Love in Every Language

This week’s Monument Lab proposal (from the Monument Lab records which documents a project that asked a city-wide question, “what is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?”) :Where should this monument be?  “Everywhere in Phila.”  Love it!  Here is a little info on the LOVE statue! If you are wandering around the city, don’t miss the AMOR statue, already in place in the Sister Cities Park along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Welcoming a new cast of characters in the archival world: Cylinders


“Cylinder”: 1. Cylinder; 2. Spiraled groove

Before the advent of the disc as the standard shape, the cylinder represented the first grooved media to be made commercially available. In the summer of 1877 Thomas Edison is cited as having moved indented tin foil underneath the stylus (like the needle of a record player) of his new telegraph device, discovering the phenomenon of sound reproduction. With some more experimentation, Edison was able to record “Mary Had A Little Lamb” onto a sheet of tin foil, shaped into a cylinder, where a single spiral groove “held” the recorded song in the form of peaks and valleys, running from one end of the cylinder to the other, along the outside of the cylinder like a spiral staircase.



“Phonograph”: 3. Cylinder; 4. Stylus

Eventually, with help from rival inventors, tin foil was replaced by wax (wax cylinder), then a variety of shellac substances (“Amberol,” “Blue Amberol”) with corresponding playback machines, such as the Phonograph (Edison) and Graphophone (Bell & Tainter). By 1888, Emile Berliner developed a similar technology, but changed the shape of the media from a cylinder to a disc, affording the potential of a much larger surface area than the cylinder. This enhanced feature, alongside the possibility of recording audio content on both sides of the disc, rendered the obsolescence of the cylinder as a commercially viable media by the 1920s.


Taintor, Callie. “Chronology: Technology and the Music Industry.” Frontline, PBS, last modified May 27, 2004,

Budgets, big and small

  It is possible, if you read this blog faithfully, that you will know that I have a tendency to fall in love … with collections, with best friends, and of course, with historical boyfriends.   You may also know that Clem Winston is one of my all time favorite historical boyfriends–he was a budget guy, so he probably doesn’t sound all that exciting to you; and I will be honest in telling you that I did not expect to love Clem.  But I do … and for so many reasons. Continue reading

For Julian Abele

This week’s Monument Lab proposal (from the Monument Lab records which documents a project that asked a city-wide question, “what is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?”) :

If you think of the truly iconic buildings that make up the beautiful city of Philadelphia, one that probably comes to mind is the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Julian Abele was the first African American to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Arts in 1902 and he designed some pretty amazing stuff, beyond the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Next time you look around Philly and see the the Free Library of Philadelphia or the Land Title Building, think of this extraordinary architect!  And should you visit Duke University, you should know that even though he designed the beautiful campus, racial prejudices deterred him from visiting.  There is lots of good info out there about Abele … including a mini-biography of him, written by our colleagues at the University Archives.

Welcoming a new cast of characters into the archives: Wire recordings


“Wire recording”: 1. Magnetic wire spool; 2. Magnetic wire, itself, spooled


“Wire recorder/player”: 3. Uptake reel; 4. Magnetic wire spool

Dating back as early as 1898, inventor Valdemar Poulson introduced the first magnetic audio recording technology in the magnetic wire and its corresponding recording device, called the telegraphone. The wire itself appears as a thin (4mm) wire usually wrapped around either a 2.75-inch or 3.75-inch diameter reel. Produced primarily from 1939-1955, magnetic wire was made of stainless steel alloy and could reach lengths of up to 7,200 feet depending on the size of the reel. A predecessor of magnetic tape, wire recording occurs when the wire is rapidly pulled across a recording “head” supplied with an electrical signal at the instant of recording. To play back the recorded material, the wire is once again pulled across the “head,” but this time, the head is no long supplied an electrical signal, and the varying magnetic field of the wire “recreates” the original signal, or in other words, the sound of the recording.


Maguire, Marsha. “Description of Audio Recordings.” In ARSC Guide to Audio Preservation, edited by Sam Brylawski, Maya Lerman, Robin Pike, and Kathlin Smith, 22. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 2015.

Peter Falck and Friends: A Renaissance Man and His Library

Provenance inscriptions (

Provenance inscriptions from Inc A-1192 (Courtesy Provenance Online Project)

Among the titles held in the Penn Libraries’ Incunable Collection are two Latin works bound together in a single volume with the call number Inc A-1192: Auctoritates librorum Aristotelis (Paris: Pierre Le Dru, ca. 1495; ISTC ia01192000), a popular philosophical florilegium, and Albertano da Brescia’s Liber de Doctrina Dicendi et Tacendi (Lyon: Johann Neumeister for Gaspard Ortuin?, ca. 1488; ISTC ia00199500), a treatise on when and how to speak well. On the volume’s front pastedown one of its sixteenth-century owners has left his name twice: a dated autograph, “Peter Falck 1516”, in dark ink and the phrase “Petri Falck & Amicorum” [Peter Falck’s and friends’] in red ink, both struck through. The assertion of a book’s communal ownership by someone “and friends” is not unusual in the early modern period; G.D. Hobson writes that et amicorum is a “formula, invented or at all events vulgarized in the first third of the fifteenth century at Venice, and used for over 150 years by bookmen of half a dozen European countries” (99). It had a particular currency among Renaissance humanists, who “self-consciously formed themselves into a virtual community of likeminded scholar citizens” (Brockliss 71). Printing increased books’ accessibility to individuals, but building a scholarly library remained an expensive proposition; thus “it was natural for a generous spirit to wish that his fellow workers might profit by any rarities which he had the good fortune to possess. They belonged, not to himself alone, but to all his intellectual peers” (Hobson 95). Peter Falck—notary, soldier, diplomat, politician, pilgrim, humanist and bookman—was one such generous spirit, as his books still demonstrate five centuries later.

Continue reading

You Are The Monument

This week’s Monument Lab proposal (from the Monument Lab records which documents a project that asked a city-wide question, “what is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?”) :

This concept is so lovely that I just want there to be frames all over the city!  Hopefully soon, streets, parks, and workplaces will be full of activity again and we will see the people who make the city wonderful!

Welcoming a new cast of characters into the archives: Computer hard drives


“Computer hard drive”: 1. Magnetically coated, rapidly spinning platter (disk); 2. Actuator arm

Computer hard drives are an essential element of our daily life, responsible for the storage of vital digital information, from our emails to the photographs we take with our digital cameras, the articles we read on the internet to music we listen to through our favorite streaming services. Simply put, when we interact with any kind of digital data, it needs to be stored somewhere in the first place, whether it is on our own computer, or someone far away, accessible through the cloud.


While there are many ways to analyze their progression, hard drive technology has exploded in terms of capacity and affordability since they were invented. In order to appreciate the advancements that have been made, we should first get a grasp of the units of measurement that we will be discussing. The smallest unit of information is the “bit.” Specifically, it is a storage unit for either a “0” or a “1,” one or the other unit of information in the binary system. The next largest unit of storage is the “byte,” which holds 8 “bits.” Then, there are “kilobytes,” or KB, which store 1 thousand bytes, followed by “megabytes” (MB, 1 million bytes), “gigabytes” (GB, 1 billion bytes), and “terabytes” (TB, 1 trillion bytes). It goes on from there, but you get the idea.

Essentially, computer hard drives are storage units that store and retrieve digital data. The most common hard drive technology is known as the hard disk drives (HDD), which involve magnetically coated, rapid spinning platters (or disks) that store data that is written onto or read by an actuator arm, looking something like a futuristic, metallic record player.

In 1956, IBM unveiled the first hard drive, housed in a computer called the RAMAC 305. It was able to store 5MB (megabytes) of data and cost $10,000 per MB. The drive itself was cylindrical in shape, comprised of fifty 24-inch diameter disks stacked on top of each other, housed in a 16 square foot box, roughly the size of two refrigerators sat next to one another.

From this point on, technological ingenuity led to the components of devices–not to mention the disks themselves–became more efficient, which allowed for progressively smaller hard drives with progressively larger storage capacities, all driving the price down per unit of storage.

For comparison, you can buy a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop with a 1TB hard drive from Best Buy for $839.99. That works out to just $0.00000000083999 per MB, and that isn’t even taking inflation into account!


Farrance, Rex. “Timeline: 50 Years of Hard Drives.” Last modified September 12, 2006.

Underground Railroad

This week’s Monument Lab proposal (from the Monument Lab records which documents a project that asked a city-wide question, “what is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?”) :

Based upon the Monument Lab proposals, Philadelphians have long been extremely conscious of the story that SHOULD be told throughout the city.  Here we have an amazing play on an underground railroad … both literal and historical.  William Still, “father of the Underground Railroad, is someone all Philadelphians AND all Americans should know about!  Colleagues at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania are doing some pretty amazing stuff telling the story of William Still and the Underground Railroad.

Welcoming a new cast of characters into the archives: 16mm film



When we whip out our smart phones to capture a precious family moment on video, it is easy to forget that the task of taking a video used to involve actual film!

Motion picture dates back at least to the mid-19th century, when photographers interested in documenting events and places such as the Civil War and its battle fields developed a simple device capable of displaying the illusion of movement through a succession of pictures in rapid motion, called the zoetrope.

In 1879, English photographer Eadward Muybridge developed the first projector capable of displaying photographs taken in rapid succession, essentially paving the way for the motion picture film development.


“16mm film”

16mm acetic plastic film and the Cine-Kodak amateur film camera were introduced in 1923 by Eastman Kodak. The film merited the nickname “safety film” due to its non-combustible chemical properties, a reference to its predecessor, the extremely flammable cellulose nitrate chemical compound used in the ubiquitous 35mm film used since its introduction in 1889. Not only was this film safe to store without the worry of catching fire, the film yielded a positive image onto the camera original, eliminating the laborious task of creating a negative and having to print a positive from it, adding its convenience of use.

In 1932, the 16mm film was challenged by the introduction of the 8mm film and the subsequently smaller and simpler cameras that supported the new film size. However, 16mm film cameras and projectors were used in in homes in classrooms for decades to come.


Pickford, Mary. “The Early History of Motion Pictures.”

Rogge, Michael. “More than 100 Years of Film Sizes.”

Wallace, Dillon. “History of 16mm Film.”