Best Wishes to Students during Finals!

Every time we step outside our office, just now, we can feel the pressure and stress on our dedicated, smart, and awesome student body as they are busily studying and preparing for their final exams and madly writing papers.

So, the catalogers of Penn’s Kislak Special Collections Processing Center send you an encouraging message (painted on silk)  from Mamie A. Jones, a young Philadelphian who we believe was probably a student at Friends’ Central School in the 1870s.  Her sketchbook holds a number of similarly beautiful drawings that she did during the early 1880s.

Good luck, students, at Penn and in schools, colleges, and universities everywhere!


History in the Rough–Pondering the Imponderable

Clement Winston was an economist who worked for the United States Bureau of Budget—which doesn’t sound too exciting, right?  WRONG!  It turns out “Clem,” as he was known, is one of the most delightful fellows out there!  A Russian immigrant who arrived in the United States as a youngster, Clem considered himself an American through and through; yet, somehow America did not necessarily agree.  Because of his Russian heritage, Winston was questioned at a hearing before the Loyalty Board for the Department of Commerce in the early 1950s.  Despite this immensely stressful time in his life, Clem was full of creativity, humor, and love for his family.

Join Kislak catalogers at History in the Rough, a pop up exhibit on December 6, from 11:30 to 1:30 in the main floor lobby of Van Pelt Library, to become acquainted with Clem!

Happy Snarky Thanksgiving, 1918

Thanksgiving is all about food … so I love to find Thanksgiving menus of the past.  One hundred years ago, the Americans “celebrated” in Paris, following the Armistice.  This marvelous bit of silliness can be found in the R. Norris Williams collection of World War I material, which is filled with absolute delights.  I think of Williams as a magpie who walked through war-torn Europe and picked up non-shiny bits of history.  His collection is full of ephemera that was probably never meant to last; but thanks to his collecting and preserving, we are gifted with the most amazing array of propaganda leaflets and toilet paper, trench papers, sketches, event ephemera, and notes.

So, with memories of 1918, Happy Thanksgiving, 2018 … hopefully caster oil is not on your menu!

History in the Rough–100 years after the Armistice

100 years ago, in 1918, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the armistice was signed between Germany and the Allies, bringing World War I to an end.  The war had gone on for four years resulting in around 40 million casualties (about 20 million dead and 20 million wounded).  Across the world, the news was shared, entries were made in diaries, and events to celebrate and memorialize the dead were organized.

Join Kislak catalogers at History in the Rough, a pop up exhibit on November 12, from 11:30 to 1:30 in the main floor lobby of Van Pelt Library, to rediscover the moments that led up to that historic day and its aftermath as societies healed.

History in the Rough–Are Computers Newsworthy?

Today, almost everyone walks around with a tiny and powerful computer in their pocket … but in 1946, when John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert invented the first all-electronic computer, the ENIAC, right here on Penn’s campus, it took up the entire basement of the Moore School.  Until his death in 1980, Mauchly worked in this emerging field and reduced the size of a computer down to “a computer in a suitcase.”  In 1962, he predicted that business folk would be carrying computers in their suit pockets!

The Kislak Center holds the John Mauchly papers which demonstrate the man and the evolution of computing technology over the past 72 years.  Join Kislak catalogers at History in the Rough, a pop up exhibit, November 8, from 11:30 to 1:30 in the main floor lobby of Van Pelt Library, to see a few documents (both fun and technical) from the collection of a man who truly changed the world.


The Special Collections Processing Center is excited to introduce History in the Rough, a series of Pop-Up Exhibits to be held on the main floor lobby of the Van Pelt Library.

Special Collections ARE History in the Rough—they are the raw material of our past—unpolished, un-edited, and un-interpreted.  We know that history is written by the victors and Napoleon Bonaparte said “history is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.” Special collections provide a fuller spectrum of our past—you will find the good, the bad, and the ugly—but it will be someone’s truth.  Archival collections hold letters, diaries, photographs, speeches, and articles by people who lived during historic (and not so historic) events.  Rare books demonstrate the views of the writers and issues of the time—some were even banned.

In the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, you will find thousands of stories … all of which tell part of our larger and collective history.  Come to History in the Rough … discover just a few of these stories!

B. Z. Goldberg, Politics, and Sholem Aleichem

Having worked through fifteen of the 104 boxes of the B. Z. (Ben Zion) Goldberg Papers, I can definitely say that these papers are unique in many ways. The primary reason being that much is written in the Yiddish language. B. Z. Goldberg, born in 1885 in Olshani, Russia, wrote for and edited the Yiddish-American newspaper Der Tog, and was the son-in-law of Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916), the famous “Yiddish Mark Twain.” Goldberg wrote exclusively in Yiddish, a language native to Eastern European and Hasidic Jews. This collection takes us to a time when Yiddish was a vibrant and prominent international language.

In addition to the Yiddish-American newspaper Der Tog, Goldberg collected and wrote for other newspapers including Forverts, Neye Presse, Yidishe Kultur, and Morning Freiheit, copies of all which can be found within the collection. Today, however, the only Yiddish newspaper, online or in print, that I am aware of is Forverts, a sad indication of the decline of Yiddish in the press and the use of Yiddish in general over the last 50 years.

If one wants to go back to a time when Yiddish was more alive, the B.Z. Goldberg papers is the place to go. In the collection, I found articles, in English and Yiddish, about Yiddish Theater in America, Sholem Aleichem’s songs and writings, Israel and the Middle East, the United States Presidency, and Russian Jews, as well as a published Yiddish magazine from the end of World War II. These topics interested me not only because I am a history major, but because I have a passion for learning about World War II, and the state of the world during the Cold War.

Yiddish theater in America was clearly of interest to Goldberg and he collected and kept articles about the topic which were written in both English and Yiddish. Pictured below is an article called “The First Yiddish Theater Production in the USA” by Nathaniel Buchenwald which describes the debate of where and when the Yiddish theater was born in the United States. Some of the other articles described the places where the Yiddish theater writers would meet in New York City over Jewish food, which allowed an interested scholar (me!) to discover the geographical centers of Yiddish theater culture. These articles showed the cultural aspect of Yiddish and how much it affected Jews in the United States as well as those in Eastern European countries.

Many of the articles about Yiddish theater also talked about Sholem Aleichem’s writings being transformed into plays such as The World of Sholem Aleichem. Goldberg’s devotion and admiration toward his father-in-law Sholem Aleichem is clear as there are many articles on Aleichem’s work and him as a person in the collection, including some articles written by Goldberg himself. In addition, there are rare and singular writings by Aleichem, providing a new perspective on the man best known for writing the book that inspired the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” One such example is Aleichem’s “Off for America,” a section from his “Adventures of Mottel the Cantor’s Son,” which was printed in The World Magazine in 1916, just a few months before Aleichem’s death in May of that same year.


Another example is this edition of the song titled “Sleep, My Child,” written by Aleichem, with music by Simon Katz. The song was published in 1917, and this edition contains most of the sheet music in both English and Yiddish (transliteration).


Yet another example is an edited draft for the English version of Aleichem’s set of ten short stories, Tevye the Milkman. The story, “Tevye Blows A Small Fortune,” shown here tells the story of a cousin who stole from Tevye saying he would make the money grow, when, in fact, he actually spent it all and gave none back to Teyve.


Goldberg’s interests were diverse and he collected across the board–from his father-in-law’s writings to global events and politics. This magazine, Freyvelt was published in March of 1944, just a few months before D-Day and the end of the war.


Jumping some twenty years into the future, Goldberg collected an import edition of the Yiddish-American newspaper Der Tog, which reports the logistics and casualties of the Six Day War two days after it ended in 1967.


The B. Z. Goldberg papers are valuable for many reasons, including the celebration of the Yiddish language and the resilience of the Jewish culture through a tumultuous century. We can speculate that that deep-rooted culture, kept alive by the works of Sholem Aleichem and a shared language, provided strength to the Jewish people through the struggles of the Holocaust.  Today, when Yiddish heritage is obscure and nearly forgotten, it is important to recognize the value of this material in a historical context and its importance to the international Jewish community.

Preliminary Finding Aid for the Goldberg Papers:


Being sick, English style

The congested head, the hacking cough, the sore, sore throat … we have all suffered through the common cold.  May I suggest Syrup of Squills?  Or perhaps Dr. King’s Pectoral Balsam?  We recently acquired a collection of English pharmaceutical labels from four chemist shops all located at 32 High Street, in Emsworth, England, which operated from the 1890s to the 1930s.  The August 24, 1895 Chemist and Druggist reports that Alfred Mumford purchased Mr. Edwin Stubb’s business at High Street, in Emsworth; in 1904, Mumford retired, selling his business to H.J. Carr and Co.; in 1924, Harry J. Carr died; and by 1925, W.T. Slatter was in business at 32 High Street.  It is unclear how long Slatter was in possession of the business before H. Densem became the owner.

Carr and Slatter both sold solutions for the common cold.  If you were suffering when Harry J. Carr was the pharmaceutical chemist, he probably would have sold you Syrup of Squills which was used for easing a cough.  By the time that Slatter was in business, you would have been sold “Dr. King’s Pectoral Balsam,” which was described as “A safe and speedy cure for Coughs, Colds, Bronchitis, Asthma, Pleurisy, Shortness of Breath, Hoarseness, Sore Throat, and all Affections of the Chest and Lungs.”  Around the same time period, chemist shops sold “The Ruby Cough Mixture” for coughs, colds and sore throats.  The list of ingredients (which includes vinegar of squills) scarily lists “tinct. of Camphor (Poison).”

If you had a kid and were worried about “Wind, Griping, or Stomach-ache,” you might have given them H. Densem’s “Children’s Soothing Mixture, which you will be relieved to know was free of opium or, for that matter, “anything injurious.”  Whew. According to my research for this collection, and specifically Ray Church, the number of chemists and druggists increased “from something over 10,000 to more than 40,000,” from 1865 to 1905, as a result of a variety of factors including national advertising for patent or proprietary medicines, increased transportation, and “the growing number of wholesaler-manufacturers who, by expanding the supply and range of ingredients, facilitated retailers’ ability to make up their own preparations,” (Church, Roy. “The British Market for Medicine in the late Nineteenth Century: The Innovative Impact of S M Burrows & Co.,” Medical History. Volume 49, Pages 281-298, 2005).

“Motion in the Brain & Action in the Heart”: Treating Lovesickness from the Lectures of Dr. Benjamin Rush

The Benjamin Rush lecture notes (Ms. Coll. 225) is a collection of notebooks kept by medical students at the University of Pennsylvania between roughly 1783 and 1810. These documents present readers with that era’s most advanced understandings of medical theory, and reflect the highest quality of medical education available in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century America. The careful, handwritten notes faithfully transcribe the words of Dr. Benjamin Rush, a socially prominent and professionally revered physician who taught courses in Chemistry, the “Institutes of Medicine and Clinical Practice” and the “Theory and Practice of Medicine” at the University from 1769 to 1813. The notebooks describe topics ranging from anatomy to epidemiology, as well as the causes, symptoms and treatments for dozens of medical conditions including rheumatism, asthma, gonorrhea, cancer, ring worm, scurvy, ulcers, tetanus, morning sickness, malaria and… love.

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Douleur ou pas de douleur–it was your choice!

One of the things that I love about archival collections (and if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that there are many) is how connected I am to the history that shaped our lives today.  Occasionally, I am nostalgic (until I remember the lack of plumbing), but I am NEVER nostalgic when I work with medical collections and especially dental collections.  I recently worked with a small collection of French dental ephemera and was, as always, surprised by how much the field of dentistry has advanced over the last 100 years.

This collections consists largely of advertisements for dental offices (or cabinets dentaire) in France.  Most of the them advertised American dentists or American methods and bragged about all sort of new methods and drugs.  I was most entertained by the ones that offered patients the choice between pain-free and, presumably, pain-filled procedures. The real question was how much was a pain-free experience worth?  Because one did have to pay extra for it!

What sorts of services were available for a patient?  Just a few are nettoyage de la bouche (cleaning the mouth), extractions sans douleur (painless extractions), reconstitution des dents cassés (fixing broken teeth), obturations (fillings), disparition de la carie (removing decay), aurifications & opérations métalliques (capping teeth), soins préventifs (preventive care), plombage (sealing), and couronnes dentaires artificielles (crowns).  Gold caps could be made quickly and without any suffering!   Painless extractions by a very effective and inoffensive procedure! Teeth filled by a new procedure!

Be aware that beauty WAS important … not just the science and medicine behind these awesome new and if, you were willing to shell out the extra francs, painless procedures.  The Union Dentaire chose to highlight Les Dents Odontalines (possibly a brand of denture?) which were advertised as the most beautiful and the most solid that exist as well as being useful for health and beauty.  A few other dental offices used a fair and smiling lady on their brochures, no doubt as a little extra incentive.

Come explore this fun collection and perhaps next time you go to the dentist, you can inquire as to how much less your procedure will cost if you go for the pain-filled experience!