Interns’ Impressions

“I feel like I’m the link between the teachers and the kids,” says intern Connell Boken. He participated in Huntington Explorers as a child, and he was back as a classroom assistant this summer. Photo by Miso Kim.

“I feel like I’m the link between the teachers and the kids,” says intern Connell Boken. He participated in Huntington Explorers as a child, and he was back as a classroom assistant this summer. Photo by Miso Kim.

Over the past summer, 18 interns from universities across the country worked with The Huntington’s library, art, and botanical collections.

One of the interns, Connell Boken, is a sophomore at Whitman College in Washington. A Pasadena native, Boken got to know The Huntington by going to its summer program, Huntington Explorers, and then becoming a high school volunteer in The Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science. This year, he was back in Huntington Explorers as a college intern, being a classroom assistant to groups of children aged 5–12. Boken has many fond memories from the time when he was an Explorer himself 10 years ago. “I feel like I’m the link between the teachers and the kids,” he says. “I was in eighth grade when they were born.”

Huntington Explorers is an opportunity for children to use The Huntington’s rich collections as a jumping off point for learning. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Huntington Explorers is an opportunity for children to use The Huntington’s rich collections as a jumping off point for learning. Photo by Martha Benedict.

At Whitman, Boken is studying the role of gender in paintings and history, with a plan to double-major in history and art history. His dream is to one day become a museum curator. Boken was impressed that even young children could appreciate the knowledge he shared with them about the artworks in the galleries. “When I told them that an 18th-century English painter, Joshua Reynolds, was the president of the Royal Academy of Arts, they found that interesting. They were curious to hear more.” He wonders if any of the children will one day follow in his footsteps and be interns in the Explorers program, or even become teachers.

Another intern, Courtney Buchkoski, worked in the Library with Peter Blodgett, the H. Russell Smith Foundation Curator of Western Historical Manuscripts at The Huntington. Buchkoski is in a Ph.D. program in history at the University of Oklahoma. She’s writing her dissertation on immigration aid in society, with a focus on the 19th-century American West and its intellectual history. Buchkoski worked with Blodgett to prepare a subject guide for Huntington materials about the Chinese in the American West. Such guides are among the many documents that libraries use to help researchers find relevant sources.

Intern Courtney Buchkoski worked in the Library with Huntington materials related to the Chinese in the American West. Photo by Miso Kim.

Intern Courtney Buchkoski worked in the Library with Huntington materials related to the Chinese in the American West. Photo by Miso Kim.

One document made a particular impression on her. A 31-page manuscript, penned by an unidentified woman in 1855, touches on several aspects of California history, including the presence of the Chinese in San Francisco. At some points in the speech, the woman describes the Chinese in unfavorable terms, but then she seems to catch herself, saying “I am in favor of the Chinese,” for “the Chinese are neither better nor worse than ourselves.” By the end of the manuscript, she conveys her wish that she could do something about their plight but feels powerless: “I am only a woman, obliged to pay taxes, but not allowed to have a voice in the government of the republic.”

Buchkoski found the letter particularly noteworthy because it spoke to issues still unresolved today. “There are always people who think through the logic of racism and realize the truth, that racism is illogical. You can see the seed of change in this woman’s words.”

This 1855 text by an unidentified woman offers perspectives on California history, including the presence of the Chinese in San Francisco. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

This 1855 text by an unidentified woman offers perspectives on California history, including the presence of the Chinese in San Francisco. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Both Boken and Buchkoski felt that their experiences as interns will influence their future academic careers. Boken treasures his experiences with the children in Explorers and what he learned about keeping things interesting for them. “This internship will help guide my future goal of becoming a curator,” he says. As for Buchkoski, having a real-world experience in a research library gave her a sense of just how immense the resources are behind the scenes. “If you look online at an archive’s collection, it’s 1/100 of what actually exists. I was so happy to do my small part in making the collections more accessible.”

Miso Kim served as an intern in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Unrolling a Long Past

A tightly rolled panoramic photo before treatment. Photo by Kate Lain.

A tightly rolled panoramic photo before treatment. Photo by Kate Lain.

Storing large-format panoramic photos is challenging. Many of the panoramas that arrive at The Huntington have been tightly rolled for long periods, making it hard to properly catalog them or even view them.

One of the most time-intensive and gratifying projects that I completed as a summer intern in The Huntington’s conservation lab was the unrolling and flattening of 20 panoramic photographs. The photos were from the collection of Homer D. Crotty (1899–1972), a Los Angeles lawyer. One of Crotty’s clients was the Richfield Oil Company, which he represented when it went into receivership during the Great Depression. He was chair of the Board of Trustees at The Huntington between 1957 and 1972, and his papers were donated in 1990.

First step: Humidify the rolled panoramic photos in a modified trash bin. Photo by Kate Lain.

First step: Humidify the rolled panoramic photos in a modified trash bin. Photo by Kate Lain.

When I started this project, I didn’t even know what was in the photos. I had only a few clues from some of the panoramas that showed a location or a date. Some of the photos were rolled with the images on the outside, offering a few more hints. My first step was to assess and document the condition of the artifacts and propose a treatment. In discussions with colleagues, we decided to use a two-step humidification process to relax the thick photographs. We first modified a “Horton Humidifier,” a technique developed by paper conservator Carolyn Horton. You stand the rolled object upright in a trash bin on a sheet of smooth, porous fabric called Hollytex that sits on a mesh grate suspended over an absorbent, non-woven fabric wetted with deionized water. This is an inexpensive and effective method that allows the photograph to be exposed to the moisture without sitting in water. I kept the panoramas in the trash bin with a relative humidity of about 90 percent for between 15 and 20 hours. We humidified two to three panoramas at a time.

While the panoramas were in the trash bin, we assembled a second, flat-tray chamber—a large, seven-by-four-foot sink that is equilibrated so that the relative humidity equals that of the bin chamber. Once the sink’s humidity reached the right percentage, I moved the panoramas from the bin to the sink for an additional eight hours of treatment.

After several more hours in a large, flat humidification sink, the photos can start to be unrolled. Photo by Kate Lain.

After several more hours in a large, flat humidification sink, the photos can start to be unrolled. Photo by Kate Lain.

The large, flat sink makes it possible for us to gently unroll the panorama by hand and place light weights along its edges. We use specialized materials—Hollytex and another fabric, Filtraloom—to protect the edges from stress or tears. This process requires patience. We would unroll the photos little by little. Often, we weren’t able to view the entire image until the end of the day. This was my favorite part—when I could see how all the time spent on relaxing the photos paid off. (You can see a short time-lapse video of the unrolling process at the end of this post.)

Out of the 20 panoramic photos, 19 required humidification. One of the panoramas was not as tightly rolled or stiff as the others, so we were able to flatten it without the use of moisture.

Intern Nicole Alvarado (right) and paper conservator Jessamy Gloor get ready to transfer a flattened photo into a drying stack. The time-lapse camera can be seen in the lower right corner of the humidification sink. Photo by Kate Lain.

Intern Nicole Alvarado (right) and paper conservator Jessamy Gloor get ready to transfer a flattened photo into a drying stack. The time-lapse camera can be seen in the lower right corner of the humidification sink. Photo by Kate Lain.

Once the panoramas were completely unrolled and relaxed, it was crunch time. We had to safely transfer the humidified photos onto a weighted drying stack. It took two people to gently lift the fragile objects out of the sink and over to the stack. Their large size—some more than four feet long—made this process difficult, even with two people. I always felt a sense of accomplishment when we got the photos into the drying stack, safely sandwiched between acid-free corrugated board, blotter paper, and Hollytex, with weights to hold them down.

Drying the photos is a crucial part of the treatment. They need to be pressed flat for several weeks so that they  won’t roll up again. We periodically checked them to make sure that they were drying evenly and efficiently. While they were drying, I made customized Mylar sleeves to further protect them once they were out of the drying stacks.

The flattened photos are stored in a drying stack for several weeks, sandwiched between layers of acid-free corrugated board, blotter paper, and a nonstick fabric called Hollytex. Photo by Kate Lain.

The flattened photos are stored in a drying stack for several weeks, sandwiched between layers of acid-free corrugated board, blotter paper, and a nonstick fabric called Hollytex. Photo by Kate Lain.

I am happy to report that, after 180 hours of humidification and approximately four to six weeks of total drying time, the panoramas are flattened and sleeved. They can now be catalogued. As for the images, they show some social events and at least half a dozen landscapes of Ventura County oil fields. I believe this collection of panoramas, especially those documenting the oil industry’s impact on Ventura County, will be of great interest to scholars of Southern California history. Now that these photos can be referenced easily and safely, scholars may discover intriguing details contained within them.

Related content on Verso:
LISTEN>> Caring for a Collection (Sept. 1, 2016)
Conserving a Classic Book on Sunspots (May 22, 2015)
Knife to the Grindstone (May 6, 2014)
To Inlay a Print (July 25, 2013)

Nicole Alvarado was a summer intern in The Huntington’s conservation lab. Her internship was supported by an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endowment established in 1981.

A Deep Dive into Jack London’s Life

Jack London, Australia, 1908. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Jack London, Australia, 1908. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Since the age of 10, filmmaker Ben Goldstein has been riveted by the life and writings of Jack London (1876–1916). His fascination with the author of The Call of the Wild and The Sea-Wolf has now spawned a feature-length documentary about the famed writer and adventurer. Entitled Jack London: American Original, the film will be shown at The Huntington on Sept. 22, 2016, with Goldstein presenting the film and moderating a Q&A at the end.

The Huntington’s Jack London collection, the largest in the world, played a key role in the film’s development. Goldstein visited the archives more than a dozen times to immerse himself in the 50,000 items The Huntington possesses on the author, including 12,000 of London’s own photographs. Huntington literary manuscripts curator Sara S. “Sue” Hodson, herself a published London scholar, helped Goldstein make sense of the gargantuan collection.

The Call of the Wild, first edition, 1903. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Call of the Wild, first edition, 1903. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“Sue’s assistance really helped the film take off,” says Goldstein. The filmmaker was able to sort through a treasure trove of memorabilia, including unpublished photographs of London’s adventures and everyday life, his letters, and the diaries of his wife, Charmian London. “That sort of access to personal objects gave me deep insights into the life and times of Jack and Charmian,” said Goldstein.

And then there were “aha” moments, such as seeing archival footage of London bustling around his Sonoma County ranch a few days before his death. “It was very moving,” recalls Goldstein, “and gave me a powerful place to aim towards at the conclusion of the film.”

Jack London with Neuadd Hillside, his prize-winning Shire stallion, on his Beauty Ranch in Glen Ellen, California, ca. 1905–1910. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Jack London with Neuadd Hillside, his prize-winning Shire stallion, on his Beauty Ranch in Glen Ellen, California, ca. 1905–1910. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Capturing the wide arc of London’s life posed a challenge. Goldstein needed to create a comprehensive portrait of the child laborer with an eighth-grade education who became the most popular fiction writer of his day and an outsize personality on the world stage. Goldstein’s film looks at the impact of The Call of Wild, London’s book about a dog named Buck, which was published in 1903 and secured his literary reputation. It also touches on London’s fame as a journalist, photographer, and serious political thinker with a global following.

Goldstein credits The Huntington’s extensive collection of newspaper articles from London’s voluminous scrapbooks with helping him illustrate the way the public perceived London. The articles enabled the filmmaker to illustrate the complexity of London’s personality as well as his struggles with alcohol, mood swings, and financial disasters.

Autograph manuscript of the first page of London’s report of the San Francisco earthquake and fire, April 1906. London’s was the first eyewitness account to be published, appearing in Collier’s Weekly on May 5, 1906. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Autograph manuscript of the first page of London’s report of the San Francisco earthquake and fire, April 1906. London’s was the first eyewitness account to be published, appearing in Collier’s Weekly on May 5, 1906. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The film uses arresting visuals and London’s own words from fiction and reportage to add another layer to the high-profile episodes of his life, including his brutal experiences during the Klondike Gold Rush, his bestseller successes, and his vivid coverage of the San Francisco earthquake and the Russo-Japanese War.

Goldstein also reveals several telling examples of London’s humility. For instance, while in England covering the coronation of Edward VII in 1902, Jack, disguised as a sailor, lived in London’s East End among the poor and homeless. He later described the hellish living conditions in his nonfiction book The People of the Abyss.

A 1902 photograph of Jack London (right) with a man identified as “Bert the Cobbler.” The two went undercover in London’s East End while Jack was working on his book The People of the Abyss. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A 1902 photograph of Jack London (right) with a man identified as “Bert the Cobbler.” The two went undercover in London’s East End while Jack was working on his book The People of the Abyss. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The fact that this year marks the 100th anniversary of London’s death may explain why projects about his life are popping up with greater frequency. Not that interest in him ever seems to fade. Young readers are still drawn to The Call of the Wild and White Fang. College professors extol “To Build a Fire” as one the best short stories ever written. Several authors point to London’s semi-autobiographical novel Martin Eden as the reason they became writers.

As Goldstein observes, “People around the world thrill to Jack’s works, adventures, passion for life, and quest for social justice. I hope that shines through in the film.”

The screening of Jack London: American Original takes place on Thurs, Sept. 22, 2016, at 7:30 p.m. in Rothenberg Hall. Tickets are $5 for members, $8 for non-members. You can purchase tickets online here.

Visitors unable to make the evening presentation may want to visit the Jack London section of the permanent exhibition “Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times” in the Library’s Main Exhibition Hall. On view are drafts of White Fang and “The Story of an Eyewitness,” London’s report on the San Francisco earthquake for Collier’s Weekly.

You can view the Jack London Photographs and Negatives collection online at the Huntington Digital Library.

Related content on Verso:
Jack and Charmian’s National Park Adventures (July 22, 2016)
Jack London and the Rose Parade (Jan. 1, 2016)
Jack London, Public Intellectual (Sept. 22, 2015)
To Build a Fire (Jan. 10, 2014)
The Star Rover (Jan. 12, 2012)
A Friend to Jack London (Sept. 15, 2011)

Linda Chiavaroli is a volunteer in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Chinese Poetry, Painting, and Gardens

Detail of bird eating fruit, Painting 2, Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, ca. 1633–1703, woodblock-printed book mounted as album leaves, ink and colors on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Detail of bird eating fruit, Painting 2, Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, ca. 1633–1703, woodblock-printed book mounted as album leaves, ink and colors on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Sometimes an object comes along that has so many ties to an institution’s collecting areas, it’s hard for curators to pass it up. That’s what happened in 2014, when The Huntington acquired the Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting 十竹齋書畫譜 (ca. 1633–1703), a remarkable example of early Chinese color woodblock printing, with poems and images focused on gardens.

Visitors can view the Ten Bamboo Studio Manual for the first time in the exhibition “Gardens, Art, and Commerce in Chinese Woodblock Prints,” on display in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery from Sept. 17, 2016 to Jan. 9, 2017.

Artist Gao Yang created this striking image of bamboo, “Flying White.” Bamboo 11, Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, ca. 1633–1703, woodblock-printed book mounted as album leaves, ink and colors on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Artist Gao Yang created this striking image of bamboo, “Flying White.” Bamboo 11, Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, ca. 1633–1703, woodblock-printed book mounted as album leaves, ink and colors on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

This extraordinary work contains 139 pages of poetry and 185 hand-printed color woodblock designs. The delicate calligraphy is accompanied by exquisite color images of pine trees, bamboo leaves, garden rocks, birds, and a delectable selection of fruits featuring grapes, tangerines, loquats, lychees, and persimmons.

The Huntington was drawn to the Ten Bamboo Studio Manual because it related to all three of its collecting areas—library, art, and gardens—and it provided the historical background for The Huntington’s Suzhou-style Chinese Garden, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance 流芳園.

Lines of verse from Mo Jian describe the ways in which the flecks of ink from a dry brush, typically referred to as “flying white,” capture bamboo leaves. His words begin: “Sloughing off both vibrant green and darker hue, / Its delicate leaves capture the reflections of the Xiang River.” Bamboo 11, Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, ca. 1633–1703, woodblock-printed book mounted as album leaves, ink and colors on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Lines of verse from Mo Jian describe the ways in which the flecks of ink from a dry brush, typically referred to as “flying white,” capture bamboo leaves. His words begin: “Sloughing off both vibrant green and darker hue, / Its delicate leaves capture the reflections of the Xiang River.” Bamboo 11, Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, ca. 1633–1703, woodblock-printed book mounted as album leaves, ink and colors on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

To understand this context, it’s helpful to consider the time and place where the Ten Bamboo Studio Manual and other works in this exhibition were created.

During the late Ming to early Qing period (late 16th to 19th century), commerce in the Yangzi River Delta linked to the salt, rice, and silk industries generated wealth that led to higher levels of literacy and education. That, in turn, fueled an appetite for printed works and the building of garden estates, among other things.

Suzhou, a city about 60 miles northwest of Shanghai, was developing a reputation for its stunning classical gardens. Scholars used rocks, hills, and water to construct landscapes that imitated nature and then carefully positioned pavilions and pagodas within the design. The Huntington’s Garden of Flowing Fragrance is styled after these gardens.

Persimmon and tangerines, Fruit 9, Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, ca. 1633–1703, woodblock-printed book mounted as album leaves, ink and colors on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Persimmon and tangerines, Fruit 9, Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, ca. 1633–1703, woodblock-printed book mounted as album leaves, ink and colors on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Just 150 miles northwest of Suzhou lay Nanjing, China’s secondary capital and the site of the Ten Bamboo Studio, a printing house known for the superior quality of its publications. It was here, in 1619, that its founder, Hu Zhengyan, a well-connected artist and calligrapher, began work on the Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting. Hu would take 14 years to complete the project, hiring more than a hundred artists and artisans, including painters, calligraphers, woodblock carvers, and printers.

The result was spectacular. Not just a how-to painting manual—such as the Canon of Paintings and the later Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (both in the exhibition)—the Ten Bamboo Studio Manual was an aesthetic indulgence, a luxury item that elevated printing to an art form.

The Ten Bamboo Studio used the douban or “assembled block” method to create images, a technique that involves applying each color with a block just large enough to accommodate that part of the design. By wiping away some of the ink and printing the image several times, the artists could layer the colors, achieving a subtle shading that resembled watercolor painting.

Rock on stand, Rock 6, Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, ca. 1633–1703, woodblock-printed book mounted as album leaves, ink and colors on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Rock on stand, Rock 6, Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, ca. 1633–1703, woodblock-printed book mounted as album leaves, ink and colors on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The manual was a phenomenal success, remaining continuously in print through several editions up until the 19th century. It attracted strong interest among literati in China and elsewhere, especially in Japan.

Indeed, The Huntington’s copy—one of the earliest editions—made its way to Japan sometime in the 1760s. There, the original 16 volumes were disbound and reorganized into three books, labeled Heaven 天, Earth 地, and Man 人. Inside are five inscriptions by renowned Japanese artists, attesting to their high regard for the manual.

The convergence of gardens, art, and commerce captured the imagination of the literary merchant class in China—and in Japan. It was also a winning combination for Henry E. Huntington. Today’s visitors have an opportunity to observe this same phenomenon by viewing some rare and beautiful color woodblock prints that were produced in a very different time and place.

This postscript to the “Heaven” album, 1860, by an unidentified Japanese artist writing in classical Chinese, reads in part, “This manual . . . is exquisitely carved and printed and is truly a rare specimen. Recently, I borrowed it for viewing over the course of several days, thus finally being able to observe it in full. This is truly a pure blessing for my studio. Having viewed the work, I register my joy.” Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, ca. 1633–1703, woodblock-printed book mounted as album leaves, ink and colors on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

This postscript to the “Heaven” album, 1860, by an unidentified Japanese artist writing in classical Chinese, reads in part, “This manual . . . is exquisitely carved and printed and is truly a rare specimen. Recently, I borrowed it for viewing over the course of several days, thus finally being able to observe it in full. This is truly a pure blessing for my studio. Having viewed the work, I register my joy.” Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, ca. 1633–1703, woodblock-printed book mounted as album leaves, ink and colors on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

iPads will make it possible to closely examine digital versions of two of the exhibition’s works: the Ten Bamboo Studio Manual and Illustrations of the Garden Scenery of the Hall of Encircling Jade (1602–1605), which shows in great detail the private garden of Wang Tingna (ca. 1569–after 1628), a successful playwright, merchant, and publisher from Huizhou, China.

“Gardens, Art, and Commerce in Chinese Woodblock Prints” is a major international loan exhibition and runs from Sept. 17, 2016, through Jan. 9, 2017.

Diana W. Thompson is senior writer for the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Ben Jonson’s Works at 400

The conference “Ben Jonson: 1616-2016” takes place at The Huntington on Sept. 16 and 17 in Rothenberg Hall. We asked the conference’s conveners—Martin Butler, professor of English Renaissance Drama at the University of Leeds, and Jane Rickard, associate professor of 17th-century English Literature at the University of Leeds—to share their view of developments in Jonson studies.

Frontispiece and title page of Ben Jonson’s Execration against Vulcan, London, 1640. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Frontispiece and title page of Ben Jonson’s Execration against Vulcan, London, 1640. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Shakespeare is not the only writer with a 400-year anniversary in 2016. It is a significant year too for his close friend and rival Ben Jonson, whose groundbreaking volume The Works of Benjamin Jonson was printed in 1616. This famous and beautiful book was a publishing landmark, for it was the first English folio to include plays from the professional stage under the title of “Works”—a bold assertion that such works were serious literature. Jonson’s volume was an important precursor to the publication of the Shakespeare first folio just seven years later. Without Jonson’s example, Shakespeare’s similar collection would have had much less chance of being printed.

So 2016 is a good time to take stock of Jonson’s achievement, all the more so because he has just had a radical refresh, with the publication of the seven-volume Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson (2012). The Cambridge Jonson is the first complete modern-spelling edition since 1816. It is also the first to sequence his writings chronologically and make them fully readable in old- and modern-spelling versions in a digital format. The new edition directs attention to parts of the canon that have previously been neglected and invites us to think about the relationships between different kinds of works, remembering that Jonson was not only a playwright and poet, but also a writer of court masques, a translator, and an all-round intellectual.

“Upon my Picture Left in Scotland” is one of the finest and most memorable poems in Ben Jonson’s Execration against Vulcan, London, 1640. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“Upon my Picture Left in Scotland” is one of the finest and most memorable poems in Ben Jonson’s Execration against Vulcan, London, 1640. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Jonson studies have changed tremendously in the last generation. He is now seen as one of the first celebrity authors, a position particularly enhanced by the recent discovery of a diary of the journey he made on foot from London to Edinburgh in 1617. Now available as Ben Jonson’s Walk to Scotland—co-edited by one of the conference speakers, James Loxley—the diary recounts the enthusiasm with which this London-based writer was greeted as he travelled north.

We also know a lot more these days about his religious and social beliefs. He was a man who, for 12 years, was a Catholic writer living in a Protestant state, and he was one of the earliest critics of urban consumerism. His reputation among Europe’s leading intellectuals is much more apparent, too. The Cambridge edition highlights the letters written by him and to him, his book collecting and marginalia, and the many allusions to him in the writings of his contemporaries, both at home and overseas. And, after a long period of eclipse, Jonson is starting to re-emerge as a powerful writer for the theater. His plays are garnering modern revivals and coming to be appreciated as the stage masterpieces that they are.

These are all themes that we expect to address in the conference. And where better to do so than at The Huntington, which has a wonderful archive of Jonsoniana? Besides holding the world’s largest collection of Jonson folios and a nearly complete set of his quartos, The Huntington has some outstanding Jonson manuscripts—including the complete manuscript of his masque The Gypsies Metamorphosed—and several books from his personal library with his signature on the title pages. Surely, with his taste for scholarship, Jonson would have appreciated being honored at The Huntington four centuries after the publication of his Works.

Title page of The Works of Benjamin Jonson, London, 1640. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Title page of The Works of Benjamin Jonson, London, 1640. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

You can read more about the conference program and registration on The Huntington’s website.

Martin Butler is professor of English Renaissance Drama at the University of Leeds. His books include The Stuart Court Masque and Political Culture and Theatre and Crisis 1632-1642. Along with Ian Donaldson and David Bevington, he is general editor of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson.

Jane Rickard is associate professor of 17th-century English Literature at the University of Leeds. She is the author of Writing the Monarch in Jacobean England: Jonson, Donne, Shakespeare and the Works of King James and Authorship and Authority: The Writings of James VI and I.

A Renaissance Curiosity

Detail from Pierre Pomet’s l’Histoire générale des drogues, Paris, 1694. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Detail from Pierre Pomet’s l’Histoire générale des drogues, Paris, 1694. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In J.K. Rowling’s novel Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, a quick-thinking Harry saves his best friend’s life by making him swallow a bezoar stone—a calcification from the stomach of a goat or other ruminant. Harry believed, as did many Renaissance doctors, that the stone served as a universal antidote to poison.

The Huntington’s collection of Renaissance printed books document the strange stone’s far-ranging use by apothecaries, medical practitioners, noble and royal collectors, preachers, and poets. In addition to nullifying the effects of poison, the fabulous stone reputedly cured worms, dispelled melancholy, and preserved youth.

The efficacy of the bezoar stone was put to the test in 1567, when Ambroise Paré, physician to King Charles IX of France, proposed a medical trial of sorts. He convinced a prisoner facing hanging to swallow poison along with the bezoar. If he survived, he’d be pardoned. The prisoner agreed and then died hours later, bleeding from every orifice and vomiting profusely, crying that death by gallows would have been better.

Yet the library record is packed with fantastic examples of the stone’s virtues and its soaring market value—equal to gold—that continued unabated long after Paré’s experiment.

Detail from Edward Topsell’s The historie of foure-footed beastes, London, 1607. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Detail from Edward Topsell’s The historie of foure-footed beastes, London, 1607. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Pierre Pomet, a French apothecary, summarized the Renaissance romance with bezoar stones. Harvested from wild goats or sheep in Persia, the East Indies, or Malaca, bezoars evoked the exotic allure of far-away lands, even as they promised to cure the human body. An image from Pomet’s 1694 l’Histoire générale des drogues shows an animated male goat caught in mid-leap among rocky cliffs, emphasizing the stone’s unusual genesis: a concretion bred in an animal but composed of a mineral.

Another Renaissance belief held that bezoars formed from the tears of a weeping stag. Edward Topsell’s The Historie of foure-footed beastes, published in 1607, describes a particular hart or deer that regenerated itself by eating venomous serpents. The hart dispelled the poison by submerging itself in water. According to Topsell, “The teares of this beast . . . are turned into a stone (called Belzahard, or Bezahar) . . . and being thus transubstantiated doe cure all manner of venom.”

Bezoars appeared in inventories of monarchs from the Hapsburg Rudolph II to England’s Queen Elizabeth I and were often displayed proudly alongside their royal jewels. Bezoar stones were also key ingredients in the tonics proposed by Renaissance physicians and apothecaries, as well as the home remedies offered by mothers and wives.

Detail of venomous serpents and a bezoar-weeping hart from Hortus sanitatis, Strassburg, approximately 1507. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Detail of venomous serpents and a bezoar-weeping hart from Hortus sanitatis, Strassburg, approximately 1507. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The bezoar’s powers encompassed both physical and spiritual cures. Robert Burton, in The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), recommends the bezoar for its “especiall vertue against all melancholy affections” because “it comforts the heart and corroborates the whole body.” As a prophylactic against bodily poisons, the bezoar could be readily cross-purposed for a spiritual antidote.

In the Psalms of David, Psalm 41, a thirsty, panting hart, frequently conflated in commentary with the bezoar-weeping stag, illuminates the struggle of the soul. As translated by the Protestant poet and courtier Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), the psalm reads:

As the chafèd hart, which brayeth,
Seeking some refreshing brook,
So my soul in panting playeth,
Thirsting on my God to look.

The sweating, crying hart, an emblem of the human soul, seeks the cure to relieve spiritual melancholy.

Detail from Geoffrey Whitney’s A choice of emblemes, London, 1586. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Detail from Geoffrey Whitney’s A choice of emblemes, London, 1586. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

How, I wondered, did a fragile calcification find such a prominent place among the great Renaissance curiosity cabinets, jewel houses, and royal recipes? Why did it feature in so many sermons, poems, and romances as an elixir of life?

My curiosity grew when I was able to observe a real bezoar. On a recent trip to Louisiana, I was delighted to discover a bezoar stone at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. It was sitting alongside other questionable medical treatments such as cocoa and “gris-gris,” a potion used by Voodoo practitioners. Amused by my excitement, the curatorial staff gave me the bezoar to hold. I expected a heavy, stone-like weight; instead, I held what felt like an eggshell. It was also incredibly plain without a hint of sparkle.

What was treasured by the Renaissance heart and mind might hold little appeal in today’s bling-blinded world. But to this researcher, at least, the delicate and unassuming object was weighty with significance, offering insight into an era when a byproduct from an animal’s digestive tract might be a precious stone with extraordinary powers.

A bezoar stone at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. Photo by Tiffany Jo Werth.

A bezoar stone at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. Photo by Tiffany Jo Werth.

Tiffany Jo Werth is associate professor of English at Simon Fraser University and the 2016–17 Mellon Fellow at the Huntington. Her current book project, from which this post draws, is “The Lithic Imagination from More to Milton.” She is the author of The Fabulous Dark Cloister: Romance in England after the Reformation, available from Johns Hopkins University Press.

Pittman and Maltzan’s Visual Synergy

“Lari Pittman: Mood Books” features six oversized books, with paintings and some text, that sit on stylized pedestals by architect Michael Maltzan. Photo by Kate Lain.

“Lari Pittman: Mood Books” features six oversized books, with paintings and some text, that sit on stylized pedestals by architect Michael Maltzan. Photo by Kate Lain.

Visitors familiar with the exuberant, colorful, and graphically complex works of Los Angeles–based artist Lari Pittman know not to expect something conventional. His new exhibition, “Lari Pittman: Mood Books,” open at The Huntington through Feb. 20, 2017, does not disappoint.

A room in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art has been transformed by the installation of six oversized books, illustrated with 65 new paintings that display Pittman’s brilliant draftsmanship and acidic color. Pittman pairs the paintings with enigmatic titles, literary references, and cultural and historical artifacts that relate an intricate and emotional narrative.

Lari Pittman, from 12 Tableaux in Which the Avant-garde and the Folkloric Kissed, 2015, acrylic and lacquer spray over gessoed, heavy weight, paper board. © Lari Pittman, courtesy of the artist and Regen projects, Los Angeles.

Lari Pittman, from 12 Tableaux in Which the Avant-garde and the Folkloric Kissed, 2015, acrylic and lacquer spray over gessoed, heavy weight, paper board. © Lari Pittman, courtesy of the artist and Regen projects, Los Angeles.

One of the books, 12 Tableaux in which the Avant-Garde and the Folkloric Kissed, refers to early 20th-century Russian artist Natalia Goncharova, who—in the early, heady days of the Russian Revolution—bridged the gap between the folkloric and the avant-garde. “That visual hybridity made sense to me 100 years later,” says Pittman.

In another book, 10 Divinations by Emily Dickinson in Greens and Blues, Pittman used the first lines from Dickinson’s cage-rattling poems about pain and death as a starting point for some intense imagery.

Lari Pittman, from 10 Divinations by Emily Dickinson in Greens and Blues, 2015, acrylic and lacquer spray over gessoed heavy weight, paper board. © Lari Pittman, courtesy of the artist and Regen projects, Los Angeles.

Lari Pittman, from 10 Divinations by Emily Dickinson in Greens and Blues, 2015, acrylic and lacquer spray over gessoed heavy weight, paper board. © Lari Pittman, courtesy of the artist and Regen projects, Los Angeles.

Such powerful visual storytelling deserved an equally potent installation. Pittman found it by collaborating with award-winning architect Michael Maltzan, who had designed a home for Pittman and his husband, artist Roy Dowell. Pittman has admired Maltzan’s vision for a cosmopolitan Los Angeles (the architect has received accolades for his innovative downtown apartment complex, One Santa Fe, and has broken ground on his “Ribbon of Light” project to replace the Sixth Street Viaduct) and invited him to join forces for this exhibition.

The synergy that results energizes both Pittman’s paintings and Maltzan’s installation. “The fanciful mood of my books is perfumed by Michael’s sculptural and architectural activation of the space,” says Pittman.

Pages in the books will be turned periodically during the run of the show. A touch screen makes it possible to view all of the paintings and text in sequential order. Photo by Kate Lain.

Pages in the books will be turned periodically during the run of the show. A touch screen makes it possible to view all of the paintings and text in sequential order. Photo by Kate Lain.

Pittman’s books sit on Maltzan’s large custom-made pedestals, facing front to back in an undulating wave. The images in Pittman’s paintings—drawing from decorative art and design, advertising, and folk art—appear to float in and out of a viewer’s field of vision. And the books themselves, while clearly stationary, seem to ripple in the gallery space. It makes for a compelling viewing experience.

To view some bonus images related to this post, head over to our Tumblr.

Diana W. Thompson is senior writer for the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

LISTEN>> Caring for a Collection

In a suite of audio posts, visiting journalist Corinne DeWitt heads into our three collecting areas—Library, Art, and Botanical—and meets up with staff to explore facets of the vast collections that are the core of The Huntington. This time around: Library.

 

CORINNE DEWITT: Today we’re leafing through the layers of the Huntington Library. I’m here with Kristi Westberg. She’s the Dibner book conservator, the woman in charge of preserving books from the history of science collection.

Today we’re digging into the process of caring for the collection. First stop, we see where the books are housed. Downstairs in the basement, the rare book stacks, where shelves and shelves of beautiful leathery volumes live.

Listen in.

KRISTI WESTBERG: So we are downstairs where the rare book stacks are located. There’s a cage door basically and we head through there, and then we’re in the rolling rack stacks area with all the rare books.

CD: Kristi takes us to a cluster of rolling shelves that have the collection she’s working on. It’s called the LACMA collection.

KW: So in this case, LACMA is standing for the LA County Medical Association, and it’s part of the history of science collection. So I’m going through and assessing the condition of everything within and anything that needs conservation work is getting flagged.

CD: These books are all in various states of scruffiness. The oldest book in the section we’re looking at today was published in 1539. The newest was published in 1926. For the survey she is working on, Kristi comes down here to the stacks to inspect each book and jot down notes before she does any work on them upstairs in the lab. She has a ranking system to determine what gets treated first.

KW: I prioritize everything with a 1, 2, or 3, depending on how in need it is of treatment. So 1s are things that have boards that are detached or title pages that are coming away. Anything that we’re at risk of losing, those become a 1.

CD: Quick interruption: when Kristi says “boards” she’s referring to covers, the rigid boards that protect the pages inside books.

KW: A 2 is something that just needs a little bit of stabilization, and doing that one tiny bit of work will make sure no further damage happens. And then a 3 is pretty much something that just needs a box. It might be a really tiny book that’s next to a really big book on the shelf. So that’s kind of a red flag. You could end up losing the little book behind if it gets pushed back. Or if it’s something that is really dirty, and I can’t make the book stop being dirty, but I can put it in a box so the dirt doesn’t get on the books beside that book.

CD: Kristi goes to get a rolling ladder from a few shelves over and starts taking books off the upper shelves.

KW: So this is a 2 . . . might be a 1. So you can see that the board is attached, but barely, just here. The leather at the top has pulled away from the spine because it’s been pulled off the shelf from the head end, which is, think of the head as the top. That one is probably a 2 on my list.

You’ll see that this board is completely detached from the book, so that’s a 1, that’s a fear of loss.

The older ones generally are in better condition because the materials they were made with are just better. As printing kind of took off, book binders had to figure out ways to shortcut, because they suddenly had a lot more books to bind, and so those shortcuts have led to lots of structural problems in books that are less old.

CD: As she’s showing me various examples of the kind of damage she looks for in this survey, I get sucked in by the titles of these books. Women and Hysteria, Diseases of America, there’s volumes on insects and infections, books about all sorts of maladies. I had to know . . .

Do you ever get, you know, caught up in it? Do you like . . .?

KW: Totally. I try not to, because, you know, I am working, but sometimes you can’t help it. You know, there’s some things that you see just the spine of the book and it’s intriguing enough to make you stop, and want to pull it off. Like this one. Just looking at it, I can tell there’s something interesting going on here.

CD: I asked her, has any book ever surprised her as she’s been sifting through everything?

KW: I opened up a foldout that was a giant scrotum. That was the first one I opened. That’s like my best example. But it was huge and I was like aaaahhhh!

CD: We could have poked around in the rare book stacks all day. But I wanted Kristi to show me what she did with these books. How she was working to preserve them so they can continue to exist for another 400 years. So out we went, up the industrial elevator to the conservation lab where Kristi does her treatments.

KW: So this is my bench, where I do all of my treatment.

CD: What do you have here?

KW: This guy is called a finishing press, you use these wooden screws on either side of the plates, and you can open it and then . . . so I have it out right now because I was working on this book.

CD: Tell me about this book.

KW: The Surgical Works of John Abernathy. So the spine is detached, and underneath the spine, when books are being made, after they’re sewn together, people or bookbinders will attach several layers of paper, and that paper helps consolidate all the sewing and it helps the book to open with a nice drape and support everything. So I’m in the process of removing the old paper linings. So if I put the book in this press . . .

CD: Screwing it, pinching it together . . .

KW: . . . pinching it together. Then I put a poultice of methylcellulose on top, and that softens the paper and the adhesive and then I basically scrape the old paper and adhesive off.

CD: Removing those paper linings is just the beginning of the treatment for this book. Kristi plans to re-back this book. To complete this treatment, Kristi will use new covering material to cover the spine and reattach the boards, making the book whole again.

KW: I have, let’s see, 1, 2, 3, 4 books from the LACMA collection that are in varying phases of the conservation work that they’ve undergone.

This book, this is a book about midwifery. It had detached boards, and those have been reattached and some new spine material has been added where there was none. A lot of books have the damage at the front of the volume, so the first few pages of this book had a lot of damage, so those have been repaired, and this page was actually detached, so it’s been reattached, and . . .

CD: You did that, right?

KW: I did that, yeah!

CD: How did you reattach the page?

KW: So a lot of the repairs that we do are done with Japanese papers, and we use those because the fibers are really long and they’re really flexible. And they come in really nice light weights and so what you do is you basically can strengthen. Like this page, I’ve done some little repairs along the edges of the page, which is where you pick it up to turn it. So that’s kind of a natural place where a lot of book pages have damage, so I’ve put some very, very light Japanese tissue on there that I attach with wheat starch paste which is, basically, I mean, we’re using a higher grade wheat starch paste, but if you used flour and made paste, it’s the same.

CD: She says the benefit of using paste is that the work she’s doing can be reversed someday, probably by another conservator in the future.

With the help of Kristi and other conservators, the Huntington Library’s collections can be used by many more generations of dedicated researchers.

Also in this audio series:
LISTEN>> Japanese Tea Ceremony

Corinne DeWitt is a visiting journalist with the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington. She earned her master’s degree in arts journalism this spring at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Edith Wharton’s Book of the Homeless

Title page of The Book of the Homeless, edited by Edith Wharton and published in 1916. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Title page of The Book of the Homeless, edited by Edith Wharton and published in 1916. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Few people know that Edith Wharton (1862–1937), the eminent American author, played a significant role in the war effort during World War I. Wharton lived in France for much of her life, and, appalled at the reluctance of the United States to enter the European struggle, she applied her pen to writing in support of the war, including two novels—The Marne and A Son at the Front—and a nonfiction work, Fighting France, from Dunkerque to Belfort.

With her family connections and her celebrity as a writer, Wharton wangled permits to visit the front, and she struck a formidable figure as her chauffeur drove her massive touring car through the muddy battlefields to reach officers and generals, many of whom were family friends. She helped establish the American Hostels for Refugees, and, at the request of the queen of Belgium, she organized the Children of Flanders Rescue Committee in 1915.

That same year, she launched a plan to produce a commemorative volume of original stories, essays, poems, art works, and musical scores by eminent writers, artists, and composers of the day, many of whom were her friends. Wharton proposed the book, whose sales would support her refugee work, to her own publisher, Charles Scribner. Wanting to please one of his most successful writers, he agreed. Then Wharton approached her friend Daniel Berkeley Updike, who headed the Merrymount Press, a Boston fine printing house. He readily signed on.

Reproduction of a charcoal portrait by Auguste Rodin of his son, Auguste-Eugène Beuret (1866–1934), a soldier wounded in World War I. The drawing appeared in The Book of the Homeless. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Reproduction of a charcoal portrait by Auguste Rodin of his son, Auguste-Eugène Beuret (1866–1934), a soldier wounded in World War I. The drawing appeared in The Book of the Homeless. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington holds the corporate archive for the Merrymount Press, extending to 320 boxes, plus ledger volumes and type samples. Among the records is a file of correspondence between Wharton, Scribner, and Updike about the planning and printing of her proposed volume, The Book of the Homeless. The virtue of the cause at hand is apparent throughout the correspondence, as when Updike writes to Wharton on Sept. 10, 1915, “Both on your account, and on account of what the book stands for, I shall do my best with it.”

A frequent topic of concern is the quality of the book, especially the reproductions of original works by such artists as Auguste Rodin, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and John Singer Sargent. Reproducing the artwork proved a challenging task due to shortages caused by the war. Updike wrote to Wharton on Jan. 7, 1916, “This has been a long and difficult piece of work. We have had a good deal of trouble with our inks, because since the war the ingredients in the colours are not reliable, and this has played us some very unpleasant tricks.”

In early 1916, the book appeared to widespread praise. On Feb. 14, Wharton wrote to Updike, “The illustrations . . . are wonderful and the French artists who have seen them are delighted. I want to tell you at once how happy I am over the chorus of praise which comes from all sides at home concerning your share in the making of the book. Mr. Scribner seems delighted with the sales thus far, and I hope you have seen the appreciative notice of your work in The New York Times.”

Detail of a letter from Edith Wharton to Daniel Berkeley Updike, head of the Merrymount Press, Aug. 4, 1915. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Detail of a letter from Edith Wharton to Daniel Berkeley Updike, head of the Merrymount Press, Aug. 4, 1915. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Book of the Homeless is indeed an admirable production, containing 57 original works by such contributors as Henry James, Joseph Conrad, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, William Butler Yeats, Vincent d’Indy, and Igor Stravinsky. It boasts a spirited introduction by former president Theodore Roosevelt (another friend of Wharton’s). A special keepsake edition was printed on French handmade paper in a limited printing of 175 copies, each signed by Updike and housed in a slipcase that also encompasses a portfolio of reproductions of the art works. The Huntington’s copy of the book is number 21 of this limited edition, from the collection of Max Farrand, the first director of The Huntington.

Wharton is best known for her superb novels of upper-class society in New York City, including The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, and The Age of Innocence, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1920 and was adapted as a theatrical film by Martin Scorsese in 1993. Wharton, born Edith Newbold Jones, came from a family endowed with wealth and social position. (Her family is said to have inspired the expression “keeping up with the Joneses.”) In her novels and stories, Wharton portrayed the dramas of influential people who, despite their riches and status, nonetheless experienced heartbreak and tragedy familiar to people of all classes.

This year, we celebrate the centenary of Wharton’s remarkable Book of the Homeless, produced by three fine practitioners—a writer, a publisher, and a printer—in ardent support of the refugees made homeless by one of the most devastating wars in history.

Letter from Edith Wharton to Daniel Berkeley Updike, Feb. 14, 1916. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Letter from Edith Wharton to Daniel Berkeley Updike, Feb. 14, 1916. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Sara S. “Sue” Hodson is curator of literary manuscripts at The Huntington.

Ballads Galore

The Woody Choristers; or, The Birds of Harmony, ca. 1775. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Woody Choristers; or, The Birds of Harmony, ca. 1775. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Summer 2016 Huntington Library Quarterly is a special issue devoted to English broadside ballads from the mid-16th to mid-18th centuries. That was the heyday of this wildly popular medium, which combined song lyrics, often about current events, with stylized woodcut illustrations. Printed on cheap paper and sold by the thousands, broadside ballads told tales of love, murder, political intrigue, and much more—set to familiar tunes.

Guest-edited by Patricia Fumerton, professor of English at UC Santa Barbara, the HLQ special issue was inspired by a conference she convened at The Huntington in April 2014 titled “Living English Broadside Ballads, 1550–1750: Song, Art, Dance, Culture.” As Fumerton explains in her introduction to the issue, the conference had two goals: “to celebrate the inclusion of the Huntington Library’s sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English broadside ballads . . . in the English Broadside Ballad Archive,” of which she is the director, and “mingling scholarly activities with such untraditional functions as ballad singing, fiddling, dancing, and visual encounters with broadside ballad sheets and woodcuts.”

The Whipster of Woodstreet, or, A True Account of the Barbarous and Horrid Murther committed on the Body of Mary Cox, late Servant in Woodstreet London, ca. 1690. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Whipster of Woodstreet, or, A True Account of the Barbarous and Horrid Murther committed on the Body of Mary Cox, late Servant in Woodstreet London, ca. 1690. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The issue’s nine essays—written through the lenses of art and music history, literary and theater studies, cognitive science and computer-aided bibliographic analysis—convey the multifaceted scholarly approaches current in the study of broadside ballads. These range from close scrutiny of ballad texts and their contexts to explorations of their woodcut illustrations to accounts of their performances on stages, in streets, and in alehouses. One of the essays even delves into the use of computers to date the publication of ballads. The automated tracking of individual pieces of moveable type as they are used and reused helps scholars to map the early print industry.

The Ballad of the Cloak: or, The Cloak’s Knavery, ca. 1701. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Ballad of the Cloak: or, The Cloak’s Knavery, ca. 1701. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In the epilogue to the issue, Katherine Steele Brokaw, assistant professor of English at UC Merced, draws striking parallels between broadside ballads and present-day popular media: “The repetitions of today’s popular music are as interpretively complex as ballads were in early modern culture. In the visual memes of the Internet, we see an analogue for the morphing and popularity of ballad woodcuts . . . Lyrics are rarely distributed through cheap print anymore, but they are posted on social media, snatches of them ‘retweeted’ when the words hit home with a listener. Melodies are transmitted digitally, flowing freely through our computers and iPhones, and they are transmuted, too, so that a sampled riff—like the borrowing from Sir Mix-a-Lot in Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’—creates meaning for its popular audiences because of its familiar melody.”

The Huntington’s collection of broadside ballads, many of which can be viewed online at the Huntington Digital Library, provide us with insight into a past that can seem foreign at first and yet strangely familiar—once we recognize in these songs and images the perennial stories that continue to fascinate us today.

The High-Priz’d Pin-Box, ca. 1750. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The High-Priz’d Pin-Box, ca. 1750. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

You can subscribe to the Huntington Library Quarterly or order the Summer 2016 issue from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Kevin Durkin is editor of Verso and managing editor in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.