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Archive for the ‘books’ Category

To the seasonally-affective disordered,

The spring semester is officially under way, and I’ve started TFing a new class: Joyce Chaplin’s wonderful lecture on American food history. We’re still strolling around the colonial period, though for today’s post, I’m going to fast-forward to the twentieth century to point you towards the rewarding Szathmary Recipe Pamphlet Collection from the University of Iowa Digital Archives.

There you can read lots of promotional recipe books, like this one for custard mix, deceptively titled “A Dozen New Ways to Use Milk.” (Hint: All 12 involve “Junket,” a rennet-based thickener, because we all know, “Eating milk is even better for you than drinking it.”) Or how about 10 mustard-inspired ways “to use a whole ham.”

I also love the covers of this series, even if all of the recipes call for Armour and Company’s meat products. Canned pigs’ feet, anyone? Never again will you be out of luck when friends drop by for a chafing dish supper!

Here’s a short lament for the dilemma of the “emergency” dinner.

Click the page to read more!
Losing his appetite rapidly,

Stephen

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My distractable friends,

I must admit, proverbs be damned, that I’m often lured to a book by a well-designed dust jacket, even a carefully chosen font. So for today’s entry, why not spotlight some resources on the artistry of book covers?

For starters, take a look at the University of Colorado’s Publishers’ Binding Collection, featuring over 1400 cloth book covers from the late 1800s to the early 1900s (even if the interface is somewhat wonky). In clockwise order from top left: America and the Americans from a French Point of View, (1897), Children of the Tenements (1905), How to Know Oriental Rugs (1908), and Bobby and Betty at Play (1927).

Paperback lovers will also want to check out the George Kelley Paperback and Pulp Fiction Collection at the University of Buffalo. You can browse hundreds of covers here, from (clockwise) the creepy (An Earthman on Venus from 1951) to the steamy (Everybody Does It from 1949), the classic (Fahrenheit 451) to the forgotten (The Real Cool Killers).

Happy browsing.

Yours compulsively,

Stephen

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Dear searchers of lost time,

Some of you might know that I have an odd fascination with the state guide project commissioned by the WPA during the Great Depression—a series of guidebooks detailing the history, customs, and sights of each and every corner of the nation. The guidebooks vary widely in quality, yet they remain intriguing for me precisely because of their diversity, written at a moment before a national media fully took hold and initiated the long process of homogenizing American culture.

The effort to resurrect the state as a vital component of American identity is what has long charmed me about the singer Sufjan Steven’s 50 States Project—a half-joking vow to record an album of folksy, glockenspiel-rich songs for each state. So far he’s only gotten around to Michigan and Illinois, though some songs have touched down in New York and Arkansas.

But how did, and how does, the American state exist in popular imagination? In an effort to answer this question, I’d like to introduce a new ongoing feature of these dispatches: The Divided States of America. Many digital archives are, in fact, limited to individual states (as are many historical works), so it seems to make sense to identify some archives particularly useful to a scholar of, say, Wyoming. Plus  I’m curious to see whether Missouri ultimately has a different vibe than Utah. Consider it a road trip, without traffic or smelly rest stops.

Today, I’ll head south of Massachusetts to Pennsylvania. I’ve been there only a few times in my life—once to Philadelphia, once to Pittsburgh, once to Sesame Place (I was four!), and once to Scranton for a wedding (plus the thrill of The Office connection). Villanova University‘s library has a small but impressive “Pennsylvaniana” collection, including a book of Pennsylvania poetry. Here’s one verse you might not have learned in grade school: “Hail Pennsylvania!/Noble and strong,/ To thee with loyal hearts/We raise our song./Swelling to Heaven loud,/ Our praises ring;/ Hail Pennsylvania!/Of thee we sing.”

Or check out the delightful illustrations from the 1875 book, Philadelphia and Its Environs (here’s one image on the right). Or a portrait album published by Philadelphia’s own Puglistic Publishing Company.

Also be sure to visit the (somewhat clunky) Life in Western PA photography and film collection, including the Stephen Shore-ish shot to the left of a 1970s ice cream shop.

U. of Pittsburgh’s library also has some amazing digital collections including one of Pittsburgh Public Schools. Take a look at these two spectacular images: on the left, the 1969 Westinghouse High School Ninth Grade Fashion Show; on the right, a teaching moment at Kauffman’s department store in 1972 (click images for more info).

Forecast and Company - ED Mag Fashion Show at Kaufmann's

That’s all for today. Look for two holiday posts later this week!

Yours in local pride,

Stephen

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Rabbis, Incompetent and Feisty

To the always already caffeine dependent,

The nominations are in! No, not for the Oscars or the Golden Globes, but the awards we’ve all been waiting for: The Independent Spirit Awards. Let the office pools begin! In all honesty, while I tired of televised award ceremonies long ago, the ISA’s—or is it the Indies? the Spirits?—past winners are oddly in line with the types of films I tend to enjoy: artsy, clever to a fault, vaguely alienating. You know, fun. Which is why I’m pleased, at least, to see that Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest, A Serious Man, will receive the Robert Altman Award, in recognition of its director, casting director, and acting ensemble.

If you haven’t seen it yet (and why not?), the film follows the steep downward spiral of Larry Gopnik, a mild-mannered physics professors in 1960s Minnesota. Besides the generous use of Jefferson Airplane and perfect set design, I found particularly uncanny its portrayal of suburban Judaism at the dawn of the counterculture, with its enthusiastic though largely out-of-touch rabbis and a general hollowness in the face of genuine spiritual searching. I wish I could say such anomie no longer characterized many synagogues today, but alas, the empty sermons felt eerily reminiscent of the Long Island synagogue I attended as a child, and some of the services I’ve attended as an adult.

The search for meaningful spiritual connection is, of course, nothing new among American Jews. Just take a case in point from the late nineteenth century (how do you like that segue?!): the  archives of Isaac Mayer Wise on the American Jewish Archives site. Unveiled earlier this year, the collection showcases essays, books, photographs, and letters of the Bohemian-born Rabbi Wise, who was one of the founding leaders of American Reform Judaism. And he wasn’t a bad dresser either.

Wise seemed particularly concerned about the place of Jews within a Christian nation–an issue he strikes on most clearly in his lecture “The Wandering Jew.” But Wise also weighed in on larger political debates, like temperance, arguing that a pint of beer was hardly a sin. And he wrote some passionate love letters to his wife. In one from 1876, he wrote,  “Now I have my regular hours in which to write to you. I write to you in the afternoon and immediately after dinner. This hour ought to remain kiss hour in our memories not including the other kisstime—right after dinner… If you laugh at me, Selma, for being so stingy about the kissing I shall laugh at you for being so much in love that you wrote eight ardent loveletters in a week… Your letters, my wonderful Selma, are really perfect. They show the highness of your soul and the nobleness of your heart.” Read the full translation here.

Sagely yours,

Stephen

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Dear preemptive vacationers,

I realize there’s been a lot of food in these dispatches lately, perhaps in subconscious anticipation of Thanksgiving this Thursday. I don’t know about you, but when I think about Thanksgiving (or Turkey Day, as I’ve heard it called), I think about sweet potatoes with marshmallows, fresh roasted turkey, grandmotherly love—and that’s just the Garfield Thanksgiving special.This year my brother and sister-in-law are hosting, and rather than bake a pumpkin pie, I figured I’d bring something far more nutritious and satisfying: cultural ephemera! Even my nephew, who hasn’t started teething, can digest that!

Even in 1898, Americans had discovered the fine art of historical reenactment. The photograph below, from the Memorial Hall Museum Online, shows four women dressed in colonial garb making “Thanksgiving Pies.” The image was created for Home Life in Colonial Days by Alice Morse Earle, usually remembered for reviving interest in the colonial period.

If you’re unsure what to prepare for your own Thanksgiving feast, then best consult the amazing collection of cookbooks and home economics among Virginia Tech’s rare and digitized books. Why not take a page from Ida Follett’s Table Decorations and Delicacies: a Complete Hand-book for the Hostess, and place a stuffed turkey at the center of the table (and illustrated turkeys at the center of your plates!). Honestly, it’s only slighty tackier than the Thanksgiving “tablescape” offered by the Food Network’s Sandra Lee.

You can also search USC’s L.A. Examiner negatives archive for some truly awe-inspiring photographs from the years of 1950s abundance, like the ones below.

And last but not least, I’ve pointed you, dear readers, to the J.N. “Ding” Darling cartoon archive at U of Iowa, but not his Thanksgiving panels. Here’s one of my favorites, “The Thanksgiving turkey of our forefathers – and the Thanksgiving turkey of today.”

With thanks to you, readers,

Stephen

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Dear last-minutes-before-class loiterers,

Like some of you, I’m just old enough to remember the days of ye olde card catalog—when finding a book required more than a quick Google search. No, the dedicated researcher pulled out drawer after wooden drawer—even stacked them in a dangerous Jenga-like tower—and then flipped endlessly to find the perfect book for your fourth grade report on farming.

I can’t pretend I’m entirely nostalgic for the pre-digital era. I still remember my feeling of awe the first time a computer card catalog showed up in my elementary school library. But I do miss the aura of those wooden drawers, which lent the library a heimish feel. And what about those tiny index cards, which seemed almost magical, as though they hadn’t been typed and inserted but just appeared mysteriously when a new book hit the shelf.

The University of Iowa library found a rather delightful way to recycle their card catalogs, not by turning the wooden bureau itself into a makeshift liquor cabinet (though that is a good idea, isn’t it?), but by asking artists to transform the cards into creative works. The cARTalog project includes such highlights as Michelle Souliere’s subtly dark “Poe, Heavily Annotated” (below) and Fabio Sassi’s witty take on Plato.

Poe Heavily Annotated

Other projects have a distinctly environmental edge, like Marlene Scott Russum’s “Charta Catalogus” (below) and Corey Gerlach’s commentary on “Genetic Vulnerabilty of Major Crops.”

Charta Catalogus

Speaking of the environment, while you’re on U of Iowa’s digital library site, be sure to check out some of their other collections, including the digital archive of J.D. “Ding” Darling’s cartoons, many of them conservation-themed. In the 1923 image below, titled “Look out! Here come the nature lovers,” Darling reveals the environmental risks of picnicking. Look out here come the nature lovers

Until next time.

Ecologically yours,

Stephen

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Dear idling experts,

I’ve lived in Massachusetts for three Halloweens now, counting tomorrow, but I’ve yet  to trek to Salem for their ghoulish festivities. From what I hear, they’re a real hoot—if by hoot, you mean a gross misappropriation of the past. Why worry about Puritans persecuting each other when you can visit  a psychic fair?

For a more historical Halloween experience, check out Cornell’s Witchcraft Collection. Sure, you know the story of John Proctor—but what about the Salem dogs that were put to death, for afflicting people with their stares? Or read Increase Mather’s account too, whether the original manuscript or transcribed.

If that’s not spooky enough, take a look at these adorable/terrifying trick-or-treaters in 1965 Greenville, from East Carolina U’s Daily Reflector collection.

legendofsleepyhollowBut the best way to get into the Hollow’s Eve spirit for the die-hard Americanist: watching Disney’s still charming adaptation of Washington Irving’s”Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” with tunes sung by Bing Crosby himself. Tim Burton has nothing on this! Watch one of the highlights, “The Headless Horseman,” here.

Bewitchingly yours,

Stephen

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