Behind the Scenes–in person and virtually

On October 17, 2017, the catalogers of the Special Collections Processing Center had the chance to show off some of their favorite items! This year we offered tours of SCPC so that visitors could learn what happens to a book or collection “behind the scenes”–from the time that it is purchased or gifted, right up until it is publicly available.

The Behind the Scenes tours were in-person only, but in case you didn’t make it to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, you can discover online the invisible sights and unheard sounds of the moments before the big moments … before the counter-attack is launched, the play performed, an execution ordered, a new bestseller published.  And you might just discover why the catalogers in SCPC love their jobs so much!

 

Save the Date for Behind the Scenes: Archives Month 2017

The hurried scratching of pencil on paper as a code-breaker races against time…
The nervous pacing of an actress…
Sibilant whispers of advice into the ears of the powerful…
The crumpled publisher’s rejection letter, together with an annotated and crossed out draft…

These are the invisible sights and unheard sounds of the moments before the big moments … before the counter-attack is launched, the play performed, an execution ordered, a new bestseller published.

Catalogers are always behind the scenes, where they delight in finding previously lost or hidden secrets and making them available to the public.  Join the catalogers of the Kislak Center to learn about their favorite behind-the-scenes moments found between the covers of rare books and deep in the folders of archival collections.

Linger over our selections on October 17, 2017 from 5:30 to 7 pm at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, located on the 6th floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center at 3420 Walnut Street.

Free and open to the public (bring photo id to get into the library)!

Comics and Graphic Treatments of the Middle East: Not Just for Beginners

The Allan Solomonow papers, 1944-2016 [bulk: 1960-2009], Ms. Coll. 1247, are now processed and available for research.

Allan Solomonow (born 1937) is a Jewish peace activist who was active in New York City and the San Francisco Bay area from the 1970s through the 2010s. His particular concern was Middle East peace, and especially, the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Researchers who have an interest in US policy in the Middle East, the role of both secular and religious peace organizations, and ongoing Arab-Israeli dialogue will find much of interest in the collection.

One topic that interested me as I worked my way through the materials is the use of cartoons, comics, and other types of graphic representation to convey thoughts and ideas about a topic as sensitive and fraught as Middle East peace.

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Ghosts on the Shelf: Or, the Long-Awaited Return of Charles Durang’s “History of The Philadelphia Stage Between the Years 1749 and 1855” (But, Wait, Wasn’t that Thompson Westcott’s?)

Historians of American drama know it well: there is hardly a more precious source on 19th-century Philadelphia theater than Charles Durang’s work dedicated to the history of the city stage in the years between 1749 and 1855. A painstakingly detailed account of the theatrical activities that took place in Philadelphia over a century, Durang’s work appeared in weekly installments on a Philadelphia newspaper, the Sunday Dispatch, and was thus widely available at the time it was published. Today, it can be found in dozens of libraries across the U.S., either in its original form – that is, as clippings from the original newspapers from the 1850s and 1860s, often pasted onto more or less inclusive scrapbooks – or, much more frequently, as a microfilm.

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The title page of volume I of Thompson Westcott’s scrapbooks of Charles Durang’s history of theater in Philadelphia. Westcott’s signature and the date can be seen on the bottom left corner of the image. To the left is an engraving of actor, playwright, and theater manager David Garrick

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Jewish Women and Religious Devotion: The Rise of the Tikhine

The Chava Weissler papers are now available for research!

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Prayer is how the devout connect to the divine. It helps shape the life cycle and daily schedule of all religious communities. But, prayer is not always an equal experience for those who wish to participate. Judaism is a religion that has a reputation of being male centric and Hebrew centric. These tendencies extend to prayer and the daily or life cycle events to which they are tied. For generations, Jewish women were excluded by both the content and language of Jewish prayer, which can often be focused on men and are typically written in Hebrew, which not all women were taught to speak or understand.

However, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, new prayers known as tkhines began to appear. These private devotions were usually written in Yiddish, by both men and women, and were intended to be used by women and men who did not have extensive knowledge of Hebrew. These new prayers opened up Jewish ritual practice for women in an entirely new way, allowing them to build new connections to the divine and to be fuller participants in key Jewish rites. However, these tkhines also helped create a religious dialogue and set of practices for areas that traditionally fall within the “women’s domain” and are not addressed in typical Jewish prayer. Women suddenly had a means by which to verbally express their supplications to God regarding pregnancy, childbirth, infertility, and widowhood, to name a few.

Enter Dr. Chava Weissler, professor of religion. In 1985, Dr. Wiessler was a member of the Princeton University faculty and had just returned from a trip to the Jewish National and University Library, bringing back with her pounds of photocopies of the over 900 tkhines she found in their collection.

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Already an enthusiastic scholar of Jewish women’s lives, Dr. Weissler was enthralled with her find, which would become the basis of her first book, Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women. Weissler’s research was some of the first to address tkhines and Jewish women’s prayers. Much like the tkhines themselves, her writing opened up a whole new world of understanding, forever changing that way that both Jewish women’s payers and women’s roles within the Jewish community are perceived. Her work was at the cutting edge of the field, and continues to influence new generations of scholars.

The Charlotte Cushman Club records: A Window on Philadelphia Theater History

Perhaps even more than their male colleagues, actresses are often treated like cultural icons dangerously running on the sharp edge between scandal and sanctity, supported and haunted at the same time by an endless flow of more or less authorized anecdotes, interviews, photographs, Instagram posts, Facebook likes, and Twitter followers. But a century ago, in an age in which theater districts still served as meeting places between prostitutes and their clients, the reputation of actresses, especially in the earlier stages of their careers, was often considered dubious unless otherwise proven. In Philadelphia, a group of wealthy theater-lovers thought that young actresses should at least have the right to escape “the brothel-like atmosphere of cheap hotels and the rude stares of corset drummers;” and in 1907, they opened a new organization, the Charlotte Cushman Club, to provide them respectable lodging while performing in the city.

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The Charlotte Cushman Club house at 239 South Camac Street, Philadelphia

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“Un remede pire que le mal”: Medical Quackery and Political Commentary in the Helfand Collection

This print, by J. J. Grandville, refers to bloodletting, a mainstay of medical practice well into the nineteenth century.

The prints in the Helfand collection of medical quackery ephemera (Print coll. 34) deliver a strong dose of medical skepticism. The eclectic collection spans chronologically from 1736 to 2006 (with some undated materials) and ranges in genre from toothpaste advertisements to hymn sheets distributed on saints’ feast days. This printed ephemera speaks to the public perception of medicine in an era of very minimal professional regulation. Until the last century, patients had to be wary about charlatans in order to guard themselves against financial exploitation and threats to their physical wellbeing from fraudulent or unqualified healers.

Hydropathy (also called “hydrotherapy” or “water cure”) was a therapeutic treatment popular in the nineteenth century.

Perhaps the best-represented type of medical quackery ephemera in the collection is an assortment of caricatures and political cartoons from nineteenth century French periodicals and satirical newspapers. A print from one such publication shows three predatory looking doctors, with the heads of leeches, explaining to their frail and wide-eyed grasshopper patient that they will bleed him tomorrow. This is a reference to the once-popular practice of phlebotomy, an intentional withdrawal of blood to cure diseases or promote general health. Another comical print titled “Les Hydropathes” shows a man shivering under a torrent of ice water, part of a trendy health regimen meant to cleanse the body of impurities.

Lobau hovers above Paris on his flying syringe.

Other caricatures strike a political tone. A print published in 1831 shows Marshall Lobau, who had recently used fire hoses to intimidate protestors, perched atop a giant, flying clyster syringe. In a caricature published in Le Charivari in 1850, the politically active entrepreneur Louis-Desire Veron is depicted as a pharmacist, as he attempts to pulverize the newspaper’s mascot, a jester, with a mortar and pestle. Another image features an allegorical France being force-fed “un remede pire que le mal” (“a treatment worse than the disease”) by Veron. In these prints, medicine is employed as an expressive metaphor through which to comment upon politics: dissatisfaction with one sphere can be illustrated (literally) through derision of the other.

This allegorical print, “un remede pire que le mal,” uses medical themes to express a political sentiment.

While political commentary and criticism are still alive and well, the sentiment that carries through the Helfand collection –one of extreme distrust towards the medical establishment- is encountered much less frequently today. Part of this may be because of the great improvements in medicine that have taken place over the last three centuries. Where a physician might once have drained a pint of blood from an ill patient, today’s practitioner will prescribe antibiotics. Furthermore, the medical system has evolved. “Quackery” is now much less of a threat because medicine is strictly regulated. Doctors have to go through years of standardized training, and drugs are rigorously tested in clinical trials.

This print shows Veron in the role of quack pharmacist, a frequently-occurring character in nineteenth century French comical prints.

Yet the historical events that have elevated the sphere of medicine may also have carried a few disadvantages. While the process of medical professionalization (which took off in the early twentieth century) has created new kinds of scientific authority and expertise, it has probably also blocked some avenues for productive criticism of the field. Medicine today is not perfect, nor is our national healthcare system. As I look through the prints in the Helfand collection I am deeply appreciative of the quality of medicine available in the twenty first century – but also a little wistful for a type of lively, popular critique that seems to have fallen out of date.

Samuel Roth, “Prometheus of the Unprintable”

Samuel Roth (1893 –1974) was an American publisher and writer. Yet, he was so much more, as I discovered when I processed the Jay A. Gertzman collection on Samuel Roth, 1926-2014, Ms Coll. 1315. Jay A. Gertzman, Professor Emeritus at Mansfield University, describes Roth:

“Samuel Roth publicized himself as a literary Johnny Appleseed, bringing to ordinary Americans the modern literature of two continents, despite its sexual explicitness. He was also a master of prurient advertising of borderline mail order sex pulps and sensational human interest stories. He put himself in the direct line of fire that municipal, state and federal law enforcement officials and moral entrepreneurs reserved for pariah capitalists.”

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Photo via Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Roth faced many legal battles and short periods of jail time over the course of his career. He is most well-known for his unauthorized publication of excerpts from James Joyce’s Ulysses in the periodical Two Worlds Monthly. This unauthorized release of Ulysses provoked an International Protest organized by Joyce and Joyce’s publisher, Sylvia Beach, in 1927.

The minority ruling from his 1957 Roth v. United States case provided the precedent for the 1959 case Grove v. Christenberry, which changed the definition of obscenity, making it easier to publish explicit material if it had artistic, literary, political, or scientific merit.

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Box 3, Folder 2

This collection features research that Jay A. Gertzman conducted in preparation for writing his book, Samuel Roth, Infamous Modernist, which was published by University of Florida Press in 2013. There are photocopies of Roth’s publications, prison letters, and legal documents, as well as original research notes by Gertzman. Roth’s other publications included Bumarap: The Story of a Male Virgin, published in 1947 (below left), and the periodical Good Times: A Revue of the World of Pleasure, published from 1954-1956 (below right).

Among the most entertaining correspondence in the collection is from “anthologist of erotic humor” Gershon Legman (1917-1999) to Gertzman, a sample of which is below.

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This collection of research on Samuel Roth– aka the “Prometheus of the Unprintable,” as writer Robert Antrim referred to him in 1973– is now open for use. Researchers may also want to check out the Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which has in its holdings the Samuel Roth papers, 1907-1994.

Frozen Dolls and Famous Actresses: A Tale of Two Charlottes

Somewhere in the New England countryside, first half of the nineteenth century. It is a cold winter night. In a lonely home on the side of a mountain, a young woman named Charlotte is dressing up to go to the ball. Only, the ball will be held in an inn fifteen miles away, and the only available means of transportation is the open sleigh of Charlotte’s boyfriend Charles. “Be careful,” says Charlotte’s mother to her daughter, “make sure to wrap up in a warm blanket, if you don’t want to freeze out there!” “There is no way, mom,” Charlotte responds, “how can I expect my splendid dress to be seen if I muffle myself up in that ugly blanket? My silken cloak will be quite enough.” The bottom line: Charlotte is found frozen to death by her beloved Charles at the end of their ride on the snow.

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Sing Ho, the Franklin Inn Club!

The lives of writers and scholars in early 20th century Philadelphia often involved the Franklin Inn Club, the artistic society, founded in 1902, which claimed among its members a large percentage of the city’s leading cultural lights. But despite the collective intellectual and artistic intensity housed within its relatively small space, the atmosphere at the Franklin Inn was remarkably relaxed; the building on Camac Street served as a gathering place for lunch, after-work dinner and drinks, and occasional picnic outings to nearby scenic locales. It also hosted an impressive number of amateur theatricals, one of which was held yearly to celebrate Ben Franklin’s birthday—and, judging by the programs I’ve found in the papers of John Louis Haney, president of Central High School from 1920 to 1943, noted scholar of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and long-term member of the Club, these theatricals were pretty riotous affairs, and prove that a literary society of that era was never in danger of taking itself too seriously.

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We begin with an evening’s entertainment from 1917: The Yellow Dye, or, the Moulting Hero: a farce tragedy in five acts, being a pirated dramatization of Jorg Jib’s popular novel The Yellow Dove. Where to begin with the many joys on display within this small piece of paper? For one thing, we have a window into the literary tastes of the Club members; The Yellow Dove, an enormously successful popular novel at the time, clearly came in for some riotous and none-too-kind ribbing for lines such “she sank low in her armchair, her senses numb from the horror of the revelation. Her thoughts became confused like that of a sick person awaking from a nightmare to half consciousness, peopled with strange beautiful images doing the dark things of dreams. Cyril—her Cyril—a spy!”

From the gently sarcastic character appellations (“the hanemic hero,” “the ‘usky ‘eroine”; clearly George Gibbs had a fondness for cockney dialect) to the name itself, one can imagine the sort of “farce tragedy” the audience would have to deal with. All this, in addition to the all-male cast (the Franklin Inn didn’t admit women until 1980) would have lent the evening an air of appealing absurdity.

But if the adaptations were charming, it was the original plays that were the most riotous. The one-act play advertised for January 6, 1921 simply entitled Hootch has no relation to any other extant literary work, and perhaps that’s all for the best—but the tantalizing glimpses provided by the program raise all sorts of questions. Who is this family, the Swags—and what are they interested in? Why is Volstead Hunter “a martyr to duty?” And—perhaps most importantly—how can anyone with the name Swag, no matter how young, truly be an “innocent child?”

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(Actually, the most important question is probably how Dr. (Ellis Paxson) Oberholtzer, famed biographer and club secretary, managed the “mature but still fascinating” role of Mrs. Swag.)

Calling such a play Hootch may have had to do with the play’s contents, but it also signals the implied state of the audience attending such a performance—and indeed, we have written evidence of the fondness for alcoholic refreshment evinced by the club’s members, in the form of an ode to cultural drinking.

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While undated, one can imagine, considering its inclusion in the archives among other Franklin Inn material from the period, that its ironic repudiation of demon liquor was a reaction to the rules of Prohibition. But regardless of its era, its lines—alongside the spirited amateur theatricals it complements—give a sense of the ways in which the Inn’s membership melded high culture with a high tolerance for satire and spirits.