We join The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to celebrate African American History Month.
Paul Laurence Dunbar’s New Literary Tradition Packaged to Sell
Poet and writer Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was interested in creating an African American literary tradition based on oral sources. In both works of poetry shown here, Candle Lightin’ Timeand Li’l’ Gal, Dunbar used dialect, a choice he made for some of his work. Unlike most contemporary white writers, who used dialect in openly racist ways, Dunbar appropriated dialect as a way to represent fully African American expression.
The books’ appearance—the detailed and beautiful bindings, illustrations, and page designs—point to Dunbar’s publisher’s confidence in their profitability. Dodd & Mead of New York produced a string of the writer’s works, a partnership that helped propel Dunbar’s popularity. Margaret Armstrong (1867-1944), one of the most successful book designers working in this period, created the bindings. Her art nouveau style featured plant motifs and gold-stamping.
The photographs for Candle Lightin’ Time were taken by the mostly white members of the Hampton Institute Camera Club, an amateur group of photographers affiliated with the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) in Virginia. The illustrations in Li’l’ Gal were taken by Leigh Richmond Minor (1864-1935), an art teacher at the institute and a trained photographer. Although the pictures were staged, their subjects are presented fully as individuals, another way in which Dunbar’s books overturned contemporary, racist depictions of African Americans.
Born in Dayton, Ohio in 1872 to parents who were formerly enslaved, Dunbar showed early literary talent. He edited his high school newspaper, served as president of the school’s Philomathean Literary Society, and edited a newspaper for Dayton’s African American community for a short time. Financial hardship kept him from pursuing a college education and he found work as an elevator operator, although he continued to write.
With the support of local backers, he published Oak and Ivy in 1893, a collection of poems in both standard English and dialect. By 1895 his work was praised and championed by Frederick Douglass and by literary critic William Dean Howells. Although Howells and other white critics focused heavily on Dunbar’s use of dialect (much to the writer’s dismay) and placed his work in a tradition of white writing about plantation slavery, the breadth and variety of Dunbar’s literary work transcended the racist limitations of most dialect writing of the time.
In addition to poetry, Dunbar wrote novels, short stories, and at least one play. He gained national and international recognition at the turn of the twentieth century, one of the first African American writers to do so. He was an important literary precursor for writers of the Harlem Renaissance, two decades later.
In Rare Books and Special Collections, Dunbar’s works are part of growing collection of African American literature and historical works published before 1920 and the start of the Harlem Renaissance. Other writers include Benjamin Brawley, Maud Cuney Hare, Helen S. Woodruff, Walter E. Todd, Leila Amos Pendleton, and Oscar Micheaux.
Living as we do in a world of live broadcasts and instant social media, it can be hard to remember just how long it could take information to reach parts of our nation in earlier days.
In last week’s post, we shared two letters from Special Collections written by James Monroe Meek to his wife Elizabeth in March 1869, focusing on his description of the events surrounding the first inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant as President of the United States. At the start of the first of these two letters, Meek indicates to his wife that he had received on the previous evening (March 3rd) a letter that she had written February 28th. This transit time is as good as—or perhaps better than—what we would expect today.
For those without a family member or friend to write home, there were of course various serial publications that conveyed the news of the world to the world. By the second half of the nineteenth century, newspapers typically covered such a significant event as an inauguration fairly quickly, thanks to recently expanded telegraph lines and railways—at least for those living in a city served by those technological advances.
James Monroe Meek wrote to his wife, Elizabeth, that the presidential inauguration was a “terrible jam”. In his letter of March 4th, 1869, he describes the pageantry of the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant as President of the United States, and of Schuyler Colfax as Vice President.
… I saw the great peageant of the inauguration today and it was worth the trip. There was in the Senate all the celebrities of the Nation. President Grant, Vice President Colfax, the Supreme Court with Chief Justice Chase and associate Justices, and Senators, the diplomatic core, with their court dresses. You would have been more pleased with the dresses of the Diplomatic members than any thing else. They looked rather fine among our plain dressed people. The gold lace and Stars of honor, plumes epauletts and Stripes dimonds and almost every ornament made quite an imposing and elegant appearance. There was ease grace and brilliancy about it.
Today’s reader is reminded that there was no sound system for President Grant’s inauguration. Meek tells his wife about the great crowd assembled to hear Grant’s inaugural address. “Not more than twenty persons heard it. He read it as he had it written. It is very good but quite short.”
Meek, however, goes on to tell his wife that he was “so near jammed to death to day at the inauguration that I am tired of Jams” and does not plan to attend the Ball despite having been invited by one Colonel Temple. “Never, never was such a jam as there was today at the Capital during the inauguration.”
Sure enough, his letter of the following day confirms that he kept his resolve not to attend the ball.
I did not go to the Inauguration Ball. I found it was a humbug, and worse than a humbug. One was in danger of being Suffocated. Several women were carried out fainting from Suffocation. Col Temple and daughter went and the Col told me the only way he could get out was by declaring that his daughter was fainting and by that Means he succeded in getting out. Indeed I expect his daughter was very near fainting.
One gentleman told me he had given ten dollars to get in and five to get out. The men lost hats and over coats the ladies bonnetts, furs shalls and came away without them. The men tying their handkerchiefs around their heads, and the women doing the best they could. The night was very cold. It is said the managers of the Ball made about… twenty thousand dollars. I saw no one that went but what was mad and felt they were swindled.
The letters are part of the extensive Civil War Collection held by Notre Dame’s Rare Books & Special Collections. James Monroe Meek (b. 1821) had served in the Tennessee State Legislature before and during the Civil War, and was captured and jailed several times by Confederate supporters during the conflict on account of his staunch Union support.
Americans might be seeing fewer turkeys on their tables this Thanksgiving, due to the demands of social distancing during the pandemic. No matter what holiday fare you get to enjoy this year, we offer a reminder of our unofficial national bird. This illustration of wild turkeys comes from American Ornithology; or, The Natural History of Birds Inhabiting the United States, Not Given by Wilson, a four-volume work by French scientist and ornithologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte (1803-1857). He worked on the project while he lived in the United States in the 1820s and it was published between 1825 and 1833.
An armchair ornithologist, the aristocratic Bonaparte did not do fieldwork himself, as this print shows. It was engraved by Alexander Lawson (1773-1846) from an illustration “Drawn from Nature” by Titian R. Peale (1799-1885). Bonaparte’s strengths lay in his abilities to classify and name birds, and he directed his talent to supplementing work by an earlier ornithologist, Alexander Wilson (1766-1813), whom Bonaparte referenced in his title.
Rare Books and Special Collections holds only the plates from Bonaparte’s multi-volume work; it is part of the library’s history of science collection and complements our Edward Lee Greene collection on the history of botany.
Notre Dame’s fall semester concluded on November 20, 2020, but the campus remains open during the much of the Winter Session (November 21, 2020 – February 2, 2021). Rare Books and Special Collections will be CLOSED on the following dates:
November 25-29 (Thanksgiving Holiday) December 19-January 5 (Winter Break)
Our health and safety protocols continue to include limiting our building population to those people essential to the teaching and research of our current students and faculty. To that effect, we are not encouraging visitors or patrons who are not current, active members of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross College communities.
Members of these communities may request appointments to access Rare Books & Special Collections materials. Please email Rare Books & Special Collections for research and course support or to make an appointment. Research requests by non-ND-affiliates are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, per the University’s Campus Visitors Policy.
Today’s elections, nearly everyone agrees, have become fiercely, even bitterly, partisan. In 1860, as southern states teetered toward secession, the presidential race divided along partisan and regional lines. Republicans, who were from the north and west, supported Abraham Lincoln, while Democrats split north and south; the former followed Stephen Douglas and the latter John Breckinridge. John Bell, the third party Constitutional Union candidate, took a few states in the upper south. Yet, in what was a bitter contest, the rhetoric of one of Lincoln’s campaign biographies was deliberately calm and unabashedly high-minded.
Rare Books and Special Collections holds a scarce piece of campaign literature from the 1860 presidential race—The Lives and Speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin—a book of more than 400 pages that introduced many Americans to Lincoln and his running mate for the first time. Our copy has an original cover and several illustrations, one of which is an engraving of Lincoln based on a photograph taken by Mathew Brady, the New York City photographer.
The volume appeared immediately after the June Republican convention in Chicago, where Lincoln had been chosen as the party’s presidential candidate. It contained a short biography of Lincoln written by a very young William Dean Howells (1837-1920), who would in later years, become a writer, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, and arbiter of American literature. The Lives and Speeches also held selected speeches of both men, including Lincoln’s February 1860 speech at the Cooper Institute in New York City, where he laid out his argument that slavery must not extend into the western territories. He ended with the stirring refrain, “Let us have faith that right makes might . . . let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.” (p. 213)
Howells, who was at the time a 23 year-old journalist in Columbus, Ohio, interviewed people close to Lincoln to create a portrait of the candidate that emphasized the party’s Free Soil ideas. From friends who knew Lincoln since he was in his early 20s, Howells offered a narrative that included Lincoln’s self-made story, but also impressed on readers that the candidate had been supported along the way by people who recognized his abilities and character. After explaining in some detail how Lincoln had honored a financial debt as a young (and still poor) man, Howells summed up the incident with partisan boosterism, “that the old neighbors and friends of such a man should regard him with an affection and faith little short of man-worship, is the logical result of a life singularly pure, and an integrity without flaw.” (p. 43)
A few pages later Howells summed up his research by assuring his readers, “by the testimony of all, and in the memory of everyone who has known him, Lincoln is a pure, candid, and upright man, unblemished by those vices which so often disfigure greatness, utterly incapable of falsehood, and without one base or sordid trait.” (p. 48)
Howells also took pains to reassure readers, for whom Lincoln was relatively unknown outside of Illinois, that his opposition to slavery was long-standing, clear, and aligned with the Republican party’s 1860 platform. As proof, Howells pointed to an 1837 protest Lincoln had voiced in the Illinois Legislature against a resolution for suppressing abolition societies.
As a campaign piece must, Howells’ biography painted Lincoln as the principled candidate. Howells declared, “throughout his Congressional career, you find him the bold advocate of the principles which he believed to be right. He never dodged a vote. He never minced matters with his opponents.” (p. 57) Howells underscored Lincoln’s exemplary public record through his speeches, which gave the impression that “he has not argued to gain a point, but to show the truth; that it is not Lincoln that he wishes to sustain, but Lincoln’s principles.” (p. 65) To drive home the point that the candidate’s character connected to the presidency, Howells quoted Lincoln directly. “[Slavery],” Lincoln said, “forces so many really good men among ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticising the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.”’ (pp. 75-76) For Lincoln, the Declaration of Independence, in which “all men are created equal,” was the nation’s foundational document and this ideal drove his ambition and service.
In a four-way race, Lincoln won less than 40% of the popular vote but 180 of 303 electoral votes, a decisive victory.
2019-2020 marks the two hundred years anniversary of Washington Irving’s first publication of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., which includes the perennial Halloween favorite “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow”. In the time since its publication, the story has found its way into films, TV shows, other books, and various other popular culture references. In honor of the anniversary, we’ve selected it for our 2020 Halloween tale.
The particular volume shown in this post came to us across the ocean from Ireland. It was part of the library of Walter Sweetman, a nineteenth-century Catholic landowner in County Wexford. When the Sweetman family of South Dakota inherited the Irish property, all the books from the library were included with furniture, but many perished from exposure to the salt water. It’s a pity our conservators were not involved in organizing that shipment. We like to imagine a reader in a large Irish country house reading of Sleepy Hollow with the backdrop of an Irish stormy evening.
Irving’s headless horseman was not the first of his kind, however. Riders who have lost or carry their head appeared in various stories and folklore before featuring as Ichabod Crane’s nemesis, beginning as early as the 14th century poem Gawain and the Green Knight. In Irish legend, the Dullahan or dúlachán is a Grim Reaper-like rider who carries his head under his arm (sometimes also known as the Gan Ceann, meaning literally “without a head” in Irish). (See Jessica Traynor’s ‘How tales of the headless horseman came from Celtic mythology’ in the Irish Times, October 23, 2019.)
Our colleague Doug Archer, a longtime activist for intellectual freedom and a Freedom to Read Foundation Roll of Honor awardee, has always used Banned Books Week as a time to raise awareness of threats to intellectual freedom. During this year’s Banned Books Week (September 27 to October 3), since Doug is enjoying his well-earned retirement, we decided to dive into our collections and identify books whose circulation has been impeded in different times and places.
In this post, you will find an assortment of examples that show various types of books and the ways that they have been withheld, by government or by church, nationally or locally, in various parts of the world.
This was the poster for our 2008 exhibit on the Index of Prohibited Books, curated by Benjamin Panciera (now Director of Special Collections and Archives at Connecticut College). The Freedom to Read and the Care of Souls: The Index of Prohibited Books since the Enlightenment examined how the Catholic Church sought to influence the circulation of ideas in the 19th and 20th centuries and what sort of material was considered dangerous.
The Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list compiled by the Catholic Church over a period of four centuries, consisted of a large number of books that lay Catholics were not permitted to read. Galileo’s Dialogo dei massimi sistemi [Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems] was added to the Index in 1634 and was not removed until 1822. In addition, Galileo was tried for heresy in 1633 and placed under house arrest, where he remained until his death almost a decade later.
One of the most famous pronouncements on censorship of a literary work, which occurred in the U.S., is that of Judge Woolsey on James Joyce’s Ulysses. This was widely reported in newspapers at the time.
James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” a novel which has been banned from the United States by custom censors on the ground that it might cause American readers to harbor “impure and lustful thoughts,” found a champion yesterday in the United States District Court.
Federal Judge John M. Woolsey, after devoting almost a month of his time to reading the book, ruled in an opinion which he filed in court that “Ulysses” not only was not obscene in a legal sense, but that it was a work of literary merit.
New York Times, December 7, 1933.
As we have seen in the case of Galileo (above), in various places and at various times in history, censorship has not only prevented people from access to certain books, but has sometimes punished, imprisoned, or publicly shamed their authors.
This rare book is an example of early Stalin propaganda. It became the first and only Stalin-era book that glorified the use of slave labor in the massive building projects of the 1930s. An estimated 170,000 prisoners worked in subhuman conditions on Belomorkanal, moving stones and digging the canal using their bare hands or primitive materials and technologies. Tens of thousands of inmates died during the twenty-one months of its construction (1931–33).
Commissioned by Stalin and published in Moscow in 1934 to coincide with the opening of the infamous XVII Party Congress, this book was presented as a souvenir to Congress delegates to celebrate the success of the First Soviet Industrial Five-Year Plan. Thirty-six Soviet writers and many leading artists, including the avant-garde photographer Aleksandr Rodchenko, visited the Canal and contributed their essays and photographic images of prisoners to praise the “transforming power” of the Gulag. By 1937, at the height of the Stalin Great Terror, the policy of “reeducating” class enemies through corrective labor was replaced by mass arrests, imprisonments and executions. The new policy called for the physical extermination of the “enemies of the people” and the obliteration of their names from the public record, including books. Four years after its publication, even this blatantly propagandist piece was found suspect and withdrawn from circulation; most copies were destroyed, and its many contributors were sent to the Gulag.
While many countries have not taken such extreme measures against authors, censorship has sometimes been carried out along with public shaming.
In Ireland, books that portrayed indecency or behavior that was not approved by the Catholic Church were often subject to censorship. A famous case was that of The Tailor and Ansty, Eric Cross’s book portraying the storytelling and commentary of a rural couple, Tadhg Ó Buachalla and his wife Anastasia, or Ansty. Not only was the book the subject of government debate over a four-day period, but the couple were visited by a priest (or three priests in some accounts) and ordered to burn their own copy of the book.
In the first decade of Ireland’s Free State, the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929, was enacted to prohibit the sale and distribution of “unwholesome literature”. Over the next forty years, hundreds of books were banned from sale in Ireland.
Ethel Voynich’s popular novel, The Gadfly, first published in the U.S. in 1897, was banned in Ireland in 1943. We had occasion to pull this book off the shelves as a Notre Dame student who is writing her senior thesis on this novel is particularly interested in why the book, popular elsewhere in Europe, was little known and also banned in Ireland.
Novels by Kate O’Brien were banned in Ireland and in Spain. The novel featured here, Land of Spices, was apparently banned in Ireland on account of one sentence in which the protagonist learns that her father was in a homosexual relationship. “She saw Etienne and her father in the embrace of love.” Thus the novel was deemed indecent and obscene.
Edna O’Brien, whose recent books include Girl (2019) and The Little Red Chairs (2016), is the author of novels that were very controversial in Ireland in the 1950s and ’60s. Her earliest novels, found offensive for their depiction of girls’ and women’s lives, including sexuality, were consistently banned by the Irish Censorship Board. O’Brien’s books circulated widely in spite of censorship, and the following account by Dónal Ó Drisceoil shows that the Irish Censorship Board was fighting a losing battle:
At a packed public meeting in Limerick in 1966, O’Brien asked for a show of hands as to how many had read her banned books: she was met with a sea of hands and much laughter.
Ó Drisceoil, 154
The censorship in Ireland of Frank O’Connor’s Kings, Lords, and Commons continues to provide amusement as the content that raised the censors’ concern was O’Connor’s translation of the acclaimed poem “Cúirt an Mheán Oíche” written in the eighteenth century by Brian Merriman. Much praised and valued as a literary work, the original Irish language text, and even earlier English translations, had never been censored, but this translation by O’Connor, conveying the humorous, hard-hitting language of sexually frustrated women, suggested that such lively discourse could exist in Irish-language literature, but not in English.
Once again, the Republic of Ireland is the place where this book by Hemingway was banned. This book and many others in our collection that could be freely read in the U.S. might not have been available to readers in Ireland and in other countries where such censorship was practiced. Examples of American books not allowed in Ireland for some time during the twentieth century include Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell (banned 1933), Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos (banned 1934) and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (banned 1941).
Moving from national censorship to local censorship, the Hesburgh Libraries’ shelves are filled with books that have been censored in some way, either by being removed from the shelves of libraries, or being challenged and banned by local school boards. This is the kind of censorship that is generally of concern to the American Library Association, and that is highlighted during Banned Books Week.
Judy Blume, an author whose books have often been removed from school libraries, has become a spokesperson against the censorship of books. Her 1970 book, Are you there, God? It’s Me, Margaret, has a young protagonist who muses on, and discusses, sexuality, menstruation, bras, and religion. Reasons that the book has been challenged and sometimes removed from library shelves include the sexual content and the treatment of religion.
Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, has frequently been challenged, e.g. by parents asking school districts to have the book removed from library shelves. The combination of science and religion in the book, along with a kind of magic or fantasy, is at the root of many of the challenges. The American Library Association’ Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles annual lists of books based on reports they receive from libraries, schools, and the media on attempts to ban books in communities across the country. For two decades, L’Engle’s novel was in the top one hundred challenged books.
More on the American Library Association’s findings on the books challenged throughout America may be learned by checking the Banned Books Week website.
Ó Drisceoil, Dónal. ‘The Best Banned in the Land: Censorship and Irish Writing since 1950’, in The Yearbook of English Studies 35 (2005), pp. 146-160. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3509330
August 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. In honor of the centenary, Rare Books and Special Collections has created an online exhibition of materials from both special and general library collections. The quotation in the title comes from a speech by Mary Duffy, a working class woman from New York who addressed the state’s legislature in 1907. She argued that of course women needed the ballot for political reasons—so that they were represented in government. But, she maintained, women needed it even more urgently so that the men around them—from bosses to fellow trade unionists to family members—would take women seriously as people, as equals.
This exhibition tells a full (though not complete) story of the long fight for suffrage. It begins well before the Civil War and extends through the mid-1920s, after passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. It focuses on the laborious processes of building a movement, of forging alliances, of creating a culture of reform that was broader than voting rights but that, in the end, became defined by that singular goal. It shows how women, white and black, elite and working class, native born and immigrant, moved themselves from outside of political power to inside; from second-class citizens with a limited public voice and no direct representation, to citizens with some of the tools of democracy at their disposal.
The Nineteenth Amendment was a stupendous political achievement. As political outsiders, women persuaded enough men within the political system voluntarily to give women political power. It doubled the American electorate, making its passage the most powerful democracy-building piece of legislation in US history.
Still, the victory was incomplete, or at least, a work in progress. As New York suffragist Crystal Eastman put it in 1920, “men are saying thank goodness that everlasting women’s fight is over!” but women are saying “now at last we can begin.” Eastman’s observation makes an important point about the complexity of marking this centenary solely as a victory. Suffrage for women was not turned on like a tap in 1920, nor did it flow for every woman after the Nineteenth Amendment. Many women voted before the amendment, and many women did not cast ballots after it. The reasons for these differences have much to do with racism and white supremacy, as well as religious and class prejudices, within and outside the movement.
This exhibition includes books, pamphlets, magazines, and posters—materials designed to appeal to broad, popular audiences. Scattered through these once popular books and magazines we can gain an angle of view on what many, if not a majority of, Americans thought about women’s work, their place in the family, and their civic responsibilities. At the same time, this exhibition represents the breadth of the women’s movement and how it propelled the fight for suffrage despite resilient opposition.
 Ellen Carol DuBois, Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2020), 5.
This year, we have no special announcement about closure for the Independence Day holiday, as the Hesburgh Library remains closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We continue to serve our community remotely, drawing on digital images and other resources while working offsite, and we expect that the continuing challenges of limited in-person visits will demand more digitization.
As we move gradually back into our workspace, we look forward to working creatively with faculty and students to make the next semester successful for all and to figuring out how we can best serve our Notre Dame community in these different times.
In honor of Juneteenth (the June 19th celebration of freedom from slavery) and Black Lives Matter (BLM), RBSC highlights several collections about African American life in the United States over the last century. We also reflect on how social and cultural changes—some of them the result of protest movements like BLM—have reformed and are reforming collecting and practices in special collections libraries and archives.
One important collection is the National Ideal Benefit Society records, an African American cooperative and fraternal organization that spanned more than 50 years during the early to mid-twentieth century. Another is a late 1920s ledger book for the Birmingham Black Barons, an elite Negro League professional baseball team, that recorded the team’s financial transactions with players. The collections provide sources about the economic and working lives of African Americans and the unequal labor and social contexts of twentieth-century America.
The National Ideal Benefit Society was an African American insurance cooperative whose benefits supported people through illness, offered cultural events, and provided death benefits for survivors to assist with burial costs. The society was established in 1912 in Richmond, Virginia, by Alexander Watson Holmes (1861-1935). The collection holds correspondence from policy holders, official society publications and records, and letters to Holmes from individuals and institutions.
The Birmingham, Alabama, Black Barons were a professional baseball team during the sport’s long period of segregation. The ledger book records the club’s financial transactions with players over five seasons (1926-1930). The accounts include credits (monthly salaries) and debits (cash advances, equipment charges, fines, extra meals, taxi fare, phone calls, and so on). Satchel Paige was one of many notable players on the team.
These collections underscore the shift in collecting that has occurred over the last 40 years in special collections libraries.
Special collections such as ours, and archives also, collect unique and rare manuscripts and books to preserve our society’s cultural record. Until the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States that cultural record largely consisted of the records of elite, white men, mostly from the Northeast with ancestors who came from the British Isles. A number of changes in American society led to a major shift away from this cultural identity in archives and special collections libraries.
Social reform movements that culminated in the 1960s and 1970s—for the rights and full participation of African Americans, women, Native Americans, Latinx, LGBTQ, and others in American life—fueled demands for archival collections that more accurately reflected and included the diversity of American society.
At the same time the rise of social history demanded new sources. Focused on writing the history of ordinary people and changes that came from the many rather than the few (history from the bottom up), social historians relied on documents of everyday life as well as social movements—letters, diaries, ledger books, and scrapbooks of the non-famous, as well as ephemeral printed materials like posters, broadsides, menus, annual reports, and programs.
More recently, archivists and special collections librarians have, as a profession, begun seriously to grapple with questions of power in archives: who is represented and who is left out in our collections? Are collecting decisions made independently, or under institutional or donor guidelines? How are people of color and non-elites and their accomplishments described in catalogs and finding aids? Is the archive open to community members, or are there professional or membership requirements to use the collections? Do staff working in the archive represent the diversity of the collections and their users? As we honor Juneteenth and confront Black Lives Matter’s challenge to truly achieve the promises of American freedom and democracy, these questions become even more sharply relevant.