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.