Interview with Susanna Blumenthal

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

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

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

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

2017 PHBAC seminar outside AAS’s Goddard-Daniels House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fall Issue of Almanac Now Available

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

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

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

Pasted Pandemonium!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for a New Illustrated Inventory – Watch Papers

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

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

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


Back to School (supplies!)

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

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

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

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






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



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









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






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






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



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






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






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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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










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

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

Wright inscription to Clarence Brigham in 1948 edition of his bibliography

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

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

Top Ten Authors in Wright


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

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


Report from Digital Humanities Conference 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Acquisitions Table: Little Marian

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaw’s story appears in this issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] The News Desk. “Arresting dress: A timeline of anti-cross-dressing laws in the United States.” PBS Newshour. 31 May 2015.

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

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

Students looking at material in Smith College’s archives.

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

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

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

Students collaborating on the online exhibition.

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

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

The Acquisitions Table: The Whip

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

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

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

Nimrod, Newspapers, and the Apocalypse of 1812

An undated edition of Hughes’s prophecy, published in 1811 or early 1812.

“I saw the gathering tempest and heard its dreadful roarings, which seemed to me the roaring and burstings of ten thousand canons at once. Then I saw the trees of the forest torn by the violence of the winds, and dashed against each other, and against everything that stood before them, and houses and rocks and hills torn from their foundations, and shattered into atoms, and blown about like the dust of the earth.” According to Nimrod Hughes, this is the fate that awaited the world on June 4, 1812, along with the destruction of one-third of mankind. In the wake of a bright and long-lasting comet, earthquakes, and an eclipse, Hughes’s prophecies fell onto a population primed to believe in any new natural catastrophe.

Hughes’s prophetic pamphlet was titled A solemn warning to all the dwellers upon earth, given forth in obedience to the express command of the Lord God, as communicated by Him, in several extraordinary visions and miraculous revelations, confirmed by sundry plain but wonderful signs, unto Nimrod Hughes, of the county of Washington, in Virginia, upon whom the awful duty of making this publication, has been laid and enforced; by many admonitions and severe chastisements of the Lord, for the space of ten months and nine days of unjust and close confinement in the prison of Abingdon, wherein he was shewn, that the certain destruction of one third of mankind, as foretold in the Scriptures, must take place on the fourth day of June, in the year of our Lord 1812. In it, Hughes claimed to have received apocalyptic visions from God during a recent imprisonment. A Solemn Warning was a bestseller, and many editions were published from mid-1811 into 1812, including at least six in English and two in German. On October 25, 1811, the Carlisle Gazette noted that “[Nimrod Hughes’s] prophecies are eagerly sought after from every corner, and the printers are hardly able to keep pace with the uncommon demand.” The popularity of this pamphlet eventually spawned a massive assault against Nimrod Hughes and his prophetic pretensions in the press.

A woodcut from a broadside poem about the Great Comet of 1811. The comet was seen all over the world and was viewed as a warning of forthcoming disaster. In the novel War and Peace, Tolstoy describes the comet as a sign, “said to portend all kinds of woes and the end of the world.” Hughes’s prophecy was published in the wake of the comet’s first visibility.

Some early newspaper articles about Nimrod Hughes and A Solemn Warning tried to simply present a balanced view of the available information. Kline’s Weekly Carlisle Gazette in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, published a communication from “a layman” in Baltimore describing a terrible hail storm in Alexandria, Virginia, ten days after its citizens mocked Hughes, concluding with the observation, “since this period the reputation of Nimrod Hughes, has greatly augmented in the public estimation; but as to his prophecies, (without hazarding an opinion) we leave them, and him with his motives to settle with his maker.”

Obed Alcox, the former owner of the undated copy of A Solemn Warning featured above, clearly shared the low opinion of Hughes’s prophecy present in the newspapers. His note reads: “Retire & rest: say I, and think of Hughes’s lie.”

Most writers, however, openly attacked both Hughes and the credulity of his readers. One of the earliest assaults on Hughes’s character appeared in a letter from William M’Kee to his brother on November 4, 1811, which received wide reprinting. In it, M’Kee describes Hughes as “one of the greatest villains I ever new [sic].…There is no man who is acquainted with him would believe a word he says; much less have the confidence in his prophecy, and I never was more astonished than to hear that his pamphlet excited a single enquiry” (Palladium of Liberty, January 28, 1812). Newspapers printed conflicting accounts of what landed Hughes in jail, and he was alternately accused of libel, horse theft, stealing bacon, and burning a barn. When some reports claimed he had been a Methodist minister, other reports were quick to say he’d never been any such thing. In many ways, the constant attempts to pin down facts, the in-depth arguments against false prophecy juxtaposed with quick character insults, and worries about the public’s willingness to believe anything in print would be instantly familiar to anyone who spends even a small amount of time looking at contemporary news.

The descriptions of Hughes in 1811 and 1812 newspapers easily presage the character attacks prevalent in contemporary journalism. Throughout the country, Hughes was described as “the pretended prophet” (Farmer’s Repository, Charles Town, Virginia); “the imposter” (Palladium of Liberty, Morristown, New Jersey.); “the false prophet” and “an abandoned wretch,” (Long-Island Star, Brooklyn, New York); and “that villain Nimrod Hughes” and “ye who fatten on human vice, ignorance and meanness” (The Pittsburg Mercury, reprinted in The Tickler, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Some writers went so far as to accuse Hughes of maliciously misusing the public’s trust. “It is matter of much regret to see persons, who ought to know better, take advantage of such a period to impress the minds of the people with idle fears,” lamented an anonymous writer to the Pittsburg Mercury. Under the headline “False Prophet,” the Long-Island Star complained, “there have been four or five different prophecies since the appearance of the comet but none of them so artful, so wicked, or so dangerous as Nimrod Hughes’.”  The vocabulary may have changed in modern discourse, but the sentiments are essentially the same.

What apocalyptic prophecy is complete without Biblical arithmetic? Here, Hughes attempts to prove that a prophecy from Daniel was scheduled to occur in 1812. Such attempts by Hughes to legitimize his prophecy lead to multiple newspaper screeds about how to recognize “real” prophecy.

When June 4, 1812, passed without any of Hughes’s predictions coming true, the papers wasted little time in pointing out the error of Hughes’s prophecies. On June 9, the American and Commercial Daily Advertiser in Baltimore reported “The 4th of June has past [sic].…[Hughes’s] prediction of the hail, and the whirlwind, and of the destruction of one-third of our species is blown to air.” The Courier in Washington, D.C., went so far as to publish a poem by one Julio Everard, which begins “Blush—ye weak deluded mortals, blush, / Ye who would believe and fear a man, / And not the words of thy all seeing God!” (The rest of the poem is equally melodramatic.) The New-England Palladium in Boston opined that believers in Hughes’s prophecy would have been better off buying lottery tickets, and the Public Advertiser in New York argued that the only apocalyptic occurrence following the publication of Hughes’s prophecy was the nomination of DeWitt Clinton for president.

I stumbled into this vicious nest of newspaper attacks after cataloging an undated, abridged edition of Hughes’s prophecy. While the outrage over Hughes’s audacity at publishing “lying prophecies” is amusing and entertaining reading to us, what truly struck me is how little the response to ridiculous news has changed in two hundred years. Aside from the medium of delivery, there isn’t much difference between a newspaper reprinting William M’Kee’s letter prefaced by their own commentary and a Facebook or Tumblr user sharing a link to an article and putting their thoughts with it. If there’s one thing exposure to the vast collection of newspapers housed at AAS has taught me, it’s that the news has changed very little throughout America’s history. So, the next time you’re rolling your eyes over an acquaintance believing a dubious news article or you’re exasperated by extended news coverage of a dubious scientific claim, remember the time Nimrod Hughes predicted the destruction of one-third of the population and was wrong.

The Practice of Everyday Cataloging: ‘Blacks as authors’ and the Early American Bibliographic Record

Recent conversations addressing the lacuna of representation of people of color in the bibliographic record have ignited a flurry of activity in our cataloging department that we hope users of our catalog will find helpful. As is often the case when we reflect on our cataloging processes and procedures, this activity has a long history here at AAS. In the 1990s and in response to scholars’ needs (most notably those of AAS Librarian Nancy Burkett, Randall Burkett, and Henry Louis Gates, the co-editors of Black Biography, 1790-1950: A Cumulative Index), the question was posed: is there a way to identify works by black authors in the AAS Catalog? AAS Head of Cataloging Alan Degutis reported that there was not, but that there could be, and he, in consultation with his staff, set to work devising a cataloging policy. Henceforth, AAS catalogers began adding to the MAchine Readable Catalog (MARC) records they created the following locally-defined subject headings: “Blacks as authors,” “Blacks in the printing and publishing trades,” and “Blacks as illustrators.” This work was begun in the 1990s, and all rare-book-level records created thereafter include these headings when appropriate.

But what about all of the MARC records that had been created before 1990 and the retrospective conversion records added to the catalog in the 1990s? How could we most efficiently and effectively add these headings to older records? In other words, what could we do to ensure that a user searching for black authors, illustrators, and people in the printing trades could be found in the early American bibliographic record that AAS has been dedicated to producing for centuries? To address this question, we did what we often do when faced with a bibliographic dilemma: we consulted our collections. On our reading room reference shelves, we identified some forty books and pamphlets that might help us identify the names of black people in our catalog and the works of those we might add to the North American Imprints Program (NAIP) records. (For more on NAIP, please see my previous post “Big Data in Early America.”) 

The earliest of these is Daniel Alexander Payne Murray and Wilberforce Eames’ Preliminary List of Books and Pamphlets by Negro Authors for Paris Exposition and Library of Congress (1900).  

This eight-page list was sent to libraries in an effort t to collect more “books and pamphlets by Negro authors” for both the Exhibit of Negro Authorship at the Paris Exposition of 1900 and for the Library of Congress collection.
With the blank form they inserted, Murray and Eames asked for reader responses:  “[a]ny person able to furnish books or pamphlets on this list, or having knowledge of such as are not on this list” should fill out the card and return it to the Library of Congress. The feedback “will greatly aid this effort … to make certain that all books or pamphlets are duly represented in the collection.” This pamphlet and the responses the blank generated surely deserve further scrutiny, but for now, I point it out as one of the many bibliographic treasures we encountered on our shelves. Ultimately, we identified eight references that would be most useful to help us identify the catalog records to which we could add “Blacks as authors.” This is our starting focus; though we are always looking out for “Blacks in the printing and publishing trades” and “Blacks as illustrators” mentioned in these works, we have not yet made those headings our focus. These references we used (with a brief description of them) include:

  1. Daniel Alexander Payne Murray and Wilberforce Eames, Preliminary List of Books and Pamphlets by Negro Authors for Paris Exposition and Library of Congress (1900), as mentioned above.
  2. Arthur Alfonso Schomburg, A Bibliographical Checklist of American Negro Poetry (1916) lists imprints by authors (though no dates are given) and includes, at the end, Charles Heartman’s bibliography of Phillis Wheatley.
  3. Vernon Loggins, The Negro Author: His Development in America (1931) that, at the end of 400 pages of prose, includes a “brief record” with holding institutions of imprints and serials by African Americans from 1760-1900.
  4. Dorothy Porter Wesley, Early American Negro Writings: A Bibliographical Study (1945) is a “checklist” that includes 292 entries for imprints, serials, and manuscripts held at 31 publicly accessible collections, as well as, in the private collections of Arthur B. Spingarn and Dr. Reynold Johnson.
  5. Dorothy Porter Wesley and Arthur Alfonso Schomburg, North American Negro Poets: A Bibliographical Checklist of Their Writings, 1760-1944 (1945) is an expansion of the Schomburg published in 1916. It does not include foreign titles, but it doubles the number of domestic titles, including books and pamphlets by individual poets, anthologies edited by Negro authors, and a few printed broadsides. It Includes holdings at 25 collections, and though the entries are not numbered, there are about 620 of them.
  6. William P. French and Geneviève Fabre, Afro-American Poetry and Drama, 1760-1975: A Guide to Information Sources (1979) includes both Afro-American texts in anthologies and single-author publications as well as studies of these works.
  7. William L. Andrews,  To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865 (1986) includes an annotated bibliography of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865 (333-342).
  8. Jean Fagan Yellin’s and Cynthia D. Bond, The Pen Is Ours: A Listing of Writings by and about African-American Women before 1910 with Secondary Bibliography to the Present (1991)  includes writings by and about African-American women who produced separately published writings; writings by and about African-American women who had been enslaved and whose stories, either dictated or written, had been published; and  writings by and about African-American women whose works appeared in periodicals and collected writings.

We went through these anthologies and made a spreadsheet of all names that might be found in our catalog. We then searched the Library of Congress Name Authority File (LCNAF) for the identified individuals, matching the form (or forms) of a person’s name as given in the bibliographies to a person’s name (or names) as authorized in LCNAF; it is the latter that we use in the catalog. For example, Wesley and Schomburg identify the author of Catoninetales as Hattie Brown, which is the name on the volume’s title page. However, Catoninetales was written by William James Linton under the pseudonym Hattie Brown, and Linton’s name in LCNAF is authorized as “Linton, W. J. (William James), 1812-1897”; it is this name that we needed to search with to find the thirteen records in which Linton is traced. With this new list in hand, we could identify the books and pamphlets written by a black author with catalog records that did not yet include the subject heading “Blacks as authors” and then add it. We made sure that the headings were applied comprehensively to all works by each author.  All of this work continues to be in process, but thus far we have added the heading to almost 300 monograph records.  

The blue bars in the graph indicate the progress we have made since we began this work in March 2017. It is a start: we have much more to do, especially to identify “Blacks as illustrators” and “Blacks in the printing and publishing trades.” We are currently mining the amazing collection of North American Slaves Narratives in Documenting the American South not only for more headings we might add to existing records and to records we might create, but also for links we can include in our catalog to full text and XML files for these texts. We have a number of other ideas in the works to enhance our catalog in the hopes that it will serve our users better, make these important works more accessible, and ensure that the AAS does its part to combat the further “symbolic annihilation” of people of color in the historical record.

This work has led to some important conversations in Antiquarian Hall about when to apply the term “Blacks as authors.” We do not determine the terminology used; the Library of Congress Subject Authority Cooperative Program (SACO) does that. In 1990,  we decided to use “Blacks” rather than “African Americans,” the two possibilities offered by the Library of Congress. For our purposes, “blacks” seems best because it captured not only people of African descent living in “America” but also those living elsewhere and who might be in our catalog. We are now asking: how is a person identified as black? And how does that identification delimit and circumscribe other identities? For the time being, we consider inclusion in the references listed above as reason to add the subject heading “Blacks as authors.” We are eager, however, to be a part of the the current work at the intersection of digital humanities and bibliography that might alter our practice insofar as this work can interrogate the assumptions under which those who compiled these bibliographies worked. Any alterations of our own practice must  be considered along with our adherence to cataloging standards that render AAS data interoperable and meaningful in digital environments beyond our own online public access catalog (OPAC).  This balance of subject expertise, bibliographic prowess, and data demands are how we at AAS arrive at our practices of everyday cataloging.

Thanks to Head of Cataloging Services Alan Degutis and Project Cataloger Amy Tims for their help with this post.