Whose World’s Fair? Advertisements in Print Collection 47

Come see the wondrous plank! Sixteen feet across if it’s an inch! From the most ancient depths of the old-growth redwood forests of Humboldt County, the tree from which it was hewn overlooked the Pacific Ocean for centuries before Europeans ever arrived on this country’s eastern shore. And now it’s here, through the might and main of modern industry, polished to a high sheen with our celebrated and unparalleled Berry Brother’s Hard Oil Finish! “It is highly improbable,” says this informational handbill, “if a tree will ever be found that will yield a larger plank; so that the mammoth piece of timber here may certainly be termed the ‘sight of a lifetime.’” So come see the plank! And buy Berry Brothers Hard Oil Finish!

Print Coll 47 Michael Zinman collection of World’s Fairs and Expositions material is filled with promotional booklets, brochures, and handbills like this one from the legendary World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, more popularly known as the Chicago World’s Fair. Some are sillier than others, though few reach such heights as the ad for the “Mammoth Redwood Plank.”

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Weird, Weird World: Some strange world’s fair memorabilia

While cataloging Print Collection 47 Michael Zinman collection of World’s Fairs and Expositions material, I came across a significant amount of stuff — I don’t really have another word for it — that I didn’t expect. Any time I process a collection, of course, I inevitably run up against things that don’t seem to “fit,” that are surprising, or confusing, or just plain weird. But Print Coll 47 was eight boxes of nonstop weirdness, and I want to share as much of it as I can.


That there is so much of this material is a testament to the popularity — indeed the craze — of world’s fairs during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Beginning with London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, the modern world’s fair/exposition showcased new technologies and industrial progress in general. Many world’s fairs/expositions also centered around specifically nationalistic and at times generally western-imperial themes. (In a follow-up post, I will go into detail about the confluence of industrialism and imperialism in world’s fair advertisements.)

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Sherman Frankel’s Stand against the End of the World (and Dirty Streets)

Sherman Frankel (center, 1923-2019) with Andrei Sakharov (left, 1921-1989) and Yelena Bonner (right, 1923-2011) likely circa May 1987. Sakharov was a Soviet physicist who designed the USSR’s first nuclear weapons. He later became a political dissident and reform activist, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. Bonner was a lifelong human rights activist.

For nearly thirty years, Sherman Frankel’s professional life revolved around what could happen in thirty minutes. Specifically, his life revolved around what could happen in the period between the moment an intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a nuclear warhead is launched and the moment it reaches a target up to ten thousand kilometers away. Astoundingly, horrifyingly, this period would last about thirty minutes. Maybe less.

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“From Antarctica to Zimbabwe” — available online!

In case you missed SCPC’s annual Archives Month Philly event, do not fear!  You can still travel around the globe with the online version of “From Antarctica to Zimbabwe: Around the World with Archives, Books and Codices!”  Kislak catalogers will be your guides!

Each year, October is Archives Month Philly during which institutions around the region celebrate all things “special” collections!  The Special Collections Processing Center at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts puts on a cataloger-curated show for one evening with just a few of our favorite things!

This year, “From Antarctica to Zimbabwe: Around the Word with Archives, Books and Codices,” took place on October 23, 2019 from 5 to 6:30, in the Class of 78 Orrery Pavilion, on the sixth floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library.

A Curious Story of Two Banned Soviet Jewish Poems

Benjamin Waife, better-known under his pen name B.Z. (Ben Zion) Goldberg, was an American Yiddish journalist, writer, historian, and son-in-law of Sholom Aleichem, who made a significant contribution to recording and interpreting the history of Soviet Jews. In one of his notes about his visit to the Soviet Union, Goldberg writes about his frequent encounter to two poems: one posing “the Jewish question” and the other giving the answer to it. Soviet Jews recited these banned poems from memory and secretly passed them on from one person to another. He heard them from a physician in Leningrad, a teacher in Odessa, and a writer in Tashkent. Goldberg concludes that these poems “became folk literature expressing the assimilated new generation of Soviet Jews” (B.Z. Goldberg papers, [in process Box 70, Folder 2]). Goldberg wrote them down in Russian and then typed up the translations in English.

The first part of the poem that numerous Soviet Jews were reciting–Goldberg wrote it all down in Russian (B.Z. Goldberg’s papers, [in process Box 70, Folder 2]).
 Excerpts from B.Z. Goldberg’s translation of Margarita Aliger’s “Your Victory” and Michael Rashkovan’s “Answer to Margarita.” Goldberg did not know who wrote the poems–all he knew was that Soviet Jews secretly recited these poems, and so he recorded them and increased awareness about them in the West (B.Z. Goldberg’s papers, [in process Box 70, Folder 2]). 

Turns out, those poems had been published; but were later banned and their reciting forbidden. The original poem or the question was created by Margarita Aliger, a well-known Soviet Jewish poet and the author of “Your Victory.” The aforementioned poem’s part called “We are Jews” was published in the magazine Znamya (Flame) in 1946. The following year, Michael Rashkovan, veteran of the Second World War, was inspired by it and wrote an answer to Aliger. After the banning, however, B.Z. Goldberg documented the Soviet Jews’ resistance across the Soviet Union, and kept these poems about being Jewish in the USSR alive. Throughout his career, Goldberg was dedicated to using his access to freedom of speech and expression to help his Soviet Jewish counterparts.

Letter from Lazis Fanya Lvovna, Kiev region, in which she writes about having heard of Goldberg helping Jews in need. She asks Goldberg to pass along her address to her brother in Brooklyn, 1962 (B.Z. Goldberg papers, [in process Box 75, Folder 1]) .


Cookies, Cards, and Cultivating Community: Gays at Penn in the ’70s, ’80s, and Beyond!

The LGBT community in the United States and at the University of Pennsylvania has come a long way since the 1970s. The Jeremy Duncan Nicholson* papers provide an illuminating snapshot of the efforts undertaken by students and faculty at Penn in the 1970s and 1980s to cultivate a vibrant gay and lesbian community on campus and in Philadephia, in which community members could fully enjoy the human and civil rights to which they were entitled. Moreover, the collection gives us a glimpse into the ways in which things have changed at Penn and in Philadelphia as well as how some things never seem to change. From my perspective as a current student, alumnus, and an active participant in campus life, including in the queer community, at Penn today, there were some very exciting and unexpected gems in this collection!

I loved this flyer from 1977 inviting incoming students to join Gays at Penn. Besides the offers of support and camaraderie, which are always necessary ingredients for building a healthy community, what stood out to me were the cookies! Having food at events is one of the surest ways of getting Penn students to come to your events. And who doesn’t love cookies?

Another thing that stood out to me was this note from Professor Ann Matter to Jeremy Duncan Nicholson from 1982. As far as we’ve come, we still sometimes have incidents involving students that we must attend to. Professor Matter was a resident faculty fellow in Van Pelt College House (now Gregory College House) when this note was written. Today, faculty fellows are still a valuable resource for students in the college houses.

In addition to the important work of faculty fellows, this note also draws my attention to changes in technology. Do you remember when you could call someone without using an area code? And when Professor Matter wrote that her phone died, she wasn’t talking about her cell phone battery dying. Technological advances have made it so that queer students can now communicate with faculty and each other at increasingly higher speeds and through several different avenues. One thing we may want to bring back, however, is the drama of referring to the repairing of your phone as a “resurrection!” (Ann Matter is a professor of religious studies.)

My favorite item from this collection is what seems to be a Gays at Penn membership card. The card is so simple against the backdrop of the complications of life as an LGBT student both in the 1970s and today. I have so many questions about this card, but I’ll only ask the most important one here: Where can I get mine?

Edit: I’ve figured out the mystery of the membership card! As much as I wanted this to be a cool sign of membership in the Gays at Penn student organization, the number on the card is in fact the account number for the organization itself within the system of funding for student organizations at the time, which I found on an old funding request form.

*Jeremy Duncan Nicholson (b. 1948) was a community organizer for the gay and lesbian community at the University of Pennsylvania and in Philadelphia, from roughly 1975-1982, when he was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. This collection includes material from several organizations of which Nicholson was a part, such as the Christian Association of the University of Pennsylvania (CA), the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force (PLGTF), Gay Peer Counseling (GPC), Gays at Penn, and Philadelphia community health organizations, including Lavender Health and the Eromin Center.

Save the Date: From Antarctica to Zimbabwe on October 23!

As we approach autumn, catalogers in the Special Collections Processing Center turn our thoughts (with glee) to our annual Archives Month Philly Event.
This year, we are extremely excited to present:

From Antarctica to Zimbabwe:
Around the World with Archives, Books and Codices
In the words of Emily Dickinson, “There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away.” But why stop at books?  Add atlases, letters, travel diaries, photo albums, sketchbooks, souvenirs, posters, ocean liner menus, and the armchair travel possibilities are endless.  Take a voyage through the far-flung geographical corners of our collections; the catalogers of the Kislak Center will be your guides!

October 23, 5 to 6:30 pm
Class of 78 Orrery Pavilion
Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, sixth floor
(please bring photo id for entry into Library)
Free and Open to the Public! All are Welcome!


Back to School

Heading off to college?  You might want to take a peek at this once helpful guide for women published in Philadelphia by the John C. Winston Company in 1949.


Off to College by Suzanne Gould Emerson provided young women with helpful advice.  “In this indispensable guide book she tells you how to handle both your money and your men … how to make friends at school … how to dress …”  Social life and dating seemed the key to college life for young women in 1949 as the dust jacket flap notes there is “sage advice both on study and different types of dates (plus techniques for getting dates!).”

Wishing everyone a happy, new school year!

The above image is part of the John C. Winston Company Book Jacket Album, Ms. Coll. 1409 here at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.  The album contains approximately seventy dust jackets spanning the years from 1947 to 1955 and covers several genres.


The “Theatricals in Philadelphia” Scrapbooks: Or, How Yesterday’s Old Stuff Became the Treasure Trove of Today

The complete set of “Theatricals in Philadelphia” scrapbooks (MS. Coll. 1384)

If you work in an archival repository, you know that no matter how uninteresting or randomly assembled a collection may appear, it probably meant a lot to whoever decided to put it together. Archivists are also used to dealing with the hyperbolic language of the auctioneers from whom collections are sometimes purchased. Everything has to be “unusual,” “rare,” “unique,” etc. to attract the generous offers of the bidders. So, there seems to be nothing special about the note that opens the 15-volume scrapbook set of “Theatricals in Philadelphia”. The anonymous writer – probably an employee of the well-known Philadelphia auction house of Stanislaus Henckels – informs us that “somebody has devoted almost a lifetime in making this collection,” which is of course defined as “invaluable,” at least to “those interested in Philadelphia theatrical affairs.” 

A description of the “Theatricals in Philadelphia” scrapbooks found at the beginning of volume I

But let’s face it: who, in 1920 Philadelphia, could be interested in purchasing a huge pile of materials on literally anything happened on the city stages only a few decades before? Sure, today’s opera aficionados would likely love to read page after page of Pavarotti programs, and admire dusty portraits of the singer clipped out of 1990s magazines; and theater buffs may crave to know more about the time when the Trocadero – which will permanently close at the end of May 2019 – was the kingdom of burlesque, and the 4,000-seat Broad Street Metropolitan Opera House – which was recently reopened as a concert venue – was used as a church. But 3,500 pages of this (and what’s more, in no apparent order)? Maybe it’s a bit too much. Continue reading

Penn Work Study Students: Job opportunity in the Special Collections Processing Center!

Archival Assistant: LGBT Center Papers

The archival assistant will efficiently process the archive of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Center of the University of Pennsylvania in order to make it accessible for researchers. Following archival standards, the archival assistant will arrange the collection in logical and user-friendly order, will describe the material in a finding aid using a collections management database, assess material for conservation or preservation needs, and will house the collection in archival boxes and folders. The Archival assistant will also promote use of the collection through social media.

This is a 300-hour position, with the possibility of extension.

• Interest in the history of the LGBT Center at the University of Pennsylvania and in gender studies
• Interest in history, primary sources, and archival material, as well as an interest in making collections available for research.
• Facility in the use of computer applications.
• Ability to work both independently and with others in a collaborative work environment.
• Strong oral and written communication skills.
• Willingness to take direction and constructive criticism relating to finding aids, blog posts, and other work products
• Willingness to write blog posts about the LGBT Center collection and the work performed in the Special Collection Processing Center and to contribute to the Kislak Center’s Instagram account.

• Experience processing archival collections or using them as a researcher.
• Coursework in historical methods, archival studies, and/or metadata standards
• Reading at least one Romance language
• Undergraduate degree preferred, but not required