Behind the Scenes: African Art Storage

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A picture of the author in front of Racks 5 and 6. Photo: Marianne Weldon.

 

Hello! My name is Allison, and I am a graduate student in the Winterthur Art Conservation program at the University of Delaware. I received a summer internship placement at Bryn Mawr College to develop my preventive conservation skills. While treatment-focused conservation is concerned with knowing how to stabilize and repair individual objects, preventive conservation is focused on controlling the environment where those objects are stored and displayed through HVAC control, pest management, emergency planning, and storage and housing. With good preventive measures in place, there is a low risk for new damage to occur that may result in the need for specialized treatment. For this reason, a lot of museums and collections are focusing their efforts on preventive conservation, and it is a skill set I wanted to develop.

When I connected with Bryn Mawr Special Collections, the African collection and its storage layout was identified as one in need of evaluation and reorganization. Marianne Weldon, the Collections Manager for Art & Artifacts, and I discussed the following goals:

  1. To assess the layout of the collection space and reorganize the African collection objects to improve ease of access and safe handling.
  2. To examine the collection housings and determine where there was a need for adjustments or altogether new housing.

An overall view of Canaday 204 before my reorganization. Many types of objects from multiple collections are housed in this space.

 

 

 

When I began, I could see that all of the collections are overcrowded. But my project was focused on the African collections. These were located across five stationary shelving units, three rolling racks, and two cabinets with pull out shelves. Our main concerns were the proximity of some items to the ceiling, which can be a fire hazard, and the difficult nature of accessing some of the large but fragile objects, such as dance crests and headdresses with suspended elements. The priorities of the reorganization became regaining a ceiling clearance of 18 inches wherever possible and making retrieval and handling safer for the user and the object.

Some objects that are tricky to handle were stored on the highest shelves where they were hard to see and difficult to handle safely.

 

Work began in a hybrid format. My days on site were spent collecting data. I was given a list of the objects that comprised the African collections and slowly but surely I worked my way through it. I took notes about the objects themselves (materials, geographic origin, name and use) as well as about the housing they were in, be it contained within a box or wrapped in plastic or both. While this data collection was time consuming, by the end I had a good understanding of the materials I was working with and a good intuition for where everything was in the space.

A small snapshot of the numerous spreadsheets that kept me organized all summer.

 

 

At home I spent time researching methods to approach storage reorganization. Overcrowding is a problem that every collection ultimately faces, regardless of size, so I knew I didn’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel. Entire reorganization systems have been developed, and there are brief guidelines published by organizations like the National Park Service. As luck would have it, a comparison of the most popular methods was written in 20141 and this was a big help in determining the pros and cons of each approach.

After comparing some options, I had several takeaways.

  1. Accuracy is important and will save you time and effort
  2. Much of what has been published is designed with creating new spaces from scratch in mind, rather than making minor adjustments
  3. There is no one perfect system that can address the needs of every project

By far the most robust system I found is the RE-ORG2 program put together by ICCROM, the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage. This program is based on a workshop developed by ICCROM and UNESCO to introduce individuals with little prior experience to collection storage management and design. It lays out step by step, with worksheets included, how to assess the current state of a collection, makes plans for a redesign, and execute object moves and relocations. There is a survey that allows a user to examine four areas that impact collection storage (Management, Building and Space, Collection, and Furniture and Small Equipment) and get a score for how their collection ranks in each area.

A screenshot of  the RE-ORG program’s “scoring” chart for the African Collections at the onset of this project. Calculated scores are circled.

 

While I knew I had no control over most of these factors, I found the exercise of filling out the survey a useful way to get a handle on how many ways a collection can be impacted by its surroundings both from a material and managerial standpoint. I was pleased to see that in each category except for “Building and Space,” only minor adjustments were recommended. This solidified my decision to work with my own process, informed by the research I had done, but not prescribing to any one method because none exactly suited my needs.

Each box and item in the collection is a custom size, so I couldn’t make rough estimates based on standards. Because I was dealing with a relatively small space and a manageable number of objects, I decided that I needed to think at an object-specific level to find the best layout.

When I would talk about this project to friends and family, I would often say, “I’m basically playing a big game of 3D Tetris.”

 

From the measurements of each box and item, I knew I was going to have to change some of the heights on the shelving units to bring the taller objects away from the ceiling. What I needed was a quick and easy way to play with space and see what could fit where without having to move the shelves and objects ten times over. Enter the computer aided design (CAD) app Shapr3D3. Using my iPad, I could literally play 3D Tetris by modeling the whole storage room, shelving units, and objects to scale. From there I could adjust the heights of shelves move objects around and get a plan in place all without having to move a thing in the real world. Starting from zero CAD experience, this intuitive app was a game changer for me, and I can see it having many uses in my future work.

A screenshot from Shapr3D showing Racks 4-7 with adjusted shelf heights and specific objects in proposed locations. This is exactly where these objects ended up!

 

 

With a plan mapped out, it was time to enlist some help for the physical move. Margalit Schindler, a classmate in my graduate program, visited for a day to help adjust the heights of shelves and make some of the initial object moves. With a bit of muscle and a lot of clear communication and teamwork, we made the necessary adjustments and brought most of the fragile and hard to reach objects into their new locations. Having a second pair of hands and an outside critical eye was a huge help at this phase of the project. Over the next two days I finished the rest of the object moves, and I am pleased to say that all of my goals were met. Fragile headdresses from up-high traded places with sturdy boxes that were down low, heavy items that were moved to shallower shelves, and the ceiling clearance I wanted was regained nearly everywhere.

A view of Racks 4-7 after the reorganization. The objects that were once high up and on the back of deep shelves are now accessible from the floor with minimal reaching required. Photo: Joy Kruse.

With the big move complete, I was able to focus briefly on housing adjustments. When I was gathering measurements, I took note of the boxes and items I thought could benefit from new padding, wrapping or housing. With the help of Joy Kruse ’23 and Katie Perry ’21, we were able to implement these changes, improving visibility and better immobilizing some of the objects housed in boxes. We also got to discuss what the ideal conditions for objects housed within boxes are in general and the numerous methods and materials one can use to achieve them. It was a good chance for me to practice my teaching the skills and an excellent way for the students to be introduced to different aspects of collection management and preservation. In the end we adjusted more boxes than I had planned, and even built a brand-new box! Many hands truly do make for light work.

Joy and Katie working on different elements of a new box for the toy elephant pictured below.

Previously wrapped in tissue paper and resting on its side, the new mount on its underside holds the elephant upright, relieving pressure from its delicate ears and preventing it from tipping when the box is handled.

I am so grateful that Marianne and Bryn Mawr trusted me with this project. I gained project management and technical skills, while contributing to the preservation of an excellent collection. I am also pleased that this work can contribute to the overall efforts of Special Collections to confront the legacies of racism and colonialism within their collections. As a conservator, I ask myself two questions when I work on a project: how is my work benefiting the object(s) temporarily in my care and how is my work facilitating interactions with the object(s) be it for research, educational, spiritual purposes or otherwise? Preservation for the sake of making a thing last longer is empty without the motivation of human interaction or engagement with the object driving the work. My hope is that the improved access to the African collections will allow more opportunities for research that can illuminate the complex histories of these objects and aid in any relevant repatriation.

 Footnotes

1 Lambert, Simon & Tania Mottus. 2014. “Museum Storage Space Estimations: In Theory and Practice.” ICOM-CC 17th Triennial Conference, 2014 Melbourne.

2 RE-ORG: A methodology for reorganizing museum storage developed by ICCROM and UNESCO https://www.iccrom.org/themes/preventive-conservation/re-org/resources

3 Shapr3D is a computer aided design (CAD) app. During this project, the iOS version of the app was used on an iPad Air 4 with a 2nd generation Apple Pencil. https://www.shapr3d.com/

 

Allison Kelley is a graduate fellow in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. This project was completed in partial fulfilment of her second-year curriculum. All images taken or collected by the author unless otherwise indicated.

Five Years – and Counting!

Cover of the book One Two Three Four. A leashed dog at the top of a short stairs barks at two kittens who are drinking milk from an spilled bowl on the step between them and the dog.At the beginning of May 2016, the first of 634 boxes of books arrived at the loading dock of Canaday Library. The enormous collection of 19th and 20th-century works for young readers had been bequeathed to the College by Ellery Yale Wood (Class of 1952).

Delivery worker dragging a pallet of 45 large boxes onto a dolly

The books arrived by the pallet-load.

Over the next three months six student employees unpacked, vacuumed, aired out, and roughly sorted approximately 17,000 books.

Student employees vacuum and shelve incoming books

First: unpack! Second: vacuum!

By the end of that summer, all the books had been sorted and organized by author.

Catalogers and student employees, in processing room, hold up the last book above a shipping box.

Last box of books!

In the succeeding five years, 37 of our student employees have worked on the Wood collection. They alphabetized. They helped identify duplicate volumes. They helped find books to answer reference questions and requests for images – a very difficult task before the books were cataloged and given call numbers. They shelved newly cataloged books, and retrieved and then reshelved books for readers and classes. They put acid-free covers on books with dust jackets, and measured books for the conservation boxes we use for fragile items. Three students – Toby, Kate, and Beck – did preparatory work identifying online records to save our professional catalogers time.

Student employee looks at one book while seated at a computer. A cart of books in the foreground.

Toby checked new books against those we already held, and annotated lists to help the catalogers.

Three of the students who worked on the collection in the first year wrote blog posts – on the Golliwog, Mrs. Molesworth, and Beauty and the Beast.

A stack of 40 books by Mrs. Molesworth.

Books by the once-popular, and very prolific, author, Mrs. Molesworth.

In addition to the students’ posts, we have blogged about the collection 26 times. This blog is the twenty-seventh.

Handmade doll with modern paper clothing made from magazine pages, superimposed on the mid-19th century book

Blog post on Paper Dolls and How to Make Them (1857) with a homemade doll dressed in modern clothing

Subsets of the collection – paper dolls, movable books, fairy tales – are large enough to provide significant resources for scholarly research. This year’s Friends of the Libraries intern, Juliet Smith, is the third student to work on the world-class sub-collection of books about Old Dame Trot. We currently have 62 individual historic books and 25 books which include the poem among other texts. Juliet’s efforts will result in an online bibliography and guide by the end of the summer. Two other students are working on Little Goody Two Shoes and The Butterfly’s Ball – and all of their imitators and derivative works.

Student employee examines a book in our reading room. A cartful of books is behind her.

Juliet works with the Dame Trot collection

The collection has been used by 28 Bryn Mawr and Haverford classes in our seminar room. Besides English courses, these include first year writing seminars, Russian Literature, Classics, Museum Studies, and History of the Book. In Fall 2018 a 360° cluster centered around children’s literature included English, Creative Writing, and Sociology courses, with classes and individual students using the collection repeatedly.

Pages from The Orphan Girl, showing the protagonist praying and selling flowers

The Orphan Girl (1812), used in the History of the Book class

We have presented two exhibitions of these books. To Increase Your Delight introduced the collection to the community in Fall 2016. Four students – Hannah, Isabella, Julia, and Cassidy – spoke on their experiences with the books at an event celebrating the exhibition.

Sign for the exhibtion To Increase Your Delight, with title, dates September to December 2018, and an image of a teenage girl reading to other girlsThe Girl’s Own Book ran through the 2020-2021 academic year; pandemic restrictions meant that most visitors experienced the show remotely. An online version included the full text of the show and links to online versions of many of the books.

Sign for The Girl's Own Book: Selections from the Ellery Yale Wood Collection of Books for Young Readers

Six students did background research and wrote draft labels for The Girl’s Own Book. Four helped install the show.

Student employee stands next to partially mounted exhibition signage.

Lucy helped hang the signs for The Girl’s Own Book

To date, 42 books from the Wood Collection have been fully digitized and shared globally on the Internet Archive. Because it is time-consuming, we digitize only works in the public domain that are not otherwise freely available.

Screenshot of search results for the EY Wood Collection books on the Internet Archive

Books from the Wood Collection on the Internet Archive

The most strenuous effort in processing any donation of books is cataloging – describing the books and entering them into the library’s public catalog. Historically, fiction – even children’s fiction – has been added to catalogs with little or no information about the major themes in the stories. In cataloging the Wood Collection we broke with tradition to include extensive lists of topics (“subject headings” in library-speak) in the catalog records. So books are not just described as “Juvenile literature”, but with terms like Problem children, Siblings, Orphans, Child labor, Dolls, Boarding Schools,  Dreams, Imaginary Voyages, Imperialism, Stereotypes, Adaptations. This deep cataloging has made it possible for students, staff, faculty, and researchers to use Tripod (our online catalog) find books on topics of interest – impossible to do otherwise in a collection of 13,000 books.

Compared screen shots showing 9099 results for the Tripod catalog search ' "juvenile fiction" yale wood' and 54 for the search ' "boarding schools" yale wood'

Extensive cataloging permits readers to find the books they need

Three catalogers and three cataloging assistants have worked on the collection. In the first two years Patrick Crowley, Katharine Chandler, Jo Dutilloy (BMC 2017), and Rayna Andrews (BMC 2011), working part-time, added records for 2750 books.

Starting in 2018, a generous gift from Ellen Michelson (P’09) and additional support from the Friends of the Bryn Mawr College Libraries made it possible to hire a full-time cataloger and a part-time assistant to work exclusively on the Wood Collection. Amy Graham and Maria Gorbunova together cataloged 10,811 books before their appointments ended March 31, 2021. Maria worked primarily on 20th-century books, although her extensive language skills helped us add Russian, Japanese, French, and German titles as well. Cataloger Amy Graham managed the cataloging project and concentrated on the earlier volumes.

Maria Gorbunova and Amy Graham in the Special Collections office, smiling. Maria wears a t-shrt printed "No Meta-Data No Future."

Maria (left) and Amy on their last day of work

Nearly 600 of the catalog records Amy created were “original” – she was not able to use another library’s description for the book, but needed to catalog it from the beginning based on the book itself and her research on its publisher, author, date, and contents.

Title page of the book La civilité puérile et honneste pour l'instruction des enfans.

La civilité puérile et honneste pour l’instruction des enfans (1736) – one of the books Amy cataloged “from scratch”

As of June 2021, there were 13,402 books cataloged in the Ellery Yale Wood Collection.

One densely packed aisle of the EY Wood Collection in the library stacks.The collection is still growing. Curator Marianne Hansen has taken over cataloging, to make information about additional books accessible. A relatively small number of books from the bequest still need to be added to Tripod. We have recently received three donations of twentieth-century picture books for young readers, totaling 125 books. Finally, we buy books to add to our collection – 50 in the last year – and those books must also be cataloged. We look forward to building the collection and making it available to readers for years to come!

Image from a book cover with a girl about eight years old, counting the fingers of a toddler. Below is written "One Two Three Four Five."

Confronting the Legacies of Racism and Colonialism in Special Collections

For almost a year, we in Special Collections have been working on a statement documenting the ways in which we are trying to confront the legacies of colonialism and racism in our collections. In June 2020, Black students at Bryn Mawr and Haverford composed an open letter to the Bi-College community. Their letter, which demanded that Bryn Mawr Special Collections acknowledge the colonial racism present in Bryn Mawr’s African Collections and, where possible, create a plan to repatriate objects, represents ongoing, student-led anti-racism efforts at the College—efforts that came to the fore again with the Student Strike in fall 2020. The effects of colonialism and racism in the collections are part of the historical and present-day forms of racism and inequity at Bryn Mawr College that we are committed to addressing, foregrounding, and remediating in the department and at the College as a whole. In response to student voices, the concerns of the wider college community and society, and our own professional ethics, we began working on this statement. 

Tied to College and LITS-wide efforts towards diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism, our statement, Confronting the Legacies of Colonialism and Racism in Special Collections, is meant to serve as a starting point for conversation. It is by no means complete or final, and we plan to continue to modify the document as we identify additional ways in which we can address racism and colonialism in Special Collections. As we’ve worked on the statement, we have shared it with some internal stakeholders—the LITS Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism Team, the BMC Collections Committee (which includes faculty and trustees), the President’s Diversity Leadership Group, BMC Alumnae/i Relations and Development, and members of the Bryn Mawr administration. We hope to create a space that allows for on-going discussion, including hosting community-wide conversations about the document in the coming year. 

In the meantime, Special Collections staff are engaged in work aimed at addressing the on-going effects of racism and colonialism in our collections, and at increasing the transparency around them. This is a multi-part, long-term project. In addition to addressing our current collection and how we are presenting the material we currently have to the community, we also need to think about future collections. This means identifying and redressing harmful language in descriptions and metadata, actively and ethically acquiring material from a diverse range of voices, and recognizing that we have a professional and ethical obligation to do this work. Special Collections, comprised at Bryn Mawr of Rare Books & Manuscripts, Art & Artifacts, and the College Archives, is primarily intended to be a teaching collection. As educators and caretakers of these collections, we have a responsibility to continue to learn and grow, and we welcome interrogation, critique, and insight into how we can improve our practice. 

Read the statement: Confronting the Legacies of Colonialism and Racism in Special Collections 

Current, concrete efforts towards this work include: 

New Summer School for Women Worker’s Digital Exhibition Launches

by Beck Morawski ’21

Photograph of curator Beck Moraski '21 sitting at a table in Special Collections reading room.

Exhibit curator Beck Morawski ’21 sits at table in Special Collections reading room.

When I was brought on as a student curator to design an exhibit for the centennial of the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry last April, I could not have imagined the journey this project would take me on. In putting together a digital exhibit that centers the lived experiences of often-overlooked students, I was able to engage with the history of Bryn Mawr College in ways I never expected.

The Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry, often abbreviated as the BMSSWWI, was a program that ran on Bryn Mawr’s campus during the summer from 1921 through 1938. It was intended to use the empty campus buildings during the summer months to educate industrial workers—such as factory workers or manual laborers—who sought to continue their education, since often their life circumstances had prevented them from finishing it. The unique program allowed for a two month retreat to the secluded campus to study not only Economic Theory, but also topics meant to enrich life outside of the workplace including Literature, Astronomy, and Music Theory.

Photograph of students looking on, situated right near the ivy outside of the cloisters, as an instructor reads from an economics textbook.

Image courtesy Bryn Mawr Special Collections. An Economics Class in the Cloisters. BMC-Photo Archives, Series I, PAE: Events and Groups, SSWWI. SSWWI_00195. https://digitalcollections.tricolib.brynmawr.edu/object/bmc60985.

While classroom lessons and lectures were instrumental to the students in attendance, some of the most formative experiences they recounted in the Summer School literary magazine Shop and School were of exploring the campus and experiencing life away from the smog and cramped confines of cities and mills. It was exciting to get to read these students’ stories and experiences attending college for the first time, and then to find a way to share them with the Bryn Mawr community today. By putting our current campus culture and experiences in conversation with our history, we can gain new understandings of how unique Bryn Mawr can be.

Developing a digital exhibit of photographs and documents was an interesting challenge to take on while working remotely. Working in Special Collections during my time at Bryn Mawr, I learned the importance and value of physical records to the day-to-day ongoings of campus and how they enliven history to those that study it. However, what does that look like when one can’t work hands-on with the many photographs, letters, and books that we have saved from the Summer School? Luckily, the influence of the School was wide-reaching and impactful. Even without going into Canaday Library I could find material that explored the history of the School from unexpected angles. I was also able to participate in conversations around the digitization of parts of our collections, hoping to make our holdings more accessible to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access the materials we hold.

My exhibit—For Roses, Too—provides an overview of the Summer School program and its history, while asking readers what lessons they can take from its history to apply to Bryn Mawr College today. The BMSSWWI exemplifies both what progress Bryn Mawr has historically sought to accomplish and what that vision can achieve when embraced by the community. It is my hope that this exhibit can start new and exciting conversations about our institutional identity and its place in history at large.

Photograph of a group of women on the lawn in front of a campus building. One woman is looking through a telescope.

Image courtesy Bryn Mawr Special Collections. Students from the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry. BMC-Photo Archives, Series I, PAE: Events and Groups, SSWWI, SSWWI_00016. https://digitalcollections.tricolib.brynmawr.edu/object/bmc60806.

 

More Paper Dolls to Make

If you would like to make your own Temple of Fancy paper dolls, based on the examples in the Ellery Yale Wood Collection of Books for Young Readers, you can download pdfs and print out as many copies as you like. We previously blogged on the History of Little Fanny dolls, with useful photos of the dolls under construction, and you can check that blog post for more extensive instructions on the project.Paper doll costume and head, Cinderella's weddingThe following dolls are available:

The History of Little Fanny, Exemplified in a Series of Figures. 6t London: Printed for S. and J. Fuller at the Temple of Fancy, Rathbone Place, 1810.
Book – https://archive.org/details/historyoflittlefanny1810
DIY Dolls – https://archive.org/details/historyoflittlefanny1810dollstomake

Sheet of paper dolls for Little Fanny

The History and Adventures of Little Henry, Exemplified in a Series of Figures. London : Printed for S. and J. Fuller at the Temple of Fancy, Rathbone Place, 1810.
Book – https://archive.org/details/history-and-adventures-of-little-henry-1810
DIY Dolls – https://archive.org/details/history-and-adventures-of-little-henry-1810-dolls-to-make

Sheet of paper dolls for Little Henry

Ellen, or The Naughty Girl Reclaimed, A Story, Exemplified in a Series of Figures. London, Printed for S. and J. Fuller at the Temple of Fancy, Rathbone Place, 1811.
Book – https://archive.org/details/ellen-or-the-naughty-girl-reclaimed-1811
DIY Dolls (2 sheets) – https://archive.org/details/ellen-or-the-naughty-girl-reclaimed-1811-dolls-to-make

One of two sheets of paper dolls for EllenCinderella, or, The Little Glass Slipper. London: Printed for S. and J. Fuller, Temple of Fancy, 1814.
Book – https://archive.org/details/cinderella-or-the-little-glass-slipper-1814/
DIY Dolls (2 sheets) – https://archive.org/details/cinderella-or-the-little-glass-slipper-1814-dolls-to-make/

One of two sheets of paper dolls for CinderellaFrederick, or, The Effects of Disobedience: Exemplified in a Series of Characters. London: Printed for S. and J. Fuller at the Temple of Fancy, and Juvenile Museum, Rathbone Place, 1816.
Book – https://archive.org/details/frederick-or-the-effects-of-disobedience-1816/
DIY Dolls (2 sheets, and with the head from our copy of Little Henry) –  https://archive.org/details/frederick-or-the-effects-of-disobedience-1816-dolls-to-make

One of two sheets of paper dolls for Frederick– Marianne Hansen, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts

TriCollege Libraries Digital Collections : a powerful new tool for research and exploration of the College’s history

As we all find ourselves continuing to live and learn in a largely remote and virtual environment, digital collections provide an opportunity to engage with primary source, historical materials in interactive and exciting new ways. In fact, digital collections allow for methods of interaction that are not possible with physical materials. With digital content, we can do things like zoom in on digital images to see details up-close, do a full-text search of books and newspapers, and listen and view audio-visual content while following along with synchronized transcriptions and captions. Digital content can also be downloaded or mined for data to be used in research projects, exhibitions, or visualizations.

This is why Special Collections is thrilled to announce the launch of our new TriCollege Libraries Digital Collections site–the new home for both digitized materials and born-digital content, like audio and video–to the Bryn Mawr College community in time for the spring 2021 semester. This new site–which currently holds over 40,000 records–has been a work-in-progress, and a joint-effort of the Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore College Libraries, over the past several years. Building the site involved the daunting task of migrating digital collections and their metadata (description) from the former Triptych (CONTENTdm) site into an open-source Islandora software framework that is better designed to facilitate the management and discovery of digital assets. Over time, we will continue to grow and consolidate digital collections in the new site, with the goal of making more and more of our collections discoverable while improving findability, search functionality, and accessibility.

The following are some examples of collections and items you will find on the new site:

The Bryn Mawr College Photo Archives is a growing collection of 5200+ images from the College Archives documenting students, faculty, staff, and events at the College since its founding.

Photograph from the Bryn Mawr College Photo Archives

A photograph from the Photo Archives collection, showing the Bryn Mawr College gymnastics team, circa 1928. [Gymnastics team, 1928, Bryn Mawr College Photo Archives, PAE_Sports_Gymnastics_018, Bryn Mawr College Special Collections]

The Bryn Mawr College Scrapbook and Photo Album Collection includes 37 scrapbooks and photograph albums, dating from 1889 to 1952, assembled and donated by alumnae/i, documenting their years at the College.

Page from Amy L. Steiner photograph album, circa 1899

Page from the Amy L. Steiner photograph album showing students in theatrical costumes. [“Amy L. Steiner photograph album, circa 1899,” Bryn Mawr College scrapbook and photo album collection, Item 9LS 1 (SCP27), Bryn Mawr College Special Collections]

Explore the history of the Summer School for Women Workers in Industry, a residential summer school program that brought approximately 100 young working women—mostly factory workers with minimal education—to the Bryn Mawr College campus for eight weeks of liberal arts study between 1921 and 1938.

Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry photograph

Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry students sitting for a group photograph in the Cloisters, 1930. [Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry, 1930, Bryn Mawr College Photo Archives, PAE, SSWWI_00035, Bryn Mawr College Special Collections]

View photographs collected by internationally recognized suffragist, feminist, and political activist Carrie Chapman Catt, documenting the American and international women’s suffrage movements.

Photograph from the Carrie Chapman Catt collection

A photograph from the Carrie Chapman Catt collection showing the Egyptian Delegates, Geneva Conference International Woman Suffrage Association, 1920. [Catt, Carrie Chapman (compiler), Egyptian delegates at the Geneva Conference, ca. 1913-1920, Carrie Chapman Catt papers, BMC-M15, Box 6, Folder 14, Bryn Mawr College Special Collections]

Explore College yearbooks from 1901 through 1949 (look for yearbooks through the late 1970s coming soon) and read all issues of the Bryn Mawr College News from 1914 through 1968.

Pages from 1942 Bryn Mawr College yearbook

Two pages from the 1942 Bryn Mawr College yearbook, shown in the new digital collections book viewer. The book viewer has page-turning functionality, zoom options, and full-text search. [“Bryn Mawr College Yearbook Class of 1942,” 9PY 1942, Bryn Mawr College Special Collections]

Read correspondence written by Bryn Mawr students during the 1918 Influenza Epidemic.

Page from the Bryn Mawr College News

Front page of the Bryn Mawr College News, November 7, 1918, with an article titled, “Quarantine Lifted Gradually.” [“College news, November 7, 1918,” Bryn Mawr College News, BMC-News-vol5-no6, Bryn Mawr College Special Collections] 

The new digital collections site isn’t just a space for historical materials; you will also find new collections documenting current and recent experiences at the College. Documenting COVID-19 at Bryn Mawr College is a community-sourced archive of personal experiences and reactions to the pandemic. (You can submit materials to the archive here.) Over the next few months, look for more collections that document the 2020 Bryn Mawr College Strike and the history of Perry House, as well as oral histories with alumnae/i providing first-hand accounts of their experiences at Bryn Mawr.

We hope you will find TriCollege Libraries Digital Collections to be a powerful new tool in conducting research and exploring the history of the College.

Do you have questions or feedback about the new site?: Contact Special Collections via email or use this form.

Home for the – Victorian – Holidays

Adults and children playing Snapdragon, wiht a large platter aflame in the middle of the table and participants reaching into the flames

A family playing Snapdragon. See footnote for further information on the game.

This year, many of us are struggling with unfamiliar versions of our celebrations of Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year. Affordable transportation, flexible schedules, and leisure for the middle class (comparable to that available only to the wealthy during Victoria’s reign) have made vacation travel to join family in December an annual pleasure – and obligation – for many of us. As we choose to stay apart this year to protect our loved ones, we may think bitterly of the ideal gatherings depicted in movies and stories, and blame the Victorians for inventing the Christmases we think of as traditional, with a lighted tree, a roast goose (more modernly a turkey), gifts, happy children, and the entire family brought together under one roof.

Of course, we all know that most holiday gatherings fall short of that ideal, no matter how much effort Mother expends. Uncle Harry tells jokes that offend everyone, the turkey takes seven hours to cook instead of five, the children are over-excited and loud, and no one can forget that Grandma died in June. I felt better about the Victorians after finding in the Ellery Yale Wood Collection the 1885 children’s gift book Aunt Louisa’s Holiday Guest, which embodies a far more nuanced depiction of homecomings than one might have predicted.

Large party in a domestic interior. Boys and girls dance together while adults look on. A woman plays the pianoforte in the background and a maid brings in refershmentsThe publisher’s introduction suggests that the book contains a random assortment of four interesting stories, finishing with one that is topical:
“Again the Publishers offer a new Picture Book to their little friends. The story
of Dame Trot.and her Cat is revived with entertaining Pictures; and, in Good Children,
kindness to the afflicted is the subject. Hector the Dog shows his brave adventures on the
mountains; and Home for the Holidays is what all good boys and girls hope for, in order
that they may enjoy in quiet “Aunt Louisa’s Holiday Guest.”

Dame Trot takes tea with her cat In fact, all four stories are about homecoming and, whether the editor thought about them in this way or not, they illuminate a variety of facets of that uncertain pursuit. Dame Trot and Her Cat was an anonymous work first printed between 1800 and 1805, perhaps as a knockoff of the new popular poem Old Mother Hubbard. The text of Dame Trot is always about the old lady’s cat, but the language and events vary wildly from edition to edition. The narrative, though, has a stable pattern: Dame Trot comes in and discovers the cat doing something unexpected. It has died, or revived, or is making tea, or cleaning the kitchen, or teaching the dog to dance, and so on. Sometimes she has been in the house all along, perhaps coming downstairs after waking up. Frequently she has gone out to shop or pay calls, and she returns home to novel feline behavior.

Dame Trot returns and find the cat teaching the dog to danceThis is a very light-hearted take on homecoming, focusing on mostly pleasant surprises. It accepts that things change, and that you may find your life altered when you return to your home, but most of the changes are neutral or beneficial.

The blind man and his dog approach the children playing on the pathThe Good Children is less cheery, focusing on hardships suffered by those who are poor and disabled, especially those whose burden is increased by the absence of family. A tired and hungry blind man, walking with his dog, is welcomed at the cottage where the good children of the title live, and they promptly enlist their mother’s and aunt’s aid to offer him food and drink. The man tells the children about his son, a soldier, whom he has not seen for years because he had been stationed in a foreign country, and who he fears is dead.

The blind man blesses the children and his sonMiraculously, as he finishes speaking and gets up to leave, his son appears on the road, looking for him. The soldier’s return guarantees the old man’s comfort and support, and sets this small part of the world to right. A homecoming after suffering, and with challenges to come, but an uplifting narrative of family love and filial piety.

The traveller struggles in the blizzardThe third story, Hector the Dog, recounts the outcome of an imprudent decision. On Christmas Eve a traveler is in Martigny, Switzerland, intending to go through the Great St. Bernard Pass to get to his family’s home by the next day. An innkeeper, who is familiar with the terrain and the weather predicts a storm and urges him to stay the night. He insists that he knows the pass and that he will go ahead. Of course, the weather is as bad as the innkeeper said it would be, and the traveler is overcome.

The monks and dogs return with the injured traveler, but without Hector. The monks look solemn and the dogs depressed.Fortunately for him, the monks of the Great St. Bernard Hospice make their routine rounds, searching with their dogs for those who need their aid. In recovering the traveler, one of the dogs – the heroic Hector – is buried in an avalanche, but the stubborn traveler survives. The original child readers may have focused sentimentally on the heroism and loss of the dog, but this is also an account of a homecoming gone wrong, where the man’s self-centered and rash insistence on returning on schedule when it was not safe to do so nearly led to his death – and did cost the life of a useful and noble animal who had saved others.

Schoolboys on a railway platform talk with guardsThe final story, Home for the Holidays, is a happy version of homecoming, exemplifying the ideal Victorian Christmas that shapes our own expectations. The narrator is a boy, returning to London from boarding school by train with his friends. No archaic nonsense poems or foreign customs here – the poem is entirely up to date with the boy addressing his requests for speed to the guard and the engineer on the train.

Boys and girls, with two adults, watch a pantomime performance in a theaterHe is as pleased as any student by the prospect of a break from studies, and looks forward to family parties and merrymaking. He mentions Christmas, but he expects the fun to go on through Twelfth Night, and plans to go to the pantomime and an equestrian show, and to see Punch and Judy.

The boys rush from the train to embrace their familiesThe trip is over at last, and the boys rush out of the train to be embraced by their parents and siblings. Here is the homecoming everyone desires – your friends and family together, good food, your favorite entertainments, and nothing to worry about – and it is this homecoming the publisher ends with.

I know, as the publisher did, that this is a fantasy, and that for most of us “home for the holidays” is very different. But there is value in optimistic enthusiasm and being willing to be pleased, even this season. I wish you every happiness as you find ways to celebrate the return of light and warmth in the darkness. And we will look forward to a better year to come.
– Marianne Hansen, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts

 Aunt Louisa’s Holiday Guest: Comprising Dame Trot and her Cat, Good Children, Hector the Dog, Home for the Holidays. Laura Valentine., Kronheim & Co., engraver. London: Frederick Warne and Co., c. 1884. Read our copy on the Internet Archive.

Footnote on Snapdragon
* Snapdragon, the game shown in the first illustration, was defined succinctly in Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1823: “A Christmas gambol: raisins and almonds being put into a bowl of brandy, and the candles extinguished, the spirit is set on fire, and the company scramble for the raisins.”  Read more about it on Wikipedia. Should you choose to play, here are a few useful tips:

Protect yourself – hair pulled back; no clothing hanging into the flames; natural fibers; a fire extinguisher next to the door
Protect your table – nothing flammable; protect finishes from damage by alcohol drips; a hot pad under the platter
Most ordinary ceramic dishes will work. The ideal platter is easy to reach into, with a low, slanting rim.
Warm the brandy gently (~100-110° F) before pouring in the dish, or you may have trouble lighting it. The flames of 40% alcohol are relatively cool. Do not use overproof, which burns hotter.
Enjoy!

Bad Children – And Their Imitators

Heinrich Hoffman wrote Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder for his three-year old son, creating a persistent pantheon of naughty children to whom hilariously bad things happen. The book was published in 1845 by the Literarische Anstalt J. Rütten – the same year they published Marx and Engel’s first joint work, Die heilige Familie. Although Karl and Friedrich went on to bigger things, Funny Stories and Comical Pictures was much more widely read than the reformers’ first book throughout the century that followed. By 1847 more than 20,000 copies of the German children’s book had been sold, and in that year the same publisher issued a translation, The English Struwwelpeter, or, Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures for Little Children. Struwwelpeter means Shock-headed Peter, in reference to the wild disarray of a shock of harvested wheat, with sheaves piled up to keep the grain off the ground. It is the name of one of the original naughty children in the book, whose striking appearance made him the eponym of the work, even in English, whose native speakers struggle to get their tongues around the word.Peter, from the 1851 English StruwwelpeterThe German publishers actively defended their copyright in both languages, but the extreme popularity of the work led to an immediate outpouring of new English books which took their inspiration from Hoffman’s poems. Some books had titles with children’s first names (Envious Tom, Naughty Susan, et alia) or the words “Funny” or “Laughter” – or even “Struwwelpeter”. There were also reprints of earlier works which dealt with childish misbehavior, like Sketches of Little Girls and Sketches of Little Boys, originally published in 1838.

We are gradually expanding our collection of these books about naughty children, but they are relatively uncommon on the market. We do have Funny Books for Boys and Girls: Struwelpeter, Good-for-Nothing Boys and Girls, Troublesome Children, King Nutcracker and Poor Reinhold, published in 1856. In violation of the copyright, it contains a (new translation of) most of the poems in the original, excluding Flying Robert and Shock-headed Peter. It also prints (Heinrich) Hoffman’s Nutcracker, itself part of a complex group of reworkings of E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816  Nussknacker und Mausekönig. The adaptations of that work include the 1844 version by Dumas, which served as the basis for Tchaikovsky’s ballet. We also hold the 1857 Little Minxes, the crimes of whose female protagonists include refusing to learn to sew, being a self-obsessed clothes horse, and preferring boyish to girlish pursuits. These redressed Hoffman’s neglect of bad little girls – while reiterating conventional ideas about the sexes and gender roles.

When Rütten & Loening’s copyright expired in 1901, the book was still popular and new translations and illustrations appeared immediately. Here is the original English version (third edition, 1851) of Harriet – Gretchen in the German editions – who played with matches in spite of the instructions of her mother and the last-minute pleading of her cats:

When Pauline, renamed again, was published in 1903 by the American firm McLouglin, she had an up-to-date wardrobe, but the same pyromaniacal impulses. Translation of the book into Latin took until 1934, when it had entered the public domain.Outright parody had appeared before the copyright expired. Fritz Netolitzky’s Egyptian-themed takeoff was published in 1896, with the faux-scholarly subtitle Being the Struwwelpeter Papyrus: with Full Text and 100 Original Vignettes from the Vienna Papyri.The work found its 20th-century niche as an abundant source of parodic political commentary. Harold Begbie’s books The Political Struwwelpeter and The Struwwelpeter Alphabet use adaptations of Peter’s portrait to make their lineage clear.You can, with effort, decipher both books – unless you are already well versed in late Victorian British politics – but the satire has lost its edge. Harriet’s poem, for example, mocks Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, who was Prime Minister from March 1894 to June 1895. He was, as the poem records, interested in racing and two of his horses, Ladas and Sir Visto, won the Derby during his term in office. The critical cat with glasses is the religious reformer Hugh Price Hughes; Wikipedia reveals how unmistakable the identification would be to the contemporary newspaper reader.Swollen-Headed William: Painful Stories and Funny Pictures After the German, by humorist Edward Verral Lucas, appeared in 1914. Its criticisms of Kaiser Wilhelm II were far-reaching and harsh. The emperor appears as the protagonist of each of the Struwwelpeter poems – behaving cruelly to those around him, biting (rather than sucking) his thumb as a sign of contempt, and – of course – playing with fire.Political use of the material reached its zenith with Struwwelhitler: A Nazi Story Book, published in 1941 by the British newspaper Daily Sketch. Funds raised by its sale were used to buy radios, games and “woollen comforts” for the troops and supplies for air-raid victims. Hitler takes the place of Cruel Frederick; Goering’s announcement of rationing cuts is mocked in a parody of Augustus Who would Not Have Any Soup; and Little Gobby Poison Pen has his thumbs cut off for writing lies. Switzerland’s armed neutrality was criticized in The Dreadful Story of Gretchen and the Gun. This book’s illustrations are densely packed with visual information, symbolism, and commentary: Gretchen’s dolly falling to the ground, arm still raised in the Hitlergruß, is characteristically poignant.

Times – inevitably – change, but I regret that in the intervening eighty years the book finally fell out of fashion. It is now a curiosity, rather than the rich compendium of shared experience and imagery that made it such a fruitful resource for parody and political commentary. Imagine what a modern cartoonist could do with these tales of cruelty, wilful disobedience, and disregard for human life.

To read the books mentioned:

The English Struwwelpeter. Our copy is on the Internet Archive.

Funny Books for Boys and Girls. Our copy is on the Internet Archive.

The Little Minxes. Our copy is on the Internet Archive.

Pauline and the Matches and Envious Minnie. Our copy is on the Internet Archive.

The Latin Struwwelpeter is still in copyright and not in the public domain.

The Egyptian StruwwelpeterAnother library’s copy is on the Internet Archive.

The Political Struwwelpeter. Other libraries’ copies are on the Internet Archive.

The Struwwelpeter Alphabet. The Getty Research Institute has added a copy to the Internet Archive.

Swollen-Headed William: Painful Stories and Funny Pictures After the German. Numerous copies are on the Internet Archive.

Struwwelhitler: A Nazi Story Book is still in copyright and not in the public domain.

Ellie Ga: Artist in Residence (2020-22), rescheduled event Mar 10

Still from Strophe showing messages in bottles

Still from Ellie Ga, Strophe, A Turning (2017) 2 channel video, loop (37:00)

In collaboration with the Center for Visual Culture, Special Collections welcomes artist Ellie Ga to campus virtually (during the current school year) and in person with a residency (as soon as that is possible). While in residence, Ga will “comb” Special Collections in the process of producing a new work of art, commissioned for the College. Before then, she wants to connect with us by sharing her work and conversing with community members as she gets to know Bryn Mawr. 

The first virtual event is a screening at 12:30pm on March 10 of her piece, Strophe, A Turning (2017, 37 min.), with a virtual studio visit and conversation between the artist and Bryn Mawr faculty members Lisa Saltzman (History of Art) and Madhavi Kale (History).

Please visit our related website to learn more about all Ellie Ga related events and activities at Bryn Mawr College as they are scheduled.

Please also view Sayed, a work by Ellie Ga, made available by the artist and her gallery through the Center for Visual Culture’s Virtual VIsual Culture event series.

***

Ellie Ga (b. 1976) is an American artist living in Sweden. Her work is included in collections at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Bard College. Her most recent work, Gyres 1-3 (2019), was a commission for the Whitney Biennial and was reviewed in The New York Times and Artnews. Art historian Tom McDonough (SUNY-Binghamton) wrote about it for the fall 2019 issue of Osmos Magazine.

Ga works between memoir, travelogue, and visual essay connecting ideas and presenting them as multichannel videos or performances with live narration. Her recent film Stophe, A Turning (2017) looks at water as the site of political exile, religious pilgrimage, and forced migration across the Aegean Sea. Her working process is a kind of “beach-combing” that embraces chance encounter with artifacts and how they find their way to her. It involves extended periods of research, including conversations with people in roles, such as museum directors, scholars, or Arctic explorers. Her interests are interdisciplinary and cross-temporal. She speaks of her work as a collection of chance encounters, what is lost (and accrued) in translating between spoken and written words, and archaeological discovery.

Ga will be in residence at Bryn Mawr College twice during the 2021-22 academic year and virtually throughout the 2020-21 school year. Throughout this process, we hope you will join us in a collective note-keeping practice, responding to your own experience of Ga’s work and the chance encounters you collect along the way.