The University of the Arts offered another week-long Local Collections course last summer. We explored STEM to STEAM: Connecting the Arts to STEM and Local Collections. One of the several local collections we visited was Fonthill Castle. Fonthill is an incredible 44-room house built by Henry Mercer to house his extensive collection of tiles and prints.
Fonthill is fascinating not only as an aethetic experience, and an expression of one man's vision, but as a technological wonder. The house is made from poured-in-place concrete. You may know that concrete has been used as a building material since the Classical era. Romans used it extensively to create structures that were strong and complex. Technological changes, incuding the invention of Portland Cement in 1824, allowed cement to be developed into a building material that was less labor-intensive than the andient Roman methods.
Thomas Edison found that his Edison Ore-Milling company produced large quantities of waste sand. He had been selling this sand to concrete companies, but in 1899 started his own concrete business. He started experimenting with domestic applications for poured concrete, including building a garage and gardener's cottage on the grounds of his mansion in 1908. He had hoped that concrete homes would take off (and that he could supply the concrete!) but sadly, it never really did.
Mercer started building his home the same year Edison had his structures built. However, Mercer did not complete his work until 1912. His home is filled with built-in concrete furniture, and much of his collection of ceramics was enbedded in the concrete.
We chose Fonthill for our STEM to STEAM class as an example of techonogy and artistic vision coming together. I am looking forward to learning more during our visit to this extraordinary site.
I was thrilled to find the all-cartoon issue of the New York Times Magazine in my Sunday paper yesterday. It immediately made me think about the TPS Program, and the UArts course on Comics and Graphic Novels as primary sources. While our course focuses on using comics as primary sources, the NYT Magazine had cartoonists mine the Metro section of the paper, and interpret articles they found as cartoons.
Can you imagine doing this project with a group of students? You could explore current events, or examine history through reading newspaper accounts, and then create your own graphic versions. What do you think student would gain through such an exercise? What skills would they need to employ to create a two page cartoon of a newspaper article?
In my summer course we look at how photographs help inform identity, both in defining individuals and groups, as well as perpetuating or shattering stereotypes of marginalized communities. Having just celebrated Pride in Philadelphia, where a new Pride flag was recently unveiled that includes black and brown stripes – representing people of color, who have often been sidelined within the already marginalized queer community, to inspire greater inclusivity – I’ve been thinking about the symbols and images that people create and leave behind, that tell the story of their struggles for visibility and validation.
I decided to see what sort of LGBTQ resources the Library of Congress offers and was pleased to discover a well-curated list of resources and links to the collection:
Among the many excellent resources listed are two that stand out to me today, both because they are photographic and because they touch on my ruminations above.
The first is a set of images from the Carol Highsmith Archive, a collection of photographs from the widely-published American photographer who has provided her images copyright-free to the American public via ongoing donation to the Library of Congress. In 2012 she shot a series of images documenting the Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco – these images capture the vibrancy and joy, not to mention the hours of costuming, that are the trademark of Pride parades around the world.
The second resource that stood out to me is one I’ve known and used for years, but like any good archive it always has surprises in store. Carl Van Vechten was a photographer, active in the early 20th century, who documented luminaries in arts and literature, with a particular focus on the Harlem Renaissance. Among the many portraits Van Vechten made there are a variety of queer writers and artists represented, including Gertrude Stein, Bessie Smith, Countee Cullen and Truman Capote.
There’s also a wonderful snapshot, taken by Saul Mauriber, of Van Vechten himself with Christopher Isherwood, whose many contributions to the gay literary canon – and resulting theatrical and cinematic adaptations, such as Cabaret and A Single Man – make him an icon of gay lit.
I teach a class for TPS on integrating comics into the K-12 classroom, and I've written here before about the Yellow Kid. The Library of Congress proper is an incredible repository of early comics, but the online resources are somewhat limited. This is due, it appears, to various copyright restrictions on the material.
But if you are looking for examples of early comics (1895-1920, say) I have found a new resource in the LOC: the original newspapers. The library has recently been uploading more high resolution scans of turn-of-the-century papers, inadvertently skirting those restrictions and providing fascinating context in the process.
The comics pages were developed to boost sales, so they were often featured at the front of the paper. This makes it easy to see which papers have a comics supplement - it's the first page, and it's in color. At the time, the term comics simply denoted humorous content, so not all records matching this description contain what we now think of as comics, but if you're willing to do a little digging, there are gems. I've attached page 4 of the American Humorist from Nov 7, 1897, the Colored Comic Weekly of the New York Journal and Advertiser, which features a half-page Yellow Kid cartoon.
The cartoon features the Kid (comics' first big star - see my other posts!) celebrating (mocking?) the end of the 1897 presidential election with the other residents of his New York City tenement. It's a late effort, and a good one. The important comics historian RC Harvey wrote an updated roundup of the Yellow Kid's career in the Comics Journal last year highlighting the importance of the previously unheard-of Hearst editor Morrill Goddard. It's an excellent read and can be found here: http://www.tcj.com/outcault-goddard-the-comics-and-the-yellow-kid/
But the point of my posting is this - I found it completely by accident. Note that the record does not contain any tags or notes indicating that this is a perfect scan of a primary source featuring the most important comic character of the 19th century. I did search "comics" in loc.gov, but the search tool only recognizes standard text, not drawings or the banner advertising the "Comic Weekly". The word "comics" happens to appear elsewhere in the paper (the classifieds, ha).
Note that I'm not trying to call anyone out here. These records were clearly scanned as newspapers - that they may contain important comics or anything else of interest was clearly incidental at the time.
The takeaway here is that there are new, fascinating gems of early comics at loc.gov as full, contextual, primary sources! You just have to know where to look.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Teaching with Music-Related Primary Sources Face-to Face Workshop in November 2017 at the Library of Congress. Even though I am not a music teacher (I am a high school librarian) I thoroughly appreciated and found great value in the workshop. During the workshop we were exposed to music-related resources in order to engage students, build critical thinking, and construct knowledge, the pillars of the TPS (Teaching with Primary Sources) program. We had an amazing visit to the Music Division Reading Room where James Wintle showed us various resources and were regaled with their little known back stories.
One artifact that was shared with us was a copy of the poem, “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key. Since the recent NFL controversy of players kneeling while the National Anthem is played, I was curious about the origins of the poem/song. I discovered the poem/song is not without its surprises. Even though we sing one stanza at the beginning of ballgames and other events, the song actually has four stanzas. The lyrics also include question marks at the end of some lines - …”were so gallantly streaming?” I’m not sure how you sing a question, but I’m sure we have music experts that could tell me how it is done! The melody is attributed to “To Anacreon in Heaven” which you can read more about from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History post. Some say the national anthem originated from a drinking song, but there are others who refute that claim.
There are many informative and interesting blogs on the Library of Congress website that shine the light on Francis Scott Key and “The Star-Spangled Banner”. One blog, Bringing the “Banner” to Light by Erin Allen discusses the (uncertain) history, lyrics, and melody of the anthem. Another blog by Jeff Bridges, O Say Can You See shares with us prints held by the library of the bombardment of Fort McHenry. And yet another blog from The National Audio-Visual Conservation Center entitled The Birth of the Star Spangled Banner (Edison, 1914) by Mike Mashon, includes a copy of the magazine Edison Kinetogram which features “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the blog also includes the film, The Birth of the Star Spangled Banner. What a treat!
Currently, the original handwritten poem resides at the Maryland Historical Society.
The song became America’s anthem in 1931, long after it was written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812. There is an autographed manuscript at the Library of Congress which is in beautiful digital format and there are examples of the Star Spangled Banner in Primary Source Sets – Symbols of the United States.
Use all of these resources to discover the history behind our nation’s song.
During the “Connecting the Arts to Local Collections” graduate courses at the University of the Arts, students examine primary sources from direct access to local collections as well as from the digital resources available from the Library of Congress. Using resources that are easily available to teachers increases their interest and engagement in teaching and in turn increases their students interest and engagement in learning. This summer’s course is “STEM to STEAM: Connecting the Arts to STEM and Local Collections”.
Local collections of fine art and literature are easily connected to Science, Engineering, Math and Technology, especially in cities like Philadelphia. Not four blocks from my house is the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. Poe is known for his prolific writings and poetry, but he was also mesmerized by science fiction. The online historic site in Philadelphia provides curriculum materials for teachers, however there are many resources in the Library of Congress digital materials that tie together Poe’s interest in space, time travel, and scientific discoveries, especially airflight. Here are a few links from the Library of Congress that explore the world of early air travel and inspired Poe’s science fiction writing.
Using prompts like these in a classroom can spark imagination and inventiveness. Perhaps these sources could be used as an introduction to flying machines and students could collaboratively create their own flying machines, perhaps in a Makerspace area in schools and libraries. Or used as a writing prompt, students can be inspired to write science fiction like Poe.
While searching the Library’s poster collections during my research for our upcoming WPA Posters teacher’s guide, I came across a World War I poster showing a soldier carrying a huge stack of books.
The TPS analysis method encourages students to be curious, and to ask questions about the things that surprise them, or challenge their expectations. The posters surprised me, and I wanted to learn a little more. When I came across the first poster, I decided to do a search on the World War I Posters collection (https://www.loc.gov/collections/world-war-i-posters/about-this-collection/) for “Books” which yielded 24 items.
I had honestly never thought about the need for books during a war. These posters make me wonder about the daily life of a soldier during the first world war. How was most of his time spent? What was daily life like for soldiers during the Gulf War? How was it the same? What were some differences?
Books were not the only entertainments available to soldiers during the first world war; this poster asks people to weed their record collections, and donate those they are not playing much, the "slackers." Slacker is a term that came to mean "shirker" during this period, and carried the connotation of someone who was unpatriotic for refusing to participate.
For educators looking to use Library of Congress images that are not copyrighted, here are two important Creative Commons developments:
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art releases 375,000 digital works for remix and re-use online via CC0.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has announced that all public domain images in its collection will be shared under CC0, expanding their digital collection by over 375,000 images as well as providing data on over 420,000 museum objects spanning more than 5,000 years. CC0 allows anyone to use, re-use, and remix a work without restriction.
Creative Commons Search Prototype
Creative Commons also has a new Image Search engine available in Beta - search the Met's images, along with other creative commons licensed images, to find an open image.
From the post on the TPS Network:
At this contentious political moment, I thought it would be interesting to consider comics as political protest. The tradition of the editorial cartoon has long been a place for political commentary, but narrative comics have been somewhat more circumspect. Most appearances are benign, as when Richard Nixon shows up to ask the Fantastic Four for help, or parodying, like Frank Miller’s Max Headroom-esque Reagan in The Dark Knight Returns. But there are good examples of overt political speech in the comics page, as in Harold Gray’s Daddy Warbucks denouncing FDR’s New Deal as socialist interference. However, a moment that stands out is when Walt Kelly took on Senator McCarthy and nativism via the funny animals of the Okeefenokee Swamp in Pogo.
The storyline begins in 1953 with the introduction of Mole McAroney who arrives in the swamp seeking to root out what is and isn’t “American” and which creatures of the swamp are “native” or “migratory.” These were Disney-style funny animal strips, but Kelly’s myopic germophobe Mole couldn’t have been mistaken for mere comedy. He advocates in one strip the burning of a book that does not agree with his worldview. Even couched in the established visual world of Pogo, the politics in question would have been unmistakable, but it was the subsequent introduction of Simple J Malarkey, a character directly lampooning, and resembling, recently re-elected Senator Joseph McCarthy, that truly created controversy.
Despite some attempts at censorship, the strip was popular, so it endured. In a 2003 article for the Journal of American Culture, “Subversion in the Swamp: Pogo and the Folk in the McCarthy Era,” Eric Dussere writes: “Kelly’s subversive activities were made possible through his invocation of peculiarly American mythologies about ‘‘the folk,’’ through a representation of leftist politics as good old American common sense.” His skill as a gag cartoonist and storyteller didn’t hurt, as the strips are formally amusing and internally cohesive. Any child could follow along, and laugh at, the stories without the first idea of current events, though that is surely what made them so subversive. Of course these “leftist politics” were simply a repudiation of McCarthyism, a position that is hardly considered radical today. Part of what stands out to me now is that Pogo was so unique in calling out obvious miscarriages of justice. But the comics page by the 1950’s had developed into an anodyne form of entertainment, so much so that Kelly’s allegories periodically landed Pogo on the editorial page, just as Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury would several decades later. But despite occasional banishment to the editorial page, Kelly returned to political stories over the strip’s remaining 2 decades, satirizing J Edgar Hoover and Spiro Agnew, among others.
The Mole McAroney/Simple J Malarkey storyline could be a good way to discuss satire and political rhetoric in a historical context that has implications for, but does not directly address, some of our current issues. Kelly also has the formal chops to be worth studying on his artistic merits; the strips are expertly fashioned, providing potential lessons in caricature, basic cartooning, lettering, dialogue, composition, serial narrative, and visual storytelling.
Here is a link to a blog with readable scans of the strips: http://dallapoza.blogspot.com/2009/07/1.html
The LOC has these, among numerous original Pogo pages. They are searchable in the database but not viewable online, presumably due to copyright restrictions, so alternate sources may be needed for classroom use. Fantagraphics Books has republished these strips recently in Pogo vol. 3: Evidence to the Contrary, which is widely available.
The LOC record for one page from this story:
[Pogo]. "Good gracious, Mr. Malarkey, I had no idea you were nearby" – LOC # 2016682558 - https://www.loc.gov/item/2016682558/
You can see some pages of Lee & Kirby’s Fantastic Four #103 here: http://www.giantsizemarvel.com/2009/02/thing-tuesdays-ben-grimm-and-richard.html
“Hooverism in the Funnies”, Neuberger, Richard L. July 1934. New Republic, Vol. 79 Issue 1023, July 1934. p234
“Subversion in the Swamp: Pogo and the Folk in the McCarthy Era”. Erik Dussere. Journal of American Culture. Vol. 26, #1. March 2003, pp134-141.
An installation at the Milwaukee Art Museum uses historical fiction, as well as extensive primary source research, to gain a deeper understanding of Early America. The exhibition was put together by Sarah Carter, curator and director of research at the Chipstone Foundation, in partnership with the Milwaukee Art Museum. Chipstone’s mission is to promote and enhance knowledge of American material culture (emphasizing the decorative arts) by scholars, students and the general public. They have been dedicated to providing primary source material by giving access to their extensive collection of objects at museums, through courses at the University of Wisconsin, and digitally, on the web. I should note that when I started out as a librarian, my first job was putting together a digital library for material culture at the University of Wisconsin, funded by Chipstone, and back in grad school at UW, I worked on an exhibition of items from the Chipstone Collection.
Mrs. M----‘s Cabinet is nothing like the label-heavy, glass-vitrine laden show my fellow art history grad students and I worked on. Instead, it is a complete environment of layered meanings and interpretations. To begin with, it is presented as a group of artifacts amassed by the ghost of a 19th century collector, whose enthusiasm for ceramics began when she was a child “mud larking” along the James River in Virginia. What we see at the exhibition are ceramics, and other objects related to Early America, whether made or used in America, or objects that provide the historical context for those items. The ceramics and furniture in the exhibition are historic, not reproductions. However, they are presented in a room that was specially created for the exhibition, in the style of a very fashionable, extravagant 19th century interior. Mrs. M--- herself is an invention, an invention based on careful reading of primary sources, but fictional nonetheless. The exhibit challenges the ideas of what America was like in the early days of the Republic, and changes the focus from a colony completely focused on Great Britain, to a more global, cosmopolitan settlement, claiming land already “discovered” and occupied by indigenous cultures. It also challenges the idea of what a “real” artifact is.
I am intrigued by this unorthodox presentation of what can be pretty dry material. I feel like the fictionalizing of the collector allows the viewer to ask all sorts of questions, which may have felt unreasonable in a traditional, label-bound exhibit. As Diane M. Bacha says in her review of the exhibit for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “this installation is less about interpreting objects for visitors and more about inviting them to find their own interpretations.” http://archive.jsonline.com/entertainment/arts/mysterious-fictional-character-created-to-bring-art-to-life-at-mam-b99687087z1-372564511.html Isn’t that just what we ask our students to do when they analyze a primary source using the TPS method?
Not all of us can make it to Milwaukee to see Mrs. M-----‘s Cabinet. However, the Chipstone Foundation’s commitment to innovative technology allows us to experience it online. Take a look for yourself at http://mrsmscabinet.org/