Dante and Women Authors in Sixteenth Century Italy

by Tracy Bergstrom, Curator, Zahm Dante and Early Italian Imprints Collection

Notre Dame’s Rare Books and Special Collections holds one of the largest collections relating to the works of Dante Alighieri in print and, as such, supports research into the utilization of the Divina commedia at various times for a variety of political purposes. One of the rarities of our collection is the small, ephemeral pamphlet printed in 1575 titled Declamatione delle gentildonne di Cesena intorno alle pompe (Declamation of the Gentlewomen of the City of Cesena against Sumptuary Fines…). Eponymously written by a group of ‘Gentildonne’ to push back against recent strict sumptuary laws, the authors utilize quotations from Dante, Petrarch and a panoply of classical authors to argue for the necessity of ornamental clothing as it provides a means of communicating women’s identity.

Title page, Declamatione delle gentildonne di Cesena intorno alle pompe… , printed in Bologna by Alessandro Benacci in 1575.

Mid-16th century Italy saw a flourishing of publications authored by women. The collection of lyric poetry authored by the courtesan Tullia d’Aragona, first printed in Venice in 1547, is a fine example of this phenomenon. The volume includes poems by d’Aragona herself as well as sonnets addressed to her by her male contemporaries. 

Title page, Rime della signora Tullia di Aragona; et di diversi a lei, printed in Venice by Gabriel Giolito in 1547.

The period between 1560-1580, however, marks a time of decline in works published by women in Italy. As vernacular poetry declined in popularity and more academic discourse gained readership, this shift was not particularly conducive to women’s contributions. Thus, if the Declamatione delle gentildonne… was authored by women, as the title and content suggest, it is a rare example of a female polemical prose writing. As such, it is one of many examples within Special Collections’ extraordinary collection of Dante-related holdings with significant research potential for students and scholars alike. 

“Revenge! Remember Limerick” — The Fighting Irish at Fontenoy

by Aedín Ní Bhróithe Clements, Irish Studies Librarian

Fontenoy. “Revenge! Remember Limerick. – Dash down the Sassenagh.” Colored lithograph. J. D. Reigh. Dublin: Printed by Tomsohn & Wogan. Supplement to the Christmas number of the Shamrock, 1886.

The above illustration depicts the oft-described reversal in the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745, from the French Army’s almost inevitable defeat to a decisive win. At a point when the battle between the French and the Allied coalition of English, French and Hanoverian troops was almost over for the French, a line of Irish regiments advanced.

Accounts of the battle claim that the Irish Colonel Lally shouted “Cuimhnidh ar Luimneach agus ar feall na Sasanach!” And that this cry was repeated down the ranks. “Remember Limerick and the treachery of the English” is a reference to the Treaty of Limerick of 1691, broken by the English not long after it was made.

This print, new to our collection, is by Irish artist and cartoonist John Dooley Reigh (1851-1914) who contributed illustrations to periodicals such as The United Irishman, Shamrock, Zoz, and others. As we add this print to our collection, we note that it is not our only illustration celebrating that battle, and indeed, were we to explore our collections, we would find many accounts and references to the Irish Brigade at the Battle of Fontenoy.

We select two examples to display here, an American print and a broadside ballad.

The print shown below, also from the 1880s, was produced by Kurz and Allison of Chicago. In this illustration the military leaders are less prominent than the fighting men, and the tattered green flag with the Irish harp emblem is prominent.

Battle of Fontenoy. Chicago: Kurz and Allison, circa 1886.

Elsewhere, we have an example of the Battle of Fontenoy as recounted in nineteenth-century Ireland in our the Broadside Ballads collection. “Fontenoy” by Thomas Davis introduces the Irishmen’s advance with a summary of the wrongs inflicted by the English:

How fierce the look these exiles wear, who’re wont to be so gay,
The treasured wrongs of fifty years are in their hearts to-day—
The treaty broken, ere the ink wherewith ’twas writ could dry,
Their plundered homes, their ruined shrines, their women’s parting cry,
Their priesthood hunted down like wolves, their country overthrown—
Each looks as if revenge for all were staked on him alone
On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, nor ever yet elsewhere,
Rushed on to fight a nobler band than these proud exiles were.

“Fontenoy”. Irish Broadside Ballads collection, BPP 1001-110

African American History Month

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

by Rachel Bohlmann, American History Librarian and Curator

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’ Time and 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.

Beginning of “The Plantation Child’s Lullaby” from Li’l’ Gal (1904).

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.

Poetry, Art, and Plastic: The Imprints of Ediciones Arroyo

by Erika Hosselkus, Curator, Latin American Collections

Over the past two years, Rare Books and Special Collections has acquired a series of unique chapbooks produced by Ediciones Arroyo, a small and specialized press located in the town of Arroyo Leyes, Argentina. An exciting addition to our collections, each “book” is small and lightweight, bound in black recycled plastic, and features the work of a contemporary poet from Argentina or elsewhere in South America. 

Ediciones Arroyo is the brainchild of Alejandra Bosch, founder and owner of the press and a writer in her own right. A proponent of a thriving literary community and an advocate for recycling, Alejandra pursues these dual interests in the creation of her books. Each one includes between two and ten poems by a single poet. A short biography and whimsical illustrations, often by Julián Bosch, Alejandra’s son and collaborator, accompany the text. 

The book covers are aesthetically bold, each bearing the name of its poet in bright, colorful letters. The black plastic that once packaged milk – something that might otherwise be considered garbage – is cleaned, cut and sewn by Bosch, to create artistic editions of a roughly uniform size.  

Inside, readers find new, previously unpublished pieces, often by young, up-and-coming poets of diverse backgrounds. These imprints, coupled with literary festivals that Alejandra sponsors and organizes, offer support and a creative space for writers. 

RBSC’s collection of Ediciones Arroyo imprints currently includes more than 100 editions and is growing. We are proud to be the first North American institution to collect Ediciones Arroyo and to serve as a repository for the poetry of a dynamic group of South American writers. 

I recently asked Alejandra what it means to her to see her work, and the work of so many contemporary Argentine poets, here at Notre Dame. She expressed pride and also enthusiasm for the idea that young people here in the U.S., linguistically and culturally distant from Argentina, are now able to read these poems as they learn Spanish. “For me as a writer, it is fabulous, also, that these poets are in the university, when we trained by reading and translating the great North American poets. It is beautiful,” she said. Julián, a tattoo artist and poet as well as illustrator for Ediciones Arroyo, is also motivated by the idea that others are reading the poetry that he and others have worked so hard to create and disseminate. This contact with Notre Dame, “makes me want to forge ahead, beyond this pandemic year and all of the negative,” he states.   

Ediciones Arroyo began in 2016, with 9 poets. Today, the press’s catalog includes more than 80 poets, “and they’ve all traveled to Indiana!,” Alejandra notes. Alejandra and Julián have recently begun working on bilingual editions with a number of Brazilian authors. They both aspire to bring their work, and the contemporary poetry of South America, to other university libraries in the near future. 

Recent Acquisitions: Rare Life of a 16th-Century Female Poet

by Alan Krieger, Theology and Philosophy Librarian

Hesburgh Libraries has just acquired a rare and interesting biographical first edition, Luis Munoz’s Vida y virtudes de la venerable virgen dona Luisa de Carvaial y Mendoca (Madrid, 1632). Mendoza (1566-1614), a Spaniard, is an unusual figure in the history of the English Recusant period: a Jesuit-educated female who travelled to England in 1605 to preach and teach with the aim of bringing Anglicans back to the Catholic Church. She also became known for her charitable works in London, taking care of the poor and helping those engaged in prostitution. Mendoza was also an accomplished religious poet, in the mystical tradition of great Spanish literary figures such as St. John of the Cross; the last section of the book includes her spiritual poetry.

We have located only two other North American library holdings of this edition.

Thanksgiving from the Margins

by Rachel Bohlmann, American History Librarian

This Thanksgiving we’re highlighting a book of poetry and prose that is part of a group of avant-garde American literary works called the Small Press/Mimeograph Revolution, 1940-1970s collection. Millbrook Thanksgiving, by poet and writer Walter Schneider (1934-2015), is a panegyric to the psychedelic-fueled community Timothy Leary created in upstate Millbrook, New York from 1963 to 1967. A psychologist interested in the effects of synthetic drugs on human consciousness, Leary settled in Millbrook after being fired from Harvard University for using the substances he was studying (LSD was legal in the US at that time). In the wake of local police harassment that led to Leary’s repeated arrests for minor drug infractions, he moved to California where he crossed paths with Schneider, a PhD student at Berkeley.

Schneider’s spirited defense of Leary’s counter culturalism places the book’s content in the cultural vanguard of 1971. But so does the book’s production. Printed as a small run of just 3,000 copies, its design—from the soft cover, typography, and heavy paper, to its eclectic illustrations—signals the book’s origins outside of mainstream American publishing. Mad River Press, the small California-based operation that produced Millbrook Thanksgiving, specialized in experimental poetry and creations like Schneider’s. The press released very small runs of poetry chapbooks, which were short (40 pages or less), inexpensively constructed, soft-cover booklets. Some were published anonymously and with no identifying publication information, indicating that publisher and author rejected the authority of copyright law.

Mad River Press and its authors also placed important visual pieces in their publications. Millbrook Thanksgiving used the first photograph in Robert Frank’s The Americans (published 1958), an extended photo essay that captured Americans in real life. Beat writer Jack Kerouac, who introduced the 1959 edition, noted that “he [Frank] sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film.” His book of photographs remains an important visual text of post-war America. In a chapbook of poetry by Fred Glazer also published in 1971, Mad River Press included an image by the African American painter Louis Delsarte.

The library’s Small Press/Mimeograph Revolution, 1940-1970s collection holds more than 350 items. Some, like Millbrook Thanksgiving, were produced by small, experimental presses, while others were created by individuals or small collectives using relatively inexpensive copying technologies like the Ditto machine (remember the smell of those purple ink pages?) or the mimeograph. The collection is searchable in the library’s catalog.


RBSC will be closed during Notre Dame’s Thanksgiving Break (November 22-25, 2018). We wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving 2015 RBSC post: Thanksgiving and football
Thanksgiving 2016 RBSC post: Thanksgiving Humor by Mark Twain
Thanksgiving 2017 RBSC post: Playing Indian, Playing White