river basin, and nearby communities of the Grebo (Kru) people. Dozens of his drawings and watercolors are preserved in the family collection. Benjamin even photographed the church where he and Emily worked and said their vows—his 1865 albumen photo is pasted into the family scrapbook (see above).  Images of the American missionary towns of West Africa from this period are extremely rare, and I realized that this part of the Emily & Benjamin story could be a valuable visual resource for scholars.

Benjamin sketch of Cape PalmasBut there was more to the family collection than just important and evocative drawings and photos. During a visit to assess the condition and breadth of the artwork, I was invited by the dealer handling the transaction to have a look at some manuscript and printed material as well.  Throughout their lives, both Emily and Benjamin wrote prolifically—Benjamin kept a diary during his African missionary newspaperyears at Gambier, Emily corresponded with family and friends around the world. Benjamin edited and printed a missionary newspaper in Africa (see left). Both of them wrote continuously about their time in Africa, with Emily producing articles and stories for the periodical press for decades after they returned to America and Benjamin writing sermons and giving public lectures about their experience. In fact, Rev. Hartley repurposed much of his imagery from Africa in a series of illustrated lectures on “African Life and Superstitions,” which he delivered at churches and Sunday schools around the United States in the 1870s, during Reconstruction. At this same time, Emily started writing moral tales for children.  AAS already had four of her titles in our collection and so our curator of children’s literature was thrilled that the archive contained manuscripts of Emily’s unpublished writing, plus a scrapbook of her published work—all carefully clipped from newspapers and magazines and preserved by the author.

Benjamin drawing of African Interior

IMG_5009Fortunately for AAS, Emily and Benjamin’s descendants saved it all, including letters of rejection and acceptance for their various writings, the sketchbooks, the scrapbook, a handful of African newspapers, the Gambier diary, a scrapbook and diary of the couple’s time in Africa, and papers and sketches from after 1867 when they left Africa and lived in New York, Kansas, Missouri, and California. In the end there was some piece of the Emily & Benjamin story for each of the Society’s five collecting areas: drawings and artwork for the Graphic Arts Department, unpublished manuscripts for the Children’s Literature Department,  diaries and letters related to the publishing trade for the Manuscript Department, missionary newspapers for the Newspaper Department, and the family Bible, with a complete Hartley genealogy, for the Books Department. Welcome to AAS, Emily and Benjamin!

The Acquisitions Table: Bobby’s Teeth

530423_0001Sarah E. Chester.  Bobby’s Teeth.  New York: American Tract Society, ca. 1873. (Swallow Stories.)

This cute chromolithographed label of a little boy decorates the cover of a humorous tale about little Bobby, who according to the book’s narrator, has teeth as “white as snow” and “even as a row of pins.” Unfortunately, Bobby uses his teeth to bite his sister while trying to eat an apple that is not his. Ashamed of his bad behavior, the little boy seeks out the “tooth man” to pull out his teeth; in response, the nineteenth-century dentist tells the boy the cause of the little troublemaker’s wickedness is in his soul, not his teeth.


Omeka Tutorials

Ever since Omeka Mania first took hold here at AAS, we have delighted in learning about this exhibition publishing platform and helping each other make the most of it. A group of us meet about twice a month to share our progress and help each other out.  From these collaborations, AAS has published six online exhibitions in the last year with more to come soon. As our work has progressed, we’ve taken turns teaching each other what we’ve learned. We thought that we might share some of these teaching tools with you.

We consider the slides below for the middle-level Omeka user. There are a number of “getting started with Omeka” resources out there. And the robust Omeka forums certainly can answer questions for programmers and developers. What we have created is for those of us who fall somewhere in between those two categories. From conversations with colleagues and friends both at other cultural heritage organizations and at educational institutions, we suspect that there might be a few others like us out there!

Though we think that these slides might be useful to any Omeka users, we should offer a few caveats. These assume that Omeka is installed in a server that you have some amount of access to (we have no experience with Also, as a special collections library with an excellent General Catalog, we have created very little metadata for our items. Instead, we have pulled metadata from our Catalog and from Aeon, as is detailed in the “metadata” slide deck.

We hope that you find these slides useful. Please feel free to share, use, and reuse as needed. And thanks to our friends at the Roy Rosenzweig for History and New Media for creating this amazing tool and for offering us so much support as we put it to use!

You can view the slides below (also in Slideshare) or your can click on the title of each to download a PDF of the slides.

  1. Metadata  
  2. Images 
  3. CSS 
  4. HTML Tables 

A broadside of note

AAS member Jane K. Dewey has volunteered in the manuscri528208_0001pts department for almost 30 years and processed forty large collections. Jane most recently organized, housed, and wrote about some of the manuscripts from the Pike-Wright Family papers, a recent donation from Susan Pike Corcoran. Even though the donation includes a substantial collection of ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, and photographs and a fantastic group of medical instruments used by Connecticut physician Nathan Pike, one of the most exceptional pieces is a letter from Nathan, which Jane discusses below.

The job of a manuscripts processor is to put a collection in order, describe it briefly, and make it of use to the researcher. Pike family descendants preserved genealogies and Nathan’s notes on medical lectures, several ledgers, and about thirty mid-nineteenth-century letters. To get to the heart of the collection—the material associated with Nathan Pike—I separated a large number of genealogical notes from the rest of the material and roughly processed them. After setting aside the ledgers and lecture notes, I decided to read and put the letters in chronological order and then set my attention on the diary.

Nathan’s diary begins in 1853, when he embarked with his wife on a trip to the South. Nathan suffered from tuberculosis and traveled to a warmer climate to alleviate the symptoms of his disease. He kept the diary, in which he recorded this and another trip the following year, until only ten days before his death in 1857. During his travels Nathan visited fellow physicians, attended medical meetings, and toured hospitals. While in New Orleans he also wrote home to an unknown addressee about a slave auction he attended there, noting the price for which each slave was sold as well as the policy of keeping the family unit intact if possible. Nathan’s diary is a witness to one man’s fight against one of the greatest scourges of his time. In addition to reporting on the weather and his activities, he reports on his health. Taking cod liver oil mixed with cider or porter was his chief weapon in a losing battle against TB. Nathan probably had no idea that the record of his struggle would long survive him. It’s easy to feel great sympathy while reading the words of a dying man.

The slave auction letter to which Jane refers was written in 1855 and details the heartbreaking story of the sale of one woman and her adopted daughter in New Orleans. Nathan writes:

Feb. 28. I attended the within sale yesterday and thinking it might interest you I took pains to mark as you might see the amount for which they sold. You will perceive that they are put up in families and they are generally sold so so far as I have seen since I have been here.

528208_0002There was one instance yesterday when Martha No 46 was put up alone—she cried to have Rachel No 47 her adopted child sold with her and her request was granted—they sold together for 975 dollars as you can see by reference to No 46 + 47—the price for which these sold is I should think about an average. A good adult field hand sound healthy and acclimated sells for an average of about 1000 dollars.

Although we might feel sympathy for Nathan in his ailing state, his distant, almost clinical tone, in describing the sale is disturbing. Seeing the enslaved people referred to and sold by lot number and described only by their usefulness (“good field hand” “trusty”) or defects (“has only one arm”), seems not to have affected Nathan enough to comment. What did Nathan think about Aleck, Jeffrey, Yancey, and Bob Jackson, who sold for more because of their experience with machinery? How did this group of enslaved people, “brought up to the culture of cane” on Pisero’s plantation, say their farewells to each other? Had he lived, what would Nathan have thought about the fate of the enslaved five years later on the eve of civil war?

We hope you return to the AAS blog as we continue to post more from the Pike-Wright Family papers. Our next installment is from AAS member Sande Bishop, who worked with Nathan’s medical ledgers and lecture notes.

The Verses go Live! Music added to the Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads Project

Just over a year ago, we launched Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads: Verses in Vogue with the Vulgar. With over 800 images and 300 mini-essays, this site offers a unique and comprehensive view of the broadsides that Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831) collected in early nineteenth-century Boston. Each broadside includes a brief explanation of its content by Kate Van Winkle Keller. In the past year, we have continued to work on the site, most recently adding TEI-encoded transcriptions of the broadsides.

We are now ready to debut our latest addition: music! Thanks to David and Ginger Hildebrand of the Colonial Music Institute, their recorded performances of twenty-five ballads are now included on the site, with another dozen or so to come. Their contributions might be the ballad exactly as it appears on the broadside, a few verses from a given ballad, or the melody to which the ballad would have been sung. An mp3 link is included at the top of any broadside page that has musical accompaniment with details of what is being performed.

You can listen to the melody and the lyrics of "The Rose Tree"

The complete ballad of “The Rose Tree” is included

An instrumental version of "Jockey to the Fair" is included

An instrumental version of “Jockey to the Fair” in included






To find all the ballads included on the site, visit the Listen to the Ballads page on the site.

Ginger and David Hildebrand

Ginger and David Hildebrand

And wait, there’s more! David and Ginger will be performing under our generous dome this Friday, April 29th at 7pm. Their concert, “Ballads from Boston: Music from the Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballad Collection”, is free and open to the public, so please join us for this celebration of early American music and of this collection, which does so much to preserve it.







How to get Red Sox tickets and help AAS acquisitions at the same time!

baseball player (2)“Fenway is the essence of baseball.”  – Tom Seaver
“I see great things in baseball.”  – Walt Whitman

It is April and once again it is a fresh, new season of baseball.  The sports pages are full of box scores and statistics.  Bars are filled with people arguing over batting orders and when pitchers should have been yanked.  Fans are sitting in living rooms staring at their large-screen TVs filled with images of Fenway Park and the Green Monster dreaming they were at the game.

That dream can become your reality.

On May 3rd, the American Antiquarian Society will hold its ninth annual Adopt-A-Book fundraiser.

As part of the event, thanks to a generous donor we will be auctioning off two pairs of tickets to Red Sox games.  Not just any tickets.  VIP Red Sox tickets! The games are:

Saturday evening, July 23, Red Sox vs. Twins
Sunday afternoon, July 24,  Red Sox vs. Twins.

These EMC Club luxury box tickets include reserved parking on Brookline Ave. next to Fenway, luxury seating both inside and out, and full service amenities.  Each pair is valued at $400.

There will be separate bidding on each pair.  If for some reason you can’t attend the May 3rd event, you can e-mail a bid beforehand.  Send an e-mail to Vincent Golden ( and let him know which pair you would like to bid on and your maximum bid by May 2nd.  The highest bidder for each pair will be represented by a proxy the night of the event.

Remember.  Bidding is ninety percent mental, the other half is sending us your bid.

The Acquisitions Table: Meeting President Lincoln

Brooks, Noah. Abraham Lincoln: The Nation’s Leader in the Great Struggle through Which Was Maintained the Existence of the United States. Washington, D.C.: National Tribune, [1909, copyright 1888].

Lyman Lincoln bookThis is marginalia at its finest. Found in a remarkable collection of twenty-seven books published between 1859 and 1916, the marginalia displayed here recalls the moment when an eighteen-year-old man met Abraham Lincoln. The collection of books is from the library of that man, the outsider poet and self-taught speculative utopian author Lyman E. Stowe. AAS had earlier acquired the woodcuts Stowe made to accompany his eccentric philosophical publications. This library of books once owned by Stowe presents evidence of how popular history, philosophy, and literature helped him to make sense of his own early trauma as a wounded veteran of the Civil War, as well as how to face a radically evolving world awash in scientific and literary innovation. Many of the books bear Stowe’s elaborate typographical book plate, include his annotations in the text and endpapers, or have related newspaper clippings mounted or laid-in. The notes are keen and critical, if often riddled with eccentric spelling. Stowe’s copy of Noah Brooks’s Abraham Lincoln bears all these marks, including an extensive handwritten note Stowe started writing on his enormous bookplate and continued over the endpapers:

Detroit Mich. – Nov. 25 – 1913. When pasting this story of Lincoln’s life in this book The pleasing thought came to me – I Lyman E. Stowe of 133 Catherine St. Detroit Mich. had the great honor and greater pleasure of shaking hands with this greatest man that ever lived; and as a soldier serving under him as the President of the U.S. is [sic] the commander in chif [sic] of all the U. S. forces. When I saw him and General Scott Standing togethere [sic] revewing [sic] my regiment the 2nd Michigan Infantry, which so opertunely [sic] came to the rescue of Washington, when the war began. I certainly thought two of the old gods had come to earth to help us save the union. Tho Lincoln towered away above me in highth [sic] and I am 6 feet in my stockens [sic], Scott seemed a head taller than Lincoln and while the president was slim and angular Scott was stout and well proportioned, to a patriotic boy of 18 years of age these noble men were truly gods…

Many of the other books from Stowe’s library are about the Civil War and include his personal reminiscences in pencil notations. A couple of notes are about his friendship with Sarah Emma Edmonds, a woman who enlisted in the Civil War in the 2nd Michi­gan Infantry (Stowe’s own unit) and passed for a time as a man named Frank Thomas. According to Stowe, Sarah had been passing as a man for some time prior to enlistment.

John Hancock performs his patriotic duty by…acquiring paper?

There’s no shortage of celebrations here in Massachusetts for today’s holiday, even if it is a holiday that almost nobody from any other state (with the exception of Maine and Wisconsin) has ever heard of. But for a native of Massachusetts who likes history, Patriots’ Day is about as good as it gets. After all, if it weren’t for Massachusetts we probably wouldn’t exist as an independent nation at all (at least this is what we like to tell everyone who will listen—or won’t listen, for that matter).

The press Isaiah smuggled out of Boston, known as Old No. 1.

The press Isaiah smuggled out of Boston, known as Old No. 1.

Patriots’ Day is near and dear to our hearts at AAS as well, because the Battles of Lexington and Concord mark the arrival of the Society’s founder in Worcester. It’s an oft-told tale that our founder, Isaiah Thomas, was a rabble-rousing twenty-six-year-old printer in Boston who, with the encouragement of John Hancock and help of Joseph Warren, smuggled his printing press out of the city on April 16, 1775, before it could be impounded by the British authorities. Three days later he was an eyewitness to the Battles of Lexington and Concord. After setting up his press in the basement of Worcester blacksmith and patriot leader Timothy Bigelow, he waited for paper to arrive so he could continue printing his popular newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy.

It may seem odd that a lack of paper was the holdup for Isaiah being able to print his version of the British soldiers’ atrocities at Lexington and Concord, but at this period paper was difficult to get. Most paper was still being imported from British sources (hence the outrage of printers at the Stamp Act in 1765, which taxed almost everything printed), and between the British blockade enacted by the Boston Port Act of 1774 and the colonists’ own non-importation agreements, keeping a supply of paper was becoming a significant hurdle.

The alternative was to produce paper in the colonies, but this was still difficult as well. In the eighteenth century paper was made out of rags, which meant that not only did enough rags need to be available, but those shreds of cloth also had to make it to one of the very few paper mills established in the colony (in 1769 there were only two). As an advertisement on the back cover of Thomas’s Massachusetts, New-Hampshire, and Connecticut Almanack for the Year of our Lord Christ 1779 attests, paper was both scarce and instrumental to the colonists’ cause:

IMG_0807R             A             G             S.

                A good price will be given for clean cotton and linen rags, and paid either in money or good writing paper, at the Printing Office in Worcester.

                It is earnestly requested that the fair daughters of Liberty in this extensive County, would not neglect to serve their country, by saving for the paper mill in Sutton, all linen and cotton and linen rags, be they ever so small, as they are equally good for the purpose of making paper, as those that are larger. A bag hung up at one corner of a room, would be the means of saving many which would be otherwise lost. If the ladies should not make a fortune by this piece of economy, they will at least have the satisfaction of knowing they are doing an essential service to the community, which with 6d. per pound, the price now given for clean white rags, they must be sensible will be a sufficient reward.

By 1778, when this was printed, a paper mill had been set up in Sutton, Massachusetts, part of a rash of mills established after the outbreak of war (there were six in Massachusetts by 1779). But in April 1775 in Worcester—where there had not even been a press before Isaiah arrived, never mind a paper mill—how was one to get paper? With the help of John Hancock, it turns out.

In a letter from Worcester dated April 26, 1775, and addressed to Dr. Joseph Warren and “the other Gentlemen of the Committee of Safety &c &c,” Hancock asks his fellow rebels to please get Isaiah some paper so that he can continue his “Publick Service.” (Or, in other words, print the horrifying things that need to be said about the conduct of the British at Lexington and Concord). The letter, complete with the soon-to-be famous Hancock signature, reads as follows:

                Mr. Thomas the Printer is here, fix’d his Press & Ready to go on with Business but is in want of Paper. I undertake for him to Desire you will order the undermention’d Quantity to be Sent him from Milton, his being Supplied with it will answer Publick Service. We are not like to have even a Single Person to attend us. Mr Paine is here, his Townsmen who Came with him are Return’d home. My Servants house furniture is in Boston. I should not like to be Demolish’d by a Tory, but I must Submit to be unnoticed – God Bless you,

I am Gentn
Your Sincere Friend
John Hancock

Paper for Mr Thomas
50 Ream Crown Printing
40 do. Demy do.
20 do Fools Cap do.
5 do. Writing —

JohnHancock_0001The “Mr. Paine” Hancock mentions is Robert Treat Paine, who joined Hancock in Worcester to start their journey down to Philadelphia to act as delegates to the Second Continental Congress, which was slated to begin on May 10. Hancock, unsure of how the other colonies would react to the news of Lexington and Concord, was hoping for a military escort, but was now worried that they would not have anyone to accompany them. His fears would soon be quelled when they were joined by local militia and celebrating colonists along their route in Connecticut.

JohnHancock_0002Within a week, paper had arrived and Isaiah resumed business. That paper arrived so quickly was a good bit of luck, considering that Hancock apparently wasn’t even sure of the whereabouts of Warren or the rest of the Committee. Hancock’s letter is vaguely directed to “Cambridge Or Elsewhere,” which makes some sense given the current situation. On the evening of April 18, it was Joseph Warren that sent Paul Revere and William Dawes on their famous “midnight ride” to warn Hancock and Samuel Adams, who were currently in Lexington, that the regulars were heading to Concord and probably had orders to arrest them as well. They were able to elude capture while Warren, accompanied by Isaiah Thomas, slipped out of Boston the next morning. After the battle, the members of the Committee of Safety were scattered, either avoiding arrest or figuring out the Americans’ next move. But a large contingent of the Committee, headed by Warren, was stationed in Cambridge and continued its work by releasing a circular urging men to enlist in the provincial army and commissioning depositions concerning Lexington and Concord. Cambridge was therefore Hancock’s best guess, but given how quickly events were developing he couldn’t be sure.

Mass Spy 2 cropDespite this lack of geographical direction, Hancock’s courier found Warren or another member of the Committee without too much trouble, and they carried out Hancock’s directions to get paper from Milton, where one of the three paper mills in the colony was located. On May 3 the first Worcester issue of Isaiah’s Massachusetts Spy appeared, complete with a scathing eyewitness account of the action at Lexington and Concord that claimed the British troops had “wantonly, and in a most inhuman manner fired upon and killed a number of our countrymen, then robbed them of their provisions, ransacked, plundered and burnt their houses!”  Even worse, “nor could the tears of defenseless women, some of whom were in the pains of childbirth, the cries of helpless, babes, nor the prayers of old age, confined to beds of sickness, appease their thirst for blood!—or divert them from their DESIGN of MURDER and ROBBERY!” Isaiah was obviously a very nonpartisan observer.

Narrative of the Excursion 1With this same delivery of paper, Isaiah would also print his first (and only) official commission from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, the series of depositions compiled by the congress called A Narrative, of the Excursion and Ravages of the King’s Troops. Copies were sent to King George, the provincial governors, and other influential personages who could possibly be swayed by this “official” version of events.

It’s difficult to overemphasize the importance of paper and printing in sparking and carrying out the American Revolution. From printers’ opposition to the Stamp Act in their newspapers to Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense to a simple ad for rags on which to print the incendiary words, paper and ink were just as vital to revolution as guns and gunpowder. That Hancock made acquiring paper a priority while he was evading arrest by British troops offers pretty telling proof of that.

This letter resides in the Hancock Family Papers at AAS. More about the importance of news and print in the Battle of Lexington and Concord will be among the topics covered in an upcoming online exhibition, News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865. Keep an eye out for that launch, which will also be featured on Past is Present.

An Antebellum Physician’s Kit

529904_0011The Pike and Wright Collection, donated by Susan Pike Corcoran, has brought to AAS more than the typical materials of photographs, diaries, books, and letters. Along with the genealogical material, a collection of medical instruments used by Dr. Nathan Staples Pike (1819-1857) is now housed within the Graphic Arts Department. You might remember seeing Dr. Pike’s face (right) in the earlier post about the wonderful photographs that are part of this comprehensive family collection.

Cataloging and rehousing these items has been a challenge. Coming in one box, the collection was carefully unpacked and the items were placed in smaller boxes and individually wrapped in foam or bubble wrap to protect them. Luckily I have had some practice in rehousing objects at AAS (the games collection, glass plate negatives, and printing matrices to name a few) but the nature of the items and their use made them a little harder to handle. Latex gloves were a necessity with these tools!

Dr. Pike graduated from New York University in 1843 and practiced medicine in central and eastern Connecticut until his death in 1857 from tuberculosis, meaning this collection of about forty items likely date from before the Civil War. They demonstrate some of the common practices in general medicine at that time, including more specialized practices in the dental and obstetric fields. After handling these tools, and discovering what they were used for, I am very grateful to be living in the age of modern medicine! (This also means the following descriptions are a bit graphic, so continue reading at your own risk.)

Blood-letting, though becoming less popular in the nineteenth century than in previous centuries, was still used to treat common ailments and infections. This scarificator (below), which is housed in a velvet-lined wooden box, may have been used in conjunction with glass cups to bring blood to the surface. The scarificator, which has spring-loaded blades, would be placed on the skin and plunged in to bleed the patient.

blood letting tool

531107_B5_0001This set of wafer papers, imported from London, was used to create pills from whatever medicine the doctor would prescribe. The filling would be wrapped in the paper, allowing the patient to easily swallow the medication. The package states that using this paper meant even “the most disagreeable medicine can be taken without being tasted.”

Another common occurrence for physicians of this time was to perform some dental work. This dental key, or extractor (below), would be inserted into the mouth, the small claw at the end would be placed around the tooth, and the handle would be turned, twisting the tooth until it was pulled out.


Dr. Pike not only practiced general medicine and dentistry, but according to his letters, he was also interested in and tried his hand at obstetrics. The hollow wooden tool below is possibly a Pinard horn, or fetal stethoscope, used to listen to the heart rate of a fetus in utero. The cup would be placed over the woman’s belly and listened to at the other end with the curved earpiece.


syringe-pumpOther items in Dr. Pike’s collection include glass and rubber syringes, a mortar and pestle, a large beaker and measuring cups, his leather saddle bag with many pockets for vials of medicine, a set of brass scales, and some other items whose use are unknown. The glass pieces are actually well-crafted and beautiful, as long as you don’t think of what they might have been used for! The second item to the right, with a bulb made of rubber or possibly an animal bladder and a sponge, may have been used to dispense ether or another anesthetic.

While these items are definitely not the norm for a library that specializes in printed materials, having a collection of medical tools such as this, in addition to the family photographs, diaries, letters, and ledgers, paint a complete picture of a physician’s life in nineteenth-century New England. The story of Dr. Pike’s life and training as a physician and his travels to the southern states are within the collections of the Manuscripts Department, and will be the focus of upcoming blog posts, so stay tuned!

It’s the time of year to Adopt-a-Book!

What do a wolverine, sunshine, runaway sailors, weaving, and baseball have in common?  These are the titles or subjects of items available at our ninth annual Adopt-a-Book program! Once again our intrepid curators have put together a group of items acquired over the past year or so and put them up for “adoption.”  Supporters of the American Antiquarian Society can “adopt” the these items to help raise funds for further acquisitions.  Over the past eight years, this event has raised well over $100,000 for the curators to acquire even more materials for the collection.  These funds become available during the last quarter of our fiscal year when our acquisitions funds are running low, making them doubly appreciated.

And this year’s online catalog is now up and ready for you to adopt!

Then, on May 3 from 6 to 8 p.m., please join us for our Adopt-a-Book evening, where you can view many of the items (including more materials up for adoption not in the online catalog), chat with curators over food and drink, and bid on a pair of Red Sox tickets, all under our generous dome.

To give you a taste, here are some items up for adoption from each of the five curatorial departments:

Liberty Pole Subscriber listLiberty Pole Subscribers List.
Adopt me for $125

Shortly after the U.S. declared war on Great Britain during the summer of 1812, residents of Providence, Rhode Island, joined together to erect a liberty pole on Cranston St. Liberty poles were often built in towns during the American Revolution as a symbol of freedom and independence. During the War of 1812, which has often been called a second American Revolution, citizens of Providence erected one as well. This list details who subscribed for the construction of the pole. If you value American independence but can’t subscribe to erect a liberty pole, at least you can adopt this list.

The WolverineThe Wolverine (Lebanon, Ky.) Apr. 7, 1863. Vol. 1, no. 1.
Adopt me for $200

This is camp newspaper from the Civil War. This paper was published by members of the 8th Regiment, Michigan Infantry.  An article on the second page thanks Mr. W.H. Wetherton, former publisher of the Lebanon Democrat, for letting them use the office to publisher The Wolverine. The office of the Democrat had been closed because of its Union sympathies in a region that supported secession. No issues of the Democrat are known, but it apparent existed between 1859 and 1862. This is the only issue of The Wolverine that is known to have been published, and it is known in only two other copies at University of Michigan and Western Kentucky University.

Sunshine or Cures for All IllsSophie Amelia Prosser. Sunshine or Cures for All Ills. Boston & New York: American Tract Society, ca. 1860-1868.
Adopt me for $50

This strikingly colored image is from the frontispiece to a book of didactic short stories. The young maid on the right is being questioned by her master about her possibly stealing from valuables. The story really focuses on housekeeper pictured in the center, who is hardened to the young girl’s crying. The master of the house decides to give the girl a second chance by having her live in his country house under the virtuous eye of his wife. The housekeeper eventually realizes that her master is right to be merciful.

Bonaparte Crossing the AlpsjpgAfter Jacques Louis David. Bonaparte Crossing the Alps. New York: N. Currier, after 1838.
Adopt me for $100

This image of Napoleon Bonaparte crossing the Alps on his rearing white horse was reproduced frequently by American printmakers. The immense painting on which is was based was part of the estate of Joseph Bonaparte in Bordentown, New Jersey, from 1815 to about 1840 when it returned to France with Joseph’s daughter. The painting was exhibited frequently in Philadelphia and copies proliferated around New England.

Blind Lady CanvassingBrown, Henrietta. A Blind Lady’s Experience in Four Years’ Canvassing. [U.S.: s.n., 1882].
Adopt me for $200

The bare-bones details of Henrietta Brown’s life begin her narrative: she was born in 1836, was widowed in 1858, lost her sight in 1867, and in 1875 her uncle who had been supporting her died. Brown describes herself as “compelled to drift out from home to canvass for my support.” She purchased $5 worth of books (one of which was titled Comfort for the Desponding) and began canvassing. Her practice seems to have been to go to local pastors across the Midwest, bringing letters of introduction from Illinois ministers, and ask to speak to their congregations on Sunday mornings. Much of the book describes her time on the road and encounters with saloon keepers, coachmen, and railroad conductors. The logistics of travel were difficult for her as a blind woman, but the life seems to have suited her. Henrietta Brown concludes the book: “‘A rolling stone gathers no moss,’ and ‘a setting hen never thrives.’ I have long since learned that a sitting Hen-rietta never accomplishes much by remaining still; and I have resolved to move on, and on, and on.”


Marbled Madness!

Washington Irving, 1783-1859. Life of George Washington. New York: G.P. Putnam, 1859. This multivolume set has colorful marbled edges done with a wide-comb pattern.

Washington Irving, 1783-1859. Life of George Washington. New York: G.P. Putnam, 1859. This multivolume set has colorful marbled edges done with a wide-comb pattern.

Over the last couple years, the “MarbledMonday” hashtag has taken off on the AAS Instagram feed, becoming one of our most popular regular features (competing with other favorites like “Caturday” and “Frankenbooks”). Every Monday, we show off a striking example of what are the most colorful features on historical book bindings: their marbled papers, edges, and cloths. A recent photo of some rainbow-colored marbled edges received over 1,000 likes, placing it among the all-time most-liked posts on the AAS feed. We consistently see our IG followers excited by the vivid hues and complex patterns of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century marbling; we even hear from the talented artists who are marbling papers today. People have posted countless comments noting the beauty of marbled papers and expressing enthusiasm for the #MarbledMonday feature.

[Unused marbled sheets]. These sheets were marbled by artists at The Marbler’s Apprentice. (

[Unused marbled sheets]. These sheets were marbled by artists at The Marbler’s Apprentice.

But what has inspired our audience’s “marbled madness”—this fascination with an often-overlooked book art? A lot of it has to do with the aesthetic appeal of marbling, for sure. The intricate and varied patterns certainly catch the eye. But I think part of the attraction comes from the mystery of marbled papers, edges, and cloths. How could an artist, working in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, produce such vibrant and extraordinarily complicated designs, over and over again? These patterns have repeating elements that are remarkably precise and symmetrical: How was this done, we wonder, with old-fashioned tools? Even knowing the answer to this question, the art still seems somewhat like sorcery. A marbler throws chemicals and pigments into a bath, agitates and stirs the concoction with brushes and rakes, then places a piece of paper on the surface, which is promptly removed to reveal a stunning pattern on one side—marbling magic! Nineteenth-century observers frequently commented on the mystical qualities of the craft, which was only practiced by a relatively small number of artisans. In his 1855 book on the Harper & Brothers publishing house, Jacob Abbott declared marbling to be “one of the most curious processes to be seen in the whole [printing] establishment.” Today, just as in Abbott’s time, we find marbled paper to be “curious,” as the success of #MarbledMonday shows.

Jacob Abbott, 1803-1879. The Harper Establishment; or, How the Story Books Are Made. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1855. In this engraving, a marbler sprinkles pigments onto his water bath.

Jacob Abbott, 1803-1879. The Harper Establishment; or, How the Story Books Are Made. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1855. In this engraving, a marbler sprinkles pigments onto his water bath.

Joseph-François Lafitau, 1681-1746. Mœurs des Sauvages Ameriquains: Comparées aux Mœurs des Premiers Temps. Paris: Saugrain l'aîné, 1724. This French curl pattern was marbled in Paris in the early eighteenth century.

Joseph-François Lafitau, 1681-1746. Mœurs des Sauvages Ameriquains: Comparées aux Mœurs des Premiers Temps. Paris: Saugrain l’aîné, 1724. This French curl pattern was marbled in Paris in the early eighteenth century.

The art of marbling paper originated in Asia—with the Japanese art of suminagashi and the Turkish ebrû form—and eventually made its way toward Europe around the time of the Renaissance. By the end of the seventeenth century, marbling was fairly well established in France and Germany; from this point on, Europeans no longer needed to rely on imports from Turkey for their supply of marbled papers. In these early years of European marbling, the patterned papers were used for both fancy book bindings and for everyday decorative purposes. In Germany especially, marbled papers were used to decorate walls and adorn cherished albums. By the middle of the eighteenth century, marbling had spread to almost all of Europe, Britain included. The English became deeply interested in the craft, and quickly developed a robust marbling industry. From Britain, marbled papers would make their way across the Atlantic to reach American shores. The earliest examples of American marbling can be traced to the 1760s, but the art form did not become an industry until the first half of the nineteenth century. For this reason, most of the marbled papers in the AAS collection are from the 1830s and beyond. There are a few notable exceptions, however, including pieces of Revolutionary currency that used marbling as an anti-counterfeiting measure—an innovation championed by none other than Ben Franklin.

[Continental currency]. Philadelphia: 1775. This early American currency includes a strip of wide-comb marbling as an anti-counterfeiting measure.

[Continental currency]. Philadelphia: 1775. This early American currency includes a strip of wide-comb marbling as an anti-counterfeiting measure.

A Pocket Almanack for the Year of our Lord 1794. Boston: T. & J. Fleet, 1793. Overmarbled sheets—with the original text showing through—cover the boards of this early American almanac.

A Pocket Almanack for the Year of our Lord 1794. Boston: T. & J. Fleet, 1793. Overmarbled sheets—with the original text showing through—cover the boards of this early American almanac.

In the early republic, resources were scarce and knowledge about non-essential crafts such as marbling was not widespread. There were very few American marblers at the turn of the nineteenth century, and those practicing the craft were forced to make do with less. Nowhere is this better illustrated than with the practice of “overmarbling,” a process that involved marbling over the printed text on discarded sheets. In the AAS collections there are a number of examples of early American overmarbling; after decades of fading, you can now see the text of the discarded sheets through the marbling. Using such thrifty and practical techniques, marblers in the early republic slowly but surely built up an industry. In the 1840s and ‘50s, American marbling finally reached its industrial age, and saw its previously steady growth explode. Many of the newly created publishing houses began using steam engines and other machines to speed up certain parts of the marbling process in the 1840s. In 1856, the publication of James B. Nicholson’s A Manual of the Art of Bookbinding allowed the craft to widen its reach across America, as the book’s detailed description of marbling processes was the first of its kind to be printed in the country. After these watershed events, marbled paper soon became a mainstay of American bookbinding. Most of the examples featured on the AAS Instagram feed come from this “Golden Age” of American marbling.

James B. Nicholson, 1820-1901. A Manual of the Art of Bookbinding. Philadelphia: Henry Carey Baird, 1856. Nicholson’s Manual includes samples of marbled paper throughout, done by Philadelphia marbler Charles Williams. This piece is a Turkish spot pattern, done with raked color veins.

James B. Nicholson, 1820-1901. A Manual of the Art of Bookbinding. Philadelphia: Henry Carey Baird, 1856. Nicholson’s Manual includes samples of marbled paper throughout, done by Philadelphia marbler Charles Williams. This piece is a Turkish spot pattern, done with raked color veins.

Emily C. Pearson, 1818-1900. Gutenberg, and the Art of Printing. Boston: Noyes, Holmes, 1871. The engraving here depicts the process of marbling book edges.

Emily C. Pearson, 1818-1900. Gutenberg, and the Art of Printing. Boston: Noyes, Holmes, 1871. The engraving here depicts the process of marbling book edges.

Even with help from machines, marbling was (and still is) a difficult and complex process, involving many hard-to-control factors. According to Abbott, a “good marbler” must have “excellent judgment and taste, as well as great skill.” The process starts with the placing of chemicals and pigments in a water bath, but the element of “great skill” comes into play when the artist begins to manipulate the floating pigments to create patterns. The marbler needs a deft hand and fine discernment in order to create something beautiful. Many patterns require a series of precise movements to be executed properly, and many also require the application of chemical dispersants at particular stages. It is certainly a lot to keep track of! When done right though, marbled paper and cloth can be truly remarkable, as fans of #MarbledMonday have long known. Here are some notable Instagram hits (and a few sneak peeks!), along with descriptions of the patterns on display:


  • Top row, left to right: Tiger eye pattern, New York, 1831; Romantic pattern, New York, 1860; Gloster pattern, Worcester, 1820; Shell pattern, circa 1807.
  • Middle row, left to right: Schrottel pattern, Albany, 1836; Spanish moiré with gold veins, Lowell, circa 1840; Marbled cloth binding, London, 1851; Zebra pattern, New York, 1854.
  • Bottom row, left to right: Edge marbled in shell pattern, Philadelphia, 1844; Stormont pattern, circa 1830; Serpentine combed pattern, Boston, 1865; Peacock pattern, Philadelphia, 1856.

New Online Exhibition: From English to Algonquian: Early New England Translations

In addition to paging and returning collections materials, managing the desk schedule and the reference and reception staff, answering reference questions and compiling daily circulation statistics, my typical day as head of readers’ services usually involves meeting one or more researchers who are excited to arrive at Antiquarian Hall for the very first time. After informing new readers of our policies for handling rare materials and talking to them about how to use our My Web AAS online request system, I sometimes strike up conversations with them about whether they’ve been to New England, Massachusetts, or Worcester before. I can often suggest a good lunch spot or several places they should check out while they are in town. If we get to talking, they will often ask, “Are you from Worcester?” Sometimes I reply with a simple yes. Other times I’ll tell them that my family has been in Worcester for years—hundreds of years, in fact. I’ll tell them that I am part Nipmuc, and that Worcester is my ancestral home.

English to Angonquin screenshotTo be honest, though most of my family lives in Worcester, I’ve only been in town for about six years, when I started working at AAS. For the last two-and-a-half years while I’ve been working at the AAS reference desk, I’ve begun to explore my interest in Native history with a new excitement. I’ve had the opportunity to investigate our holdings of amazing sources relevant New England Native history and language and have had the chance to meet and speak with scholars and tribal authorities (and staff) who work in indigenous studies.  Out of this interest and these interactions, the idea for the most recent online exhibition from AAS was born:  From English to Algonquian: Early New England Translations.

stacked_0001rThe online exhibition showcases roughly a dozen texts printed in several Native American languages, including Massachuset, Narraganset, and Wampanoag—all sublanguages of the larger Algonquian family of languages spoken by natives living along the east coast of North America and west to the Rocky Mountains. The books themselves tell their own stories. The grammars and dictionaries attempt to capture a spoken language and explore its meaning, pronunciation, and structure. A 1,200 page Bible printed in Algonquian was the stacked_0002rlargest printing project undertaken at the Cambridge press in the 1660s, when printing in America was still a fledgling enterprise. These imprints serve as physical reminders of the English colonists’ desire to Christianize Native Americans, but now their contemporary use turns this colonizing effort on its head. These texts are now actively being used by New England tribes to resurrect their languages—languages that in some cases have not been spoken for centuries.


Eliot, John. The Indian Grammar Begun: Or, An Essay to Bring the Indian Language into Rules, for the Help of such as Desire to Learn the Same, for the Furtherance of the Gospel among Them. Cambridge, Mass.: Printed by Marmaduke Johnson, 1666.

In addition to showcasing these rare and beautiful objects, the exhibition also includes short biographies of the men who worked to produce them. Often history remembers the colonists John Eliot, Roger Williams, and Samuel Green who translated and printed many of these texts, but leaves out the obvious: these men could not have learned a language so foreign to them well enough to translate and reproduce it in print without the help of those who spoke it as a first language. As such, the exhibition also includes short biographies of those Nipmuc, Narraganset, Wampanoag, Massachuset, and other natives without whom these texts could not have been produced.

I hope you enjoy scrolling through this newest exhibition!

Time Stands Still in Collection of Family Photographs

Recently AAS was delighted to receive as a gift a large collection of nineteenth-century manuscripts from the Pike and Wright families of northeastern Connecticut. The collection came in two segments, both the gift of Susan Pike Corcoran in honor of her Pike and Wright ancestors. Caches of family records are rich resources for scholars working in all manner of historical arenas, from economics to genealogical research to social history. The curatorial, cataloging, and volunteer teams processing this donation will be producing a series of blog posts over the next several weeks focused on the Pike-529904_0003Wright donation. This is the first installment, which we hope will serve as a visual “How do ye do” for several of the people whose writing and livelihoods are represented in the gift.

Here in the Graphic Arts Department, we were thrilled that the boxes of Pike-Wright family papers, charts, ledgers, and books were accompanied by hundreds of family photographs, ranging in date from the 1840s to the 1920s. Most of the images, even those mounted in photo albums, were carefully annotated with sitters’ names and dates, as well as places, genealogical 529904_0011information, etc. In the early twentieth century, two groups of important early photographs had been taken from their cases by family members and mounted in frames (above). Because of the weight of the daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, the wooden frames were collapsing and each image had to be carefully removed and rehoused. These early photos capture several of the contributors to the Pike-Wright archive, including a 1/6th plate daguerreotype of Nathan Staples Pike (1819-1857), a physician who practiced in New England from the 1840s until his death from tuberculosis in 1857 (left). Dr. Pike’s ledger books, medical school notebooks, and tools will be discussed in 529904_0006later blog posts. Here, the light-eyed doctor sits confidently before the photographer, likely in the mid-1840s, when daguerreotypy was still a relatively new invention. His younger brother, Thomas Olney Pike (1820-1861), also had a daguerreotype taken about the same time, wearing a fancy striped waistcoat and a stylish top hat (left). Blue eyes apparently ran in the family! Thomas moved away from the homestead in Killingly, Connecticut, after his 1850 marriage and settled in Johnston, Rhode Island, where he died at age 40.

The extensive family photographic archive includes multiple examples of portraits of the same person over time. There are several images of Laura Stone Pike (1838-1922), for example, who married the younger brother of Nathan and Thomas, George Washington Pike, a civil engineer. Laura attended Normal School in New 529904_0019Britain and received her teaching certificate. An undated (likely circa 1860) ambrotype of Laura shows her about age twenty-five with her short hair held back by a comb, seated before a painted backdrop in a photographer’s studio (right). There are many additional images of Laura, standing with groups of teachers at meetings, in photo studios, and posed in front of family homes. The last image of her in the collection is from the 1910’s and was taken in Wakefield, Massachusetts. The now gray-haired woman is shown seated in a wicker chair holding an open book. By placing all of these images of Laura Stone Pike next to each other, the viewer can watch her mature, see her social and family connections ebb and flow, and understand the importance of place to the woman who would become the matriarch of the family.

528210_002Indeed, there are many images of place, particularly the family homestead in Killingly, Connecticut, found in the photographic collections of the Pike-Wright papers. An 1896 photograph shows Lulu Wright (who married Laura and George’s son William Kinney Pike) standing with school children along a road in front of one of the local schools in town (left). Many photographs of the homestead and surrounding parts of Killingly are also included, with trim town houses at the town center and aged farmhouses, large barns, orchards, and stone walls out in the country. Each photo is carefully annotated, often with dates and specific buildings identified. An image of Four Corners in South Killingly (below) is inscribed, “I boarded in the house at right, 1896.”


Because the descendants of the Pike-Wright family were interested in their genealogy and actively maintained and expanded this important collection of papers and photographs, the material will add to our understanding of nineteenth-century life in New England in a very personal and direct way. While unpacking the photographic material, there was a lot of oohing and aahing over the quality of the early photographs, exclamations on the annotations identifying so many sitters, and delight in the repeated recognition of many members of the family over and over. Staff and volunteers processing the papers of Dr. Pike came into the graphic arts workroom to see what he looked like, exclaiming over those blue eyes and noting his obvious physical deterioration as his final illness approached. We have said it often enough, but it is true—a picture is worth a thousand words. When you have a substantial collection of pictures taken and saved over generations, they form their own story, the narrative of an expanding, complex web of family life, love, grief, and physicality that text alone cannot provide.

This collection is the gift of Susan Pike Corcoran in honor of her Pike and Wright ancestors. A special thank you to Daniel Gehnrich, who helped facilitate the Corcoran donation.

Combining History, Graphic Art, and Modern America in the Classroom

Recent researchers and other visitors to the American Antiquarian Society have had an opportunity to view a special exhibit: “From Frederick Douglass to Ferguson: Graphic Design Projects on Race in Modern America Inspired by the Collections of the American Antiquarian Society.” This is the story of the origins of that exhibit as the result of collaborative efforts between the American Antiquarian Society and two professors from Assumption College: Carl Robert Keyes (History) (AAS member, 2015) and Lynn Simmons (Graphic Design).

For the 2015-16 academic year, we are teaching two linked courses that form the “Express Yourself: Visual Messages and Historical Narratives” learning community for first-year students at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Students simultaneously enrolled in U.S. History to 1877 and Graphic Design 1 in the fall semester and continued in U.S. History, 1877-present and Graphic Design 2 in the spring.

Although the courses meet separately, we pursue common themes important to both historians and graphic designers, thus helping students to identify interdisciplinary connections between subjects they likely considered unrelated. Two questions have guided our learning community throughout both semesters: How do we use both images and text to understand the world around us? What can we learn about American culture by studying two different kinds of communication: graphic design and history?

Our learning community also gathers outside of class to participate in co-curricular programs that further underscore the connections between the content in the two courses. Recently, we visited Firefly Letterpress in Boston, where printer John Kristensen demonstrated how several historic presses operated before giving students an opportunity to gain some hands-on experience.

This broadside was one of the items the students viewed during their visit to AAS. "Now completed and for sale! An impartial and correct history of the vigilantes of Montana Territory!" Virginia City, Mont.: D.W. Tilton & Co., 1866.

This broadside was one of the items the students viewed during their visit to AAS. “Now completed and for sale! An impartial and correct history of the vigilantes of Montana Territory!” Virginia City, Mont.: D.W. Tilton & Co., 1866.

Last semester, we visited the American Antiquarian Society for a behind-the-scenes tour—including an examination of founder Isaiah Thomas’s eighteenth-century printing press—led by Kimberly Pelkey, head of readers’ services. We then gathered in the Council Room for a hands-on workshop with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century graphic arts materials selected by Curator of Graphic Arts Lauren Hewes. Students spent approximately an hour comparing and contrasting broadsides, advertising ephemera, specimen books, and a variety of other items from the collections. Lauren Hewes, Kimberly Pelkey, and Marie Lamoreaux, the collections manager, all fielded questions and participated in discussions with our students.

We also viewed a first edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave: Written by Himself (1845), which the students read and discussed as part of their history course. Each also composed an essay in which they tested the claim by historians and other scholars that the Narrative is not solely a work of African American history but rather a broader and more general view of nineteenth-century American history. In the process of reading, writing, and discussing, students interrogated broader histories of slavery and abolition as well as race relations in American history.

As a companion assignment, students pursued a project that combined images and text in the graphic design course. By its very nature visual communication in all its forms offers us an opportunity to take a look at ourselves and the world around us from a different perspective. There are many examples to draw from, such as an interpretation of nature in the form of landscape painting, the use of photography in studying and documenting the world around us, the construction of sculptural forms to sit in our interior and exterior landscapes, and the use of moving images and sound to make visual narratives. We are still influenced by the impact of the use of typography and photographs from the early-twentieth-century European avant garde movements. Additionally significant is the mid-twentieth-century collage and printmaking of popular visual culture and American abstract expressionism as we’ve moved into our digital age, where the influence and practice of graphic design is exploding with advances in technology. Visual communication is a major player in the construction of our expression, sense of reality, and communication.

Another example of an AAS collection item used as inspiration. "Cheap printing at the north-east corner of Calvert and Market Streets." Baltimore: Printed by B. Edes, between 1827 and 1831.

Another example of an AAS collection item used as inspiration. “Cheap printing at the north-east corner of Calvert and Market Streets.” Baltimore: Printed by B. Edes, between 1827 and 1831.

One of the most socially engaging types of visual communication is in the form of the poster through the use of typographic elements and images. As a vehicle for delivering messages and information, the poster has its roots in the broadsides of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which were mostly type-based, using large-sized type to draw the attention of people passing by in public spaces. Broadsides are generally printed on one side of a piece of paper and distributed for a variety of public and commercial announcements, as well as government notifications. Posters continue to be a widely effective use of communication for the graphic designer and illustrator. From advocacy of social and political causes to advertising, propaganda, event announcements, and self-expression, posters are a voice for public address.

A student poster designed by Suzanne Pepe

A student poster designed by Suzanne Pepe

Through the pairing of our two courses, U.S. History to 1877 and Graphic Design 1, an opportunity to speak about contemporary issues through the visual messaging of the mid-1800s could not be ignored. As mentioned above, students read and wrote about Douglass’s Narrative for their history course. In keeping with our goal of presenting connections between visual messages and historical narratives, each student created a poster by appropriating the form for the poster from broadsides of the nineteenth century through visual composition, layout, and use of typography. The content of the poster referenced graphic arts materials from the AAS collections, contemporary news quotes, excerpts from Douglass’s Narrative, quotations from Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts’s article “The Worth of Black Men, from Slavery to Ferguson,” and/or the Black Lives Matter website describing the escalating violence and discrimination toward African Americans during the last few years.

In preparation for this assignment students spent time learning about the history and anatomy of typography, as well as a brief introduction to the history of movable type and poster culture. There was also discussion about the importance of appropriate research and audience/viewer considerations for graphic design/visual communication projects. Our visit to AAS in November gave the students a rich exposure to actual broadsides from the nineteenth century, which allowed them to pay close attention to details in the compositions and to make sketches prior to developing their own poster for this project. Choosing the appropriate typefaces and layout was critical to these posters evoking cues and connections, creating a visual historical bridge between the period of American history when slavery was legal and the recent rise in racial conflicts in the U.S.Specimen book collage 1

Specimen book collage 2

One of the students’ favorite items from AAS was this specimen book, used to sell type to printers. “Chromatic Specimens from the Wm. H. Page Wood Type Co.” Norwich, Conn., not before 1876.

In planning for our visit to the American Antiquarian Society, Lauren Hewes was aware of these complementary assignments—essay and poster—and selected graphic arts materials intended to inspire creativity as well as educate. In consultation with other staff, after the projects had been completed, she endorsed a Black History Month exhibit in the display cases in the reading room. For much of the month of February, all fourteen posters created by our students, each accompanied by an abstract written by its designer, have been on view. They have been joined by Douglass’s Narrative, open to the title page and accompanying frontispiece featuring an engraving of the author, one of the most influential Americans of the nineteenth century.

Student posters by Hope Sutton and Julie Carpino.

Student posters by Hope Sutton and Julie Carpino.

We very much appreciate everything that the American Antiquarian Society has done to make our exhibit possible. This has been a rewarding experience for us as instructors and an even more rewarding experience for our students.