A Unique Thank-You from Our NEH Summer Institute

We recently hosted twenty-five educators who came to the Society from across the country to participate in a two-week Summer Institute funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Titled The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865, the program examined—through twenty-one seminar sessions and eighteen library workshops—how news was defined, reported, and disseminated from the Colonial period through the end of the Civil War. While participants examined the Society’s extensive collections of newspapers and periodicals, they also explored private letters and journals, pamphlets, books, and a wide variety of graphic materials to gain a greater understanding of the media milieu of each time period, the impact of technology on communications, and how social and political movements shaped and defined news and how it was communicated.

The program was co-directed by me and David Paul Nord, who is professor emeritus of history and journalism from Indiana University. Additionally, AAS staff members Lauren Hewes, Kayla Hopper, Marie Lamoureux, and Vincent Golden led workshops, and guests Joshua Brown, David Henkin, and Megan Kate Nelson conducted individual seminars and workshop sessions.

Jim call slipThe participating teachers came from ten different states: Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, and Vermont. They taught a variety of subjects, including history, English Language Arts, journalism, and graphic arts. They included seventeen high school, five middle school, and three elementary level instructors who taught in public, private, and charter schools.

One of these teachers, Philip Crossman, is also an accomplished artist. Throughout the Institute he quietly created caricatures of the staff and faculty and then solicited thank you notes from all of the participants. On the last day of the program he presented these to us. These thank you notes and caricatures also included mock library call slips (right) as a further tribute to the inspiration these folks found in the AAS collections.  One teacher echoed the sentiments of many when she wrote, “Thank you for this amazing opportunity to learn about this nation through the news media.  It has been eye-opening and a great pleasure.” We couldn’t think of a better way for them to say thank you!

David Nord and Jim Moran

David Nord and Jim Moran


Kayla Hopper and Marie Lamoureaux

Kayla Hopper and Marie Lamoureaux

Lauren Hewes

Lauren Hewes

Pulp Fiction Pamphlets: Judaism, Macbeth, and Murder?

Susanna Sigler is currently a summer page at AAS. She is a junior at UMass Amherst majoring in history and minoring in Judaic studies. The opportunity to work at AAS for the summer appealed to her not just as a history major, but as a general lover of history and books, to be a part of the workings of a major research library/archives.

While doing a catalog search for possible blog post topics, I looked up broad subjects of interest to me—towns in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania where my family has roots, as well as topics like Judaism and Jewish life in America.  As I scrolled through the search results for “Jewish” in the AAS catalog (not a very specific search term, I know), most items did not seem particularly out of the ordinary—records of old synagogues, more current histories, and—most prolifically—Christian evangelical materials.

However, about halfway through the list, the phrase “Asheville North Carolina” popped out to me.  My family is going to be passing through there this summer on the way to Georgia for a summer road trip.  I looked at the rest of the title.  “The life, confession, and execution of the Jew and Jewess, Gustavus Linderhoff and Fanny Victoria Talzingler who were hanged in Asheville, North Carolina, Oct. 27, 1854, for the triple murder of Abner, Benjamin, and Charles Ecclangfeldt, orphan children, who were left to the guardianship of the villain Linderhoff, together with twenty thousand dollars.”  Wow.  Okay then.  No spoiler warnings here, huh?  Even by nineteenth-century standards, this title was long and sensationalistic.

My first thought, after the initial double-take, was: “wait, how come I’ve never heard of this before?!”  I did know, though, that if this execution had really taken place, the crime allegedly committed by Gustavus and Fanny probably hadn’t.  And I had a pretty good guess as to what Fanny and Gustavus’s execution would look like.  This country is no stranger to the barbarous practice of lynching—extrajudicial murder by mob, often by hanging—which occurred as part of a campaign of terror against African Americans in the South for many decades following the Civil War. The lynching of Jews was rare, despite rampant, violent, Southern anti-Semitism, but it did happen. The most notable case occurred in 1915 with the hanging of Leo Frank, a factory superintendent accused of the murder of a young female employee.  With this knowledge and these assumptions floating around in my head, I honestly wasn’t quite sure of what I would really see with this pamphlet.  What would prove to be the truth?

When I actually got my hands on the material though, and began to do a little research, it became rapidly clear that the entire series of events—premeditation, triple murder, execution—had been completely made up.  Flipping quickly through, one interesting thing stood out to me—the story quotes the Shakespeare play Macbeth throughout.  The pamphlet proves itself to be in essence an anti-Semitic retelling of the Shakespearean tale.

Sensationalist pamphlets like this one, which was published by A. R. Orton in Baltimore in 1855, were the forerunners of the immensely popular dime novel.  The two categories overlapped a bit during the the mid-nineteenth century.  Both the pamphlets and dime novels shared low prices appealing to the masses, as well as a particularly melodramatic sense of story that capitalized on the prejudices of the time.  More specifically, many dime novels were similar to Gustavus and Fanny in that they contained grossly anti-Semitic portrayals of characters.

Orton, along with a publisher named E. E. Barclay, were the two main publishers of these pulp fiction pamphlets.  Little is known about them; any ideas about what their motives were for publishing these pamphlets, or about their readership, can only be speculative. Since these pamphlets were sold cheaply, often with several bound together, and judging by the popularity of the later dime novels, I would guess that the pulp pamphlets also enjoyed at least a considerable fraction of the dime novels’ popularity.

505566_0001The pamphlet’s title manages to squeeze in an impressive number of anti-Semitic tropes and stereotypes in its four lines.  “The Jew and Jewess” are the terms used to refer to its two subjects.  Mere tone can change the word “Jew” into an epithet, combined with the anti-Semitic, misogynistic term “Jewess.”  Gustavus is drawn, both in the text and in the illustrations that accompany it, as dark, smart, and cunning. He is a pawnbroker, one who started out a new life after running away from his apprenticeship with the money he felt he was due.  Fanny, his wife, is equally deceitful—they meet when she comes into his shop attempting to pawn stolen jewelry.  After his converted Christian cousin, a Mr. Ecclangfeldt, passes away, Gustavus becomes the guardian of Ecclangfeldt’s three children, Abner, Benjamin, and Charles.

Just as in Macbeth, it is the wife who becomes the driving force of the story’s evil.  Fanny is the one who pressures Gustavus into murdering the children, and she herself is the one who ends up carrying out the deed against her husband’s squeamishness.  In doing so, the story uses the plot of Macbeth to accommodate stereotypes that are not just anti-Semitic but a particularly misogynistic strain of that prejudice.  Fanny’s plan of murder, one that will provide them with the orphans’ $20,000, invokes one of the oldest anti-Semitic stereotypes, that of the greedy Jew.  So greedy, in fact, that the murdering of children becomes an obstacle easily conquered.  Fanny is portrayed in the way that Jewish women have been characterized for centuries—scheming, witchy, pushy, and overbearing. And in this characterization Gustavus is further stereotyped in the way that Jewish men have been characterized—weak-willed, emasculated, and beholden to their domineering wives.

Gustavus and Fanny are both drawn with a shadowy, sinister bent.  Neither of them is an overt caricature but their dark hair and crooked noses are unmistakably meant to convey their Jewishness.

Gustavus and Fanny are both drawn with a shadowy, sinister bent. Neither of them is an overt caricature but their dark hair and crooked noses are unmistakably meant to convey their Jewishness.

The interesting thing about this pamphlet in particular is that many of Orton’s other pulp fiction pamphlets contain didactic elements.  Some are stories of criminals, many given heritages vaguely exotic, but in others the characters are people who have strayed from a virtuous life and then ultimately urge the readers not to become the same cautionary tale.  One such yarn is the tale of beautiful Arabella Arlington, who commits suicide after a failed romance.

Gustavus and Fanny is different in that in claims no teachable moment, no moral lesson to be gleaned.  Once the bodies of the children are discovered, vigilante justice is swift to round up the couple and prepare them for execution.  Gustavus asks in his final moments to be allowed to repent, and is allowed no such luxury.

The pamphlet draws on prejudice that was entrenched in the history of the United States since the very beginning, carried over from Europe where it had existed for millennia.  Even before they commit their crime, Gustavus and Fanny are othered and demonized simply by the fact of their Jewishness.  In other words, they are already guilty.  It was written for an audience—a country—where many were largely accepting or passively accepting of anti-Semitic stereotypes, and this pamphlet plays directly into those expectations.

We can look at this pamphlet and see a piece of ephemera, something almost physically falling apart, relegated to an archive, and deservedly so.  But we know too that the stereotypes and sentiments depicted in these pages are unfortunately far from dead.  This piece of history, like all others, still needs to be learned from.

The Acquisitions Table: Caution Requisite in Marrying

Caution Requisite in Marrying. New York: Sold by E.P. Whaites, 1838-1840.

Caution requisite in marryingThis elegantly designed letter sheet features a spectacular border of flowers, foliage and moths surrounding engraved text by the English Bishop Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) expounding on the dangers of marriage (“It is an ill band of affections to tie two hearts together, by a little thread of red and white, and they can love no longer…”).  The sheet was sold in New York around 1840 by an engraver and stationer who also offered silk ribbons, diplomas, certificates and calling cards at his shop on Cortlandt St.  Edward Percy Whaites first appears in the New York papers in 1837.  His engraving office seems to have been focused on job work and ephemera, although he also sold books.

AAS’s First Digital Humanities Project

After two years of working under the generous dome, I will no longer be the ACLS Public Fellow and Digital Humanities Curator at AAS. Instead, I will be the Digital Humanities Curator, a full-time staff member. My work will not change much, but this transition from fellow to staffer offers a chance for me to reflect on how we at AAS understand the relationship between digital humanities and special collections libraries.

Perhaps this position can most easily be summed up in a line I often use when explaining what I do as a digital humanities curator at a special collection whose founding was and whose collecting scope is at least a solid century before the digital was even a twinkle in anyone’s—let alone humanists’—eyes: Everything I know about digital humanities I learned from book history. When I deploy this maxim I am describing methodology: how the systems and systemization on which digital humanities rely, when done right, are those that bibliographers, catalogers, and scholars of the material record have been employing for decades. In 1912, W.W. Greg described bibliography, which he wanted to be at once more capacious and more pure as a science insofar as it is defined by how work is done, rather than what work is done to. He writes: “It is the method itself, not the object to which that method is applied, that gives [bibliography] unity.” It is this approach to the past through a particular method, through a sort of systemization that I think special collections librarians share most with digital humanists. And here at AAS it is our General Catalog that makes this connection most apparent to me. I suspect that the same is true at other libraries where decades, perhaps even centuries, have been dedicated to the work that falls under the general job description of cataloging, a term whose singlularity belies all that it entails. Special collections cataloging is after all, not one act, but instead it is multifaceted: it entails researching, describing, organizing, categorizing, referencing (and cross referencing), checking (and double-checking), formatting, coding, and programming.


The newspaper room in the second Antiquarian Hall.

All of this work is in the hopes of making the vast heap of history’s remains legible to those who come at it with myriad questions, dispositions, credentials, and experiences.

dhIn the past two years, as I have worked with my colleagues here to develop what are easily recognizable digital humanities projects—databases, Omeka web resources, TEI projects—I have come to understand that the AAS’s oldest and most important digital humanities project is in fact its Catalog.

The General Catalog, which functions as both a record of what we hold under our generous dome and as the North American Imprints Program, is the home of big data for early American bibliometrics.

AAS Catalog Keyword Search

The keyword search page in the AAS General Catalog

As our participants at the Digital Antiquarian Workshop learned, the data in it can serve as the backbone for all sorts of maps, visualizations, exhibitions, and databases that address specific questions about print culture in the early republic. We at AAS deploy it for such purposes in house all the time, and one of my most important jobs has been teaching others how they too can make use of this data in efficient and effective ways.

AAS Catalog Export Results

An export page from the AAS General Catalog that can serve as the backbone for databases, maps, exhibitions, and other digital humanity projects.

And one of the most exciting parts of my job is finding out from scholars what they need from our Catalog. At the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP)’s recent conference in Montreal this opportunity arose on a number of occasions, both in the Twitter stream and in person.

SHARP_smallA society founded over two decades ago, SHARP is the international home of the study of the history of the book, and in recent years, I have been increasingly impressed with its thoughtful, but enthusiastic embrace of the digital (to put my biases on the table: I am the e-resources editor for SHARP News). I was first drawn to SHARP as a graduate student, not only because of my burgeoning focus in the history of book for my dissertation, but also because it was one of the few places where I found academics and librarians having meaningful exchanges. Given this history of SHARP as a home for both the professor and the curator, the PhD and the MLIS, people on both sides of the reference desk, it is no surprise that the work of cataloging should be paramount in SHARP discussions, especially as SHARP embraces new tools for the work of bibliography and book history in the digital age. To these conversations, I was able to respond both in person and virtually with details of AAS’s cataloging practices. Our deep cataloging once again gave AAS much to be proud of, though I was also happy to bring back to Worcester ways in which we might improve our Catalog further. Specifically, in the year ahead, we are planning to examine if we could include subject headings for female provenance before 1900, and we also want to further examine how we might be more detailed in the subject headings we include for Native American texts.

I am thrilled to continue my work here at AAS, and I hope that if you have any other ideas for or suggestions concerning or needs from our General Catalog, you will be in touch with me.

Emerson and Whitman: Sage Meets Free Spirit

A carte de vsite of Ralph Waldo Emerson

A carte de visite of Ralph Waldo Emerson

When preparing an exhibit for our recent Digital Antiquarian conference we included items related to the famous interaction of two writers at different points in their public careers: Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman.  (This was prompted by the participation of the Whitman Project in our digital projects showcase.) Whitman used Emerson’s private correspondence to promote his own work, and, it would seem, reveal Emerson as the successful and generous mentor. Whitman does not fare as well in this interaction: he comes off as the eager, young upstart willing to engage in indecorous means to advance his career.

Emerson cultivated his role as mentor and generous benefactor.  His many disciples included Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Louisa May Alcott, and some lesser lights. As the reigning lion of American thought and literature, he didn’t necessarily need to nurture young minds, but he relished the role. Long before they met, Whitman respected and admired Emerson. It is even possible that his attendance at Emerson’s 1842 New York lectures on “Poetry,” in which he described “man” as a symbol, explicitly similar to grass, may have suggested Whitman’s title for his book of poetry.

Whitman portrait from frontispiece of the first edition of Leaves of Grass

Whitman portrait from frontispiece of the first edition of Leaves of Grass

Emerson was a force for a strong and innovative American literature. He was destined to be a champion of Whitman, and disdainful of poets like Poe, calling him a “jingle man.” He was impatient with the genteel and derivative literature of the current Boston literary scene. But he was also a product of it, and often self-censored subjects that were uncomfortably explicit or vulgar.

Whitman was the representative new American: brash, self-reliant, confident, proud of himself, inventive, and a product of a hard-scrabble up-bringing. He never achieved the public acclaim of Emerson and struggled for recognition, but forged on undeterred.  His unprecedented free-verse volume of poetry, Leaves of Grass, was printed in 1855 to an unreceptive and even hostile public. Oddly, it was printed without authorial attribution, even though it listed Walter Whitman as holding the copyright. As a professional printer, he set the type himself and used a distributor. Sales were disappointing.

leaves of grass title pageNot content to leave reviews of his book to critics, Whitman wrote several anonymous reviews himself, hoping to drum up interest. “An American bard at last!” he hailed himself in one review. His subterfuge easily exposed, he was only mildly embarrassed.

When Leaves of Grass came out, Whitman anonymously sent it to Emerson who eagerly read it. Emerson was impressed, although squeamish about its sensuality. Eager and excited  to provide support to a powerful new voice in poetry, on July 21 he wrote an encouraging letter to Whitman, calling Leaves of Grass a “wonderful gift” of the “most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed.” He enthused, ”I have great joy in it,” and wrote, ”I greet you at the beginning of a great career.”  The letter continued in this vein and concluded with a promise that Emerson would soon visit Whitman in New York. The letter was effusive and must have thrilled and validated Whitman.  (Here is the full holograph manuscript and transcript.)


NY Tribune, Oct 10, 1855: publication of Emerson’s private letter

Whitman was undoubtedly elated, even reputedly carrying it around for months. He did not reply, but passed on the letter to the friendly editor of the New York Tribune, where it was printed on October 10, 1855. He neglected to ask or notify Emerson that his private letter would be printed. Either he was afraid that if he asked permission it would be refused, or he just felt that this was an opportunity not to be missed.

Seizing opportunity, as any entrepreneur would, he had the idea to use Emerson’s endorsement to promote the next edition of his book, and circulated a broadside of the letter (see below).

He re-issued Leaves of Grass and printed some copies with the letter as an appendix, but then decided to save the precious endorsement for his new expanded edition. He thus included the Concord Sage’s letter of praise in the text block of the second edition printed in 1856, along with added poems and essays.


“Greeting you at the beginning of a great career – R.W. Emerson,” quoted on side of second edition

And then, to make sure no potential buyer would miss the endorsement, he printed “I greet you at the beginning of a great career – R.W. Emerson” on the spine binding to ensure visibility (see left).

Emerson had visited innovative Whitman, as promised in his letter, in December 1855, and even though Whitman was planning to print the letter in his next edition, he made no mention of it. Some of Emerson’s friends reported that he was extremely angry upon discovering the letter’s inclusion. And by normal standards, he had a right to be. Others, who admired Whitman’s poetry, indicated no such anger (Thoreau and Bronson Alcott, for example). Mutual acquaintance Moncure Conway reported that Emerson was amusedly awkward at the situation, expressing only a wish that he had written more purposefully for publication, and hadn’t been so impulsive.  It is tempting to think that people who reported the Emerson outrage were themselves more upset at Whitman’s explicit sexuality in his poetry than with the questionable reprinting of the letter. Emerson’s strongest wording about the situation was in a letter to Longfellow, noting that Whitman has “done a strange thing in printing…my letter [in the newspaper]”. A Boston newspaper, on the other hand, called it “the grossest violation of literary comity and courtesy that ever passed under our notice.”

Whitman’s friends were nonplussed. If Emerson “had expected common etiquette from you… they were sadly mistaken in your character,” one of his most ardent supporters and friends wrote fondly to Whitman.

Broadside advertising the second edition of Leaves of Grass

Broadside advertising the second edition of Leaves of Grass

Their initial friendship and mutual admiration cooled gradually, with Whitman frustrated over what he viewed as antiquated timidity in his former idol, and Emerson disappointed with Whitman’s artistic roughness in someone he once regarded as his transcendental disciple.  Whitman’s scandalous reputation was awkward, as when on a visit to Concord, mothers and wives of Emerson’s friends and family all refused to allow him in their houses.

It is probable that Leaves of Grass would have been ignored without Emerson’s support, and possible that Whitman might have been discouraged without it. It is also likely that Whitman’s ongoing self-promotion helped stimulate interest in his work and ensured a wider audience.

Further Reading:

Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1980.

Loving, Jerome. Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself. Berkeley: University of California, 1999.

The Walt Whitman Project

The Acquisitions Table: My Lady’s Casket of Jewels and Flower for Her Adorning

My Lady’s Casket of Jewels and Flowers for Her Adorning. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1885.

Lady's CasketThis book was made for gift-giving, and we at AAS were thrilled to have received such a stunning color plate book as a gift ourselves – along with many similarly gorgeous volumes – from Joanne Gill. An excellent example of the apex of chromolithographic technique and at the nadir of the holiday gift book tradition, this small oblong quarto format in a decorated cloth binding was offered by publishers Lee and Shepard as a Christmas gift book. The volume was illustrated by Eleanor W. Talbot with sixteen chromolithographic plates (two with movable doors revealing hidden illustrations behind) that illustrated articles of a woman’s toilette. Each plate was accompanied by an appropriate selected text – usually verses from a famous poet such as Shakespeare – ascribing a symbolic meaning for that article of a woman’s toilette. For instance, the “Best Eye Water” was described as “These drops the poor and wretched can supply / They add fresh lustre to the brightest eye” and the answer was “compassion’s tears.”


Read all about it! The Conservation of a Racy Newspaper

This issue of the Subterranean (“Independent in everything, Neutral in nothing”), dated August 26, 1843, was acquired by AAS circa 2001 as part of a generous donation of Racy newspapers from Leo Hershkowitz.  Published in New York City and reaching their peak in the 1840s, the contents of these papers are full of colorful stories about various “fanatical traitors, bigoted sectarians, swindlers, speculators, robbers, bankers and brokers….” People were named outright, so it’s not surprising these papers were found in the N.Y. District Attorney’s office for possible slander lawsuits.

All these years later, the condition of the paper was critical: discolored, brittle, creased, and mutilated, with losses, tears at every fold, and, oh goody, adhesive tape.  The paper was in nine fragments, repaired with five pieces of Magic Mend tape keeping the various sections somewhat connected.  One quadrant of the front page was missing.  Another section was secured by tape in the wrong place.  There’s iron gall ink manuscript along the bottom of page 52 that had begun eating through the paper, ready to crumble away.  The tiny 6 pt. type was in danger of being lost in many places.  It was so fragile that one couldn’t really handle the paper until the tape came off.

This issue of the Subterranean before treatment.

This issue of the Subterranean before treatment.

Close-up of tape and tears before treatment.

Close-up of tape and tears before treatment.

After photo documentation and a condition write-up, the tape was successfully removed in a bath of 200-proof ethanol.  First, the carrier was lifted, and then the adhesive was gently scraped off with a spatula.  The small bits of paper that had been attached to the tape, which were still sticky, were bathed in ethyl acetate, twice, to remove any residual adhesive.

InBath_0001The newspaper was then washed with subsequent baths until the water was clear, and given a final alkalizing bath with magnesium bicarbonate (a 50:50 solution).  After drying, the paper was resized with gelatin (a .7% solution) and dried between Hollytex sheets and woolen felts.

Fragments that needed to be placed in their original location.

Fragments that needed to be placed in their original location.

The mending required joining all the various sections, mending tears, filling losses, and restoring the little bits of text.  That last part was like working on a jigsaw puzzle. Each time the right spot for a wee little couple of letters was found felt like cause for celebration.  There is a plentiful assortment of Japanese tissues available here in the lab, ranging from very transparent to opaque (see below).  The thinnest tissue was used over the text so it could still be easily read, and the most opaque was used to fill the areas of loss. The tissues were toned in a bath with watery acrylic paints to match the original material, so that it would blend with the newspaper and not be distracting to the eye.  Zin Shofu wheat starch paste was used to adhere the Japanese tissue mends. The process is reversible with a little moistening , should there be a reason in future to do so.

Samples of tissue used for repairs.

Samples of tissue used for repairs.

Even after washing and alkalizing the paper, it’s still thin and delicate and prone to edge tears.  The newspaper unfolded measures 21 x 28”. Because of its still-fragile condition, it seemed safer to leave it in two pieces, and place them each in clear polyester folders for extra protection within the archival paper folders.

See here for all of the photographs documenting the conservation of this issue! 




Moses Paul to Samson Occom: Rediscovering a Treasure

Libraries like the American Antiquarian Society exist not just to preserve material, but also to help people find it. Detailed descriptions of items in our catalog records and thoughtfully designed systems of organization ensure that items in our collection can be located. But AAS also relies to a great extent on institutional memory—the knowledge of the collection gained by the members of the staff over years of service. With over four million items in the Society’s collections, however, it’s inevitable that some items that librarians knew about at one point eventually become forgotten, as staff members come and go. This is the story of one particularly exciting item in the AAS collections and how we became reacquainted with it, as well as a set of questions about how it came to be here in the first place.

Samson Occom is now one of the best-known Native American literary figures from early America, and is generally considered to be the first Native American writer to publish a book under his own name. Occom was born in Mohegan country, on what is now the Connecticut coast, in 1723. As a young man he studied English, theology, and Hebrew with Eleazar Wheelock (who would later go on to found Dartmouth College), and would eventually be ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1759 after already having served as a teacher and preacher to the Pequot community in Montauk, on Long Island. In the 1760s, Occom traveled through Great Britain preaching sermons to large crowds to help raise money for Wheelock’s charity school for Native students in Lebanon, Connecticut, only to find on his return that Wheelock had diverted the significant funds Occom had raised to support Dartmouth (and its Occom_0002white students) instead. Occom then ministered to the Mohegan people in southern New England. In 1770, he would have been one of the most famous Native American men in the northeast.

The “first” publication that made Occom famous is known as the “Sermon at the Execution of Moses Paul.” Occom’s sermon was published soon after Paul’s execution, in both pamphlet form and as a verse broadside, and then reprinted in numerous editions well into the nineteenth century. The title page of most editions of the sermon read “A sermon, preached at the execution of Moses Paul, an Indian, who was executed at New-Haven, on the 2d of Sept. 1772. For the murder of Mr. Moses Cook, late of Waterbury, on the seventh of December, 1771. Preached at the desire of said Paul.” It is this final sentence—“Preached at the desire of said Paul”—that is of most interest here.

As the title of the pamphlet states, Moses Paul (Wampanoag) killed a white man, Moses Cook, after a fight in David Clark’s tavern in Bethany, Connecticut, on December 7, 1771. Cook had beaten Paul after Paul objected when the proprietor of the tavern refused to serve him liquor. Moses Paul was tried in New Haven, convicted of murder, and sentenced to hang. As was the custom in early New England, a sermon intended to encourage the community to reflect on the solemnity of the occasion was preached before the execution. Paul’s first execution sermon was delivered by Jonathan Edwards, Jr.—a scholar of Native languages, and the son of the famous Puritan minister—on June 7, 1772, ten days before the date that was originally scheduled for Paul’s execution. An appeal to the Connecticut General Assembly delayed Paul’s execution, which was rescheduled for September 2, 1772.

On July 16, 1772, Moses Paul wrote to Samson Occom, “considering that we are of the same nation,” with the “earnest & dying request … that you would preach a sermon to me at my execution.” Occom would doubtless have been aware of Paul’s trial and impending death, and he accepted the invitation, delivering the sermon that would make Occom one of the most widely reprinted American authors of the 1770s. (The full text of the sermon is available via the Evans Text Creation Partnership here.)

Occom_0001Scholars have long known that Paul specifically asked Occom come to New Haven to preach his execution sermon–the title page of the published version of the sermon tells us so (see left). In an 1899 biography of Occom, William DeLoss Love wrote that Paul “naturally turned to the man of his own race upon whom the Indians generally had come to look as their friend in trouble,” but offered no details (170). A 1935 biography by Harold Blodgett, however, offered a full transcription of Paul’s letter to Occom making the request, adding: “It is printed by courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, which possesses the original.”

Which is true. This incredibly significant letter has been in the Society’s collections since 1931. A note in the “Miscellaneous Manuscripts P” folder, written by R.W.G. Vail, then the Society’s librarian, indicates that the letter to Occom came from “Mr. Edward F. Coffin, of Worcester, Feb. 19, 1931.” Yet, in the decades between the time that Blodgett transcribed the letter and today, the letter disappeared from AAS’s institutional memory (but not from our shelves). Almost all scholars who have written about Occom since the 1930s have relied on Blodgett’s faithful transcription of the letter instead of visiting Worcester to see the original. And since the letter is the only manuscript item in our holdings written by Moses Paul, it was never classified as its own collection, and thus was not included in our manuscript finding aids (our checklist of “miscellaneous manuscripts” was written by hand, and is only available in a binder in the reading room).



Mike Kelly, the head of archives and special collections at Amherst College, is at work on a bibliography of Occom’s execution sermon (he has thus far identified 23 distinct editions of the sermon from 1772 to 1829, 14 of which are held at AAS). He saw a reference to the letter in a 2004 article on Paul’s trial in the New England Quarterly by Ava Chamberlain (who did visit Worcester to see the original), and wrote to ask if we actually did have the letter. We looked in the Miscellaneous Manuscripts P folder, and it was exactly where it was supposed to be. But the question remained: how did it get there?

Edward Francis Coffin was born in New Hampshire in 1873. His father, E. W. Coffin, relocated the family to Worcester, where he ran a business selling store fixtures. Edward followed his
father into the family CoffinFixturesbusiness; the 1910, 1920, and 1930 U.S. Censuses all list his occupation as “store fixtures,” either as a salesman or proprietor.

But his heart was clearly not with display cases and cash registers, as he embarked on a side career as a collector of and dealer in Americana—a field to which Coffin was sufficiently dedicated to have had separate letterhead made. AAS has only one box of correspondence from Edward Coffin in our manuscript collection, covering the years 1912 to 1915. A note in the file from AAS librarian Clarence Brigham indicates that Coffin retired  from business in 1939, CoffinAutographand continued dealing books and prints until his death in 1949. The note also states “Most of his correspondence was destroyed by him at his office, but this 1912-15 file happened to be saved at his home, and was sent to the Society by his son.”

The letters in the collection at AAS are from fairly early in Coffin’s career as a collector and dealer, and at times do not reflect a terribly high level of sophistication. A series of letters between Coffin and a lawyer in Richmond, Missouri, inquiring about the descendants of a local family goes through several rounds before Coffin reveals the purpose behind the correspondence: he was inquiring (on behalf of a customer) if it would be possible to purchase the manuscript of the Book of Mormon, which he had heard had been handed down through the Whitmer family. His correspondent quite politely replied, “This manuscript can not be procured for love nor money as it is the rock upon which the church is founded….”

Several months later, Coffin wrote to the Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., asking the jurist to provide details about the date and origin of an ivory miniature of his father that Coffin had recently acquired. There is no evidence that Justice Holmes took the time to reply to the inquisitive store fixture salesman from Worcester.

In an April 30, 1914, letter to a book dealer in England, Coffin described himself thus: “I would say that I am a dealer in a general line of early American items, my chief line being material of an autographic character…. I also do something with early paintings, including miniatures, engravings of places, and especially Revolutionary subjects.” Clifford Shipton’s remarks in the AAS Proceedings in 1949 on Coffin’s passing note that he was “well versed in the field of early American art, and wrote occasional valuable monographs on historical subjects, such as the early maps of Worcester, the beginnings of photography in Worcester, and the contributions of Mary Baker Eddy to newspapers and magazines.” The extant materials paint a picture of a dedicated collector of specific genres of items who could be quite dogged in pursuing potential customers (his repeated efforts to find a buyer for a daguerreotype of Stephen A. Douglas were notably fruitless).

Letters in the AAS archives from the 1930s show that Coffin was still carrying on a fairly miscellaneous trade, offering for sale to the AAS items ranging from children’s books and juvenile magazines to a second edition of the Federalist to early American editions of Hoyle. He clearly did occasionally come into possession of some remarkable items. The AAS archives include an invoice from Coffin to the Society dated October 5, 1938, for $600.00 (over $10,000 today) for the 1855 first edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, one of the treasures of our collection.

So the letter from Moses Paul to Samson Occom does not seem to fit with the rest of Coffin’s interests. It is not autographed by a well-known figure, it does not concern Worcester history or the Revolution, nor does it involve the graphic arts. Where did he get the letter? Where was it between 1771 and the early twentieth century? Did Coffin try to sell the letter before placing it at AAS? If so, to whom? Given that he destroyed his correspondence, we may never know the answers to these questions. But we are delighted to have (re)-encountered this letter.

Further Reading

William DeLoss Love published the first full-length biography of Samson Occom, Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England (Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1899). The first full transcription of Moses Paul’s letter to Occom appeared in Harold Blodgett, Samson Occom (Hanover, N.H.: Dartmouth College Manuscript Series Number Three, 1935).

The most thorough account of Moses Paul’s trial is Ava Chamberlain, “The Execution of Moses Paul: A Story of Crime and Contact in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut,” New England Quarterly 77:3 (2004). Additional recent scholarship on Occom includes Joanna Brooks, American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); Brooks, ed., The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Leadership and Literature in Eighteenth-century Native America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); and Phillip Round, Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663-1880 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010).


The Acquisitions Table: A Proclamation for the Encouragement of Piety and Virtue

Province of Massachusetts-Bay. By the Governor. A Proclamation for the Encouragement of Piety and Virtue… Boston: Margaret Draper, July 23, 1774.

Province of MassachusettsThis important broadside was printed in Boston by Margaret Draper, a loyalist printer who enjoyed the support of Province of Massachusetts Royal Governor Thomas Gage.  Gage had been appointed by King George in the spring of 1774 to implement what became known as the Intolerable Acts (or Coercive Acts). Gage was, to put it mildly, very unpopular in Boston.  He closed the port and enforced the quartering act, raising the ire of the locals. This proclamation, issued in July of 1774 calls for calm and asks royal subjects to “avoid all Hypocrisy, Sedition, and Licentiousness, and all other Immoralities.” In addition, the proclamation asks for “all People of this Province, by every means in their Power to contribute what they can towards a general Reformation of Manners, Restitution of Peace and good Order.”  Gage’s proclamation was met with scorn and his actions to inforce the Acts in Boston helped to fire up the revolutionary spirit in other colonies.  By September, the First Continental Congress was holding meetings in Philadelphia to discuss independence.  This copy of the proclamation was owned by Elisha May (1739-1811), a justice of the peace and farmer in Attleboro, Massachusetts, who served in the Massachusetts militia from 1775 to 1781. The sheet was reused by the family in 1811 to tally up the holdings in May’s estate, listing more than 130 possessions, from his gun to sheep shears to bundles of hops.

The Asylum Journal Presents Presidential Candidates

Asylum Journal  (Brattleboro, VT)  November 22, 1842
Published every Tuesday, By the inmates of the Vermont Asylum.


The Asylum Journal was published at the Vermont Asylum for the Insane, a private institution founded in 1834 by Anna Hunt Marshall.  It used a humane form of treatment on its patients, based on the theories of William Tuke that insanity was a medical condition and not due to problems of character or moral issues.  This issue shows that they used the activities of editing, printing, and publishing of a weekly journal as a form of therapy for its inmates.

This particular issue is interesting and oddly relevant as various people start declaring themselves as candidates for the upcoming presidential election.  In the nineteenth century it was common practice for a publication to print an election ticket for the party they supported.  The following appeared on page three of this issue:

AsylumJournal_0002The Crazy Man’s Ticket


As the public are, no doubt, waiting with no small anxiety, to see what course we shall take in the coming Presidential election, we present them above our ticket, reserving to ourselves the privilege of substituting another candidate for either office, should we hereafter discover a more crazy politician.

We have selected one from each of the great political parties of the day, believing that if we can unite the crazy ones of both parties, we shall most certainly elect our candidates.

We are aware of the mighty influence our paper is destined to exert upon this great question, as it has now a tremendous subscription list, and we already receive more than seventy different newspapers and other publications in exchange.  The public may, however, rest assured that we shall exercise that influence most conscientiously, and if we succeed, (as we think we shall,) no one need fear but that we shall be at least as well governed as for the last several years.

If we are permitted, we may, on some future occasion, more fully define our position, and urge the claims of our candidates.

Of course today it is difficult to select just one candidate from each party.

Spreading the News of the Declaration of Independence

As the United States is gearing up to celebrate its independence for the 239th time, here in the Outreach Department at AAS we’re also gearing up for another kind of event, taking place for the first time: hosting an NEH Institute for K-12 Teachers.

Among the many sessions in this institute, titled The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865, is one exploring the dissemination of the Declaration of Independence throughout the colonies in the days after July 4, 1776. Despite our current visual associations with the Declaration in its calligraphic form, complete with the proverbial “John Hancock,” the first copies of the Declaration shared with the public circulated in printed form. (In fact, the calligraphic version of the Declaration wasn’t even finished and presented for signing until almost a month later.) The first printing of the Declaration, done by John Dunlap, printer to Congress, was set in type immediately after its approval by Congress and printed overnight.  From there copies were dispatched to each of the colonies, making their way through cities and towns, spreading the news along the way.

These broadsides worked in two ways. For one, they could be read aloud to gathered crowds, instantly and exponentially expanding their reach. In one such instance, AAS founder Isaiah Thomas waylaid a post rider on route to Boston with a copy of the Declaration and publicly read it to a Declar of Indep - Salem-Charltoncrowd in Worcester – the first public reading of the Declaration in New England – before giving it back to the rider and sending him on. Secondly, they also acted as copy for printers throughout the colonies, who immediately started cranking out their own broadsides and reprinting the text of the Declaration in newspapers. Both forms of communication – oral and print – were necessary and effective ways of spreading the momentous news.[1]

Proof of the ways in which printed and oral dissemination of the Declaration were intertwined in these early days can be found in a unique document in AAS’s collections (see right). At first glance this broadside edition of the Declaration, printed in Salem, Massachusetts, less than two weeks after the Declaration’s approval, doesn’t look much different from the Dunlap or other contemporary versions. But a closer look reveals an added paragraph at the bottom beneath the “signatures” of Hancock and secretary of the Continental Congress, Charles Thompson  (see below). This section reveals that the Revolutionary Council of the State of Massachusetts ordered this broadside printed and a copy sent “to the Ministers of each Parish, of every Denomination, within this State,” so that they could read the Declaration to each of their respective congregations. After doing so, they were to deliver their copies to the “Clerks of their several Towns or Districts,” who were “required to record the same in their respective Town, or District Books, there to remain as a perpetual Memorial thereof.”

Declar of Indep - Salem-Charlton - crop

Here we have the governing body of Massachusetts – now given a new layer of authority with the approval of the Declaration – not only ordering more copies of the Declaration to be printed, but also prescribing ways in which it would reach the largest numbers of the populace. With the vast majority of citizens attending church services, this was in many ways a surefire way to get the most bang for their buck.

But, as scholars of reader response and print networks will tell you, it’s one thing to know something was distributed in such a way, but an entirely other thing to know if it was actually read as intended. What this particular document in our collections tells us is that, at least in one case, the local minister followed the order to the letter.  Accompanying this broadside is a small scrap of paper with a handwritten note that reads, “The original copy of the Declaration of Independence, sent by the Council at Boston to the Town of Charlton July 17, 1776 and there read by the minister, Rev. Caleb Curtis, as directed. (See the order below the Declaration.)  E. I. Comins.” How’s that for a historical smoking gun?

Charlton Decl of Indep note

The Reverend Caleb Curtis was a member of what Peter Oliver, the last chief justice of the province under Royal rule and the author of “The Origin and Progress of the American Rebellion,” referred to as the “black regiment.”  So called because of their black ministerial robes, the black regiment were ministers who advocated resistance and eventually independence from Great Britain. Curtis, the town’s first minister, was active in local politics and a staunch Whig. He served as a member of Charlton’s Committee of Correspondence and was present at a statewide convention of the Committees of Correspondences held in Worcester on August 9, 1774. Curtis also preached before the Charlton Militia, providing a blessing to them as they headed off to fight the Regulars at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. One can easily imagine such a firebrand minister eagerly reading the Declaration of Independence before his congregation at the first opportunity.

So this Fourth of July, as our social media feeds fill with celebrations, well-wishes, and news articles about the holiday’s history, we’ll also be taking a moment to think about that first Independence Day(s), and how the colonial news and social networks, though not as quick as a click of a button, were no less interdependent, effective, and resourceful.

[1] For a full description of the early dissemination of the Declaration of Independence see Thomas Starr, “Separated at Birth: Text and Context of the Declaration of Independence,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 110 (April 2000).

The Acquisitions Table: Circular to All Who Play at Billiards

L. Decker’s Circular to All Who Play at Billiards, with Incidental Advice to Purchasers of Billiard Tables… Embellished with Beautifully Engraved Diagrams. New York: L. Decker, 1859.

billiardAn early unrecorded billiards catalog published by Levi Decker was just one gem in a stack of 45 pamphlets given by AAS member Kenneth Carpenter and his wife Mary. Out of this stack, fully 40% were entirely unrecorded in OCLC! AAS’s cataloging records will provide the first access to these titles for scholars. Another 40% of the pamphlets received did have records in OCLC, but were scarce enough that only one or two copies were known to exist. The slight form and ephemeral nature of pamphlets has meant they were long considered less important recipients for bibliographic work and cataloging time. As the known universe of books has become increasingly well-cataloged and often digitized, however, pamphlets are taking on an increasingly prominent role – less for their bibliographic interest then for the singular content often contained only within their pages. The particular examples AAS just acquired will prove useful to scholars working on everything from the aforementioned billiards tables, to the auctions of Boston’s Back Bay lots, to those studying minor local poets such as Edward Kesson, who appears based on the copy now at AAS to have sent his poetic pamphlet Lallera to no less a personage than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

No Permission Required: Exploring and Using Our Digital Collections

b-w primerPolicy changes frequently will fall under the un-glamorous category. But we are hoping that our newest one will fall under the hooray-for-AAS tally marking.

When books have included images from our collection, we’ve been providing photographic reproductions and permission to use them in the form of a licensing agreement; I’ve signed a few (read: thousand) of these agreements since starting the position in late 2004. Just a generation ago, the Society would showcase a double page spread of its primer as an interior illustration recreated as an 8×10 glossy print (left) and now we can display the same item in its ENTIRETY in GIGI (below).

GIGI screenshotIn addition to providing as-needed photography of collection material, we’ve also been filling our image archive, GIGI, with digital surrogates and links within the catalog. We’ve been providing open access to these digital collections, as well as to our online exhibitions and illustrated inventories. These resources feature some of our most-often reproduced images, including the portrait of John Winthrop, the woodcut of Richard Mather, the Boston Massacre scene by Paul Revere, Militia Muster by David Claypoole Johnston, and the Philosophic Cock by John Akin. Although finding them has been easy enough, use of these items has been somewhat complicated by the permissions agreement. Until last week, the agreement and fee for use of AAS collection materials was in recognition of the Society’s ownership of the documents (which included the cost of acquiring, preserving, and making it available), rather than in any copyright claim. But we have at last done away with licensing images and the (five-page) licensing agreement.

The original policy and agreement were devised to be gatekeepers of the collection material rather than provoke a villainous archival turf war. Not helping this has been that the rules on the books have been unclear and difficult to interpret. But we’ve come a long way. Now in the twenty-first century, copyright issues still raise a lot of questions. While companies are calling for stricter protection of intellectual properties, AAS is joining the numerous cultural institutions using open access and creative commons; with few exceptions, all of our print materials fall under the pre-1923 public domain. Access to digitized collection material has always been for research and scholarship and as we continue to add material we can fill out the digital collections and provide scholars even more items to use.

In his opening address, AAS founder Isaiah Thomas said the Society would not be “confined to local purposes – not intended for the particular advantage of any one state or section of the union, or for the benefit of a few individuals – one whose members may be found in every part of our western climate and its adjacent islands, and who are citizens of all parts of this quarter of the world.”[1] We like to think he would be proud of this development to continue to allow his collection to be used and disseminated – not limited to those locally in Worcester.

mysteries photograph

“Seeking to penetrate the mysteries of photography.” Stereocard collection. Box 321.

This permissions process, coupled with ordering of new photography, causes my phone extension to receive the most frantic calls (usually by those not living locally). It is no secret that book and article authors securing image permission can be panic-inducing. I’ve been told it is burdensome on all resources – time, money, and patience, and it can delay book production. We will continue to create new photography on-demand and there is still a fee to be paid for making reproductions (alas, not everything has been digitized yet!), but we are proud to provide this access and use of AAS resources. Our attempts at simplifying the process try to address as many different types of requests as we have received. The new obtaining digital images page describes the new policy a bit, and the newly redone form page allows you to submit a request for material not already digitized. And you can always email questions or orders to reproductions@mwa.org! There are image rights. And there are image very rights. We hope to now be part of the latter!

[1] Thomas, Isaiah. “Abstract of the President’s Communication on the Nature and Objects of the Institution, and on the Means for carrying into Effect the Designs of the Society.” Archaeologia Americana: Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society. Oct. 1814. Volume 1, page 28.

The Peoples Free School or Dog Convention: A Tale of Two Broadsides

This past April, AAS received a plain brown envelope via U.S. Mail, with no return address.  The envelope was carefully opened by our Acquisitions staff and two folded broadsides were found inside.  There was no note included, no inscriptions or marks on the broadsides, and, as luck would have it, there was not even a legible return postmark on the envelope!  Our Acquisitions Librarian sent out an email to the curators inquiring if one of us had ordered the broadsides from a catalog or perhaps won them at an auction.  Since broadsides fall in the Graphic Arts Department, I was the likely candidate, but, in fact, I had never seen the broadside pair and had no idea who might have sent them.

The two broadsides are clearly related to each other and were likely produced in Foxborough, Massachusetts, in 1859.  In fact, they were probably made from the same set-up of type, with, as will be shown, some amusing differences.  The first broadside is a legitimate announcement for a political convention to be held in Worcester, Massachusetts, on September 1, 1859.  The convention was being organized by The Peoples Free School party.  Sylvanus D. Horton, of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, who is listed as chairman, calls for towns across the state to send delegates for nominations to a new political party that will work to repeal the “odious” School Law.

Free School Convention bdsd

The School Law had been proposed by the State Board of Education in January and February of 1859. It called for abolishing the district school system in favor of a centralized authority to control school spending, construction, and the evaluation of teachers.  District schools tended to be in rural areas where populations were spread out over multiple small towns.  Most larger town and city schools were already following protocols supported by the Board, and the School Law was an attempt to create a uniform system across the state.  A look at newspaper coverage of the time shows that the issue was clearly divided along urban/rural lines.  The Barnstable Patriot reported on May 5, 1859, “No Committee, however much they may be interested in education, can so well judge of the wants of our schools as parents themselves.  Let that odious law, undesired and unsought by the people, be by them denounced and repealed!  Leave the power in the district, unless the people, in town meetings, choose to abolish the district system.  Let the people control their own affairs.”   A few months later the Worcester Spy called for calm and reason, pleading for rural areas to let the “good gentlemen of the Board of Education” make their case to the state Senate.  It added that there was a need to “equalize the pecuniary burden of constructing school houses … [T]he present system perpetuates small and inefficient schools and the system proposed will secure the wisest and most efficient management of the schools.”  Education was a hot topic in 1859 and some of the issues under debate still resonate today – modern topics such as the rise of the charter school movement, debate over management of public school resources, implementation of standardized testing, and Common Core curriculum come to mind.

The meeting of The Peoples Free School Convention was held in Worcester as scheduled, but not many people showed up and action on forming a platform was tabled until October.  City papers made hay from this: the Boston Traveler noted on September 2, “Not a man of influence in the state was present,” and the Worcester Spy complained that less than sixty people attended and that it was wrong and distracting for the small group to politicize the issue by trying to build a political platform around it.

Free Dog Convention bdsdThe second broadside gives us some insight into the opinion of the unknown printer of The Peoples Free School Convention broadside.  This second version was actually known to AAS, as another copy is preserved in our collection.  The comic printing stands logic on its head, calling for a Free Dog Convention to be held on the impossible date September 31 at 1:00 a.m.   Instead of school laws, the text calls for the repeal of the “infamous sumptuary laws which deprive poor men of their indefeasible right to keep as many Dogs as children.”  All of the participants’ names have been changed, with Chairman Sylvanus D. Horton becoming Sylvester D. Squakman (of Canisville, not Rehoboth), and delegates like Charles Changemind, D.M. Shallowbrain, and Darius Oldfogy being called to participate from Foxborough.  It’s safe to say that the printer was probably not a supporter of district schools.

We are delighted to have this pair of broadsides at AAS.  We wish we knew who sent them to us, so we could give proper thanks!  For now, they are being listed as the gift of an anonymous donor.  Having the pair preserved together opens up the research potential of both sheets.  Scholars interested in education movements, urban/rural conflicts, state politics, and American nineteenth-century humor are all welcome to come to Worcester to have a look– we promise they will not be treated in a “loose and unequal manner” by Charles Fussyfeather or Martin Standstill.  Just please do not bring your dog to the library.

Free School-Dog Convention

Digital Antiquarian Wrap-Up: The End of the Beginning


The crowd gathers in Antiquarian Hall for opening keynote from Kenneth Carpenter (pictured here) and Michael Winship.

It is hard to believe that after a year of preparations the Digital Antiquarian Conference and Workshop are now behind us. What began as a twinkle in my and Thomas Augst’s eyes when he was an NEH fellow here blossomed into a 10-day extravaganza here at AAS, starting with the largest academic conference the Society has ever hosted and ending with a weeklong workshop taught by no fewer than fifteen AAS catalogers and curators and three guest instructors. Thanks to the generous support of the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and New York University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as well as the Jay Last Fund at AAS, we were able to bring together leaders in book history, curators and librarians from university and independent research libraries, and innovators in the digital humanities to exchange ideas about the past, present, and future of historical information literacy and the archive.

To accommodate the 180 guests and the 20 speakers at the conference, we had to transform the reading room from a work space to a large meeting space, complete with four large monitors to show slides. And this new arrangement was a crowd pleaser. After Michael Winship and Ken Carpenter kicked off the events with their keynote on the first day, Carl Stahmer really blew the lid off of the generous dome with his presentation of linked open data and the future of bibliography and library catalogs.


Leon Jackson delivers his paper “Historical Haptics: Digital and Print Cultures in the Nineteenth Century,” part of the Handling Newspapers panel.

Each day’s panels were organized around our collections and archival practices (Handling Newspapers, Editorial Matters, Book Ends, and Keyword Searches). The presentations were rich and full of reflections on, as one workshop participant put it, “the future of the past.” They were also incredibly jocular; as one workshop participant reflected, “This was the funniest conference I’ve ever been to.” Though this humor did not always translate to the slides, the participants have shared their visual presentations on the conference schedule website. The reception at the end of the first day featured a digital projects showcase including A New Nation VotesCassey & Dickerson Friendship AlbumsEarly Caribbean Digital ArchiveThe Occom CircleTEI Archiving Publishing and Access Service (TAPAS), and Walt Whitman Archive. This event gave conference participants a chance to speak with the designers of these impressive digital humanities projects in a convivial atmosphere. Please read the Twitter stream from the conference on our website.

After the conference ended on Saturday, the workshop got underway Sunday night with a welcome dinner for the eighteen participants selected to take part. Most of the participants also attended the conference, so the icebreaking had been done, and we immediately started to gel as a group. Under the stewardship of Tom Augst and me, workshop classes began in earnest first thing Monday morning as the participants were whisked between the Elmarion Room for computer lab-like exercises and the Council Room for hands-on archival exercises. All of the curators and most of the catalogers ran sessions that had participants engaging deeply with the MARC format and considering how they might use the data in the AAS Catalog and in NAIP for their own digital humanities projects. To complete their exercises on MARC format, they consulted a number of bibliographies and electronic databases, and of course they had to reach for the resource most dear to our hearts at AAS: The Printers’ File. They also considered what work existing databases, such as America’s Historical Newspapers, afford and how if we don’t understand the archives behind such databases, we are likely to be confused, if not misled about the role they should play in our scholarship.

Slauter-Printers File collage

Participants use the Printers’ File and duplicate newspapers to complete exercises that required the use of analog and digital tools.

Curator of Books Elizabeth Pope productively flummoxed the group with questions around digitizing atypical books, using the AAS’s friendship albums collection as her guiding example. She also showed books that defy our standard definitions and asked the group how we might digitize them.

Curator of Manuscripts Tom Knoles presented the group with the researchers’ challenges around manuscripts with an exercise centered around the William Bentley notebooks held at AAS.


Participants outline steps for digitization of William Bentley’s eclectic diaries and account books in an exercise designed by Tom Knoles.


Tom Blake walks participants through an exercise that introduces them to graphic arts metadata in the Digital Commonwealth and in the Digital Public Library of America.

In addition to the AAS staff who dazzled the participants all week, three guest instructors joined us. AAS stalwart Michael Winship gave an overview of the history of editorial practice using the many editions of James Fenimore Cooper’s Red Rover (1827) to elucidate his points. That afternoon, Dawn Childress of Penn State Libraries taught a riveting session on TEI, using Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven as her guiding example. The next day, Tom Blake of the Boston Public Library joined Curator of Graphic Arts Lauren Hewes to ask the group to consider the challenges and opportunities that come with the digitization of graphic materials, including nineteenth-century games such as “Eureka Letters,”  a game used to teach both spelling and morals. Please read the Twitter stream from the workshop on our website.

letter game collage

Participants came up with creative solutions to the exercise asking them how they might digitize nineteenth-century games.

As the week drew to a close, hearts hung heavy for the group had really bonded.

Workshop_0003 (2) (1280x853)

The Digital Antiquarian Workshop participants gather on the GDH steps with the poster from the conference in hand.

But, the sense that the Digital Antiquarian was less coming to an end and instead really just beginning here at AAS was palpable. Stay tuned for more to come!

Now In Print from the AAS Community

Every quarter at AAS we release a list of recent publications by those who have researched at
the library as fellows, members, or readers. To see this list, as well as a list of works publishedPicture1 from 2000-2014, please visit our recent scholarship page on the AAS website. If your book, article, or other achievement is not included, just let us know if you’d like to see it there!


Gallup-Diaz, Ignacio, Andrew Shankman, and David Silverman. Anglicizing America: Empire, Revolution, Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. (Silverman: Mellon Post-Dissertation Fellow, 2001-2002; ASECS Fellow, 2005-2006; ASECS Fellow, 2010-2011; AAS member)

Gura, Philip F. The Life of William Apess, Pequot. Chapel Hill: University of NorthCarolina Press, 2015. (Peterson Fellow, 1989-1990, 1998-1999, 2002-2003; Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence, 2006-2007; AAS member)

Howell, William Huntting. Against Self-Reliance: The Arts of Dependence in the Early United States. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. (NeMLA Fellow, 2013-2014)

Loker, Chris. One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature. New York: Grolier Club, 2014. (AAS member)

Luskey, Brian P. and Wendy A. Woloson. Capitalism by Gaslight: Illuminating the Economy of Nineteenth-Century America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. (Luskey: Peterson Fellow, 2003-2004; Tracy Fellow, 2012-2013. Woloson: Peterson Fellow, 2005-2006)

Moulton, Amber D. The Fight for Interracial Marriage Rights in Antebellum Massachusetts. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015.

Shoemaker, Nancy. Native American Whalemen and the World. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2006-2007; AAS member)

Wilson, Lisa. A History of Stepfamilies in Early America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2010-2011; AAS member)


Anderson, Jennifer. “’A Laudable Spirit of Enterprise’: Renegotiating Land, Natural Resources, and Power on Post-Revolutionary Long Island.” Early American Studies 13.2 (2015): 413-442. (Peterson Fellow, 2004-2005; Hench Fellow, 2006-2007)

Chaplin, Joyce. “Ogres and Omnivores: Early American Historians and Climate History.” William and Mary Quarterly 72 (2015): 25-32. (AAS member)

Chaplin, Joyce. “The Other Revolution.” Early American Studies 13.2 (2015): 285-308. (AAS member)

DeLucia, Christine M. “Locating Kickemuit: Springs, Stone Memorials, and Contested Placemaking in the Northeaster Borderlands.”   Early American Studies 13.2 (2015): 467-502. (Peterson Fellow, 2011-2012)

Fielder, Brigitte. “Visualizing Racial Mixture and Movement: Music, Notation, Illustration.” J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 3.1 (2015): 146-155. (Last Fellow, 2011-2012)

Kelley, Mary. “‘Talents Committed to Your Care’: Reading and Writing Radical Abolitionism in Antebellum America.” New England Quarterly 88.1 (2015): 37-72 (Peterson Fellow, 1990-1991; Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence, 2013-2014; AAS member)

Manion, Jen. “Transbutch.” Transgender Studies Quarterly 1 (2014). (Peterson Fellow, 2005-2006; AAS-NEH Fellow, 2012-2013)

Pratt, Lloyd. “Locality and the Serial South.” In Oxford Handbook to the Literature of the US South, edited by Fred Hobson and Barbara Ladd. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. (NEMLA Fellow, 2008-2009; AAS-NEH Fellow, 2009-2010; AAS member)

Rusert, Britt. “Plantation Ecologies: The Experimental Plantation in and against James Grainger’s The Sugar-Cane.” Early American Studies 13.2 (2015): 341-373. (Peterson Fellow, 2011-2012)

Sheehan, Tanya. “Comical Conflations: Racial Identity and the Science of Photography.” In No Laughing Matter: Visual Humor in Ideas of Race, Nationality, and Ethnicity, edited by Adrian Randolph and David Bindman. Hanover: UPNE, 2015. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2009-2010)

Sheehan, Tanya.“Marketing Racism: Popular Imagery in the US and Europe.” Co-authored with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in The Image of the Black in Western Art, Vol. 5, The Twentieth Century, edited by David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014. (Sheehan: AAS-NEH Fellow, 2009-2010; Gates: AAS member)

Sheehan, Tanya. “A Time and a Place: Rethinking Race in American Art History” In A Companion to American Art, edited by John Davis, Jennifer A. Greenhill, and Jason D. LaFountain. Oxford: Blackwell Press, 2015. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2009-2010)

Shields, David S. “On the Circumstances Surrounding the Creation of Early American Literature.” Early American Literature 50.1 (2015): 21-40. (Haven Fellow, 1985-1986; AAS member)

Shields, David S. and Fredrika J. Teute. “The Republican Court and the Historiography of a Women’s Domain in the Public Sphere.” Journal of the Early Republic 35.2 (2015): 169-183. (With additional conference papers: “The Meschianza: Sum of All Fêtes”; “The Confederation Court”; “The Court of Abigail Adams”; “Jefferson in Washington: Domesticating Manners in the Republican Court”) (Shields: Haven Fellow, 1985-1986; AAS member. Teute: Botein Fellow, 1994-1995; AAS-NEH Fellow, 1997-1998; AAS member)

Thompson, Todd and Jessica Showalter. “Satire in Circulation: James Russell Lowell’s ‘Letter from a Volunteer in Saltillo’.” Scholarly Editing 36 (2015).

Yao, Christine. “Visualizing Race Science in Benito Cereno.” J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 3.1 (2015): 130-137.


Cornelia Dayton and Sharon Salinger won the Merle Curti Award (Social History) for their book Robert Love’s Warnings: Searching for Strangers in Colonial Boston. (Dayton: AAS-NEH Fellow, 2004-2005; AAS member)

Lisa Tetrault was awarded the inaugural Mary Jurich Nickliss Prize in U.S. Women’s and/or Gender History for her book The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898. (Peterson Fellow, 2007-2008)

Kyle Volk won the Merle Curti Award (Intellectual History) for his book Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2010-2011)

Christopher Florio won the Louis Pelzer Memorial Award for his article “From Poverty to Slavery: Abolitionists, Overseers, and the Global Struggle for Labor in India.” (Peterson Fellow, 2014-2015)



New AAS Online Exhibition Launched: Louis Prang and Chromolithography

Prang bird

“May” after Fidelia Bridges, 1876. This print is from a set of calendar pages published by Louis Prang in 1876. These scenic prints show the New England landscape through each month of the year, and marks Prang’s first collaboration with floral and bird painter Fidelia Bridges. Bridges created works for Prang for over fifteen years, including many successful Christmas cards and prints.

When I started working at AAS nine years ago, I did not know much about American prints and printmaking. Lithography and engraving were never the focus of my art history classes. And I only knew Currier & Ives from the prints my mother had hanging in every room in the house, and they were not my cup of tea. When I began as the visual materials cataloger, I quickly delved into the world of nineteenth-century prints, learning the difference between a wood engraving and intaglio engraving, and the difference between a colored lithograph and a chromolithograph. It was also at this time that I discovered the work of Louis Prang, the most famous Boston lithographer in the second half of the nineteenth century. I did not understand why Currier & Ives landscapes were more popular than Prang’s, whose prints looked like rich oil paintings. When I cataloged the Prang Collection in 2010, I always knew I wanted to do more with it.

I began a master’s program at the Harvard University Extension School in Museum Studies in 2010 (and will be graduating this week!), and created a mock exhibit for one of my classes which focused on AAS’s Prang material. Besides prints and advertisements, the AAS collection features progressive proof books, salesman’s sample books, and art education text books. Nothing ever came of the project, and it was not until last fal,l when the Harvard program switched their final assignment from a thesis to a capstone project, that I thought about reviving the Prang exhibition idea. Luckily for me, AAS was looking to create more online exhibitions for the website, and was going to use the online web-publishing program Omeka to do it. After an intensive two-day workshop led by Omeka web-developer Ken Albers, I was easily able to create a simple, yet informative exhibit about the work of Louis Prang, using the materials here at AAS.

“Chickens I” after Arthur F. Tait, 1866. After being unsuccessful with his first two sets of landscape chromos, Prang published this charming scene of baby chicks by Arthur F. Tait in 1866, which proved to be a big seller. Prang would continue to successfully sell animal-themed prints after Tait for the next two decades.

“Chickens I” after Arthur F. Tait, 1866. After being unsuccessful with his first two sets of landscape chromos, Prang published this charming scene of baby chicks by Arthur F. Tait in 1866, which proved to be a big seller. Prang would continue to successfully sell animal-themed prints after Tait for the next two decades.

Prang exhibit screenshotThe exhibition details the major aspects of Prang’s career from 1850 to 1900. It begins with a look at his development of the chromolithograph process and how a chromo is made, and features what Prang considered the pinnacle of his career, a 116 sheet chromolithographed set of Oriental vases from the collection of William T. Walters in Baltimore, completed in 1897. Prang is responsible for introducing the Christmas card to America in 1875, and the competitions he held in the 1880s to come up with new designs are discussed. Lastly, Prang, along with his second wife Mary Dana Hicks, was a driving force behind giving public school students a quality art education, and examples from the text books published by Prang are given. An image gallery features almost forty of the best chromolithographs by Prang in the AAS collection, so scroll through and enjoy!

Printmaking with Creative Artist Fellow Annie Bissett

20150430_170716 (2)AAS staff and fellows recently got a remarkable lesson in printmaking by Annie Bissett, who was in residence as a Jay and Deborah Last Creative Artist Fellow. Annie led a fellow’s talk one evening after the library closed, during which she shared some of her previous works and then conducted a demonstration in printmaking. She generously allowed participants to try their hand at creating an impression from one of her Chinese style woodblock prints.  Everyone soon got into the act, creating multicolored images of a sailing ship!

Annie Bissett has exhibited throughout the United States and her work is in the collections of the Yale University Art Gallery, the Portland Museum of Art, Hood Museum of Art, Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College, and the Boston Public Library, among others. She has created two projects that include both a series of prints and accompanying artist books. These projects are entitled “We Are Pilgrims,” a series of woodblock prints about the early settlers of Massachusetts, and “Loaded,” a group of prints about money. She often appropriates historical imagery and texts into her elegantly and beautifully designed prints. To learn more about her work visit her website.

Bissett demo

Annie demonstrating the printmaking process to the group.

20150430_175616_001 (2)While here at AAS, Annie conducted research for a project about the spirituality/religiosity of American national identity. She scoured the Society’s collections of children’s literature, primers, almanacs (including several almanac diaries), type specimen books, hymnals, and broadsides. As she wrote in her fellowship report, “Much of what I found exciting were book forms and conventions that I had never seen and that I think would be very interesting to recreate with contemporary content, such as: metamorphic pictures, almanacs (I can imagine using some of the almanac conventions to address climate change issues), the books called ‘Divine Emblems,’ a book type I found that presents trades and professions to a juvenile audience, and books of moral lessons and maxims.”


The Gamebrarians: AAS Plays a 19th-Century Version of Cards Against Humanity

A few months ago we posted an image on Instagram and Facebook that, while fun, we had no particular expectations for. It was a quite a surprise, then, when it garnered a massive amount of attention on both platforms. To this day it remains one of our most widely circulated posts on Facebook.

wordgame post 2The image was a picture of an 1857 word association game called “A Trip to Paris: A Laughable Game. Being a truthful account of what b fel one Jothan Podd.” It includes a small pamphlet that, through a series of random sentences with blanks for nouns, tells the story of Jothan Podd’s trip to Paris—sort of. In reality it’s more a jumble of non-sequitur sentences that are made funny by filling in the blanks with the nouns on the accompanying cards.

Does the concept sound familiar? It certainly did to our social media followers, who instantly expanded on our comparison to Mad Libs to include the now wildly popular Cards Against Humanity and Apples to Apples. And in many ways the game is indeed a cross between Mad Libs and Cards Against Humanity. Like Mad Libs, you’re filling in blanks to create a sort of story, but unlike Mad Libs, where you come up with the missing words yourself, there are cards to fill in the blanks and those only include nouns, rather than all parts of speech. This is where it becomes more like Cards Against Humanity, in that a complete thought is finished by pairing it with a noun card provided by the game.

The response gave us an idea – why not just play the game ourselves (using twenty-first-century protocol for handling material, of course) and see how it stacks up against the modern versions? And with that, “The Gamebrarians” was born.

Directions collageAlthough the rules of the original game (see left) simply call for one person to read the story while the rest of the players each take a turn flipping over a random card to create a ridiculous sentence, we decided to play the old game by the rules of modern Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity to make it a little more interesting. Each person takes a turn reading a sentence from the pamphlet, while the others finish it with one of their cards. Whoever plays the card the reader finds funniest wins a point. Here’s what happened!

We’ll leave the judging of how well the nineteenth-century plot and terms hold up to you, but the overall result of filling in a blank with a series of irrelevant, mundane, or absurd things (how does one get a clam intoxicated?) remains the same. And while at first glance it seems that this nineteenth-century version is much more PG-rated than Cards Against Humanity or even, for that matter, Apples to Apples, it’s still a word association game and it’s very likely that there was plenty of potential for a double entendre or two (we’re still trying to figure out what a star-spangled weasel is, but there has to be a joke in there somewhere).

Thanks to the generosity of Jay and Deborah Last and an anonymous AAS member, we are currently in the process of cataloging and digitizing our entire games collection, making this wonderful collection more accessible to researchers. The process has also highlighted the fact that there are plenty more anachronistic yet relatable nineteenth-century games where this one came from, and so we hope that this will not be the last you see of The Gamebrarians.

Metadata Matters: “African American” in the News and in the North American Imprints Program

This post was co-written by AAS Digital Humanities Curator/ACLS Fellow Molly O’Hagan Hardy and AAS Head of Cataloging Alan Degutis.

PhiladelphiaJournal (2)The New York Times recently reported the “discover[y]” of the earliest known use of the term “African American” from almost fifty years earlier than previously thought. The Oxford English Dictionary attributed it to The Liberator in 1835, but Fred Shapiro, an associate director at the Yale Law School Library, came across an earlier use of the term in The Pennsylvania Journal on May 15, 1782, in an advertisement for “Two Sermons, written by the African American; one on the Capture of Lord Cornwallis, to be SOLD.”

Harvard’s Houghton Library holds the only known extant copy of the pamphlet A Sermon on the Capture of Lord Cornwallis (1782) (and they have speedily digitized it in its entirety). Though AAS does not own a copy of this pamphlet, we began to wonder if it had been recorded by our North American Imprints Program (NAIP), which aims to catalog all imprints in North America before 1820. As Hardy has written about previously, NAIP includes records for items not held by the AAS, and therefore can be understood as analogous to what the English Short Title Catalog (ESTC) is for British Studies for EvansBibliography (2)early American studies. A Sermon on the Capture of Lord Cornwallis certainly fit the NAIP criteria for inclusion: it was printed in the U.S. before 1820 and though it was not recorded in Charles Evans’s monumental twelve-volume American Bibliography, if a copy existed, NAIP ought to have a record for it.

Before exploring the record, let us say a word about how and why such records were created. In the late 1970s the ESTC was established, with offices in London and Baton Rouge. As plans for the ESTC were being developed, Marcus McCorison, director of the American Antiquarian Society, proposed that AAS collaborate with the ESTC, taking responsibility for cataloging U.S. and Canadian imprints within ESTC scope. Thus, with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the North American Imprints Program (NAIP) was established as a sister project to the ESTC. As work on the ESTC began, Henry Snyder, director of the North American office, began to solicit North American libraries to contribute reports of their eighteenth-century holdings. Reports could come in three forms: 1) photocopy of the title pages with bibliographic information filled out (this was the preferred form); 2) 5X7 note cards with bibliographic information filled out; 3) copy of a main entry catalog card (this was the least preferred form because the information was not standardized). Reports for North American imprints were forwarded to the NAIP office at AAS. Last week, we went down to the basement  to dig up this very report, and were pleased to see that it came in the first of these three formats:
LordCornwallis_Page_2By 1985, AAS NAIP catalogers had completed the cataloging of AAS holdings, and had begun to create records from ESTC reports for North American imprints. It is at this time that the initial record for A Sermon on the Capture of Lord Cornwallis was created, with the minimal genre heading of “Sermons” in the MAchine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) 655 field.


NAIP records were integrated into the ESTC file in 1990, and these records were made available through the Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN), as a microfiche catalog, as a CD-Rom catalog, and eventually in the online version of the ESTC we use today. Part of the work of NAIP was not only to create this comprehensive catalog, but also to enhance the records that AAS received with more complete metadata wherever possible. And an AAS cataloger eventually did just that by adding two subject headings. The NAIP record (below) now includes information about the content of the pamphlet. The MARC 651 field contains the subject heading Yorktown (Va.)—History—Siege, 1781. A NAIP-specific heading (“Blacks as authors”) appears in the 650 field; the heading allows researchers to search for titles written by Black authors. To the heading is added the name of the author; in this case, the author can be identified only by the phrase “an African American” found on the title page of the pamphlet.

AASRecord (2)Degutis has since added a “General Note” in the 500 field with a citation to the advertisement Shapiro found in the Pennsylvania Journal. We are grateful to have this additional information in our record. This news also offers us a chance to realize once again how much crucial information is contained in the metadata of the NAIP records; it is just waiting for scholars to put that information to work as data in the role of evidence, to paraphrase Trevor Munoz’s useful definition of data. We at AAS have been dedicated to assisting such efforts for decades, and the tools and methodologies of digital humanities offers us new ways to do so.