Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mommy's Angel

Philip Booth '48 was a mid-twentieth-century poet whose work was published regularly in such prominent places as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and Poetry, among others. A native of Hanover, New Hampshire, Booth served in the USAF during World War II and then came to Dartmouth College, where he studied (albeit briefly) with Robert Frost. Upon graduation, Booth went to Columbia to earn a master's degree and then quickly returned to Dartmouth. After several years as an instructor of creative writing in the English department, he taught in turn at Bowdoin, Wellesley, and Syracuse, where he helped to found their Creative Writing program. During the course of his career, Booth won numerous prestigious fellowships, including ones from the Guggenheim and the NEA. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy of American Poets in 1983 and died in 2007.

In addition to his own poetic accomplishments, Booth was also a regular correspondent with other rising poets of his time, including Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Booth was the nephew of Plath's psychiatrist at Smith College and is first mentioned by Plath in her journal from 1958. At Rauner, we have a small cache of correspondence between Booth, Plath, and Hughes from the years 1960-61. Included is a rather cheery-looking Christmas card from December of 1960, in which Plath dotes upon her daughter, Frieda, barely eight months old at the time. Plath states that Frieda is "an angel to confound us atheists," while Hughes embarks upon a self-indulgent if tongue-in-cheek analysis of the card's cover image.

In a subsequent letter, dated March 29, 1961, Plath's description of her daughter is that of a "changeling" who is filling their nights with "teething yowls." She also mentions that she would give anything for a little money to pay for a nanny so that she could have some solid blocks of time in which to write. These apparently contradictory descriptions of motherly life will ring true for anyone who has children of their own. This small glimpse into Plath's experience as a mother makes her suicide less than two years later all the more poignant. In February of 1963, Plath would carefully seal off the door to where Frieda and her little brother slept before going to the kitchen, placing wet towels across the bottom of its door, and turning on the gas in the oven. By the time a nurse arrived several hours later to help her with the children, she was dead.

To read the Booth-Plath-Hughes correspondence at Rauner, ask for MS-426, Box 1, folder 12.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Court Rulings

Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928) was an effort to force issues of sexual orientation into the public discourse. The novel traces the life of Stephen Gordon, a woman born into a wealthy family who self identifies as male and suffers a life of loneliness because of society’s lack of acceptance. While the book is rooted in early twentieth century notions of homosexuality, it began a push for gay rights.

Not surprisingly, the book was declared obscene for its subject matter and banned in England. In the United States, there was an attempt to ban the book, but the courts ruled that the subject matter was not inherently obscene and allowed the book to stand. The case was argued by Morris Ernst who would later defend James Joyce’s Ulysses in court in another landmark obscenity case.

The U. S. courts today have ruled again in favor of a more open and accepting society.

We have a copy of the first edition of the banned London edition signed by the author. To see it, ask for Rare PR6015.A33W43 1928.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Occom Trenches

While Rauner Library is full to the brim of fascinating tidbits and historical treasure troves, every once in a while you stumble upon something that makes everyone come over to see. As war raged in the Europe of 1916, America set about preparing to jump into the fray. Colleges around the country began military training programs for their students, and Dartmouth was no exception. Under the umbrella of the War Department’s Students Army Training Corps program, and with the aid of Captain Louis Keene of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, Dartmouth went from an institution of learning to a fully-fledged army training camp.

One of the most remarkable parts of this program was the construction of an elaborate series of trenches on Dartmouth’s athletic field. Utilizing Captain Keene’s firsthand experience and expertise, students dug out an emulation of the allied trenches found in the Western Front of The Great War. Rauner happens to have a complete map of the system those men created.

Drawn out by a pair of unknown cartographers, but presumably under the direction of Keene, this map is a beautiful model of the elaborate system that was trench warfare, with the enemy located somewhere around the alumni gym to the north. While not an exact rendition of what was actually to be found “over there,” Keene was careful to include as many of the main features of trench warfare as he could. The staggered front line is clearly evident, and vast systems of barbed wire were strategically laid throughout the fortification. There is quite a lot of depth as well, as there were 4-5 main horizontal trenches with many vertical ones connecting them all. There are even drawn out spots where the “latrines” were located. Most fascinating are the machine gun emplacements, as the artists took the time to sketch where their fields of fire reached, and how those fields overlapped each other.

With each position and feature clearly labeled, the map is easy enough for anyone to understand. However it still provides a level of complexity and insight into what soldiers of the time thought were the important features of trench warfare, so aficionados and experts will still enjoy and appreciate it.

To see the map in full detail, ask for D.C. Hist G3744.H3R4 1910 .M435. Be sure to clear off a table for it, as it is quite large.

Posted for Scott Bohn '18, HIST 62 class

Friday, June 19, 2015

Class Day Pipes

From the early 1870s to 1992, Dartmouth senior Class Day ceremonies included the breaking of clay smoking pipes in a symbolic act of separation from the alma mater. If you look around the site of the (second) Old Pine, now a well-varnished stump, you might still find pressed into the earth fragments of these broken clay pipes.

 Archaeologists digging at sites within the former British colonies find large numbers of broken pipe stems, which often represent the third most common artifact after pottery sherds and siding nails. Initially imported from England, clay pipes were slowly refined during the 17th and 18th centuries from rather stubby smoking implements measuring about 3” in length to slender and stylish foot-long affairs. The longer stems were attended by narrower holes through which smoke was drawn from the bowl, and therein lies useful information.

In the mid-1950s, Jamestown archaeologist J. C. Harrington published a statistical summary of pipe stem hole diameters and their corresponding date of manufacture. In 1961, Lewis Binford used Harrington’s data to calculate a simple linear regression model to assign an occupation date to archaeological sites using the recovered pipe stems. While only approximate to within twenty years, the dates are easily determined in the field, whereas dates derived from pottery or wood samples require far more analysis and expertise.

Back at Dartmouth's College Park site, of course, there is no reason to date pipe stems. They are all the same design, as far as we know. Their 4/64” diameter replicates those made at the final period of clay pipe evolution, between 1750 and 1800. Scattered among the Dartmouth pipe stem fragments you might also notice some pottery, remnants from two later Class Day ceremonies, after the pipe-breaking tradition was discontinued.

To see photos of pipes from Class Days through the years, come to Rauner and explore our Class Day photo files (or search for them online via keyword at the Dartmouth College Photographic Files database). To see actual clay pipes, ask the desk staff to retrieve them from our uncataloged realia materials.

This post was submitted on behalf of Jim Perkins '83, archivist at New London History & Archives.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Order and Chaos: Playing with Constraint and Creativity in Book Form

Cover of Pfeiffer's Abracadabra
Abracadabra!” Werner Pfeiffer’s limited edition artists’ book shouts at you in bright red letters from behind its black box encasement.  From the outside, Abracadabra (2007) presents the illusion of order: the letters of the title word are arranged neatly in evenly-spaced lines on the cover.  But opening the box unleashes the chaos held within: eleven squares of paper each collaged with one letter of “abracadabra” and various geometric images in every font, angle, color, and orientation imaginable.  Each page uses simple typographic elements and predetermined geometric shapes, but Pfeiffer rearranges the elements on each page in an abstract and unconventional way.  The reader cannot know which way is up and which way is down.

Collage of Abracadabra's first "B"
The letters themselves are disorienting, but the chaos reaches a climax at the bottom of Pfeiffer’s box.  There you will find three Flexagon structures mounted with the images of the eleven letters of “abracadabra” from the previous pages.  By folding and flexing the structures, the letters magically appear and disappear as they are mixed around into nonsense.  Pfeiffer breaks the notion of the “page” and the traditional sequential order of the book by literally slicing the paper into pieces that can be folded and rearranged to disturb and reform the layout of each letter composition and confuse their order.  The physical action of flipping letters around forces the reader to deal with the nonlinearity Pfeiffer is imposing upon an otherwise well-ordered word.

A Flexagon
One of Werkman's Druksels
Pfeiffer is consciously playing with the idea of creativity and nonconformity in the face of the order of linguistics and the sequential nature of the traditional book.  Abracadabra is a tribute to Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman, a Dutch printer and artist born in 1882 and a resistance fighter during the Nazi regime.  He was known for his defiant spirit and his tendency to challenge conventional form.  Werkman experimented with traditional printing methods and discovered his own unique techniques.  The artist produced many inventive typographic collages called “druksels” which were the basis for Pfeiffer’s book.  “Abracadabra,” meaning “nonsense,” was the derogatory label given to Werkman’s work by critics.  Pfeiffer took this insult and reversed it to produce a positive, magical representation of the innovation that captured Werkman’s creativity in the face of constraint.

To flip through the Flexagons yourself, ask for Presses P327pab.

Posted for Ann Dunham '16

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Last Full Measure of Devotion

In a belated recognition of Memorial Day (or, an early acknowledgement of the Battle of Gettysburg’s anniversary), I scrolled through the catalog in search of items related to the Gettysburg Address. After clicking on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Speech, I was surprised to see that the book only measured about 1.25" x 1.75". Curious, I decided to find out more.

This tiny text is the work of Bernhardt Wall, an American illustrator and etcher of the mid-20th century known for his quintessentially American postcards--usually lighthearted scenes of patriotism and cowboys. He was also a historian, interested in the biographies of interesting and impactful people, and he would chronicle his subjects’ lives in etchings. Wall was incredibly dedicated to his art--he handcrafted all 200 copies of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Speech himself, and he printed every page from an etched plate including the text. One can only imagine the patience it required to make so many tiny volumes, but Wall soon outdid himself--he went on to spend ten years etching an 85 volume pictorial biography of Lincoln.

With Lincoln’s Gettysburg Speech, Wall packs a lot of context into a tiny book. He prefaces the address with the invitation that Lincoln received to speak at Gettysburg, and he follows it with praise from publications like Harper’s Weekly, who called it “the most perfect piece of American eloquence.” Perhaps Wall’s most engaging additions are the illustrations--he intersperses the text with delicate etchings in black, brown and green ink. He not only includes scenes from Gettysburg, like the train station and the President speaking from the stage, but also other transcendent moments in American history, like the signing of the Declaration of Independence. On one particularly powerful page, in tiny lettering on an image of a graveyard, Wall highlights the central point of the Gettysburg Address and the holidays on which we remember it: “Remember the Hero Dead.”

With a book this small, you have to look closely and turn the pages slowly--which gives you the time to think carefully about the words and images inside. To see for yourself, ask for Miniature 121.

Posted for Emily Estelle ‘15 (Happy Graduation!)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Owners of the Green

One of the anecdotes of the fragmentary oral tradition amongst Dartmouth students holds that the Green, while used by the College, is owned by the town of Hanover. This is often couched in a warning to first-year students not to be publicly intoxicated on the Green, lest they be arrested by the Hanover Police. However, a recent discovery in the meeting minutes of the College Trustee calls this assumption into question – it is quite possible that Dartmouth does, in fact, still own the Green.

In 1770, New Hampshire governor Sir John Wentworth granted 500 acres of land to Dartmouth, of which the area now known as the Green was a part. The minutes from a meeting of the College Trustees in August of 1779 delineate the dimensions and location of this land. The record also includes a list of the lands “disposed of” by the College between 1770 and 1779 and who their specific recipients were. The first entry on the list concerns the “seven acres and a half opened for a green.” (Today, the Green measures 2.88 acres – documentation of the original boundaries of the space has yet to be uncovered.) It does not indicate a transfer of ownership from the College to any specific entity.

Later Trustee minutes seem to confirm College ownership. The August 1807 meeting of the Board appointed a committee to “inquire into the propriety and expediency of taking up at the present time any part of the College green for the accommodation in the college.” Just a year later, they announced that the Green should be “plowed, leveled, properly seeded with grass,” and also to ensure that it is “handsomely fenced and suitably ornamented with walks and trees.” The most recent policy found in the Archives regarding use of the Green is from March 1986. It stipulates that the “College Green and campus grounds are reserved primarily for informal use… by students, faculty, staff, and guests of the College. Other events and activities will be limited to those staged primarily for the Dartmouth community and sponsored by College-recognized organizations and College departments.” While not an ultimate confirmation of ownership, these regulations and changes seem to strongly imply it.

To further explore the history of the Green, ask for the Vertical file, “Green, The” and Trustee’s meeting minutes, DA-1, Box 2115.

Posted for Emily Rutherford '16