Who wants to see the photos from my trip?

Muffle that groan! The Penn Libraries acquired several dozen photograph albums, many of which I had the luck to process, and am happy to say beat hands down many of the slideshows I have been subjected to. The common thread in these albums is India from the late 1800’s to the second World War, most often created by military servicemen and women from Great Britain or the United States, but also by some missionaries and other travelers.

Each album gave a window into the specific experiences of ordinary individuals in a foreign and exotic country. It was amusing to see how well-chronicled tourist attractions were. Almost every album contained the obligatory shot of the Taj Mahal and other local sights. More adventurous albums contained photos of religious rituals like the cremation of human remains on ghats, or the everyday hard work of earning a living as best as possible. Only a few of these visitors were compelled to capture the extreme poverty and afflictions of the poorest Indians.

Some albums solely focused on the military installation or company around that individual and others were clearly photos taken on leave, enjoying vacation trips to Bombay or the mountains. The sporting activities, from polo in private clubs to military “Tug-of-War” teams to hunting expeditions, also appear regularly.

While no one album stood out particularly to me, the story that the collective body of these albums told was a wonderful opportunity to glimpse life in colonial India spanning decades before the Partition, as told by men and women, poor and rich, religious or not, military and civilian.

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The “Tug of War” team from the 2nd highlanders Light Infantry album (1896), Ms. Coll. 1160

I couldn’t help but wonder how it would compare to a trip I would take today. Has photography changed? Has social media impacted what we photograph? #tajmahal has over 580,000 posts on Instagram – and of course includes selfies, something not found anywhere in the albums. You can’t count the number of hashtags on Facebook, but there seems to be an endless supply of Taj Mahal photos there too. I’m sure I’d be guilty of adding mine…

Don’t Judge A Book by Its Cover: Dentist’s Notebook, circa 1906-1909

What would you expect a dentist’s notebook to look like? Perhaps you picture something with a corporate logo or, at the very least, a diagram of some juicy molars on the cover?

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This early 20th-century Gem Exercise & Dictation Book, which is actually three notebooks joined at the spine with glue to form one book, features a lovely image of a child in a field of flowers. Looking at it, you might expect diary entries, recipes, or drawings inside. Instead, what we have here is the notebook of dentist Robert Waller Bragg II, D.D.S. (1872-1956), of Richmond, Virginia (R.W. Bragg dentist’s notebook, circa 1906-1909).

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This notebook contains manuscripts or treatises– possibly speeches or lectures– on methodology concerning dental crown work. The various treatises are titled “Crown Work,” “Bridge-Work,” “Preparation of the Mouth for Artificial Dentures,” and—wait for it—”Treatment of Exposed Pulps.”

“What are you in for today?”
“Well, doc … I’ve got these … exposed pulps.”
“Let’s take care of that, tout de suite, shall we?”

The information is fairly technical and includes tables of gravity, malleability, and melting points for various metals involved in making crowns.

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It’s fascinating to look at the approaches to dentistry in the early 20th-century and, throughout the book, Dr. Bragg conveys an obvious passion for his subject.

If I’m faced with a choice between a dentist who is just phoning it in and a dentist who is passionate about his work, like Dr. Bragg, I know who I’m going with!

This collection is now open for researchers.

 

 

Survivors of War: Albert D. Hequembourg and his diary

Hequembourg’s ID card

Today on the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, I would like to tell the story of Albert D. Hequembourg and his two-volume diary, both of whom happily survived his service overseas in Belgium and France in 1918.  Hequembourg, a 1908 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, was a dental surgeon who volunteered for service shortly after the United States declared war.  He served most of his first year on American soil, providing dental care for soldiers who were training for duty in Europe.

July 7, 1918 entry

On June 5, 1918, Hequembourg left New York City and traveled to France aboard the S.S.  Mauretania; landed in Liverpool, England; traveled south by train to Southhampton; and took Channel transport to Havre, France, arriving there on June 14, 1918. During his time overseas, he was “in action from close to Ypres, Belgium to Amiens, France,” (inside front cover, Volume 2).  In an entry written on July 7, 1918, somewhere in France or Belgium, Hequembourg describes examining the teeth of 348 American soldiers.  He does not appear to have treated injured soldiers–instead, he was performing typical dental work:  “getting patients ready to go to front, filling root canals and putting treatments in to hold over till they get back.”

Front line dental office

Hequembourg appears to have been a keen observer who was aware of the historic impact the War would have on the world.  As such, he seems to have taken advantage of opportunities to see the front and he describes in great detail being caught in a German air-raid, living in a dug-out and working in a dental office in “a corrugated iron shed camouflaged with branches,” and seeing a field hospital. It seems that Hequembourg and his fellow soldier Lt. Rhea traveled with transport and were often in the midst of shelling.

Inside front cover of Volume 2

In the midst of one such shelling, his belongings were struck by German artillery fire (resulting in the mud on the front cover) and he thought he had lost the diary … but it turned up, albeit missing the key to the locations he describes in the diary!  As a result, we have an amazing resource for people studying first-hand non-combat experience to life on or near the front lines of World War I.   Before processing this collection, I never once thought of dentists serving during World War I and I never once thought of the American Expeditionary Forces having their teeth cleaned or having potentially painful problems with their teeth being treated.  One of the many things I absolutely love about my job is the constant exposure to new perspectives on “old history.”

I feel as if, at some point, I should stop being surprised by how much has survived and is available for use today in the amazing libraries and archives across the world.  If you are interested in some of our other amazing World War I collections, may I personally recommend a few of my favorites:

David Rosenblum World War I letters,1918-1919, Ms. Coll. 1262
R. Norris Williams collection of World War I material, 1914-1988, Ms. Coll. 956
Dorothy E. Withrow collection of World War memorabilia, 1892-1951, Ms. Coll. 930

Atha Tehon: Loved much more than “a cat’s whisker”

I knew I was going to love Atha Tehon from the moment I started my research on her—before I ever even opened a box of her papers.  As always, I started with a simple google search and one of the first results was “Syracuse woman adopts four cats with $50,000 trust fund.”  Turns out, those four cats belonged to Atha Tehon, a book designer and art director for children’s books.  She had lost her husband and lived alone—and for the first of many times during the processing of her papers, I was struck by her thoughtfulness and caring—not just of her concern for the well-being of her pets after her death, but also the financial burden four cats would put on the good soul who adopted them.

I started with her correspondence thinking I would separate her professional correspondence from her personal correspondence; but  I quickly discovered that this was impossible—professional colleagues soon became treasured friends who  communicated long after a project was completed.  As I scanned the contents of her letters, it was clear that she was beloved—every letter was full of respect and love. In one letter, Guy Fleming, writing to someone who forwarded a copy to Atha, stated “I remember Atha perfectly well:  … there she’d be, center of a circle of peace and calm,” (box 3, folder 1) which seemed to accurately put into the words the woman I was quickly getting to know and love.

As I moved on through the remainder of her papers, I determined that she was peaceful and calm because she put herself in order through the EXTENSIVE use of post-it notes … I suspect that there was a fairly large number in the budget line for post-its at Dial Books for Young Readers where Atha worked for thirty years.  She may have been calm, but there is absolutely nothing calm about her calendars which show what her day-to-day life must have been like.  She seems to have had her hand in many of our most beloved children’s books and worked closely with any number of extraordinary authors and illustrators including Tom Feelings, Jerry Pinkney, Maurice Sendak, William Steig, and Margot Zemach, to name only a few.

This collection is nothing short of a visual delight—pretty much every folder contains copies of beautiful illustrations for children’s books in every possible state of completion.  Sometimes there are rough sketches, sometimes the finished product, and occasionally, you can really see how a book started, evolved, was revised, evolved again, and was completed.  But her book projects are not the only place in the collection that we find art.  Atha Tehon, herself, was an accomplished artist and the collection holds sketchbooks, pencil drawings, Christmas cards of her own design, photographs of her paintings, etc. She was also friends with a whole host of creative people who sent her artwork, illustrated letters, and beautifully handmade Christmas cards.  The entire time I worked on this collection, I was in heaven.

When I came to the end, I was sad … I had truly enjoyed the company of Atha Tehon and I thought I knew her pretty well, but I was wrong. I saw the humble, beautiful woman she was, certainly, but it was only once I read  the letters and notes people sent after she died, that I truly understood what an amazing woman she was and how far-reaching her influence.  The folder of memorial information came to me late in the processing stage (it was not part of the papers that came to us after her death), but as I sat reading, I had tears in my eyes.  It was only here, in words of others, did I learn how many people credited her with the success of their careers in publishing, design, and illustration and how much they learned from her.  It was here that I learned that she was known for “Athaisms” and for inventing “a measure for that huge gap between a hairline and a ½ point space—the ‘cat’s whisker.’” (box 2, folder 10).  Jerry Pinkney stated that “she had the rare gift of a critical eye as well as an uncanny ability to gently support, nurture, and inspire illustrators to create their best work,” and Sara Reynolds, senior designer for Dial Books for Young Readers from 1984 to 1987, wrote in “A Tribute to Atha” that “Atha cared about those who worked with her as much as she cared about every detail in a book.  She was kind, patient, thoughtful, and always ready to listen.  When we worked with Atha, we were a family, and after we left her staff, we were still a family … Atha seemed ageless, and now we grapple with the knowledge that she wasn’t.  But her voice, vision, and legacy live on in thousands of books, hundreds of illustrators, and scores of editors, designers, and art directors who benefited from her wisdom, taste, sensitivity, and support.”

Who would not wish to be remembered in such a way?

 

 

Archiving for Artists: Tips from the Etta Winigrad Papers, 1968-2016

I recently processed the Etta Winigrad papers, 1968-2016, a collection of slides and photographs of artwork, correspondence, and exhibition records belonging to Philadelphia-based sculptor, and University of Pennsylvania graduate, Etta Winigrad.

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In addition to her amazing art (see above), I was struck by how many things Etta Winigrad did right in terms of organizing and collecting her papers. I mentioned this to a couple of my friends who are visual artists and they immediately asked me about best practices for storage of their own papers. While a short blog post absolutely cannot replace a proper workshop, class, or consultation with an experienced archivist, I thought it might be helpful to outline a few basic tips for artists organizing their archives. Please note that these tips are intended for straightforward archival collections such as loose papers and notebooks, and not for complex artworks in various mediums and materials which are better preserved in museum settings by art conservators and archivists. This blog post only addresses paper files and not born-digital files or files on media such as DVDs, CDs, VHS, etc. (See the end of the post for additional resources.)

First off, you may be thinking to yourself: I’m an active artist, but I don’t think that I’m going to be famous enough for anyone to want to collect my archives! Without going too deeply into this issue, I will say that there may be an interest in your archives for their historical/research value, even if you’re not the next Andy Warhol. For instance, the university you attended may be interested in acquiring your archives for your connection to their school. And, at the very least, you may want to leave your archives to a member of your family as a piece of family history.

Archiving for Artists: A Few Basic Tips

Location
Keep your papers out of direct sunlight and in an area of relatively low temperature and humidity. Basements, garages, and hot attics are not good locations for your papers. Dust, moisture, and bugs/pests will damage your papers, so you’ll want to store them in containers of some sort (see next item).

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Storage containers
If you prefer to pile your papers, use storage boxes to organize them. If you prefer to file your papers, a filing cabinet may be best for you. Whatever container you use—whether it’s a metal file cabinet, a cardboard Banker’s box, or a plastic tub, to offer a few examples—make sure that your files are protected from dust, moisture, and bugs/pests. You may have heard about acid-free folders and boxes, which archivists use for storage, but these boxes are pricey and only necessary for long-term storage. If you donate/sell your archives to an institution, the archivist who processes your collection will transfer everything into acid-free housing, so you shouldn’t worry about this for short-term storage. As most artists already know (hello, flat files!) it’s best to store paper flat, rather than rolled, and never folded, as the folds will damage the paper and, over time, the paper will begin to tear at the folds.

Dates and Labels
Whether you place your papers in folders or boxes, do make a habit of dating the folders, boxes, or pieces of paper themselves. Etta Winigrad, as an example, was very diligent about dating the files containing her exhibition records, which was immensely helpful in processing her papers. Remember also to date your sketchbooks and notebooks (not necessarily for every sketch or note, but intermittently throughout the book is helpful, especially since they usually cover a large span of time). Labels that identify your artwork or the exhibition that the artwork was shown in are also very helpful for your future archivist. Etta Winigrad has many slides in her collection, for instance, and the slide boxes are labeled with the titles of the artworks shown on the slides (see above).

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Fasteners

Adhesive tape is the enemy. Over time, the glue on the tape will become yellow and gummy, marking the papers, and the tape itself will become brittle. Paper clips and staples are also problematic, as they damage papers both mechanically and by rusting over time. Processing archivists are usually working with backlogs and do not have time to remove staples and paper clips from every collection and, even if they do, the staples and paper clips will have already damaged the papers to some extent. Plastic paperclips, while they avoid the rust issue, can also damage the papers they fasten. Rubber bands rot over time and may attach to the papers as they disintegrate. The solution? There is no simple one. If you can go without a fastener, you should, especially if the papers are already grouped together in a folder. And fasteners should never go on top of original artworks like photographs or drawings.

LOCKSS
You may have heard of LOCKSS, or Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe. If your work appears in an exhibition, keep more than one copy of the exhibition flyer or program, as Etta Winigrad did. Keeping more than one copy ensures that, if something happens to one of the copies, another is available as back-up. As another great example from the Etta Winigrad collection, one of Winigrad’s essays appears in an issue of Ceramics Monthly. One copy of the magazine, while still legible, has water damage, but she kept another copy of the same magazine issue, as well as a printout of the article. (Keeping multiple copies is especially important for digital files which, again, we won’t go into here.)

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For more in-depth information, see the resources below. You may also inquire at a local archives, historical association, or library with archives and special collections holdings to see if an archivist, librarian, or curator can meet with you to answer your questions.

Thanks for your great example, Etta Winigrad! This collection is now open to researchers.

 

Resources for Collection and Preservation

Library of Congress – Audio-Visual Preservation:
https://www.loc.gov/avconservation/

Library of Congress – Care, Handling, and Storage of Works on Paper:
https://www.loc.gov/preservation/care/paper.html

Library of Congress – Digital Preservation:
https://www.loc.gov/preservation/digital/

National Archives – How to Preserve Family Papers and Artifacts:
https://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives

Northeast Document Conservation Center – Preservation:
https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/overview

Smithsonian Institution Archives – Preservation:
https://siarchives.si.edu/services/preservation

“Getting Fat and Lazy” in World War I France

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Stationed overseas in small towns surrounding Dijon, France, David Rosenblum was far from the front line during World War I. Rosenblum described his time in the United States military from 1918 to 1919 as being “just like a vacation and a little hard work.” In his letters home, he talks about girls and ‘grub,’ about missing home, his odd jobs, and stories of his military experience.

The David Rosenblum World War I letters offer an alternative perspective of overseas service during WWI, far from the frequently recounted horrors of the front line. Rosenblum was stationed outside of Dijon, France which was inland of the southernmost portion of the front line between France and the German Reich by 1918, when he began his service. Working for the Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop around 200 kilometers behind enemy lines, Rosenblum assembled Fords and lead pipes.

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He went on to work as a stenographer, joking, “Our hero, undaunted braves the storm and fights on for liberty. Yes, verily he fights on pounding this cute little typewriter…It seemeth strange that the government can’t find more use for our hero other than the delicate task of typing.” Rosenblum frequently poked fun at his role in the war, with a full understanding that his conditions were quite pleasant (and un-heroic) compared to his fellow soldiers fighting on the front lines. Finally, in these letters, he discusses his time as an official military entertainer, playing piano for soldiers, nurses, and officers in various Red Cross locations in France, and of course, “getting fat and lazy.”

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Rosenblum’s humor is evident throughout the letters. He takes every opportunity to gently poke fun at the French and their pace of life. On October 11, 1918, he informed his family of the attitudes towards the French among the soldiers, “Oh: yes, we call the French frogs and France is called Frog country and the boys are not one bit keen about the frogs. Golly, but they are slow. How they ever stopped Germany is a mystery. We do more in a minute than the frogs in a month…they are slow and way behind the times; the engines and railroads and conveniences are medieval.” He continues the use of the term frog until his departure from France. Despite his joking, Rosenblum had clear affinity for certain aspects of French culture. He frequently notes the charm of the towns and expresses a liking for the children who were enamored with the American soldiers.

r1But, above all else, in his letters Rosenblum expresses a love for the ‘grub’ and girls of France. Of the 26 letters in this collection, every single one mentions food. Be it the underwhelming food of the station, or his wonderful culinary experiences in town, Rosenblum was focused on the grub. He frequently talked about the bread, cheese, wine and jam that he would purchase or be gifted in the towns, and about the restaurants he would visit with his military buddies. He also mentions the French women several times, most fondly, the one who made him an omelet and the several that offered him bread, cheese, wine, jam and sweets. He also recounts the French love of American cigarettes, and how this love helped him initiate conversation with French women, “I saw a beautiful looking young lady looking out the window. She smiled friendly, everyone does – perhaps it’s the U.S. uniform or the thought of a cigarette – I guess the latter.”

Rosenblum’s experience was far from the heroic and glorified stories of boys being sent overseas and returning as weathered men. Rosenblum retains a sense of innocence. During the war, he is well fed, works in a protected and comfortable environment, and has plenty of opportunity for enjoyment. That being said, this collection offers vibrant description of small-town France and its people in the early 20th century, first-hand reports of the morale of soldiers at the end of World War I, and a look into the charming and humorous attitude of a young man, like many others, who was thrust into a less-frequently recounted military experience.

“I felt more than a little used” – Don Stacy’s Correspondence with Vilém Flusser, 1973-1976

Donald L. Stacy (1925-2008), known primarily as Don Stacy, was an artist and art teacher born in New Jersey, who lived and worked for most of his life in New York City. Vilém Flusser (1920-1991), pictured below– a Czech-born philosopher who lived for a long period in Sao Paulo, and later in France– wrote on media and technology, and on communication and artistic production, among other concepts. Flusser’s writings are extremely influential and are still being enthusiastically taken up today.

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The correspondence between Don Stacy and Vilém Flusser in this collection takes place primarily between 1973 and 1976 (Don Stacy correspondence with Vilém Flusser, Ms. Coll. 1261).


Though Stacy and Flusser discuss many fascinating concepts surrounding philosophy, art, and creativity, I found myself most compelled by an exchange early on in their correspondence in 1974. Stacy wrote to Flusser to express his displeasure at their first in-person encounter; Flusser had asked Stacy to set up contacts for him in New York City so that he could give lectures, and Stacy revealed in his letter dated May 1, 1974, that he felt used by Flusser as a result of Flusser’s time in New York City.

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Ms. Coll. 1261, Box 1, Folder 2

The two men work through this disagreement, with Stacy appealing to Flusser on an emotional level and Flusser maintaining an intellectual stance—one wonders if their different approaches are as a result of their respective cultures—and go on to share further ideas regarding art and philosophy and develop their friendship over the years to come.

Another aspect of the collection that struck me was the self-conscious nature of the correspondence, in that the two men were clearly aware that their letters would be collected one day. The letters from Stacy in this collection are unsent draft copies and, in his last letter to Flusser (dated March 7, 1983), Stacy notes “You could publish a book – letter to an unknown artist!” (For additional resources relating to the correspondence between Don Stacy and Vilém Flusser, please see the Berlin Flusser Archives and the Brazil Flusser Archives.)

Though Stacy avoided the spotlight and expressed to Flusser his disdain at networking, it’s a shame that he’s not more well-known today. It’s telling of his good nature, for instance, that Stacy never corrected Flusser, who persisted on calling him “Dan” instead of “Don” throughout their correspondence. The dynamic, playful, and curious mind of this “unknown artist” lives on in these letters.

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Woodcut by Don Stacy, printed in Main Currents in Modern Thought, 1966 (Box 1, Folder 7)

This collection is now open to researchers.

 

This seventh day of February

335 years ago today, William Penn sold 500 acres of land in Pennsylvania to John Kirton.

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The date was recorded as 1681, but as the new year in England at that time began on March 25, this is actually February 1682 according to the present calendar system.  The deed recording this transaction is one of seven documents gathered in a volume some time after 1916 as examples of the signatures of four generations of the family of William Penn, founder and proprietor of Pennsylvania.  The deed has William Penn’s own signature and seal.

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The volume, a recent gift from Caroline F. Schimmel, is now Ms. Codex 1809 at the Kislak Center for Rare Books, Manuscripts and Special Collections.  The signers of the other documents range from William Penn’s father in 1667 to one of his grandsons in 1787.  Along with six men of the Penn family appears Hannah Callowhill Penn, William Penn’s second wife.  At the end of William’s life, Hannah conducted his business from England and continued to manage his estate and their affairs between his death in 1718 and hers in 1726.  Her manuscript in the collection is a business letter, entirely in her hand, written to James Logan in Philadelphia in May 1718, a few months before William’s death.

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To conclude this post with her closing words, “Which is the present needfull from Thy Loving Friend H. Penn.”

Text Me Back! The Cunnington and Lee Family Papers

Have you ever texted someone and then waited … waited … waited for a response? Navigating relationships in the age of texting can cause a lot of uncertainty, impatience, and disappointment. How dare your romantic interest like that photo on Instagram or comment on that Facebook post without having responded to that meme you just sent?! I was reminded that the frustration of communication between romantic partners is not new when I recently processed the Cunnington and Lee family papers, 1813-1866.

William P. Cunnington (1804-1871) led the orchestra at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia and traveled with orchestras in Baltimore and New York. While on an extended business trip to Baltimore, he wrote to his wife, Jane Cook Cunnington (1808-1872), and very freely described his displeasure at the infrequency of her letters (and of the topics on which she wrote).

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Ms. Coll. 1258, Box 1, Folder 3

Baltimore
Nov 25, 1846

My dear Jane—

I scarcely know whether to feel more distressed or incensed at your conduct. I have been here nearly two weeks & not one word from you. I wrote to you last Friday night & sent the letter by Rink on Saturday morning. I wrote as much as it was possible for me to do situated as I was. I begged of you to sit down on Sunday & write to me & I felt as certain of having a letter on Monday as I did of seeing the daylight. I counted the hours for the office to open but I only experienced the bitter disappointment. I have been to the office every day…. I could scarcely believe my own senses when told again this morning & again this afternoon that there was no letter.

Wow—tell us how you really feel, Willy! William and Jane did have three children—William H., Oldine, and Francis—so it’s possible that Jane’s infrequent missives were a result of taking care of the children and not because she was trying to “distress” or “incense” her rather impatient husband.

Another highlight of this collection is an example of a crossed letter. A crossed, or cross-hatched, letter contains two sets of writing on top of each other at right angles. This practice was done in the nineteenth century to save paper, as well as postal charges. (Even after paper became more readily available, some people practiced crossed writing as a show of thrift.) As you can see from the example, it’s a challenge to read such crossed letters!

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Ms. Coll. 1258, Drawer 55

The Cunnington and Lee family papers also contain the papers of antiquarian William H. Cunnington (1754-1810) of Heytesbury, Wiltshire, England. In addition to the family letters—which are concerned with issues such issues of daily life as health, the settling of estates, and travel—the collection contains poems written by, and apparently copied by, the families. The poems are primarily concerned with love and death (is there anything else?).

This collection is now open for researchers. After perusing the collection, perhaps you will be moved to show more patience toward your paramours than William showed poor Jane.

The Jewish Counterculture in the Michael Strassfeld papers

The Michael Strassfeld papers, 1901-2015 (bulk: 1968-2015), which came to Penn in 2015, are now processed and open for research. Michael Strassfeld (b. February 8, 1950) is an American Reconstructionist Rabbi. Raised in an Orthodox Jewish household, Strassfeld was profoundly influenced by the burgeoning Jewish anti-establishment movement in the Boston area in the 1960s and early 1970s. The Michael Strassfeld papers contain the records of the his education and life’s work. Represented are elements of his Orthodox upbringing, traditional Jewish education, influence of the Jewish anti-establishment and countercultural movements, and his training and practice as a Reconstructionist Rabbi.

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