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Dear weekend awaiters,

This is the second installment of a new Lazy Scholar feature, pairing news items with historical archives.

Slate‘s TV Club is diligently following and debating the new season of Mad Men. If you haven’t watched (is that possible?), it’s a 60s scholar’s dream, with carefully reconstructed interior design, fashion, and, yes, language. A few weeks back, Ben Zimmer at the New York Times Magazine offered an inside look at the writers’ efforts to keep the dialogue historically accurate. Scholars of advertising and consumerism, of course, will be thrilled, too, even if the show fictionalizes the origins of many real-life advertising campaigns. Sorry folks, Don Draper did not coin Lucky Strike’s slogan. People were enjoying their “toasted” cigarettes as early as 1919, as this ad shows. Until next Sunday night, you can ponder more of the history behind Mad Men by checking out the beautiful exhibit, The High Art of Photographic Advertisement, thanks to Harvard Business School’s Baker Library. One wonders, were those “Luckies” even more tempting in color?

• Moving on to the big screen, top critics are divided about Eat, Pray, Love, Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir about her post-divorce trip to Italy and elsewhere. You can follow the globe-trots of some earlier American women courtesy of  Brigham Young University’s American Travelers in Italy archive, with digitized copies of travelogues by Sophia Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, and Louisa May Alcott. The Little Women author had this to say about Rome: “Felt as if I had been there before and knew all about it. Always oppressed with a sense of sin, dirt, and general decay of all things.” Not exactly the stuff of summer movies.

• Officials and locals in Louisiana debate whether it’s safe or wise to re-open commercial fishing grounds after the Gulf oil spill. Between 1921 and 1932, LA Department of Wildlife and Fisheries employee Percy Viosca, Jr.,  documented the state’s coasts, and captured many photos of its fishing industry. You can view images like the one below on the Viosca Collection from LSU.

• After much research, McSweeney’s presented the “Editor’s Choice Award” to their favorite “e-Reader”: the Newspaper. It “outclassed its rivals both in terms of size and elasticity” and its “display could be read at full size or, when flipped open, twice its normal width.” Fellow ironical Luddites will enjoy the Library of Congress’s amazing, easy-to-navigate, and free Chronicling America Archive, with searchable copies of newspapers dating from 1860 to 1922, including The Texas Jewish Herald, The Salt Lake Evening Democrat, The Ohio Valley Worker, and the Daily Tombstone of Tombstone, Arizona. Here’s a look at some beachfront fashions from a 1916 issue of the New York Herald-Tribune, “an afternoon gown of black silk.”

• Speaking of fashion, this just in: Urban Outfitters’s fall catalog was shot entirely in and around my adopted summer home, Northampton, Massachusetts. Have the grounds of Smith ever looked so co-ed? You can download the catalog here. And you can see historical images of Smith here, thanks to the college’s library. Below, some ladies play leapfrog on the ice for the Sophomore Carnival of 1922.

That’s all for this week dear readers.

Yours currently,

Stephen

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Dear Prodigy pioneers,

This week and next, the undergrad dorm where I’m a resident tutor is putting on their annual musical—this year Guys and Dolls. And complete Carrie Bradshawesque narcissist that I am, that got me thinking back to my own theatrical past, specifically trying out for my high school’s production of Guys and Dolls my freshman year. The task, of course, was geared to traumatize the weak of vocal skill—sing the opening verse of “Luck Be A Lady.” Simple enough, except I started about two octaves too high. I dropped out a few days later, and so my on-stage career ended. I found a few years later, that I much preferred a place behind the scenes, in the audience, or, apparently, at the computer.

The digital archive, in fact, contains a host of valuable sites dedicated to the performing arts. For an appetizer, try the Hansen Collection from UNC. It includes beautiful broadsides, like the one to the right, from an 1870 Boston performance of Rip Van Winkle, adapted by Dion Boucicault (more on him here).  You’ll also find correspondences, posters, and some stirring photographs. And if you were wondering, celebrity sponsorship didn’t start in the twentieth century. Witness below, soprano Minnie Hauk hawking the Warner Brothers’ corsets. (I initially misread “Abdominal” and “Abominable.” So much for truth in advertising).


Over at the University of Louisville, the Macauley’s Collection chronicles the life of a family-owned theater in the Bluegrass State. The archive includes photographs of countless actors unknown today, including Anna Boyd, dressed below left as a man. For cross-dressing in the other direction, you can see a photograph on the right of once-famed performer Julian Eltinge. (Check out Sharon Ullman’s excellent chapter on Eltinge in Sex Seen to learn more, and click here for yet more cross-dressing from the Macauley collection).

Eager for other images of 19th century actors and actresseses? Try this collection of cartes-de-visite from the University of Washington. There you’ll find, lo and behold, photographs of Mr. Joseph Jefferson himself in his role as Rip Van Winkle, before and after his big sleep. (How do you like that for continuity, dear reader!)

As Benjamin McArthur explores in his well-received study, The Man Who Was Rip Van Winkle, made his name playing the famous napper, and became one of the best-known comedic actors of the American stage.

Alas, that’s all for this time.

Curtains down,

Stephen

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To the spring-attired,

I never imagined myself an auto enthusiast. In fact, for years, I had nightmares about losing control of my car on the parkway, and wasn’t sure if I should interpret them as a Final Destination-ish prophecy of my own demise or a mere anxiety dream. Yet after driving 3000 miles through Southwestern mountains, deserts, and valleys last month, I think I feel a little bit more of the sense of possibility and freedom Americans must have experienced when automobiles were new. Every couple of hours, it seemed, we stopped and stepped out of our car, only to gaze back on what looked like a Hyundai commercial. Case in point:

To judge by the images in the New York Public Library’s Taking the Wheel Collection, even the earliest car drivers expected their vehicles to cross any terrain. The Franklin car company, for one, went out of business during the Great Depression, but not before taking its owners into the woods and to the horse race!

Alas, the auto catalog below from the now-gone Haynes company  seems less interested in showing how well their cars navigated water, than suggesting how poorly women steered not only cars, but, to judge by their suffragette style, the country.

But, you ask, were these exciting images just a promoter’s fantasy? Thankfully, The Making of Modern Michigan’s Automotive Collection holds hundreds of photographs, which come closer to the catalogs than one might expect. Yes, now women could travel to political conventions in style: cramped in an open-air car, in multiple layers of clothes.

The nascent AAA also sponsored what became known as the Glidden tours, where cars were sent across the country to see the types of roads they would encounter. The results were sometimes disastrous.

If all this auto-arousal is too much for you, then you might prefer to check out a new book by Brian Ladd titled, Autophobia. Also, a shout-out to the Journal of American History whose excellent reviews of web archives pointed me to Taking the Wheel.

Until next time, I remain yours on the passenger side,

Stephen

P.S. You can now follow the Lazy Scholar on Facebook. Become my fan here!

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To the domestically-inclined,

Break out your horseradish everybody! Passover is officially here, bringing with it gefilte fish, chocolate-covered matzo, brisket, and all the other healthy treats you’ve come to associate with the feast of the unleavened bread. In truth, perverse as it might sound, I do look forward to Passover every year, I suppose because it’s a family-centered, home-bound holiday, unlike Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. Plus, I kind of like matzo. You know, until day four, when I start screaming at anyone in a twenty-foot radius eating a croissant. 

For the digital scholar, unfortunately, there is no single archive that provides a wealth of Passover-related ephemera, so I’ve had to cast a wide net. For starters, you can get your holiday off to a good start listening to a genuinely catchy album by Julliard and Jewish Theological Seminary grad Gladys Gewirtz. Digitized by FAU’s Judaica Sound Archives, Gewirtz’s Seder Party encourages us all to become “Seder Paraders,” and includes piano accompaniment by Long Island dentist Len Meinwald. (No joke, he continued to record into the eighties!) My favorite song, though, has to be, “Let’s Go Shopping,” an ode to the Passover grocery experience.

Marketers have known for a while that Passover shopping is, indeed, big business. The Reform Advocate reported in 1909 you could see ads for “Chad-Ghadye Ketchup,” named for the popular Passover song. Still Maxwell House has gone down in advertising history for the sheer chutzpah of their now-ubiquitous haggadah. Click here for some scans of an early edition, proclaiming their instant coffee the “Cantors’ Choice for every day enjoyment.” Manischewitz, too, knew a good act to get in on, producing a Yiddish/English pamphlet of Tempting Kosher Dishes for Passover, digitized by the incredible National Yiddish Book Center.  Their product line-up hasn’t changed much since then.

Truly, though, you’ve never seen Mr. Peanut looking so jaunty in that top-hat as he does in 46 Ways To Better Passover Meals brought to you by Planter’s Peanut Oil. (But eaters beware : the kosher status of peanut oil is a still a source of rabbinic debate!). 

Not all Passover publications are quite so product-placement-heavy. The Internet also hides a countless array of Haggadot. For a sampling, here is one from 1883, one from 1908, one from 1910, and one from the 1920s.

Last but not least, video-lovers can curl out on their couch and watch this rather remarkable footage from the 1969 Freedom Seder, organized by Rabbi Arthur Waskow in a black church on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assasination. And you can thank another underappreciated digital resource, my parents, forwarding me Martha Stewart’s tour of the Streit’s Matzoh Factory.

Yours in recline, 

Stephen

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Dear New Years TV marathon viewers,

If you wondering when your local cafe, supermarket, and shopping mall would stop playing “Santa Baby,” rest assured: Christmas is almost here!  Though my own family is Jewish, the holiday still holds so many sweet memories for me: the evening  I gathered all the ornaments given to my mother by her elementary school students and decorated a cardboard box; the year I went to the movies to see Life is Beautiful with my friend Alli and about 35 octogenarians; and yes, the time my family saw a musical version of A Christmas Carol (we won tickets) while my hand swollen from a broken wrist.

Alas, sustained grinching is the most effective way I’ve found to navigate the month-long flood of specials, ads, and jingles that Christmas brings. Somewhere beneath my Scrooge-ish demeanor, I do though have an affection for holiday films like the Muppet Christmas Carol and a larger fascination with a popular culture I do not share. Take for example, the Christmas artifacts in the reliable  Duke Digital Collections. Their Ad Access archive, for one, includes this randy 1943 pitch for war bonds (on the left), and this adorable 1956 ad for Packard-Bell TV sets (on the right).

Over in their Protestant Family Archive you can also check out this 1936 article from The Christian Home by a mother wrestling over whether to tell their children about Santa Claus or not.

For something less expected, surf over to check out the Magnes Museums digitized scrapbook of what was an annual San Francisco event: the Christmas parties held at the Haas Lilienthal House—as the archivist notes, an unusual window into California’s “Jewish aristocracy.” Here are two images from the book below.

And why not surf over to the vast Museum of Broadcast Communications Archives where you can discover the ghosts of Christmas TV past, including a Liberace special and another starring Judy Garland. Yes, that’s one holiday, two gay icons!

On that note, this is the Lazy Scholar signing off for 2009. I’ll return after a short sabbatical on Monday, January 11, 2010! Happy holidays to all, and thank you as always for reading.

Merrily yours,

Stephen

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O pioneers of the digital frontier,

Anyone who’s watched Spike Lee’s sometimes brilliant, sometimes obvious 2000 film Bamboozled, Ferris State University’s  Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia might feel eerily familiar—the docile, self-sacrificing”mammy,” the lazy, stealing, and insatiable “coon” (on the left). Less familiar to some readers may be the sexually virile “Jezebel” stereotype, embodied, curator David Pilgrim argues, by Pam Grier’s blaxploitation turn as Foxy Brown (right).

None of the artifacts on the site are explicitly sourced, which speaks, in part, to the ubiquity of the imagery over a long span of time—so long that the stereotypes’ sources in the abuses of Southern slavery have largely been forgotten. Even reproducing the images feels suspicious to me, since they still beg the viewer to take pleasure in their excesses. Old Aunt Jemima packaging once provoked delight (and relief) in seeing stereotypes depicted, hierarchies confirmed. And yet we’re left with a new ironic laughter, taking pleasure in our shock—our willingness to deride Americans of the past as unforgivably racist without admitting the subtler bigotries of the present. For all its flaws, Bamboozled makes two points worth reflection that minstrelsy continues into the 21st century in less obvious but no less pernicious forms, and that stereotypes have a life and energy of their own, which cannot be easily tamed.

Three books on the subject worth reading: Donald Bogle’s classic Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks, about African-Americans in film; M.M. Manring’s Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima; and my advisor Glenda Carpio’s Laughing Fit to Kill: Black Humor in the Fictions of Slavery.

Last but not least, be sure to check out Slate’s succinct slide show on the history of racist spokescharacters, Uncle—I mean Chairman Ben included.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen

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Dear Snuggie™ advocates,

I spent much of Friday flexing my would-be public intellectual muscles at a lively and illuminating roundtable discussion on the healthcare crisis (media coverage, the public option, the Stupak amendment) organized by Harvard’s Women, Gender, and Sexuality department. Yet as Jill Lepore’s recent Talk of the Town plainly shows, healthcare has been an ongoing dilemma in this country for nearly a century.

For a peek into the ways health and medicine were popularly understood and discussed in the early 20th century, skip over to the Indiana Public Health Digital Library for images culled from the Monthly Bulletin of the State Board of Health. Take these two, for example: on the left, a heartwarming illustration of two girls at play; on the right, a terrifying image of Death himself. I wonder where he stands on the “death panel” debate.

And while you’re at it, take a look at the images digitized by the National Library of Medicine, like the warning on the left against lice, also known as “cooties” or “seam squirrels,” or the Women’s Army Corps recruitment poster on the right.

Preventively yours,

Stephen

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