Collection highlights, news about acquisitions, events and exhibits, and behind-the-scenes looks at the work and services of Rare Books & Special Collections (RBSC) at Notre Dame.
Rare Books and Special Collections is located on the main floor of the Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame in northern Indiana, and is open to students, faculty, visiting researchers, and members of the community Monday through Friday from 9am-5pm (closed weekends and major holidays).
Paul van Vlissingen, owner of the Dutch company SHV (Steenkolen Handels Vereeniging), commissioned the noted book maker Irma Boom to create a volume to commemorate the anniversary of his family’s firm. Boom had full access to the archives of the company and the family to aid her in conceiving what became a 2,136 page tome.
Given full artistic control and no budget, she spent five years fashioning the volume. It is a most unusual creation, incorporating a wide range of surprising and innovative design elements. As an example, the edge of the text block displays a field of tulips when its pages are flipped from left to right, but flipping them the opposite way reveals a poem.
The book’s contents are arranged in reverse chronological order, and are unnumbered to encourage accidental discovery. Pages are perforated and use different inks and typefaces. Irma Boom has received many awards, including a Gutenberg Prize, for her book designs. The SHV Think Book is her most celebrated work, and was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art as an international icon of Dutch design.
At the outbreak of the First World War, there were approximately 10,000 British nationals within the borders of the German Reich. Some were on holiday while others had resided in the country their entire lives or were passing through as sailors aboard merchant vessels. Regardless of background, their British citizenship marked them for suspicion in the eyes of the German government as well as retaliation for the plight of German nationals in Great Britain. Therefore, it was determined that male British nationals of military age were to be arrested and interned for the duration of the war (though with the possibility for freedom through prisoner exchanges). While various camps were hastily constructed to house these detainees, Ruhleben was the only camp that was entirely populated by civilian prisoners.
Constructed on the grounds of a horse racing track on the outskirts of Berlin, Ruhleben would house over 4,000 prisoners at its height. Inmates were barracked in repurposed stables in extremely poor condition due to the inadequate facilities. Over time and with the intervention of the American ambassador, Ruhleben would grow to include not only upgraded barracks and latrines, but also a library, school, stores, and post office. Lack of privacy was a perpetual concern for the men while at the same time they were virtually cut off from the rest of civilization apart from Red Cross parcels and short letters from home. As a result the camp formed its own community complete with newspaper, theater productions, sports teams, and various clubs to keep boredom at bay.
One such endeavor was In Ruhleben Camp and its successor The Ruhleben Camp Magazine. Special Collections recently acquired a full set of these issues in two bound volumes accompanied by a bound, two-volume scrapbook containing original drawings from the magazine. Published fortnightly, the magazine included stories and cartoons parodying camp life as well as reports of camp activities such as reviews of musicals, sports recaps, and advertisements for lectures. A marked tone of humor is prevalent throughout, in keeping with the unofficial camp slogan “Are we downhearted? No!” An in-depth chronicle of camp life, the magazine represents some of the best documentation of the Ruhleben experience.
The highlight of this collection is the two-volume scrapbook. Bound in pasteboard and measuring 16.5″ x 12.75,” the scrapbook contains 53 original drawings in pen-and-ink, watercolor, and graphite. Although the purpose of the scrapbook is not certain, material on the front cover indicates that the scrapbook was a mock-up for a London publisher, George Newnes Ltd., to use for the publication of a book to be called, “The Lighter Side of Lager Life.” Who compiled the scrapbook is also unknown, but it may have been one of the magazine’s editors, Louis Egerton Filmore or C. G. Pemberton.
The scrapbook volumes include original illustration, many of which did not appear in the printed magazines. The drawings depict camp life in a vivid display of the camp’s signature humor. Original artwork is paired with clippings that parody classic British texts such as “Alice Through the Lager Glass” and Shakespeare rewritings. These parodies were some of the most popular types of entries in the printed magazine. Other literary pieces included poetry known as “Ruhlimericks” which poked fun at camp conditions and life or humorous advertisements for various services.
Tuesday, September 5 at 4:00pm | Opening reception for the fall exhibit, Elements of Humanity: Primo Levi and the Evolution of Italian Postwar Culture. This exhibit is curated by Tracy Bergstrom (Curator, Italian Imprints and Dante Collection) and opens on August 21. (This event was originally scheduled for August 31.)
The monthly spotlight exhibit, War as Child’s Play: German Children’s Literature from the World Wars, continues through August. The summer spotlight exhibit, “Which in future time shall stir the waves of memory” — Friendship Albums of Antebellum America, continues to be on display through September and features seven volumes from Special Collections’ manuscripts of North America holdings.
Please note that Special Collections will be closed to the public the week of August 7-11 due to facilities maintenance.
… on Sunday, the 29th March, at 8½ A.M., we cast off from the Yard, with a fine breeze at the N. W., and clear cold weather, the steam Tug, “R. B. Forbes,” in company, with some of the members of the Committee, on board. In about one hour we parted from them, with hearty cheers, and made sail on our course.
A remarkable voyage to bring relief to the Irish in the Great Famine is the subject of Captain R. B. Forbes’ report, The Voyage of the Jamestown on Her Errand of Mercy, published in Boston in 1847. His report for the “Committee of Distribution” combines his account with a substantial appendix of correspondence and other documentation.
After the Irish potato crop failed due to blight in 1845 and again in 1846, knowing that the potato provided most of the subsistence for a large part of the Irish population, concern for this famine grew throughout the world, but especially in places such as Boston where there was a considerable population of Irish birth or descent. Those who provided assistance in early 1847 expected that the harvest later that year would bring an end to famine, but in fact the blight persisted and the Great Irish Famine lasted until 1852. [i]
In this print, “Ye two Ga-lorious 4ths,” a Civil War soldier playfully and ironically compared Independence Day observations in 1861 and 1862. Drawing upon his own military experience, the artist compared the way he (and perhaps how he believed his family and friends) idealized military service with the grim realities of army life.
Henry Bacon, the young soldier who created the sketches in this lithograph, enlisted in the 13th Massachusetts Regiment of the United States Army a few weeks after July 4, 1861. Severely wounded at the Second Battle of Bull Run, he was discharged on December 19, 1862.
While in the army Bacon sold drawings to Frank Leslie’s Weekly Illustrated Newspaper, a popular publication in the North that fed the public’s voracious appetite for war news including, for the first time, images.
In seven paired images, Bacon mocked his own (and others’) illusions about wartime military service and perhaps also the experience of peacetime service. In “Ye Escort” and “Ye Patriot,” Bacon poked gentle fun at the toy-soldier appearance of a peacetime soldier on escort duty in contrast to the practical, informal, and even patchwork attire of an active soldier “Patriot.”
In a pairing that evoked Independence Day by mentioning “Fire Works,” Bacon contrasted the lofty ideals of “Liberty and Union” (references to ending slavery and secession) with a prosaic military camp fire. He also included an ironic note comparing viewing fireworks with the experience of facing artillery fire. Another pairing, between “Ye Bewildering Vision” and “Ye ‘Rational’ Reality,” compared a copy of the Declaration of Independence placed upon a richly laden table, with torn and battered “Marching Orders” on the ground beside spartan military rations of “hard bread,” and a canteen of water. Noble rhetoric about saving the Union complemented Independence Day celebrations, but it contrasted starkly with the hardships of military life.
After his discharge Bacon moved to France to study painting and remained in Europe for the rest of his life.
Iowa City, the only UNESCO City of Literature in North America, hosted the 58th annual Rare Books and Manuscript Section (RBMS) Conference June 20-23, 2017. This city’s vibrant literary and book arts community provided an ideal setting for the venue, “The Stories We Tell.”
RBMS’s 2017 conference focused on the role of storytelling in the mission and daily work of special collections. Over four days of papers, seminars, participatory sessions, and workshops, attendees discussed how telling a compelling narrative forms the heart of cultural heritage work. Narratives are the foundations for writing traditional scholarly monographs, but they also inform the encoding of digital humanities landscapes, building collections, designing courses and exhibitions, and many other endeavors special collections specialists undertake.
Plenary speaker, Micaela Biel (professional storyteller and Ph.D. candidate in Educational Theater at New York University) launched into a gripping story—too long to recount here—that engrained in the audience’s minds the four absolute musts of a compelling story:
stakes: what the conditions were to make it matter;
change: transition from one world to another;
theme: tell a story and let the audience gather the theme;
show, don’t tell.
In a nutshell, “Stories are finding the thread of meaning through a collection of memories.” For special collections professionals, Biel stresses the importance not to tell people what collections mean but to let the collections tell a story. We should open a space for people themselves to make meaning of the collections.
Commitment to Diversity
“. . . we are gathered on the land of the indigenous people of Iowa City,” reverberated through Englert Theatre as Petrina Jackson (Head of Special Collections and Archives, Iowa State University) welcomed attendees at the first plenary session, opening the first full day of “Stories We Tell.” Jackson’s recognition of an often overlooked people foreshadowed one of the major themes that emerged during the remaining sessions, RBMS’s commitment to diversity.
A key component of its vision and mission is RBMS’s commitment to a diverse profession and to collections representing all voices. RBMS recognizes that it needs to bring greater diversity to its membership and has made a concerted effort to attract, mentor, and support “people of any race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, and physical ability” as stated in RBMS’s Statement on Diversity. The effect of RBMS’s on-going efforts were demonstrated in the remarks by speakers of the various sessions, by the conference attendees themselves, over 300 scholarships awarded for first-time attendees, pairing new members with more experienced RBMS members to acquaint them with the conference and other members, and programming addressing diversity both directly and indirectly.
A call for change—Panel speakers from George Washington University, the University of California, Riverside, and Columbia University challenged the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) statement in 2009 that special collections “define the uniqueness and character of individual research libraries.” They argued that this perspective separates special collections from the rest of the library and that this causes others in the library to view special collections, in fact, as “separate or ‘other’ to the larger library system.” This idea that special collections is a library’s “crown jewel” and that its “unique treasures” are what will distinguish the library from other libraries is misguided.
It is of fundamental importance as libraries face budget cuts, shortage of staff, and increasing needs and demands of users that special collections establish itself within the library as part of the whole and work together with all library faculty, staff, and administrators. Our message to our users and to our colleagues at our own institutions should be that we are part of the library and not the privileged gatekeepers of the library’s crown jewels.
Rare Books and Manuscript Section, more commonly referred to by its acronym, RBMS, is a section of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). Tracing its roots to 1948 and a mission to increase understanding about the value of rare books in scholarly research and improving the care, use, and recognition of rare books in libraries, RBMS has expanded its scope to include the broad range of special collections from rare printed books to manuscripts, archives, ephemera, graphics, and music. RBMS has assumed a leading role in the local, national, and international communities to represent and promote the interests of librarians, curators, and other specialists who concern themselves with the use, preservation, security, and administration of special collections.
RBMS is currently comprised of over 1750 members who represent librarians, curators, students, rare book sellers, conservators, and others interested in special collections. Members share the values of the library profession and are committed to the principles of fairness, freedom, professional excellence, and respect for individual rights. Because of the additional responsibilities special collections librarians have that arise from being entrusted with caring for cultural property, preserving original artifacts, and supporting scholarship based on primary research materials, special collections professionals adhere to the Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians and are expected to demonstrate “the highest standard of behavior . . . [because] propriety is essential to the maintenance of public trust in the institution and in its staff.”
The June spotlight exhibit, on display through the end of the month, is J. P. Homann’s “Buffalo Map,” ca. 1720.
On display is a map of North America by the important German cartographer J. P. Homann, emphasizing French claims in the Mississippi River Valley in the early eighteenth century. The map is one of several hundred items making up the Edward and Sheila Scanlan Collection of Maps of the Great Lakes Region, donated by the Scanlans to the Hesburgh Libraries in 2003-04. The exhibit is curated by George Rugg (Curator, Special Collections).
The July spotlight exhibit will feature German children’s literature from the two World Wars, and will be co-curated by Sara Quashnie (MLIS Candidate, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, ND ’15) and Julie Tanaka (Curator, Special Collections).
The Summer spotlight exhibit, on display now through September, is “Which in future time shall stir the waves of memory” — Friendship Albums of Antebellum America. On display are seven manuscripts from Special Collections’ manuscripts of North America holdings.
Among the characteristic manuscript forms of antebellum America are albums filled with poetry, prose, drawings, and other content created for the book’s owner by family and acquaintances. Such friendship albums, as they are called, have a long history, but they were especially prevalent in the Romantic era, with its new ideology of sentimental friendship. In the United States friendship albums begin to appear in number in the 1820s, and while contributors were often male, the albums themselves were usually maintained by young women.
In August 2015, Giles Constable donated a small collection of fragments and charters in memory of his daughter, Olivia Remie Constable (1960-2014), who had been the Robert M. Conway Director of the Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame. The gift included a thirteenth-century leaf from a processional, later shown to be at Wilton Abbey, a women’s Benedictine house, until 1860. The parent manuscript was broken by Cleveland biblioclast, Otto F. Ege (1888-1951), who included leaves from it in his portfolio, Fifty Original Leaves from Medieval Manuscript. It was Leaf no. 8. Leaves from the processional were disseminated widely through Ege’s portfolios as well as from later dealers, and now are part of many American and Canadian collections. Processionals contain the antiphons and rubrics pertaining to the processions themselves. For example, Palm Sunday and the Visitatio sepulchri are included.
Constable MS 4 contains part of the procession for Palm Sunday. Of great interest, and rarity, is the use of feminine forms in the rubrics (e.g., ‘cantrix’). This shows intentional customization for a female religious community, whereas many other manuscripts often transmit the masculine forms even though they were used by women.
Alison Altstatt, “Re-membering the Wilton Processional,” Notes 72 (2016): 690-732.
David T. Gura, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts of the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2016), pp. 480-482.
Scott Gwara, Otto Ege’s Manuscripts (Cayce, SC: De Brailes, 2013).
This digital exhibit expands on the current exhibit on display in Special Collections. It displays examples of American Catholicism expressed through (mostly) printed texts from 1783 through the early 1840s. They include the earliest Catholic bibles published by Mathew Carey, and editions of Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ used and produced in the United States; polemical pamphlets with sexual and political subtexts that flew back and forth across the Atlantic; no-holds-barred dueling sectarian newspapers; books and pamphlets created in reaction to mob violence against the Ursuline convent school near Boston; and official reports that mapped the Church’s growth and growing pains.
Questions and comments may be directed to Rachel Bohlmann and Jean McManus. The physical exhibition continues to be open to the public through August 11, 2017.