Alan Littell: Ruminations on Local History

The following article, by Alan Littell, appeared in a recent issue of The Alfred Sun; it is reproduced here with his permission. Additional issues of The Alfred Student are available in Alfred University’s institutional repository, AURA (Alfred University Research and Archives). Managed by the libraries, AURA collects, distributes and preserves research and scholarship created by faculty, staff and students, as well as documents of historical or archival significance.

Ruminations on Local History: Alfred and its University, 1876

I recently stumbled on a curious publication. Housed in the archives of Alfred University and dated October 1876, the document—The Alfred Student—is a hodgepodge of essays, exhortations, biblical allusions and paid advertisements. It has less the look of a campus newspaper, more of a literary magazine and journal of cultural and political opinion.

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

 

In an image dating from the 1880s, Civil War veterans gather for Memorial Day parade on Alfred’s Main Street. 

 

The Civil War was of recent memory. The American commonwealth found itself in the grip of novel societal forces as emancipated slaves migrated north and west. A progressive Republican from Ohio, Rutherford B. Hayes, trailed in the run for the presidency (he would win after a disputed Electoral College vote).

The Alfred Student was a sometimes sensitive, sometimes amusing mirror of its time, of its university and of the remote rural backwater, called Alfred Centre, where it was written, edited and set in type.  To get some idea of how people had actually lived in this particular place and age, we turn to the paper’s ads.

The range of goods and services then available included at least one that would be impossible to find locally today—the repair of mechanical clocks and watches. But in 1876, a Main Street jeweler named Amos Shaw guaranteed that his corrective surgery on weight- or spring-driven timepieces would be “done in the best manner.” Nearby, a variety store operated by a certain Silas Burdick advertised itself an embryonic Walmart. It sold books, shoes, wallpaper, lamps, toys, candy and drugs.

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

 

Alfred and its university in the mid 1870s.  White building in foreground is the Burdick Hotel.  Dome of Alfred University’s first astronomical observatory and the school’s Greek-revival chapel—now the admissions office (Alumni Hall)—can be seen in the middle distance.

 

There were many Burdicks living at the time in Alfred, and a hotel proprietor of that name offered “good accommodations for both man and beast, terms reasonable.” The Williams & Titsworth emporium, “over Coon’s Book Store, Alfred Centre,” sold white shirts for $1, while Mrs. E.J. Potter, dealer in “Millinery and Ladies’ Furnishing Goods,” on University Street, urged students and residents to “please call and examine.” And in a village in which outhouses accounted for sanitary arrangements and wells for water, Burdick & Green’s Hardware Store, on Main Street, stocked a supply of “eavetroughs” (roof gutters) to “furnish cisterns with good soft water” while protecting “walls from being thrown down by water freezing against them, which is a source of great annoyance.”

In its editorial columns, The Alfred Student’s lead article extolled Alfred University’s pioneering support for the cause of coeducational schooling. The piece argued that instead of “shutting [a girl] apart” or by teaching a boy that “rudeness and selfishness are manly qualities,” joining them in the common enterprise of education resulted in “natural diversity and a richer character—a quick perception of mutual proprieties, delicate attention to manly and womanly habits…a higher and purer tone of morality.”

Elsewhere, the paper urged adoption of the metric system of measurement. We’re told also that Dartmouth College had raised its tuition and that one of its faculty members, a Professor Dimond, “died of brain disease.” At Alfred University, meanwhile, instruction was reported to be available in classical, scientific and teachers’ courses as well as in theology, the school having been founded by the breakaway sect of New England Baptists who observed Saturday, rather than Sunday, as the biblically enjoined day of rest and worship. Also offered was course work in industrial mechanics and in the leading communications wonder of the era, telegraphy.

The paper noted that tuition and “incidentals” came to $11 for each of the year’s three academic terms: fall, winter and spring. Board was priced at $30 to $40, room $3 to $6. The school assessed students $3 to $6 for “fuel” and $2 to $3 for “washing.” Mention was made that “rooms for ladies are furnished and carpeted” and that off-campus housing could be obtained from private families

One item jarred. It ran under the heading “Plain Language Concerning a Recent Unpleasantness.” A casual yet singularly stupid buffoonery of rhymed couplets, blatantly racist in idiom and tone, the piece had been reprinted—without critical comment or disclaimer—from Princeton’s student newspaper, The Princetonian.

It later surfaced in another college publication, The Chronicle of the University of Michigan, as “the song of five juniors at Princeton who objected to having a colored man sit behind them in class.

What was so surprising about the item is that Alfred University and its Seventh Day Baptist founders had been in the forefront of agitation for ending slavery. The radical abolitionists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Frederick Douglass had lectured at the school. Before and during the Civil War, local church members, historically associated with the cause of emancipation, aided runaway slaves escaping to Canada on the so-called “underground railroad.” And in the spring of 1861, the nine male members of Alfred’s senior class heeded President Lincoln’s call for volunteers to fight for restoration of the Union. Moved by patriotism and religious fervor, they enlisted in two of the infantry regiments then forming in New York

In their classic survey, “The Growth of the American Republic,” historians Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager contended that Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation had been “potentially more revolutionary in human relations than any event in American history since 1776.” The authors went on to say that the document had, in a very real sense, “lifted the Civil War to the dignity of a crusade.”

Yet make no mistake. Emancipation may have ended slavery; it did not end the racism that grew out of slavery in a national polity undergoing the strains of post-war reunification

“Lincoln’s own state of Illinois barred newly freed slaves from settling [there] in 1863,” notes Gary Ostrower, professor of history at today’s Alfred University

“I’d be surprised,” he added, “if some Alfredians…were not influenced by popular racist attitudes during the post-war years.”

– Alan Littell

Calling All Bird Lovers: Birds of North America Online

The Libraries have a new subscription to Birds of North America Online, a resource maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in partnership with the American Ornithologists’ Union.

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Birds of North America Online is acknowledged as the preeminent source of life history information for the over 750 species of birds that breed in the United States and Canada. Each species account includes information on systematics, distribution, identification, behavior, breeding biology, and conservation. Each species account also includes a comprehensive bibliography of research conducted on the species. The accompanying multimedia includes photos of various plumages, examples of sounds, and videos of interesting behaviors. In addition to the advantages of remote and multiple simultaneous user access, this online reference resource is continually updated to ensure that it contains the latest information.

Streaming video from the libraries

Kanopy logo

Did you know that the Alfred University Libraries provide access to online videos?

Kanopy‘s collection includes thousands of award- winning documentaries and feature films, including many foreign films.

The collection includes films by leading producers, such as the Criterion Collection, PBS, Kino Lorber, New Day Films, The Great Courses, California Newsreel, and hundreds more.

Click here to start watching.

To find to Kanopy in the future, choose the Databases A-Z option on the Herrick or Scholes library homepage.

 We hope you enjoy the films!

Mayan Hearts: New Artist’s Book

Just a quick note for those interested in artists’ books–or in Mayan art and culture, for that matter.

The Smithsonian Libraries very kindly passed on to us an extra copy of the artist’s book Mayan Hearts by Robert Laughlin, an anthropologist at the National Museum of Natural History and specialist in the Mayan language of Tzotzil.

Mayan Hearts has its origins in the 16th century, at least, when an anonymous Dominican friar created a Tzotzil-Spanish dictionary. The original dictionary was lost in 1914, when the Mexican revolutionary army used its housing library as a stable (removing and destroying the books in the process), but a copy had been made shortly beforehand on the orders of Bishop Francisco Orozco y Jimenez. Upon encountering the dictionary in the vaults of Princeton University’s library, Laughlin was struck in particular by the Tzotzil use of heart-related metaphors to discuss emotion, and sought to illustrate and compile these evocative turns of phrase.

You can encounter these Mayan metaphors and their modern illustrations–by Uruguayan artist Naul Ojeda–in our Special Collections room, along with the rest of our artists’ book collection.

MayanHearts

New books on Japanese art

Researchers, fans, and students of Japanese art and culture–rejoice! Scholes has just added 24 new books on Japanese art to the collection (with more on the way)!

This exciting addition is due to a grant secured for the library by Professor Meghen Jones and myself (Art Librarian Eva Sclippa). The grant, from the Northeast Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies, was awarded to help the Scholes Library update and expand its collection in the subject area of Japanese art. Upon arriving at Alfred University this past year, Dr. Jones quickly drew my attention to the limited scope of our offerings on the topic; upon further research, we discovered that over 75% of our books on Japanese art were published prior to 1975–the collection was desperately in need of revitalization. We’re very grateful to the NEAC for the support of this grant.

The books are currently out on the new books shelf in the lobby of the library, just as you walk in the front doors. We encourage you to browse them and see if any catch your interest; there are some really beautiful items out there! Here are some short profiles of a few especially interesting ones, selected entirely on my personal whims:

kimono


Kimono: A Modern History

Terry Satsuki Milhaupt
Reaktion Books, London, 2014
ISBN: 1780232780

The kimono is one of the most famous items or images associated with Japanese culture, and certainly with traditional Japanese clothing. But how much do you actually know about them? How did they become such an iconic garment? How are they used and worn today? And, regardless of all those other questions, do you want to see lots of beautiful pictures of really beautiful kimonos?
Of course you do. Go pick up this book.

 

utamaro


Utamaro and the Spectacle of Beauty

Julie Nelson Davis
University of Hawaii Press, Hawaii, 2008
ISBN: 0824831993

If you want to go a bit further back in time in your studies of Japanese art, Davis’s book on Utamaro is one great way to do it. Utamaro was one of the most famous artists of the ukiyo-e (“floating world”) genre, known especially for his portraits and images of beautiful women. In this work, Davis considers Utamaro and his art in the context of the period, particularly the commercial print market.

 

 

rinpa
Designing Nature: The Rinpa Aesthetic in Japanese Art
John Carpenter
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2012
ISBN: 0300184999

Earlier still are the lavish artworks in the Rinpa style, featuring bold, colorful images and plenty of shiny gold. This book reproduces images of Rinpa artworks beautifully, allowing the reader to sink into their luxuriousness. Carpenter also studies the influence of the Rinpa aesthetic on Western art.

 

brittledecade

The Brittle Decade: Visualizing Japan in the 1930s
John Dower, Anne Nishimura Morse, Jacqueline Atkins, Frederic Sharf
MFA Publications, Boston, 2012
ISBN: 0878467696

Japan may be more famous for the screens of the Rinpa aesthetic or the woodblock prints of the Edo period, but turning some of your attention to a less-studied era may be rewarding. In The Brittle Decade, the authors explore the vibrant art of Japan in the 1930s, a period full of curious mixtures of old and new–like a kimono patterned with images of tanks.

 

Of course this is only a small sampling of the new materials we have for you! Come in and take a look at the new books shelf, hopefully before they’re all checked out.

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Student Art Collection at Herrick

For over twenty years Herrick Library has been collecting AU student art. Sometimes the library itself buys from the senior shows…

Hupmobile    CommunicationPeople in BookEnd Lounge

sometimes the library is given art from a committee which buys excellent student art to place across campus…

Blown glass rods

sometimes students really just want to leave a piece of their work at Alfred, and they give it to the library…

Table made of books

or make the library a really great deal…

Blue head sculpture

We also have some art that was created by our own student workers…

Hand with appleThe Advocate

 

Some of the art is fanciful…

Crested rabbit

Some is abstract…

Disjointed face

Herrick also hosts temporary student art exhibits…

iArt Installation 2013

Sometimes art can just disappear when you’ve walked by it for a long time without really looking at it. When you’ve got a few spare minutes, check out the student art at Herrick. Most of the library’s student art is in the Learning Commons, and in the top floor hallway between the Children’s room and the East Wing (toward Alumni Hall.) Most pieces are identified by the name and graduation year of the artist. They’d be happy for you to stop by and see what they created.

Steve Crandall

The Library is Full of Fakes

Hang on, I promise this is a good thing.

We’ve talked about some of the genuine, original artistic creations housed in the Scholes Library before, in the form of the artists’ books in Special Collections. While artists’ books have a fairly old history, the first true artists’ books weren’t created until the 20th century. We’re going to go further back in this post; in fact, we’re getting downright medieval.

A page from the Stundenbuch aus Nordfrankreich : Handschrift auf Pergament--that is, a book of hours from Northern France. Spec. Coll. Oversize ND3363.N67 S79 1985

Closeup of a page from the Stundenbuch aus Nordfrankreich : Handschrift auf Pergament–that is, a book of hours from Northern France. Spec. Coll. Oversize ND3363.N67 S79 1985

A full page view of the same folio from the Stundenbuch.

A full page view of the same folio from the Stundenbuch.

Alongside the artist’s book collection at Scholes is a collection of manuscript facsimiles. Facsimile–the origin of the word “fax,” for the curious–just means an exact copy of something, but in the books and manuscripts world it becomes something much more fabulous. A manuscript facsimile is an exact reproduction of a particular manuscript, often down to the tiny details of the cover, the irregular shapes of the pages, holes, smudges, signatures, stamps, and all the other quirks that make a unique manuscript unique. It becomes a way of experiencing a rare, unusual, or important manuscript when the original is miles away in another country, or too fragile to be handled. For both scholars and the casually curious, this is incredibly valuable. As books, manuscripts are meant to be experienced in three dimensions, with the reader moving from page to page in context rather than staring at flat images projected on a screen; facsimiles are sometimes the only way the average reader can experience them in this fashion.

A two page spread from the facsimiles of the Farnese Hours, a Renaissance manuscript. Spec. Coll. ND3363 F35 C57 1976

A two page spread from the facsimiles of the Farnese Hours, a Renaissance manuscript. Spec. Coll. ND3363 F35 C57 1976

Many of our facsimiles are of medieval or Renaissance books, and present a beautiful array of illuminations and illustrations, often literally sparkling with gold. Not all of them a “true” facsimiles in the sense of being a complete, unaltered replica. Some are individual pages, perfectly reproduced down to the tears in the corners; some are bound together with commentary and a new cover; all are worthwhile parts of our collection.

However, not all the facsimiles in our collection are of such aged and venerable materials. A facsimile can be an exact copy of any rare or valuable document, and that also definitely applies for our copies of Jackson Pollock’s sketchbooks. The originals of these remarkably large books (the full folio is significantly larger than my entire torso) are currently held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but patrons of the Scholes Library can flip through identical, full-size copies of them right here in Special Collections. Those who do explore them will be rewarded not only with the abstractions that might be expected from Pollock, but also glimpses of representational art of great vitality.

One of the pages from the Jackson Pollock sketchbooks. Spec. Coll. Folio NC139.P6 A4 1997

One of the pages from the Jackson Pollock sketchbooks. Spec. Coll. Folio NC139.P6 A4 1997

Another page, and view of some of the closed sketchbooks.

Another page, and view of some of the closed sketchbooks.

The experience of flipping through an artist’s sketchbook isn’t limited to modern artists, either. Also in our collection is a two volume copy of the sketchbooks of Hiroshige. As with Pollock’s sketchbooks, the structure of these works has also been reproduced, in this case a long accordion fold of images on creamy paper that sometimes meld into each other. Any patron interested in artistic process would be strongly advised to investigate these and other facsimile treasures.

A few glimpses of the folded pages of Hiroshige's sketchbooks, including a fox mask dance. Spec. Coll. ND2073 A48 A4 1984.

A few glimpses of the folded pages of Hiroshige’s sketchbooks, including a fox mask dance. Spec. Coll. ND2073 A48 A4 1984.

Accessing the Special Collections room is fairly simple; just ask a librarian, or, if you can’t find one, ask one of the student workers at the front desk to find you a librarian. Special Collections is not set up as a casual browsing collection, so it may help to have a list of certain works you’d like to see before you go. You can try searching our catalog from our website, or you can contact one of the librarians for help finding materials in your area of interest.

We hope you’ll come see us soon!