Salvete, fellow libronauts! As the old hymn goes, “the strife is o’er, the battle done.” The Culture Class Collection has been successfully cataloged, and so off we all go to new pastures. I was originally hired to help get the Culture Class Collection cataloged on time, but Regan has been more than gracious and kind. She has retained me beyond the expiration of my original purpose, and I am now on the archives side of our operation. Under Holly Mengel’s tutelage I have completed my first project, the archiving of the Richard Bartlett Gregg papers. Through it I gained experience reorganizing a collection, using Archivists’ Toolkit, and creating a finding aid. This experience however has been more than a training session. It’s been an unquestionable high point of all my work at the Van Pelt Library. This project elicited a number of powerful emotions and filled my head with quite a few thoughts. The following reflections comprise my attempt to untangle them and lay them out for you, and to make clear what an absolute privilege we enjoy when working on projects such as this.
… he would have been called DATAMAN! What he did with data (collecting, creating, analyzing, and saving) certainly required skills that are beyond the typical human. To provide a little background, Mauchly was the co-inventer of the first computer, ENIAC, which was developed here at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Engineering in 1946. His co-inventor, J. Prosper Eckert, and he continued to work together on other computer related projects, including the first commercial computer, the EDVAC.
When I started working on this massive collection (approximately 500 linear feet of material), I was baffled by the sheer volume and types of data that Mauchly collected and saved. But as I get to know Mauchly, I understand, more and more, why he was such a data pack-rat! It is just how his brain worked and how he learned — and it how his brain ALWAYS worked and how he ALWAYS learned.
May I introduce you to DataBoy, DataMan’s early persona? It turns out that as early as age 10, Mauchly was actively collecting data and recording it in a nice, standardized format. What did DataBoy collect information on at age 10? Why, his friends’ likes and dislikes, of course! I have not found that Mauchly analyzed any of this data, so I did a quick and incomplete analysis: Douglas Fairbanks and Marguerite Clarke were the clear winners in the favorite actor and actress categories; ice cream was the favorite dessert, followed by pineapple, brown betty, and pie; and blue was the favorite color. One snarky ten-year-old listed flirting as his favorite sport and kissing as his favorite game! Scandalous!
In addition to learning all this outstanding information about a group of ten to eleven-year-olds in Chevy Chase, Maryland in 1918, we have evidence of Mauchly’s delightfully charming methodology to ensure that the same questions were asked of each kid. Both boys and girls filled out the data request in separate sections of the notebook (they are ten, after all), and in a happy coincidence, Mauchly and “his girl” both identified each other as their special person.
Things only became more structured for DataBoy in his high school years. The collection includes a couple of Mauchly’s diaries in which he records a great deal of data: when he went to sleep, when he awoke, the number of hours he slept, and where and how he spent his evenings. I was entertained and awed by his discipline, but I was thunderstruck when I discovered that he had used his data to prove his mother wrong in an argument about his staying out too late too many evenings. Not only does he present his argument in “The Somerset Affair,” but he provides supplements to the data!
By college at Johns Hopkins University, DataBoy was evolving into DataMan, if for no other reason than the subject of his data; in this case: “Girls to whom I have given special attentions!” Not only does he record the lady’s name, but also the number of times and the reason for giving the ladies his special attentions (with a numeric code)! Don’t worry, he defined the code: 1. Because I wanted to; 2. Because I thought she wanted me to; 3. Both of the above; and 4. Because I wanted to see what would happen.
So, after learning about Mauchly’s love of data as a boy, is it really surprising that he collected and saved boxes and boxes (and boxes) of weather data? That he kept more than fifty boxes of scholarly (and not-so-scholarly) journals? That he recorded from whom he received Christmas gifts and if and how those gifts were reciprocated each year? No, it is not surprising and that is why archival collections, and especially collections as rich as Mauchly’s, are so amazing–no one piece of paper tells the whole story, but taken as a whole … oh, what a delightful tale this collection tells!
Keep an eye out for more posts on Mauchly … every box presents another fascinating picture of who this man was and how he was able to create the first computer!
As I move into the spring semester of my second and final (at least that’s the plan!) post-baccalaureate year here at Penn, and thus my final months at the Van Pelt Library, I cannot help but look towards the future and consider the gifts rare book cataloging has given me. From a young age I have believed that no endeavor to which I have devoted considerable time and effort should become an isolated, hermetically sealed episode of my life with no influence or bearing on what I do next. Rather, each great experience is a perennial gift. If the lessons imparted are learned from, then each job, each volunteer opportunity, and each adventure builds on top of all the preceding ones in a continuous cycle of improvement and enrichment. All that is required is a willingness to reflect upon the experience and receive and understand the blessings it has to offer.
At the moment, I am in the midst of applying to six M.A. programs in classical archaeology at schools across the U.S. and Canada. My primary plan for the future is to become a classical archaeologist, teaching at the college level and conducting field research in the summers. I have no idea whether this will pan out or not, given the tight academic job market and the impending burst of the higher education bubble. However, I truly love the field, and as such contributing to it remains my Plan A. My primary interest is the layout of ancient cities, but I intend for that to be expanded and informed by two years of study in a Master’s program and five more in pursuit of a PhD, after which I am very much on God’s good humor when it comes to the teaching market. As such, in keeping with my father’s advice to always have multiple fallbacks, if classical archaeology doesn’t work out I am considering reskilling in architecture, electrical work or carpentry, or achieving certification to teach Latin in public schools (a market for which there is, surprisingly, a great demand). Another avenue – oh so obvious, given the blog I’m writing this for, eh? – is library science. Whatever I settle on, I am utterly thankful for these three blessings of my rare book cataloging experience.
(1) Continual exposure to modern languages.
In classical archaeology working knowledge of a modern language is a requirements. Each of my prospective M.A. programs mandates that students show reading proficiency in either German, French, or Italian. When I came to Penn a year ago I only had one year of college level German under my belt. My choice to focus exclusively on Greek and Latin in the post-bacc program means that I will embark upon my M.A. with the classical languages honed to a fine edge, but behind in the modern languages. As such, I am thankful for my rare book cataloging job keeping me in contact with French, Italian, and German especially via the broadsides and volumes of printed decrees. While they are written in legalese rather than the scholarly lingo I must become accustomed to, nonetheless they have kept up my acquaintance with the languages, expanded my vocabulary, and exercised my muscles in keeping track of subordinate clauses (seriously, single sentences on these things will last for most of a page, just nesting and nesting and nesting clauses and abusing semicolons with a frightful abandon!). Thanks to rare book cataloging I will enter an M.A. program having retained familiarity with the languages and as such be more prepared to take up the study of them again.
(2) Broad scope of materials.
If an archaeologist remains ultra-specialized in one area for too long, he or she calcifies. While maintaining and developing a web of interests, I aim to avoid the concretization of my brain through constant, refreshing interdisciplinary engagement with classicists, ancient historians, and representatives of the natural sciences such as geologists, paleo-botanists, and others whose work elucidates the different dimensions of a dig site. I believe this broad engagement enriches my work. Similarly, while I have tended to specialize in Germanic documents in rare book cataloging, the job has still kept by horizons wide with a mix of pan-European works.
While I enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of my cataloging work, how will it help me with my future endeavors? I find it to be a timely reminder that no matter what endeavor I undertake, I can always augment it with a broad consideration of related topics. Supposing I went into architecture, what sort of architect would I be if I did not draw inspiration from many periods, cultures, and styles? What sort of carpenter or electrician if I didn’t liaise with other members of the skilled trades? What sort of library scientist if I didn’t familiarize myself with manuscripts, cataloging, book preservation, etc.? I’m thankful my rare book cataloging job has included this multidisciplinary component and reinforced it through the professional development week and the combination of rare book cataloging and manuscripts in the special collections center.
(3) Positive role models.
We touch many people’s lives in the course of our own, and if our hearts are in the right place hope we are doing so positively. In rare book cataloging such individuals have been plentiful. Alison trained me in the day-to-day usage of OCLC, and Adriana did the same in the operation of Voyager and the creation of constant data. Adriana has mentored me on several French, Italian, and Dutch projects and been wonderfully helpful in answering my questions. Liz has been my guide for the German materials and has been tireless in answering every single little question I have about formatting. While working on the parchment analysis project, Donna, Amey, Marissa, and Benji were helpful, informative, and always interested to talk about their own work and show me a nifty manuscript. Regan has been the best supervisor I have yet had, and I thought it would be hard for anyone to beat my supervisor from my student services job at Creighton University. Whenever I have asked for extra work to fill my hours, she has provided it. She has been honest, firm, and understanding. All of these people have given me lasting examples of how to be a good coworker and supervisor, and will guide and inspire me no matter what field I end up in.
I suppose the moral of the story is that no matter what your field, each set of experiences and people in one’s life offer a bevy of lessons and blessings. All that we require to appreciate and be thankful for them is a time to sit back and reflect. Once we have fully realized these blessings and lessons, we can use them to improve both our own futures, and those of the people around us.
As a rare books cataloger, I have learned to trust my predecessors. (Or, as one of my instructors in the art of bibliography put it, to cheat.) The notes they have left about an item are usually correct; the habit of checking for such indications has spared me many times from reinventing the wheel. But every now and then I do have to play wheelwright: updating old conclusions with new research, remedying oversights, correcting errors.
And occasionally — very, very occasionally — I find something everyone else has missed.
According to its shelf-list card, Folio GC5 H7480R 522d in the Penn Libraries German Culture Class Collection contains two items:
An edict describing measures, financial and other, to meet the threat of the Turks, given at Coblenz in 1522(?) … With this is a 14-line broadside … designed to accompany this or a similar proclamation, and announcing a meeting of the Reichstag in 1523.
The University of Pennsylvania purchased these items in 1955 from a Dutch antiquarian bookseller, A.L. van Gendt. Their accession record notes that they were acquired with a set of sixteenth-century broadsides, primarily decrees of the Holy Roman Empire. The shelf-list card quotes the accession record’s description of the 1522 edict verbatim, suggesting that the identification came from van Gendt. He, in turn, may have been following a German note penciled at the foot of the document’s first page:
Beschlüsse … der Reichsstände zu Coblenz zur Abwendung der Türken- u. Franzosengefahr! Ca. 1522 [i.e. Decisions ... of the estates at Koblenz for averting the threat of the Turks and the French! Ca. 1522]
Since this item is otherwise undated, it seems likely that the impetus to assign it to the early sixteenth century comes from its association with the 14-line broadside publicizing the diet at Nuremberg in 1523.
Unfortunately for van Gendt’s bottom line, however, the two are unrelated.
Hello again fellow libronauts, and Happy New Year! A year ago I wrote a post detailing my experiences as a student worker in rare book cataloging. I had only been on the job for approximately three months when I wrote that. Now that I have twelve more months of cataloging under my belt, Regan has asked me to write a follow-up, and I am more than eager to share my new experiences and reflections upon them.
Since my first post I have completed my first year of post-baccalaureate study in Greek and Latin here at Penn and am now midway through my second. Throughout that period I’ve moved desks, had my first experience handling manuscripts, and cataloged many more works. When I wrote last, I had completed two volumes of French laws from the height of the Reign of Terror, myriad broadsides from the Duchy of Braunschweig-Luneburg, a series of Italian civic ordinances, and an index of Spanish plays. While this wide swath of materials took me all over Europe at the end of 2012, in 2013 my work has generally kept me in the Germanic world with a great deal of Dutch and German legal writing.
The year began with the long-awaited conclusion of the Braunschweig project (I know that was a great weight off of Regan’s shoulders) and the return of – drum roll for the dread to build – a project known by the very descriptive title of “Big Dutch Things.” They are exactly that. Big dusty volumes consisting of acts passed by the national legislative bodies of the Batavian Republic. I wish I could give you all one single more descriptive title than “national legislative bodies,” but unfortunately history itself puts the kibosh to my preference for preciseness. The Batavian Republic was a sister republic (aka, complete puppet state) of the French First Republic from 1795 to the creation of the Kingdom of Holland by Napoleon in 1806. Over that period, the Batavian Republic seemed determined to set a record for the number of differently-named national legislative organs, switching them out seemingly by the year. They ran through such names as “States-General” and “National Assembly” before finally being superseded by the authoritarian post of “Grand Pensionary” lead by an individual with the eminently Dutch name of Rutger Jan Schimmelpenninck. (As amazing as this gentleman’s name is, the coolest Dutch name [literally] I came across in these documents was “Bastien Cool.” I believe it will be years before I discover a name which beats that one. It sounds like the name of a character someone needs to copyright.) Schimmelpenninck was replaced a year later by Napoleon’s brother. Just as the Braunschweig broadsides inspired me to learn more about the duchy and its dukes, the Big Dutch Things encouraged research into the context surrounding them. The colorful nature of the period covered by the Big Dutch Things is not always communicated by their contents, which deal with the minutiae of agricultural law, civil government, and travel regulations. Like the French Revolution laws I’d cataloged the year before, in which utterly mundane matters were dealt with while “enemies” of the Republic were guillotined, the Big Dutch Things served as a poignant reminder of how even in extraordinary times, the ordinary business of daily life goes on. Perhaps this is one reason we sometimes feel our lives are “boring” or not exciting enough. Plenty of interesting things are going on in the world, but the routine of our daily lives lulls us into thinking little is going on.
There’s nothing more frustrating to catalogers and bibliographers than a partially legible book inscription or stamp. While a completely smudged, faint, or illegible provenance marking might be disappointing it at least has an air of impossibility. Those that have some letters or words clearly rendered can suck hours of time. “So close! If only I could read those last few letters!” I’ve experienced this frustration too many times to count but the Penn Provenance Project has recently made the experience of finding a partial marking more exciting than exhausting.
A few weeks ago while reviewing the provenance records for all our codex manuscripts I came across one in a 16th century collection of Italian statutes that seemed tantalizing. The record read: “Illegible ex libris stamp: “Bibliotheca …”" Fortunately I could consult both the physical item and a new digital facsimile to try and reach my own conclusions.
I spent a few minutes squinting at the bottom part of the ink stamp, sure I could make out a dash and an ‘M’ but not really making much progress otherwise. I figured I’d head to the PPP site to try my luck. Though “Biblioteca” was sure to be dime a dozen on the stamps photographed in the project, it’s amazing how quickly one can scroll through a page of thumbnail images and so I got started:
Knowing that I was looking for an oval stamp with a hyphenated bottom word made a quick visual scan a cinch and in less than a minute I’d spotted the following mark:
I saved this to one side for comparison and moved through the rest without finding any other likely suspects. Going back to compare the two I was pretty satisfied I’d found the right one, the stamp of the Biblioteca Malvezzi-Medici in Bologna. The library of the counts of Malvezzi de’Medici was housed in their grand palazzo, one of the stars of Bologna until its sale in 1931. It turns out in fact that the Penn libraries hold at least twelve titles in print and manuscript bearing the Malvezzi-Medici stamp, acquired from the antiquarian market in the years after the sale.
Without the Penn Provenance Project and an easily searchable visual database of bookstamps I can’t imagine I would have found a match. Now the record for UPenn Ms. Codex 92 has been changed to reflect the new information and knowing the shared origin of this manuscript with other titles in the library will help us in the library as well as scholars of Italian cultural and literary history better understand the collecting practices and historical imagination of Italian elites like the Malvezi de’Medicis. As we expand the PPP I can’t wait to hear many more similar stories of matches and surprising finds!
Holiday cards are always fun finds in archival collections and handmade cards are even better! While I am quite used to finding Christmas cards, thanksgiving cards are a bit less common. So, the day before Thanksgiving in 2013, I share a thanksgiving greeting from Virginia Mauchly (born 1954) to her mother, Katherine R. Mauchly. Viriginia, or Gini as she was known, is the daughter of John W. Mauchly, the co-inventor of the first computer, ENIAC, which was developed right here at Penn in the Moore School. Processing of his important (and enormous) collection is underway, so keep an eye out for future posts.
Enjoy! I particularly love the use of the interrogation mark!
Copious contemporary ms. annotations in an incunable, a photo by Penn Provenance Project on Flickr.
Leaves o4v and p1r of an incunable copy of the Elegiae of Tibullus and Propertius and the Carmina of Catullus (Venice: Johannes Tacuinus de Tridino, 19 May 1500; ISTC it00374000), with woodcut initials and contemporary ms. annotations in brown ink.
Established heading: Joannes, Tacuinus, de Tridino
Early ms. sketch of a male figure (in military dress, armed with a shield?), a photo by Penn Provenance Project on Flickr.
Early ms. sketch of a male figure (in military dress, armed with a shield?) on verso of last printed leaf in volume.
Penn Libraries call number: GC5 K8183 529e
All images from this book
The Penn Provenance Project on Flickr has now received over 1,000,000 views!! Congratulations to everyone who struggled to read illegible inscriptions, identified bookplates and stamps and enriched Penn’s catalog records with detailed information about the former owners of our rare books.
If you haven’t visited yet, come take a look at some of our sets and begin identifying!