The Charles Mulford Robinson papers

The Charles Mulford Robinson papers composed a landmark collection for me in many ways.  It was the most extensive collection I’d worked on in terms of variety of materials, it was the most initially disorganized, and it was my last.  I completed it on Monday, July 28, 2014, my last day working here at the Van Pelt Library.  Bittersweet as it is to leave, I am very pleased with the challenge and topic the Robinson papers presented me.

Charles Mulford Robinson (1869-1917) is an interesting example of a lauded celebrity from his own time who has since virtually disappeared from popular and even historical recollection.  During his life, Robinson was celebrated as the first American city planner and an early advocate of the “City Beautiful” movement.  After about a decade as a newspaper editor based out of Rochester, New York, Robinson developed a reputation for thoughtful ideas and judgments on city appearance and improvement.  Soon he was being invited by various cities and town in the capacity of “civic adviser” to tour them and offer suggestions on their improvement and beautification in line with the “City Beautiful” principles developed initially by Daniel Burnham in Chicago.  He produced reports and newspaper articles containing his advice for communities as different in size as in geographic location from Freeport, Illinois and Hannibal, Missouri to Syracuse, New York, Denver, Colorado and Honolulu, Hawaii.  The esteem he received from this earned him a professorship of urban planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a post in fact created especially for him, and the second of its kind in the country, the first being located and filled at Harvard.  He died suddenly at Albany at the young age of 48 from pneumonia in 1917.  Now, 97 years after his celebrated life, our nation’s first native-born city planner who was recognized as such is probably a new name to most of you, and his Wikipedia article is only three short paragraphs in length.  I find that to be a good warning for those who worship and seek celebrity: even if it is obtained based on the merits of your accomplishments, there is no guarantee that any number of people will remember you after your death.  To adapt some recent terminology, in the long-haul, those who join the ranks of Cicero and St. Paul are the 1%.

As an aspiring classical archaeologist interested in comparative urbanism across the ancient Mediterranean and Near East, I was very pleased to work with the papers of a city planner.  However, as I worked through the quasi-organized documents, I realized the collection would more reflect Robinson himself than his city planning activities.  The collection contains a few of his civic advising reports, but for the most part contains newspaper articles about him, personal papers, and personal items.  As such I got to know Robinson the man more than Robinson the city planner.  No matter, for Robinson was an interesting, agreeable individual who approached the Platonic ideal of a late 19th/early 20th-century gentleman.  His papers show him to be a conscientious, learned individual involved in his community.  The set of papers I eventually organized as the collection’s first series consists of a number of newspaper clippings and letters Robinson collected related to the 1912 controversy in Rochester over the planned construction of tenements under the auspices of George Eastman, the philanthropic founder of Kodak.  Eastman’s move was heavily opposed by elements of the Rochester community, including Robinson, who solidly believed Rochester should remain a city of single-family homes. In addition, he objected to safety hazards inherent in the tenements’ design, such as no fire escapes, no fireproof (i.e., brick-encased) interior stairways, and a complex which would have made heavy use of wood as a construction material.  In the end, Eastman lost and the tenements were not built.  Through this, Robinson showed himself to be possessed of the predominate sensibilities of his time, namely that the comparatively underprivileged of society should be taken care of and that civic virtue and integrity should be preserved and encouraged via a beautiful city.  Indeed, his correspondence and other papers show him to run in the Progressive circles of the time.  We have preserved letters from such Progressive personalities as the economist Richard T. Ely, Unitarian minister and abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and outspoken labor leader Samuel Gompers.  One of the newspaper clippings from 1916 contains a photograph of pacifists attending an annual conference the year before the United States entered World War I, in which Robinson can be seen standing in the second row.  For some reason also preserved in the collection was a number of excised autographs of Susan B. Anthony, apparently clipped out from letters.  Now personally I’d prefer the letters had been preserved in their entirety, because I’d like to know what Susan B. Anthony was saying in them, but here we have another example of what different time periods and individuals find valuable.

Even more than the correspondence (which was littered with club acceptance cards and other ephemera which only let us track Robinson’s social involvements), I enjoyed the poems, prose, and hymns Robinson authored in his spare time.  We have a number of them in various states of progress, from fully published ones to manuscripts on scrap paper with strike-throughs and corrections.  Proving Robinson had a gentlemanly sardonic humor, one poem is in fact the text of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” with humorous lyrics about the stock market and other present-day institutions.  The most memorable piece of Robinson’s prose for me was his piece entitled “Westward Ho!” about his trip to California on the Transcontinental railroad, advising Denver and Salt Lake City on the way, and which reflects upon the trip through the Great Plains and the Rockies.  In it, he used most every fancy turn of phrase I could imagine for a period gentleman to describe the purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain.  In addition to the stories and hymns (which unfortunately were not have set to music, so as far as far as I know none have yet been sung in the pews), I rather enjoyed the librettos from two plays Robinson co-authored, “Ye Gods and Goddesses” (an 1889 mythical romp with the Greco-Roman pantheon with 19th century accoutrements, such as Jupiter using opera glasses to observe the chorus), and “Dream Camp,” (an 1890 production in which a bust of Plato watches the antics of then-present day college students).  We also have an interesting “Reference” book of Robinson’s, containing lists of books he means to read on any number of topics from Roman law to archaeology, economics, and the philosophy of Seneca, his notes on those topics, and an impeccably organized index at the front guiding the reader to any topic.  That Robinson was so multi-talented (or at least dilettantish enough) to compose his own verses and chapters and keep up his learning in addition to his day-job as a newspaperman and eventually civic adviser and professor of city planning, thoroughly impresses me and convinces me of the possibility of living a lettered and learned in addition to a professional life.  I don’t think I’d be writing poetry or plays, but just the fact that I have this example of a man who lived out his interests in tandem with his career is inspiring in and of itself.

In addition to the correspondence, conflicts, creative writing, the collection contains a number of books, scrapbooks, and articles which provide a testament to Robinson’s life.  The scrapbooks contain snippings from the Arts & Books column of the New York Times, several volumes of clippings from the “Chat and Clippings” columns of an unidentified newspaper (possibly the Rochester Post-Express or the Rochester Courier), a boyhood scrapbooks containing clippings on any number of topics of interest from faith to a limerick meant to help children memorize the order of the English monarchs back to William the Conqueror, and any and all articles that mentioned his wedding to Eliza Ten Eyck Pruyn of Albany.  Indeed, the number of clippings Robinson collected about his wedding is only rivaled by the number of clippings a hired service(!) collected for his estate on the matter of his death, which is by far the most common topic in all the collection’s loose newspaper clippings.  Others include Robinson’s advising visits to Denver and Honolulu, reviews on some of Robinson’s published works, and, following his death, the successful efforts to establish a memorial to him in Rochester (including a renamed street in Highland Park, Robinson Drive, which maintains that name to this day).  Several books are also native to the collection which, again, do more to shed light on Robinson’s personal than professional life.  There are a couple professional books, a city planning progress report from 1917 and a book on horticultural landscaping.  The rest are a mix with sentimental value.  We have two darling, small devotional books, containing a daily Scripture reading and portion of a hymn, owned respectively by Robinson (a lifelong Presbyterian) and his wife Eliza.  Both books had been given to them as children, as Robinson notes in the front flap of his on the date he “entered” the church, and as Eliza proved with her innocent doodles and inscription of “Satan trembles when he sees a poor sinner on his knees.” There is a children’s novel called “Doctor Papa,” which after a month in Italy on a dig earlier this summer and hearing much about “Papa Francesco” while there, immediately made me imagine the novel was about a Pope-cum-Doctor of the Church, though somehow I doubt a book in the “Flaxie Frizzle” (actual name!) series was about St. Gregory the Great.  As Robinson’s description in the beginning attests, “Doctor Papa” was given to him as a school reward for “Good Deportment.”  We also have a book of “birthday gems” that belonged to Eliza, with a proverb and Bible verse for each day and an adjacent column for entering friend’s names (so as to bless them with the advice of their birthday) and a small book of good-night thoughts for children by the Anglican hymnist and poet Frances Ridley Havergal.  Wonderfully, the Van Pelt Library has Havergal’s companion volume to this, a book of good-morning thoughts for little ones to reflect upon when rising for the day.  Supposing Franklin is accurate, we did not previously have the evening volume, and now we do!  Nice saving throw from the past there, Mr. Robinson!  Thank you.  We also have a copy of Robinson’s own rip-roaring fun small book “The Third Ward Catechism,” a humorous look at Rochester’s Third Ward, and a pamphlet written by Frederick Law Olmsted (a friend of Robinson’s) called “The Smoke Nuisance,” which is basically New York having fun at Chicago’s expense for not having a smoke ordinance.  Chicago was a legendarily filthy and sooty city at the turn of the century due to heavy industry and lack of a civic smoke ordinance.  My maternal grandmother, who grew up in Chicago, recalled simply going outside for a day and returning home filthy just for being outside, the soot in the air was so heavy.  Perhaps the best part about the pamphlet was its cartoons, including ones making fun of “Cinderitis (a Chicago disease)” (caption of a drawing of a gentleman having an entire cinder of coal removed from his eye) and another poking fun at Daniel Burnham, who in the cartoon is presenting his “City Beautiful” plan for Chicago to local dignitaries.  The plan, due to the smoke-pumping factories outside the window, is covered up completely with soot in the seconds it takes Burnham to go to the door and welcome the gentlemen in, much to their and Burnham’s consternation!

As you can tell, we have in the Charles Mulford Robinson papers a most engaging collection shining a light into the life and character of our nation’s first city planner to be hailed as such.  While the comparative lack of professional materials is a tad disappointing (those can be found at Harvard, as an extensive correspondence in the collection between Mrs. Robinson and the Widener Library attests), the collection more than makes up for that in personal attestations and quirks.  Indeed, this collection ended up with the largest “Miscellaneous” section of any I’d had the pleasure of working on, containing items ranging from Robinson’s personal stamp and papers related to a club (“The Humdrum Club”!) headed by Robinson, to the (without any explanation I could divine) schematics of the steamer Kaiserin Auguste Victoria and the dried and pressed remains of different plants!  Yes, we are in possession of an interesting hodgepodge here, thanks to which Holly, with good reason, has laughingly proclaimed Robinson “whack-a-doodle,” which in some regards may not be off the mark!  I personally think of him as an eccentric, accomplished gentleman and was very pleased to make his acquaintance across time by way of this, my final collection at the Van Pelt Library.  Farewell to all, and Godspeed!

The Dorothy M. Spencer papers

At the end of my last post on the Stewart Culin collection of advertisements, I openly wondered if the Spencer collection of notes on the Munda tribesmen of India would be my last here at Penn.  Happily, that has not proven the case, as I have finished the Spencer collection with about a month to spare!  The collection’s finding aid may be found here.  Now, join me on yet another journey back in time, this time to the Chota Nagpur plateau of India’s Jharkand state in the mid-20th century.

Dorothy M. Spencer was born rather close to us in Chester, Pennsylvania in 1907.  She matriculated at the University of Wisconsin where she received her A.B. in 1930 right at the beginning of the Great Depression.  Just as Culin’s interests led him to ethnography, Spencer’s led her to the sister field of anthropology.  Fresh out of America’s Dairyland, Spencer returned to the good old Keystone State where she undertook studies for an M.A. here at Penn.  She earned her Master’s in 1933.  To relate this to another of our India-centric collections, Spencer’s M.A. studies occurred at the same time as the bulk of the correspondence between Richard Gregg and the leaders of the Indian independence movement.  Although this collection consists of materials from Spencer’s fieldwork in India, her initial interests lay in the South Pacific, and her M.A. thesis “The Dual Organization and Regulation of Marriage in Melanesia” is housed here at Penn.  This thesis and her work in the M.A. program was evidently enough to impress her professors, as she went on to earn a PhD here at Penn in 1937.  Following a short stint as a lecturer in anthropology, she traveled to India in 1939.  In the tradition of Frank Hamilton Cushing, whom you may remember from my last post as Culin’s friend and daring anthropologist who lived among the Zuni for years, Spencer became a participant observer among the Mundari-speaking people of the Chota Nagpur plateau in the Jharkand state of eastern India, living with them and observing their daily habits.

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The Stewart Culin collection of advertisements

One of the 93 loose advertisements in the collection, with the original date penciled in at the top-left.  I wish grocery prices were still this low.

One of the 93 loose advertisements in the collection, with the original date penciled in at the top-left. I wish grocery prices were still this low.

Before the conclusion of my final semester at Penn I had the pleasure of working on the Stewart Culin collection of advertisements.  This collection consists of two scrapbooks and 93 loose advertisements, largely for products which were sold at businesses located in Philadelphia, collected between 1884 and 1886 by Mr. Stewart Culin, an unorthodox and trailblazing figure in the fields of anthropology and ethnography.  All of the loose advertisements have been organized according to genre (i.e., consumer services, foodstuffs, tobacco products, pharmaceuticals, etc.) and housed in an archival box separate from the scrapbooks.  Progress on this particular project was split up by the end of the term and my month-long dig in Italy, hence the comparative tardiness of this blog post.  Upon my return to Philadelphia I finished off the remaining work and now happily commend this colorful collection of cards from copious commercial categories to collegiate consumers.  Posthumous apologies to Mr. Culin for using the first letter of his surname to create an alliterative string.  The collection’s finding aid is up and running.

An early Wanamaker's ad.

An early Wanamaker’s ad.

The collection contains a bevy of colorful and oftentimes humorous advertisement cards, broadside posters, and clippings.  One informing the general public of a cartography office’s change of address features a list of facetious rules advising clients and workers to smoke constantly in the office, lean back in their chairs, chatter frequently with their deskmates, not hang up their hats and coats – in short, to do all the things they should in fact not do!  The card with equal facetiousness advertised how long appointments would last with certain categories of people such as “life insurance salesmen” – 0 minutes! Continue reading

The John Scott collection of letters

After finishing the Rosengarten collection, my next project was a small assemblage of letters from the papers of John Scott, the finding aid for which can be found here.

Mr. Scott was a Pennsylvania native son with a storied family.  His father, John Scott Sr., was born near Gettysburg in 1784 and made his living as a tanner and shoemaker.  He served his country both on the field in the War of 1812 and in the halls of power as both a Pennsylvania and United States Representative.  His brother, George Washington Scott, moved to Florida where he became a successful plantation owner and businessman, and served the Confederacy as lieutenant colonel of the Fifth Florida Cavalry Battalion during the Civil War.  After the war, Scott established a successful business in phosphates and manufacturing, and became the primary benefactor of the Decatur Female Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, which then took the name of his mother Agnes in honor of his gift and thrives today as the Agnes Scott College.  John Scott Jr. remained in the Union during the war, practicing law in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania and followed his father into politics.  In 1862, he was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where he remained until 1868, when he was appointed to represent Pennsylvania in the United States Senate.  As a Republican, he was embroiled in the politics surrounding Reconstruction, including a Congressional investigations into the outrages of the Ku Klux Klan and the overall progress of southern reintegration and African American enfranchisement.  He was not up for re-election in 1875, and worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad as legal counsel until the final year of his life.  If you’d like to visit him today, you can find his grave in our own Woodlands Cemetery next to campus.

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The Joseph G. Rosengarten collection

Frequent readers may recall my last post on the autograph collection assembled by Francis Campbell Macaulay, the Philadelphia lawyer, Renaissance literature enthusiast, and early benefactor of the Penn museum.  The next project in my queue was a collection assembled by Macaulay’s contemporary Joseph George Rosengarten, whose contributions to the University’s development are a tad more conspicuous than Macaulay’s, not least because Rosengarten managed to get his name plastered over the reserve section at the Van Pelt Library thanks to his years of service as a trustee.  The finding aid for the collection can be found here.

Like Macaulay, Rosengarten practiced the lawerly trade.  After obtaining both an A.B. and M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and being admitted to the bar, Rosengarten took a year abroad in 1857 to study Roman law at the University of Heidelberg and to travel.  After his return, Rosengarten had the extraordinary luck to witness a major event of American history.  According to the obituary written by Penn orientalist and librarian Morris Jastrow, Jr., Rosengarten, while travelling with his father George D. Rosengarten, and other directors of the Pennsylvania Railroad on a tour of inspection, arrived in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, on the 18th of October, 1859, and witnessed the detachment of U.S. Marines led by then-Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee storm the fire engine house in which John Brown and his raiders had barricaded themselves.  Rosengarten saw Brown himself lying prostrate on the ground, having been wounded by a saber-blow from Marine Lieutenant Israel Greene, and later recounted his eyewitness experience in an Atlantic Monthly article.

Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry presaged the American Civil War, which Rosengarten served in on the Union side, first in Company A of the Pennsylvania Artillery, a volunteer unit composed largely of lawyers like himself, and later in the 121st Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, of the Army of the Potomac.  He earned himself some heroic merit at the Battle of Fredericksburg, in which he picked up and carried the colors after four previous sergeants had been “disabled” (in Jastrow’s own clean language).  This brought Rosengarten to the attention of Union general John F. Reynolds, who appointed Rosengarten to his own staff.  Rosengarten served at the Battle of Gettysburg, and after the Civil War gave his time to numerous public institutions in Philadelphia, including the Lankenau Hospital and Drexel Institute.  He oversaw the reformation of the boys’ and girls’ reform schools, and was institutional in securing a grant from Andrew Carnegie which allowed many of the Free Library’s branches (including that at 40th and Walnut on our own campus) to be erected.  He served the University of Pennsylvania as a trustee of both the college and the library.  He also pursued his scholarly interests, which revolved primarily around the social history of Germans and French in the United States: their role in the country’s founding, development, and wars.  He wrote several books on the subjects, including “The German soldier in the wars of the United States,” “French colonists and exiles in the United States,” and “Frederick the Great and the United States,” among other publications and articles.

The collection he put together which I have just completed processing consists of many historical documents he used in his researches, as well as correspondence and historical material of great (if unfortunately in a rough state of preservation) interest.  The collection came to me nicely pre-housed, with the documents protected in acid-free folders alphabetized according to topic or individual, stored in three archival boxes.  Also included are two large scrapbooks that came housed in a slipcase.  Unfortunately, from the one look Holly and I were able to give one of the scrapbooks, we ascertained that while the actual historical materials pasted on or sewn into them are in fine condition, the scrapbooks themselves have deteriorated to a point beyond which they can be safely handled.  As such, this portion of the collection unfortunately must remain out of the hands of researchers and processors until conservation has had the opportunity to rescue it.  I thus cannot speak with great experience about the scrapbooks themselves, but the few documents I did see in one of them looked like a treasure trove for researchers.

I divided the collection into three series: Correspondence, Historical Manuscripts, and Printed Matter and Scrapbooks.  Correspondence consists largely of thank-you letters to Rosengarten from those who received (and in most cases read) a copy of “French colonists and exiles in the United States.”  Recipients included senator and industrialist Henry Algernon du Pont, Penn Shakespeare scholar Horace Howard Furness, United States senator, Attorney General (and eventually Secretary of State) Philander Chase Knox, founder and first chief of the United States Forest Service Gifford Pinchot, and President Woodrow Wilson.  Historical Manuscripts consists of numerous primary sources collected by Rosengarten in the course of his researches.  Highlights from the series include two sundry documents annotated or signed by Benjamin Franklin, 3 letters and a signed order from Frederick the Great, an autographed letter signed from the marquis de Lafayette and 5 from the comte de Rochambeau, and 2 letters and payment orders apiece from Baron Friedrich von Steuben.  Other big names in the series include Robert and Gouverneur Morris, John Jay, David and Joseph Rittenhouse, Louis XVI of France and Louis Philippe, and the infamous diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.  The third and final series consists of the aforementioned scrapbooks and some miscellaneous printed matter.  The printed materials consist of 3 battle maps, original Massachusetts and Virginia dollars (of vastly different denominations – 500 Virginia dollars versus 9 Massachusetts pence!) and a separate folder of photographic negatives, containing some unidentified prints of ships and the photographed text of a letter from Baron von Steuben to Colonel Benjamin Walker.

This is the third collection I’ve finished since moving on to archival work.  At this point my new responsibilities have started crystallizing into a comfortable routine, much as rare book cataloging did after I began in late Fall 2012.  I still enjoy my job as much as I did back when I started, and am continually thankful for the opportunities to expand my knowledge and interact with the past.  I’d seen Rosengarten’s name over the Van Pelt reserve, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time getting to know the man behind the name, his history, interests, experiences, and public services.  Now that I respectfully lay Rosengarten to rest,  the next item in my queue is the John Scott collection, which you all will duly get another blog post for after it is completed!  Until then.

The Francis Campbell Macaulay Autograph Collection

Since finishing work on the Richard Bartlett Gregg papers I have been processing the Francis Campbell Macaulay autograph collection.  As of this writing, that project is complete and the family of collections open to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania has gained a new member.  Its finding aide can be found here.


Francis Campbell Macaulay was a Philadelphia lawyer of the 19th century.  His relations include Charles Stewart and Charles Stewart McCauley, two American naval heroes of the War of 1812 and the Civil War.  Like his predecessors, the lawyerly Francis left behind a solid legacy.  For example, in 1888 he successfully proposed to Dr. William Pepper and other Penn leaders the establishment of a “Museum of American Archaeology” at the university.  When the museum opened in the old University Library building (now the Fisher Fine Arts Library) Macaulay became an early benefactor by donating several Anglo-Saxon artifacts from his private collection.  Macaulay’s brainchild grew into the present-day University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, so next time you visit or walk by, spare a thought the gentleman who conceived it!  However, beyond this Macaulay has merited few attestations on the World Wide Web, even fewer than Richard Bartlett Gregg.  Furthermore, since the collection contained none of Macaulay’s correspondence, I feel like I know the autograph-collecting esquire far less than I came to know the down-to-earth social philosopher.  However, the comparatively little I have gleaned from the collection and online sources lead me to think Macaulay must have approached the ideal of a lettered gentleman in his lifetime.   In addition to his archaeological advocacy and his legal practice (which I imagine must have made him rather wealthy, given the social circles he ran in and the content of his leisure activities), Macaulay was a dedicated literary enthusiast, particularly for Italian Renaissance literature.  He was a member of the Dante Society, a learned circle of Renaissance aficionados, and collected numerous early editions of Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Torquato Tasso which he generously donated to the University in 1896.  Accompanying this veritable light-show of Western literary talent was a somewhat miscellaneous collection of autographs and vocabulary notebooks.  This is the collection I have completed processing as of this writing.  


Macaulay evidently dedicated a portion of his leisure time to compiling a vocabulary of the dialect of Nice in southern France and to collecting autographs like some people collect cats.  The notebooks are in rough shape, but are admirably thorough.  They have been safely re-housed in individual folders in an archival box, and comprise the second series of the collection.  The first was already well-preserved and safely housed.  It comprises the autographs of well-known (or at least once well-known) literary figures, political leaders, scientists, and other public intellectuals.  Many of them, including that of the great Renaissance poet Ludovico Ariosto, were Italian, as befit Macaulay’s interests.  However, our intrepid lawyer didn’t limit himself to them.  There was also a stray but nonetheless very cool autograph from Alexandre Dumas himself!  Macaulay also had a fledgling collection of presidents’ autographs, including those of Thomas Jefferson, James Buchanan, Millard Fillmore and – somewhat humorously – an envelope addressed by Martin Van Buren.  I suppose as long as it had a president’s handwriting on it, it was fair game!  Macaulay also had a series of signed documents and letters relating to the lives and careers of his naval ancestors Charles Stewart and C.S. McCauley.      

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Reflections on the Richard Bartlett Gregg Papers

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.

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What I am Thankful For from My RBC Experience

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.

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My Rare Book Cataloging Adventure: A Student’s Perspective – The Sequel

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.

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My Rare Book Cataloging Adventure So Far – A Student Worker’s Perspective

I don’t imagine that “Rare Book Cataloger” is a job most school-age children even know about, much less dream of becoming one day.  When I was in the 5th grade I certainly didn’t.  I was too busy dreaming about becoming an astronaut.  I would never have expected that, 12 years later, I would be shaking hands with the past almost every day by reading and cataloging laws from the early modern period, some of them touched and signed by dukes, revolutionaries, and cardinals.  Then again I also never imagined I’d turn my young fascination with Roman ruins into a classics major studying at an Ivy League university with sights set on a PhD in archaeology.  Rare book cataloging may seem ancillary to that, but without my preparations in Latin and German I could not have handled and read documents that, had I been alive during the time of their creation, I could scarcely have dreamed of holding.  Regan kindly requested that I share my adventures in rare book cataloging so far with you all, and so here is my story.

I am currently studying ancient Greek and Latin in the post-baccalaureate program in classics at the University of Pennsylvania, and traditionally post-bac students are good fits for rare book cataloging due to our prior language work and flexible schedules.  I came to Penn with a B.A. in Classical and Near Eastern Civilizations from Creighton University in Omaha, NE and two semesters each of college-level ancient Greek, Latin, and German.  With these qualifications I earned my position as a rare book cataloging assistant at the Van Pelt Library.  In general I work about 4 hours each day.  The general date range for the material I have worked with ranges from A.D. 1500 to 1800, apparently referred to as the “regular, boring” stuff since by this period printers had generally figured out the rules of their game and there was far less experimentation.

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