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Archive for the ‘visual culture’ Category

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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Dear siesta sympathizers,

Those of you following the Lazy Scholar blog may be asking yourself, “Who is that handsome devil on the homepage?” No, dear readers, it’s not a portrait of yours truly, but rather the official Lazy Scholar mascot—known in his own time and place as Paul Nebeker Bogart. The mixed-media caricature comes from a clever 1905 portfolio depicting famous businessmen from that center of international commerce: Terre Haute, Indiana. Bogart himself was a locally-born lawyer (and later a banker)–but not one afraid of distraction. As the authors recounted, “Law books do not furnish all of Mr. Bogart’s reading. He enjoys literature of another kind occasionally, and frequently looks up authorities other than law, when ‘down’ for a paper before the Literary Club.”

I stumbled across the book while digging around the Internet Archive’s ample Americana collection, which includes a surprising number of similar books, practically a genre of illustrated guides to your local chamber of commerce, apparently quite popular at the beginning of the 20th century. So whether you’re looking for a realtor in Seattle (pictured below), a banker in Indianapolis, an opera treasurer in L.A., a grocer in Fort Wayne, or a New Haven professor—should you find yourself in the early 1900s, you’ll know where to go!

realtor

My favorite, though, for sheer whimsy, has to be the 1918 book Mother Goose Comes to PortlandMaine, that is—one of the few of its kind to include women, not to mention nursery rhyme parodies. Here’s a verse about the president of the local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (pictured below): “Where are you going, my pretty maid?”/”I’m going a-milking, Sir,” she said./  “What’s the idea, my pretty maid?”/  “Constructive criticism, Sir,” she said./  “In asking that people shall give up wine,/  I offer a substitute in its stead.”

wctu
For yet more caricatures, check out the exhibits from the Library of Congress’s Swann Foundation for Caricature and Cartoon. And don’t forget our Canadian neighbors!

Internationally yours,

Stephen

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To my fellow followers of Rip Van Winkle,

As some of you may know, Sunday, October 11 marks National Coming Out Day, a day for everyone to show their queer or queer-allied colors—and, in this year’s case, march on Washington for marriage equality. (You can read about the history of Coming Out Day—or COD, if you will—on the Human Rights Campaign website.)

I will confess, I haven’t always been a big fan of COD. I remember my first taste of COD my freshman year of college, where they literally set up a closet door on the grass so people could “come out” of it. Nothing could have felt more terrifying and simultaneously shaming then the demand to step through that flimsy door-frame, as though articulating and accepting one’s sense of difference could ever be accomplished so simply.

Since then, researching the past has definitely helped me to come to terms with the term “coming out.”  So in honor of COD, I point you to one of the periodicals from the early days of Gay Liberation, titled, yes, Come Out. The magazine began publication shortly after the Stonewall Riot in 1969, and has been partly digitized by the useful (though not always easy to navigate) website Outhistory.org (a project of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at CUNY).

come out magazine masthead, 1969

Just to give you a sense of its tone, the first lines of the first issue proclaimed, “COME OUT FOR FREEDOM! COME OUT NOW! POWER TO THE PEOPLE! GAY POWER TO GAY PEOPLE! COME OUT OF THE CLOSET BEFORE THE DOOR IS NAILED SHUT!” Before gay liberation (as scholars John D’Emilio and George Chauncey have shown), coming out meant entering into the gay community, but the new metaphor of the closet turned “coming out” into a political act—and demanded a total re-evaluation of the quietly queer lives many gay men and lesbians had lived before.

The New York Public Library also has a wonderful online exhibition commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot, with some beautiful images culled from their extensive archives, like this one of two members of the Gay Activists Alliance.

Rutgers University Gay Liberation Conference, April 30–May 2, 1971. Photograph by Kay Tobin Lahusen. NYPL, Manuscripts and Archives Division, Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen Gay History Papers and Photographs. Copyright Kay Tobin Lahusen. Digital ID: 1606088

A quick subject search their digital image gallery reveals much, much more, including this photograph by Diana Davies of the 1971 Gay Pride march, almost as exciting for its vintage fashion as the banner “Women’s liberation is a lesbian plot.” Think about that next Women’s History Month.

Christopher Street Liberation Day, June 20, 1971 [22]. Diana Davies, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building / Manuscripts and Archives Division, NYPL, Copyright Diana Davies, Digital ID: 1066141

That’s all for this week dear readers.

Historically yours,

Stephen

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Dear daydream believers,

You might have heard, say here, or here, or (shout-out to my adviser) here, that 2009 marks the bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. And what better way to celebrate his memory than with Brown University’s enormous collection of “Lincolniana“—though I keep reading it as “Lincolnalia,”  suggesting both paraphernalia and a Victorian sexual pathology.

As it turns the 21st century has no monopoly on crass commercialization. See for instance this truly incredible advertisement from 1870, with the “Emancipation Proclamation” rolled up like cigarette paper, with the American flag waving above it like a trail of smoke.

Brown University, Center for Digital Initiatives

Yes America, you are free at last to smoke. And check out (in 3-D!!!) this delightfully kitschy 1950s Lincoln jug.

More genuinely moving is this beautiful 1904 silhouette portrait of the Great Emancipator beneath a tree.

Brown University, Center for Digital Initiatives

Though I have to say, my favorite portrayal of Lincoln appears in Behind the Scenes, the (mostly true?) memoir written by his Mary Todd Lincoln’s black dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley. As she tells it, President Abe was extremely fond of animals, especially his pet goats. “My pets recognize me. How earnestly they look!”  Read it on Google if you haven’t already!

Earnestly yours,

Stephen

P.S. Did you know you can become a fan of the “Young Abraham Lincoln” on Facebook? Find out what Joshua Speed saw in him!

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