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Archive for the ‘visual culture’ Category

To my fellow homebodies,

If you, like me, have found yourself reluctantly addicted to FOX’s high school dramedy Glee, then you know that this week’s episode shined its bemused spotlight the show’s wheelchair-riding, background singing Artie Abrams. The character has raised the ire of some disability advocates because he’s played by a nondisabled actor. But what strikes me as far more egregious than the casting is the degree of misguided, even degrading sympathy the episode points Artie’s way. When the glee club hesitates to help raise money for a bus that could accommodate Artie’s wheelchair, the director insists the students “learn a lesson” by using wheelchairs for at least three hours a day, you know, so they can understand what it’s “really” like to be disabled.

artie

This violence of viewing the disabled as “weaker” or “afflicted” is one of the central critiques of the emerging discipline of disability studies. The highlight of the episode, for me anyway, was an early sequence where Artie wheels around the high school singing Billy Idol’s “Dancin’ With Myself.” (Watch the clip for yourself here.) What makes the scene so surprisingly sublime is the way the boundary between body and apparatus blur, much in the way Petra Kuppers describes in her wonderful essay, “The Wheelchair’s Rhetoric” (you can download it here, with the kind permission of Professor Kuppers.) Artie’s joyful ability to dance within and with his wheelchair (thanks in part to stunt double and wheelchair athlete Aaron Fotheringham) begins to expose the pernicious norms inherent in the very term “disabled” and re-cast Artie as an artist, much more so than the wheelchair minstrelsy that ends the episode.

All of which I say by way of introducing a valuable resource for the digitally-inclined: The Disability History Museum. The archive includes both documents and images, like the 1933 advertisement below.

You can also read an 1863 article from Scientific American, The Great Lilliputian Wedding,” noting the marriage of the performing pair Charles S. Stratton, a.k.a. “General Tom Thumb,” and Lavinia Warren. As the author dimly advocates, “It is generally admitted, we believe, that these little people have as good a right to marry as the larger folks.”

And be sure to check out this videography of physical disabilities on film from the 1920 silent The Penalty (watch an excerpt here) to 2007’s Diving Bell and the Butterfly. And for a more political take, listen to the oral histories collected at UC Berkeley’s Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement site.

Until next time.

Sincerely yours,

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 manic Monday dreaders,

Think your week is tough? Imagine digging for gold in the heat and hills of California! (Or maybe that sounds like fun to some of you writing dissertations.) Calisphere (from the University of California) offers a remarkable window into the history of California, including the highs and lows of the Gold Rush. With useful teaching guides, the website’s beautiful photographs and daguerreotypes bring alive personalities fit for a John Ford Western, or a profanity-laden HBO series. Take a look at these haunting portraits, clockwise from top left: Joseph Sharp, the widow Nellie Mayhood, and a pair of pickpockets, Dolly Mickey and Jennie Hastings (click the images for more info).

handsome man with a pickgold rush widowJennie HastingsDolly Mickey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be sure to also check out their California Cultures exhibit, which offers a look at the histories of African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans. The cartoon below, from Harper’s Weekly, “Difficult Problems Solving Themselves,” seems to view the countermigrations of freedmen and Chinese immigrants with ironic ambivalence at best.

Difficult Problems Solving Themselves

Wishing you many happy prospects,

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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Dear snooze-button specialists,

Eating may be one of the more delightful ways to delay work. People who don’t spend their lives in libraries and classrooms for a living might, in fact, be surprised at how many lunches, teatimes, coffee breaks, iced coffee breaks, brownie breaks, suppers, dinners, desserts, and happy hours you can fit into a single day—not to mention those golden moments when you discover free leftovers from a talk or workshop you didn’t attend.

SupergoopOf course, eating well requires work all its own. Thankfully, the A.V. Geeks have posted countless classic (and by classic, I mean truly awful) educational films on their website, including several specifically related to food. Like the Prelinger Archive, the A.V. Geeks specialize in ephemeral films, though their collection weighs a little more heavily towards the 1960s and 1970s (Duke has them to thank for digitizing their Ad Views archive). Many of their films are also available for purchase on DVD, which may explain why the site is so poorly indexed.

Nonetheless, for the devoted delinquent like myself, a quick scan for films of the 1970s reveals such gems as “Soopergoop,” where an animated cat reveals the manipulative techniques of advertising execs looking to sell a new cereal. Or there’s “Munchers: A Fable,” a claymation pic about tooth decay with a psychedelic soundtrack and a black devil named “Jack Sweet.”

BarbecueSpeaking of psychedelic, don’t miss the kids getting down in “Story of a Peanut Butter Sandwich.” And last but not least, there’s a public service announcement about “National Barbecue Month,” where a bunch of teens in cowboy hats learn the joys of a well-cooked steak.

Onto the day! Isn’t it lunchtime yet?

Hungrily yours,

Stephen

P.S. I couldn’t resist highlighting one more video: Believe it or not, my health teacher in eighth grade actually showed us this frightening 1979 film about male puberty, “Am I Normal?“—poorly timed erections and carefully coiffed hair included.

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Dear power nappers,

On Saturday, David and I headed to the vertical Long Island—that is, New Jersey—to meet my new nephew Sammy, a beautiful little boy who has the eyes of his father (my brother), the ears of his mother, and the sleep patterns of a lazy-scholar-to-be: he spent the majority of our visit napping, waking up only to say hello and to eat.

Detail from Baby's Rhyme BookSo in honor of Sammy, I bring you today the marvelous Baldwin Library of Children’s Literature, courtesy of the University of Florida. The digital archive includes over 5000 books from the early 1700s to the present, including Baby’s Rhyme Book, from 1886, which starts out with the rousing tale “Kit-ty’s Day”: “9 A.M. Hungry, and tired of waiting for those people who will not come down; so I am obliged to help myself. Cream not so thick as it ought to be, but I do not complain.” Though if any book deserves a reissue, it’s the handsomely illustrated Jolly Animal ABC (1888), which features a fiddling pig and a truly relaxed hare.

pighare

Far less kid-friendly today is the 1876 book Simple Addition by a Little Nigger, published in New York, which follows an ever-increasing number of black children as they get into trouble.

Simple Addition

For Sammy’s sake, when choosing children’s books for bedtime, I’ll stick to clever fauna, like this finely-dressed specimen from Palmer Cox’s Funny Animals.

Fox

Sleep well little ones!

Sartorially yours,

Stephen

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Salutations to the slothful,

Travel back with me today to the year 1840, when William Henry Harrison led the Whig party to the White House! Thanks to Cornell’s delightful (and remarkably easy to navigate) Political Americana collection, you, too, can relive Harrison’s glorious slaughter of the Native Americans at the Battle of Tippecanoe with this commemorative lithograph (detail below; click for full image). Or sing along to the National Whig Song! Come on, you know the words: “I’ll sing you now a new Whig song / made to a good old rhyme / Of a fine true-hearted gentleman / all of the olden time.”

harrison

Unfortunately, Harrison’s victory wouldn’t last long—he died within a month of his inaugural address. At which point his followers could secure a print of his last bedridden moments (see below).

Death of Harrison, Susan H. Douglas Political Americana Collection, #2214 Rare & Manuscript Collections Cornell University Library Cornell University

The presidential deathbed portrait was apparently a popular genre all its own. Check out below, George Washington, Andrew Jackson,  Zachary Taylor, and Abraham Lincoln, all breathing their last, tearful friends, family, and servants around them (click on images for larger view). Maybe it’s just me, but these scenes definitely bring to mind that final montage from the HBO series Six Feet Under, as well as countless films of the Terms of Endearment variety. Oh, Ann Douglas, where are you now? The “domestication of death” lives on.

Melancholically,

Stephen

Washington's Death, Susan H. Douglas Political Americana Collection, #2214 Rare & Manuscript Collections Cornell University Library Cornell University

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