Put on your hard hats (and thinking caps)!

The Rijksmuseum’s construction version of Rembrandt’s oil on canvas, “The Night Watch.” Rembrandt, Harmenszoon van Rijn. 1642. Night watch. (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). Recreated image by Boomerang Create, creative-community agency.

When the Rijksmuseum was being renovated over a decade ago, I received a postcard featuring a spirited version of Rembrandt’s oil on canvas, “The Night Watch.” I found the playfulness of the image, an icon for the famous museum in Amsterdam jazzed up with construction equipment, so compelling that I kept it. An article appearing in the Boston Globe just before this year’s Superbowl also demonstrates that this experimentation with collection items doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to construction projects. Throwing shade (or highlights, drop shadow, whatever image-effect you prefer) is a fitting response for any number of special occasions!

In the September 2016 issue of the Society’s newsletter the Almanac, we announced our building expansion and renovation project. The new “face” of AAS will include a three-story, 7,000-square-foot addition to Antiquarian Hall, as well as a multipurpose room (for workshops, seminars, and class visits), expanded and renovated infrastructure (including climate-controlled storage in the older stacks) and a new conservation lab. When the Society announced the groundbreaking event (taking place on April 27) for this upcoming work to Antiquarian Hall, and we were in the market for an image for the “Save the Date” email, I pulled out the Rijksmuseum postcard and we brainstormed some distinctively AAS images.

We here at AAS can be, on the whole, a group of purists. Rarely will you find any of us cranking up Photoshop to retouch/enhance/alter any of our collection items digitally. Having spent a decade working with digital surrogates and permissions, for instance, I would be the first to tut-tut suggestions of post-processing. We felt in this case, however, it was in good fun and has received the blessing of the curator of graphic arts, Lauren Hewes, whose curatorial collection was unabashedly ransacked for this project.

Can I park my Caterpillar on Regent Street?

Former AAS President Waldo Lincoln’s photographs, currently stored scrapbook-style in the Society’s archives, provide an unparalleled opportunity to look at visual documentation of the construction of the third AAS building in 1909 and 1910. Here presented with tractors and backhoes (and an odd tool or two), is an early view of Antiquarian Hall from Park Avenue.

This site under construction 

The dome also proves to be an easily recognized visual of Society-structure, so we experimented with another Waldo Lincoln photograph, this time in the reading room with the early twentieth-century assembly of the tapered columns of marble that flank the alcoves and some workers (one of whom now dons a cross-over safety harness).

Nothing to see here

My personal choice is the remake of the “Laying of the cornerstone, 1909” by Wohlbruck Studio with Charles Francis Adams (right front in photograph) delivering his address with President Waldo Lincoln (of photojournalist-glory, see above two images) leaning beside him. However, I am retitling it, “Laying of the new state-of-the-art-infrastructure, 2017.”

Remember the ladies

The third building was easily the one most-documented during its construction, but the second building boasts an impressive archive of photographs as well. This image of AAS cataloger Mary Robinson Reynolds and an unknown assistant cataloger was possibly photographed by Society treasurer (and master scrapbook-assembler himself) Nathaniel Paine. Pinned to the wall is the construction update report prepared by Pinck & Co., the company acting as owner’s representative for our current expansion. We imagine the pair here is discussing the plan for shifting many linear-feet of collection material for the forthcoming work.

Can you hear me now?

John Foster’s second state of the woodcut of Richard Mather (ca. 1670), which is considered the first portrait print produced in America, is another emblematic and oft-reproduced AAS image. We’ve replaced the small eye-glasses in his right hand with a pair of safety glasses and included a set of cap mount ear muffs (heavyweight, of course).

All work and no play makes John a dull governor

Another top choice was the anonymous oil on canvas (ca. 1630/1691) portrait of John Winthrop, an early Massachusetts Bay governor, which has surveyed AAS researchers since it was bequested to the Society in 1830. The painting is often the subject of comment by art historians for its skillfully painted hands. During construction we’ll be sure to keep them covered with a pair of Dewalt gloves.

The Man and his plans

Hands-down (gloved or not) the image most associated with AAS is the Ethan Allen Greenwood oil on panel portrait of founder Isaiah Thomas done in June 1818, which currently hangs near the Society’s entrance (overlooking the reception desk); Thomas sat six times for this painting. We may revisit this lively portrait over the course of construction, but for this first iteration, in addition to his safety hat, caution tape, and scaffolding, we’ve swapped his published History of Printing (1810) with the prospective exterior façade rendering done by Samuel Anderson Architects in June of 2016.

Now primed with all these improvement-inspired-images, we hope you will consider joining us for the groundbreaking (and celebration!) of the expansion and renovation of Antiquarian Hall, which will be on Thursday, April 27, at 4:00 p.m. We will continue to post details on social media and on our website!

Now in Print from the AAS Community

Every quarter at AAS we release a list of publications by those who have researched at the library as fellows, members, or readers. To see the full list, 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!

Dillon, Elizabeth Maddock and Michael J. Drexler, editors. The Haitian Revolution and the Early United States. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. (Dillon: AAS-NEH Fellow, 2010-11; AAS member)

Dun, James Alexander. Dangerous Neighbors: Making the Haitian Revolution in Early America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. (Tracy Fellow, 2014-15)

Howell, William Huntting and Megan Walsh, editors. The Garies and Their Friends. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2016. (NeMLA Fellows, 2013.)

O’Connell, James C. Dining Out in Boston: A Culinary History. Hanover, University Press of New England, 2017.

Branson, Susan. “Phrenology and the Science of Race in Antebellum America.” Early American Studies 15 (2017): 164-193. (Peterson Fellow, 2011-12)

Bruchac, Margaret. “Hill Town Touchstone: Reconsidering William Apess and Colrain, Massachusetts.” Early American Studies 14 (2016): 712-748. (AAS member)

Fielder, Brigitte. “‘Those people must have loved her very dearly’: Interracial Adoption and Radical Love in Antislavery Children’s Literature.” Early American Studies 14.4 (2016): 749-780. (CHAViC Fellow, 2011-12)

Martinko, Whitney. “Byles versus Boston: Historic Houses, Urban Development, and the Public Good in an Improving City.” Massachusetts Historical Review 19 (2016): 119-152. (CHAViC Fellow, 2009-10; Hench Fellow, 2015-16)

Reed, Peter P. “The Life and Death of Anna Gardie: American Theater, Refugee Dramas, and the Specter of Haitian Revolution.” Early American Literature 51 (2016): 623-652. (NeMLA Fellow, 2007-08 and 2010-11)

Weyler, Karen A. and Michelle Burnham. “Reanimating Ghost Editions, Reorienting the Early American Novel.” Early American Literature 51 (2016): 655-664. (Weyler: Botein Fellow, 1995-96; Burnham: ASECS Fellow, 2011-12)

Unique Jacksoniana: An Extra-Illustrated Life

An earlier blog post mentioned that work was underway on an online resource about the Jacksonian Era at AAS featuring highlights from the William C. Cook Jacksonian Era collection. To whet your appetite in the weeks leading up to its debut we will be telling you about a few one-of-a-kind items from that collection. Today we feature an extra-illustrated copy of A Brief and Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Andrew Jackson.

Title page of the extra-illustrated volume.

Now, you may well be wondering just what makes a book extra-illustrated (also sometimes referred to as Grangerized, named for the Brit who popularized the practice in the eighteenth century). Imagine you hold in your hands a copy of the 1831 campaign biography, A Brief and Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Andrew Jackson. Now imagine yourself carefully razoring out each individual leaf of the entire text—all 210 pages, i.e. 105 two-sided leaves. Why on earth would anyone do such a thing? Well, an unknown nineteenth-century individual did so in order to create his or her own personalized book crafted around the skeleton of the original biography’s printed text. This person carefully inlayed the cut-out printed pages from the original book’s octavo volume (roughly the size of a small paperback today) into folio sheets of paper (roughly the size of a current coffee-table book). The effect is such that the text appears as a window centered within wide margins on the oversized page. If you’re curious just how this was done, the Huntington Library did an excellent time-lapsed one-minute video showing the process as part of their 2013 exhibition, Illuminated Palaces: Extra-Illustrated Books from the Huntington Library.

One of the interleaved illustrations in the volume.

But our compiler (or book-destroyer, depending on how you look at it) was not satisfied with first cutting apart and then beefing up the size of A Brief and Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Andrew Jackson. Interspersed between every few leaves of text we also find extra illustrations. Plates, or separately printed sheets of illustrations, have been taken from other publications and bound into our new folio-sized volume, interleaved between the pages of cut-out text in a beautifully tooled and gilt binding with blue silk paste-downs. Among the images are Rachel Jackson, Cherokee and Choctaw chiefs, Nashville and Washington, D.C., just about every portrait of Jackson you can think of, and more. Most relate to, or comment on, the pages of text they now neighbor.

The gilt cover of the volume.

A few words might be in order here about the printed text this book is built around. A Brief and Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Andrew Jackson is only described on the title page as written “by a free man” but has been attributed to William Joseph Snelling. Despite its title claim to be “impartial,” the text is decidedly anti-Jacksonian (though not as vitriolic as others) as evidenced in the book’s penultimate paragraph, which concludes: “The rest of Mr. Jackson’s statement does not agree with the record.” Though many people would have had access to Snelling’s original publication, this particular volume now at AAS is a print mash-up that has essentially become a unique item of exponentially more value to researchers.

(N.B.: All the volumes in the William C. Cook Jacksonian Era Collection are available to researchers now in person at AAS and can be identified using the collection name when searching the general catalog.)

The 2015-16 Annual Report is now available!

This year is shaping up to be a big one for the Society, heading into the groundbreaking for the renovation and new addition to Antiquarian Hall in April. As part of that forward-looking process, we’ve also begun to refine how we share the mission and work of the Society. One of the first steps we’ve undertaken is to rethink our annual report to ensure that it reflects the full range of work accomplished and the vibrancy of the programs presented by AAS. This year’s report, covering September 1, 2015, to August 31, 2016, provides an update about every department, from cataloging to conservation to programming to readers’ services, touching on the myriad ways that the Society continues grow, preserve, and share its collections with an ever-widening audience. Take a moment to see what we’ve been up to and read the full issue here!

Reading into Valentines

“True Love” with Piper. Worcester: Esther Howland, ca. 1860. Stamped “H/15”

This semester, AAS is partnering with a class from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, as students there learn about the production and popularity of valentines in America. In an upper level colloquium, Professor Laura Kalba and her students are exploring the connections between nineteenth-century print ephemera and the ephemerality of images in the digital era. “Be My Valentine. Ephemera, Ephemerality, and Affect from the Victorian Era to Today” includes two visits to the Antiquarian Society—I will lead one, and the second will be taught by Nan Wolverton, our director of CHAViC—and a classroom visit by AAS Digital Humanities Curator Molly O’Hagan Hardy. The final product will be a student-produced Omeka exhibition on the AAS website.

Trade card for George Whitney, Fine Valentines, Worcester, ca. 1875.

In my role as curator of graphic arts, I was asked to lead the first Worcester session, which is intended to immerse the students in original material.  Since we are fast approaching Valentine’s Day, it seemed appropriate to share with a broader audience some of the material I pulled to use with the class. Professor Kalba asked AAS to expose the students to multiple types of ephemera to give them a broader perspective.  They will see trade cards for valentine manufacturers and invitations for winter balls and parties. I pulled out examples of flirtation, or escort, cards—small-format ephemeral pieces that skirted social norms of the era by allowing strangers to connect. Broadsides for Valentine’s Day events and activities, like the notice for an 1850 fundraiser (which included oysters and hot coffee) in New Hampshire, combined with illustrations from periodicals like Harper’s Weekly, will help the students build context for the main attraction of the session: the historic valentines themselves.

Escort cards, ca. 1880-1900

Valentine Festival, Lebanon, New Hampshire, 1850.

“St. Valentine’s Day 1864,” Harpers Weekly, February 20, 1864.

Elizabeth R. Comstock to her sister Martha W. Comstock Chapin, Smithfield, Rhode Island, ca. 1840. It includes a lock of Elizabeth’s hair.

AAS has a collection of three thousand American and European valentines sold in America. The students will have remote access to several subgroups of the collections, which have been cataloged on a collection level and fully digitized, including 139 manuscript valentines, several three-dimensional boxed valentines, and over 150 nineteenth-century comic valentines. This digital access is ideal for long-distance learning and will be integral to the development of the Omeka exhibition, but during their visit to the Society the students will be able to view the actual cards and notes. This includes a handwritten missive with a lock of the sender’s hair; a fancy 1860s boxed valentine that retailed for $1 and was made in Worcester by Esther Howland, the Mother of the American Valentine; and a comic, or vinegar, valentine published in New York. By comparing and contrasting the themes, printing methods, physicality, and sentiments of each of these objects, the students will begin to form themes and conclusions to use in their online exhibition.

Three-dimensional boxed paper valentine. Worcester: Esther Howland, ca. 1860s.

Lady Killer. New York: Alfred J. Fisher, ca. 1875.

This collaborative project will take place over the next several months and we hope to report our progress here on Past is Present, so stay tuned for updates.  Until then, Happy Valentine’s Day from the American Antiquarian Society!

The Acquisitions Table: Sermons by Joseph Avery, 1773-1777

Joseph Avery, Sermons, 1773-1777

The Society already had several collections relating to Joseph Avery, a minister in Holden from 1774 until his death in 1824, before acquiring these fifty-seven sermons. In addition to our Holden, Massachusetts, records, which contain some Avery correspondence, we have a collection of records from Holden’s First Congregational Church, where Avery was pastor. We also have the diaries of Avery’s daughter, Mary Avery White, and granddaughter, Caroline Barrett White. One of the sermons in this collection, which were all delivered during Revolutionary activity between 1773 and 1777, stands out for its revolutionary rhetoric. Referring to recent acts of Parliament, Avery writes: “After the last war was over, the greatest harmony + peace subsisted between Brittain + her colonies till those at helm in Britain began the fatal business of taxation upon the colonies.” If American soldiers did not continue to take up arms against the tyrannous Britains, he said, “farewell the sweets of Liberty…, farewell to domestic happiness, a dreary train of evils will then overtake us.” Recognizing the reality of battle, he wrote, “some of you may be cut off by Death, & never return more…but that you may be excited to prepare for it. You may indeed live all of you to return, + you might have dyed if you had remain’d at home.”

Presidential Politics in the Archives: Andrew Jackson

Hand-colored lithograph of “Andrew Jackson. Seventh President of the United States [U.S., between 1830 and 1842?], from the William C. Cook Jacksonian Era Collection.

Donald Trump. Just saying his name evokes passionate responses as almost everyone has an opinion on the man. In the early nineteenth century, the name that inspired similar strong emotions from both supporters and detractors was Andrew Jackson. Some have drawn comparisons between the movement that brought Donald Trump into power and Andrew Jackson’s mass democratic movement in the 1820s that led to the formation of the modern-day Democratic party. Now, we all know direct comparisons across centuries and seismic political shifts are hazardous to our historical imaginations. Still, it is intriguing to consider why these two figures feature at the center of such vitriol and adulation. Is it just their individual personalities, or might new forms of media have served to amplify and project the characters of these individuals? In Trump’s era, there’s Twitter and Facebook feeds and the twenty-four-hour news media; in Jackson’s era, there was the rise of the penny press with its demand for cheap daily news and increasingly mechanized printing technologies that exponentially expanded printing capacity beyond the earlier limits of the hand-press period. While AAS cannot help you better understand the current political situation, we can provide the original primary sources to investigate the past.

Anyone seeking to better understand the milieu of the 1820s and 30s, during which the first populist American president emerged, would do well to start at AAS. After all, we have been collecting historical material since before the Jacksonian Era began. Recently, though, our collections have become even stronger thanks to the continuing work and generosity of William C. Cook. (An article in the fall 2015 AAS newsletter, the Almanac, described this gift of material about the Jacksonian Era.) Thanks to funding from Mr. Cook to support cataloging the donation, over five hundred recently donated items have all been added to the AAS online catalog and can be found by searching for the phrase “William C. Cook Jacksonian Era Collection.” Mr. Cook is also continuing to fund additions to the collection. Many of the titles are entirely new to AAS and some are known in no other copies. Also included are variant states or different editions of titles already at AAS and secondary works on the Jacksonian Era.

Many subtle changes were made between the 1817 and the 1824 editions of Eaton’s pro-Jackson biography, including the first line of Chapter One, highlighted here.

Of particular interest in the context of presidential politics is a significant cache of Jackson biographies. These volumes elucidate the publication history of some of the earliest (and most salacious) American campaign biographies. It is here scholars may turn to find more information about how presidential politics and publication history intersect. Comparing what is omitted, rewritten, and highlighted between various editions can reveal slight but meaningful changes, as is the case with the Jackson biography commenced by John Reid (Jackson’s aide-de-camp) and completed by John Henry Eaton after Reid’s death. First published in 1817, the text was later republished largely line-for-line except for a new preface in 1824 and 1828, not coincidentally election years when Jackson was running. In the first edition, chapter one begins: “The parents of Andrew Jackson were Irish.” In the later editions from the 1820s, the first line was changed to:  “Andrew Jackson was born on the 15th day of March, 1767.” Simple enough, but one could argue the first form emphasizes a passively received traditional heritage while the later revision moves Andrew Jackson himself to the fore as the subject actively being born. Perhaps an early example of brand messaging?

And one more thing to note — a president is always important, but it’s the people that make the American story. AAS collections support the study not just of Andrew Jackson himself, but also of the entire Jacksonian Era (and beyond). Subjects that can be studied using the William C. Cook Jacksonian Era Collection and other AAS collection material include slaveholding and race relations, Native Americans’ legal relationship to the American land, the United States banking system, geographic political divisions of the United States, and more. To promote these sources now available at AAS, the Society will soon debut an online resource on the Jacksonian Era at AAS, featuring highlights from the William C. Cook Jacksonian Era Collection. Stay tuned for more!

New Illustrated Inventory: Bien’s Edition of “Birds of America”

“Blue Jay”

In 1858, John Woodhouse Audubon, son of John James Audubon, set out to recreate the success of his father’s work Birds of America, published in 1838 with four hundred large, hand-colored engravings. John Woodhouse partnered with lithographer Julius Bien and the publishing firm of Roe, Lockwood & Company to create a less-expensive set than the Lizars/Havell edition. (The story of how AAS missed out on the 1838 plates was told in a previous blog post.) John Woodhouse Audubon solicited subscribers for the $500 set, costing half the price of the 1838 set. Since the Audubon family still owned the copper plates used in 1838, they were given to Bien to transfer to lithographic stone. Each plate still required at least six color stones, making the project expensive and cumbersome. The timing of the project was unfortunate as well. America was on the brink of the Civil War, and by the time the first volume came out in 1860, subscribers had started to back out of the project, and others, especially in the South, were unreachable. Only 15 parts of the anticipated 45 were produced, and most were bound in a large, one-volume set, containing 150 images on 105 sheets. Because of the small number produced (an estimated 75–100), this “Bien edition” of Birds of America is considered rarer than the 1838 edition. It is estimated that today, only seventeen bound sets still exist.

“Reddish Egret”

Georgia Barnhill (far right) viewing the Bien edition.

In 2012, AAS was given a copy of this extremely rare bound edition of Bien’s Birds of America. Longtime lithograph collector Jay T. Last generously donated his copy to the library in honor of the retirement of curator emerita Georgia B. Barnhill. The large, heavy volume requires a custom-built cradle to be viewed and two people to transport it. Because of this, the entire volume was digitized and described, and is now available to view as an illustrated inventory using the Omeka platform. The site is keyword-searchable, and tags make it easy to find like birds, as well as other documented items in the plates such as nests and landscapes. The resources page links to other related items in the AAS collections, including a salesman’s sample for the 1870 octavo volumes that accompany the plates. Enjoy!

A new podcast from Past is Present!

Last year on Past is Present we featured a series of interviews with American Antiquarian Society fellows in order to showcase their thoughts about writing history and work with the Society’s collections. This year we’ve decided that, instead of transcribing those interviews, we will make them available as podcasts. This will let our readers (and now listeners) hear all the nuances that are present only in the spoken word. Anyone looking for a new history podcast will want to subscribe to these half-hour interviews.

For our first interview of the new year, we’re featuring Denise Miller, who has just completed a Charlotte and Robert Baron fellowship at the Society. Denise is a teacher, poet, activist, and chef who’s based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and also the American Book Award. Denise’s current project is called Travelogos: African Americans and the Struggle for Safe Passage. In addition to the podcast, we’ve also included a few bonus poems from Denise, which you can find below. Both are Pushcart-nominated poems, the first, “Libations,” from her first book CORE and the second, “Dear Spectators,” from her newest book Ligatures.

You can listen to this podcast at the top of this post or subscribe to it through iTunes. Stay tuned for much more from the Past is Present podcast!

“Libations” from CORE


“Dear Spectators” from Ligatures

Hanukkah and American Judaism, 1841-1876

‘Tis the season for holiday traditions and rituals – and for social media posts like this one that try to give some historical perspective to why we celebrate the way we do. So many holidays cluster around the winter solstice, such as Christmas and Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve (or Saturnalia or your basic pagan winter solstice festival of lights). For many of us, these are closely tied to personal identity, family history, and religious belief and trying to suss out the historical details of how these holidays were first celebrated and how they have changed over the years can leave us as twisted up and frustrated as trying to straighten out tangled strings of lights. Whether lighting menorahs or hanging stockings, it’s interesting to stop and ask ourselves: Why am I doing this? Who was the first person to do this? What have these traditions meant in the past and why were they passed down to me?

If you’re looking for the origins of how Hanukkah is celebrated in the U.S. you’ll want to head to the mid-nineteenth century. The holiday itself, of course, has been celebrated for centuries; it commemorates the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem in the second century B.C. (Syrian-Greek oppressors had desecrated the temple in an attempt to encourage assimilation but the Maccabean Revolt restored Jewish access to the temple). Jewish families had been established in North America for centuries as well, but the Jewish population in what became the U.S. was clustered in small pockets scattered throughout the country and the Hanukkah celebration was a relatively minor holiday (it is not mandated in Scripture). In a wave of migration starting in the 1840s, German Jews in particular brought with them a European tradition of celebrating a secularized Christmas. As Christmas grew in cultural (and commercial) importance in America through the mid-nineteenth century, the close chronological proximity of Hanukkah to Christmas — and the fact that both holidays have been referred to at various points in history as the “Feast of Lights” — proved a flashpoint for questions about distinctiveness, assimilation, and reform. (Keep in mind, the intermingling of holiday symbols could go both ways. The day after Christmas in 1876, The Sun described Baltimore’s local German churches’ celebrations as a mixture of holiday traditions: “Illuminated Christmas trees were conspicuous in all” the churches, and one “exhibited a stand used by the Hebrews at the celebration of the Chanukaw [sic], or Feast of Lights.”) The transitional period of the mid-nineteenth was significant not just for how American Jews celebrated Hanukkah; it is a less well-known but nonetheless key pivot point in the American Jewish experience in general.

American Judaica, 1841-1876 is a new online resource focusing on the middle years of the nineteenth century in the American Jewish experience, using items printed during those years in fresh new ways. Featured selections include about sixty written and visual examples, a geographic mapping of some of the Jewish institutional publications held at AAS, and a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Judaica materials that the Society’s curators have been adding recently. The project is an outcome of the work on AAS’s later Judaica holdings done by intern Claire Jones in the summer of 2016 as part of the Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS) program with funding generously provided by AAS chairman, Sid Lapidus. (You can read more about her research process and discoveries in a series of entertaining blog posts posted earlier here in Past is Present.)

Why focus on the middle of the nineteenth century? Rather than an origin story of the first Jewish this or that, or being understood only as a precursor for the present day, focusing on the mid-nineteenth century can expose a distinct perspective all its own.

For instance, searching AAS’s newspapers for mid-nineteenth century Hanukkah celebrations reveals rather unexpected geographic centers for American Judaism, such as Ohio. In the popular imagination, Jewish American life is often tied to New York City — after all, that is where the first Jews settled in the 1650s and where great waves of immigrants arrived starting in the 1880s. However, it was in Cincinnati in 1860 that Isaac Wise published a romanticized story based on the Maccabean Revolt in his national Jewish magazine, The Israelite. Also, in a quick search of digitized non-Jewish newspapers, the earliest reference to specific celebrations of the holiday in their local Jewish community was from Cleveland, Ohio: a notice of the beginning of Hanukkah in the December 8, 1860 issue of Plain Dealer. Other early mentions of the holiday appeared in 1868 in Jackson, Michigan, in 1869 in Boston, Massachusetts, and in 1874 in Alexandria, Virginia.

Besides rearranging our mental map of American Judaism, focusing on mid-nineteenth century American celebrations of Hanukkah highlight different aspects besides the trappings of dreidel, gelt, and latke. Hanukkah celebrations provided an opportunity for Jewish Americans to publicly proclaim their identity with lighted menorahs to be displayed in each household’s front window, and in the mid-nineteenth century one first begins to find mentions of the holiday being celebrated in non-Jewish newspapers. Among the characteristics emphasized in these accounts were the “hilarity” of the holiday, its focus on charity and civic mindedness, and the perseverance of Jewish identity.

In its November 30, 1869 edition, The New York Herald described the Hanukkah festivities in that city and explained the significance to their non-Jewish readers: “The synagogues last evening were splendidly lighted and adorned with wreaths and garlands. On the reading pulpit were placed candlesticks with candles… Thanks were said, hymns psalms and praises were sung, and the occasion generally celebrated with great hilarity publicly in the synagogues as also privately within the family circle.” The importance of the holiday to “our Hebrew fellow-citizens” was emphasized in an article in The Critic (Washington, DC) on December 12, 1871, as well as the charitable giving associated with the holiday: “This feast is one of sacrifice and love, and one on which the more fortunate members of the Hebrew Church make contributions for the relief of their less fortunate brethren.” The Galveston Tri-Weekly News (Galveston, Texas) for December 8, 1871, provided a lengthy description of the historical events commemorated and how Hanukkah was celebrated, adding  “such it has been kept through dispersion, during persecution, and alive yet on the present day.”

For more interesting developments in Hanukkah celebrations in the U.S. after 1876 — one of the most striking being Maccabean pageant the “The Grand Revival of the National Holiday of Chance” by Young Men’s Hebrew Association in 1879 — see Dianne Ashton’s Hanukkah in America: A History [catalog record]. We hope you will also enjoy American Judaica, 1841-1876.

Database Reveals a Soldier’s Unexpected Past

Online searching has undoubtedly revolutionized information gathering.  Census rolls, vital records, family trees, and genealogies are among the familiar, much-used digital resources at our fingertips free of charge in the Society’s reading room.  A lesser utilized treasure trove of information is held in the Society’s collection of printed college and school catalogs. These “catalogs” were issued annually and often listed the names and city of origin of its students and faculty.  Many of these names—nearly three quarters of a million of them—have been indexed in the Student, Teacher and Trustee Database Project, 1800-1900, freely accessible on the AAS website.

AAS member Richard P. Morgan saw the research value in indexing student and faculty names and has made this database his mission.  Always striving to improve the online presentation and functionality of the database, Rich will periodically call upon me to tweak the search or results interface pages.  Recently, in the midst of testing an update, I searched for a name that popped into my head—“Aaron Scott.”  It’s the name of my great-grandfather, a Connecticut Valley tobacco farmer born in the 1860s.  I was surprised when four results from the 1850s for an Aaron Scott of North Hadley, Massachusetts, appeared.  I was well aware of this Aaron Scott—the uncle after whom my own great-grandfather was named.  Stories of this beloved uncle and the circumstance of his death as a Civil War soldier have long loomed large in our family lore.  I had no idea, however, that this son of a farming family had the opportunity to attend Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, from 1850 to 1851, and Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire, from 1854 to 1857, as the database now showed me.

Portrait of Aaron Scott from “History of the Ninety-Sixth Regiment: Illinois Volunteer Infantry,” 1887.

During the Atlanta campaign on August 2, 1864, Aaron Scott, having suffered a serious wound to his face, was lying on his bunk reading his Bible when he was struck by a bullet.  An account of the event, recorded in a history of his regiment, describes Scott’s refusal of whiskey; he preferred to sip cold water.[1] His dramatic passing was recorded as having a profound effect on the other soldiers.  This tragic end is really all that our family had remembered about Uncle Aaron, but his educational background does help explain how, at the time of his enlistment, he was a teacher in charge of the agricultural department of the Reform School at Chicago.   Without the indexing provided by the Student, Teacher and Trustee Database Project, the knowledge of Aaron Scott’s education and experience as a student would have most likely have remained a missing piece of his story.


[1] History of the Ninety-Sixth Regiment: Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Edited by Charles A. Partridge. Chicago: Brown, Pettibone, printers, 1887.

Show the Love: McLoughlin Christmas Books

St. Nicholas. New York: McLoughlin Bros., ca. 1895.

One year from now AAS will be opening the exhibition Radiant with Color and Light: McLoughlin Brothers and the Business of Picture Books, 1858-1920 at the Grolier Club in New York. The show will feature nearly two hundred books, games, watercolors, toys, and ephemera, all produced by the McLoughlin Bros. firm and their contemporaries. The Society’s curators and conservators have been hard at work planning the show since 2013 and, in recent weeks, have begun to lay out the installation in preparation for the construction of book cradles, mattes, frames, and other display elements, as well as the writing of exhibition labels, all work that is slated for early 2017.

Christmas Boxes. New York: McLoughlin Bros., 1881.

This month, appropriately, we decided to focus on a section of the show devoted to Christmas.  McLoughlin Bros. are well known for hiring American illustrator Thomas Nast to create images for the popular poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas (also known as The Night Before Christmas), which was issued in multiple editions starting around 1869. After 1870, the firm was very invested in the holiday, issuing numerous books and toys focused on Christmas, Santa, and winter activities, all intended to tempt children and parents into purchasing McLoughlin products for Christmas and New Year’s gift giving.  During the object selection process last year, Children’s Literature Curator Laura Wasowicz and I pulled dozens of examples of holiday books offered by the firm, with titles ranging in date from 1863 to 1927.

Page spread from Clement Clarke Moore, A Visit from Saint Nicholas. Illustrated by Thomas Nast. New York: McLoughlin Bros., 1869.

George P. Webster. Santa Claus and His Works. Illustrated by Thomas Nast. New York: McLoughlin Bros., 1869.

We were looking for outstanding examples to feature at the Grolier Club, a society of bibliophiles passionate about fine bindings, rare books, book history, and book production.  We laid all the volumes out on our work table and both of us were struck by a unifying characteristic shared by the holiday titles.  They had been, in the words of the curator, “very nearly read to death.” Heavily dog-eared, creased, soiled, stained, and torn, the books were often actually limp from overuse.  One tattered copy of the 1869 title Santa Claus and His Works, for example, had been sewn, taped, and glued by previous owners in an attempt to keep the pages together (fortunately, we also have a pristine copy). Overall though, the holiday books showed more wear and tear than any of the other 150 titles that we had examined for other sections of the show. What to do? Could they travel? Would we be embarrassed to show them in the august halls of the Grolier Club?

Around the World with Santa Claus. Illustrated by Richard Andre. New York: McLoughlin Bros, 1900.

As with many problems, this one was solved with a compromise. Any title too damaged to travel or be displayed was rejected out of hand (although some will be photographed for the catalog that will accompany the exhibition). Then we met with our head conservator and explained that we wanted to show the wear on these books in order to allow them to represent the popularity of the titles with their young readers. She agreed and we worked together to isolate those well-loved titles with the most structural integrity. In the end, we selected fourteen books and games for the Christmas section and feel confident that they will reflect well on both the McLoughlin Bros. and on AAS, while also providing indisputable evidence of repeated and enthusiastic readings by excited children. We’ll have more updates about the progress of the McLoughlin exhibition as we move forward in the months ahead.

Halfway across the world and back again

Kathleen Major has been volunteering in the Manuscripts Department at AAS for several years and just recently processed the diaries of nineteenth-century serviceman, adventurer, and housekeeper Frank Nash. Kathy worked at AAS from 1976 to 1984 and was Keeper of Manuscripts for a portion of that time. After leaving the Society to care for her children, Kathy worked at the Gale Free Library in Holden, most recently as head of technical services, until her retirement in 2014.

Francis Alvarez Hartley Nash (1834-1898), the son of a farmer in Abington, Massachusetts, was determined to seek a life of adventure—and he did exactly that—before settling down to help his wife keep house.

In fourteen volumes of diaries, kept from 1852-1867, Nash tells us that he joined the United States Navy at age eighteen and was assigned to the store ship Supply, which was part of Commodore Matthew Perry’s famous Black Ships Cruise to Japan, a type of gunboat diplomacy to open trade—forcibly if necessary—with Japan.


Nash describes visiting a library, a brothel, and a bowling alley all in one day (Saturday, August 5, 1854)

The experience proved to be insufficient adventure for Frank Nash. Although he had a wife and three children, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard when the Civil War began. Because he deemed the pay insufficient, he quickly decided to rejoin the Navy and participate in the blockade of Southern ports. Nash later joined the 38th Massachusetts Infantry, but, due to a gap in the diaries, we don’t know why Nash decided to fight in the land war instead of the Navy. He also participated in the siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana. Finally, in July 1865, he was sent home to his family and life as a bookkeeper in Abington, Massachusetts.

The fourteen volumes of Nash’s diaries contain wonderful descriptions of life at sea during the Black Ships cruise, life in China and Japan (where Nash hired a courtesan), and Perry’s success with the Japanese. While home in Abington he wrote of his devotion to Unitarian Universalism, his family, and abolitionism and the Union (at one point contributing money to help a father free his son from slavery). He was also a progressive who helped his wife with housekeeping and child care and “had no doubt that woman’s sphere will be greatly changed in 20 years from now [1860], and without their losing their feminine traits of character, of mildness, gentleness, and loveliness.” 

Nash’s diaries are a remarkably descriptive account of both family life in the mid-nineteenth century and a life of adventure during a turbulent time. Molly McCarthy says in The Accidental Diarist that keeping a diary became so popular and so common as to be a “national pursuit” for Americans in the nineteenth century, and it is true that diaries from this period abound (AAS has over 240 in its collection). But the record of each unique life details an individual world that can never be reduced to generalizations.

Isaiah Is Going Digital: The Prototype

digital-isaiah-screenshotA few weeks ago, a post shared the final cut of a short film depicting a young Isaiah Thomas learning about the legal indenture that bound him to his apprenticeship. As explained in the post, that film is part of a larger project that aims to create an interactive educational website inspired by AAS’s one-man theater performance Isaiah Thomas – Patriot Printer. We now have a fully working prototype of the segment of the site that explores Isaiah’s indenture, designed by Digital Gizmo, and we’re excited to share it here!

This segment, or module, called “Becoming a Printer,” features all of the components that will comprise each of the six modules of the full site. After viewing the film, the user is able to explore the indenture document interactively through zooming features, transcriptions, and clickable hotspots that provide information about the physical document and its textual content. The indenture is further contextualized through related primary sources, links, and lesson plans. We are also in the early development stages of creating a game centered on setting type. Once the site is completed, each module will use this format to examine a different primary source document of significance to Isaiah and the nation.

Please take a moment to do your own exploration of this first module, and let us know what you think!