Our Own Dawson City

Detail of a page from Alfred and Charles O’Meara’s photograph album showing a street scene in the bustling boomtown of Dawson City, June 1899. Unidentified photographer. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

When creative filmmakers set their sights on illuminating neglected corners of history, magic can happen. Such is the case with Bill Morrison’s riveting new documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time, which weaves a story about the interconnections between Hollywood and the Klondike gold rush boomtown—prompted by the 1978 discovery of a huge stash of silent films preserved in permafrost in a buried municipal swimming pool. As I watched the movie and realized that its story intersected with The Huntington’s collections, its magic cast an even more powerful spell. I could hardly wait to get back to the Library’s archives to take a fresh look at our own trove of photographs of Dawson City.

The 1896 discovery of gold in Rabbit Creek—a tributary of the Klondike River in Yukon Territory, Canada—set off the fabled Klondike gold rush. Within a few months, an estimated 100,000 prospectors began traveling north with visions of glittering yellow ore and riches beyond their imaginations.

A page from Alfred and Charles O’Meara’s photograph album showing the men on the summit of the hazardous Chilkoot Pass and at Lake Lindeman, May 1899. Stampeders tackled the pass by climbing the so-called “golden staircase,” 1,500 steps carved into the snow and ice. At the end of the pass was Lake Lindeman, near the headwaters of the Yukon River. Unidentified photographer. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The first archival nugget I retrieved was a photo journal compiled by a pair of intrepid prospectors, Alfred and Charles O’Meara, during a grueling 600-mile trek from Dyea, Alaska, through the Yukon territory of Canada that ended at Dawson City. It was 1899, at the height of the gold rush, and the city’s population had swelled to between 30,000 and 40,000.

In a series of 49 small format, amateur photographs with neatly handwritten captions, the album records the determined stampeders’ adventures through steep mountain passes, across treacherous lakes, and down river rapids before they finally reached Dawson City, on whose outskirts the pair staked their apparently unsuccessful claim.

This photograph likely depicts J. H. F. Ahlert and C. L. Forsha in their Ahlert & Forsha grocery store in Dawson City in 1910. Unidentified photographer. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

While researching this photo album, I made a surprising discovery. The Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library has a nearly identical photo album in their collections. In fact, it was through their copy that I learned Alfred and Charles’ surnames, since, curiously, the handwritten title page of Yale’s album is signed while The Huntington’s is not. I find it intriguing that there would be two near-identical copies of the same album, each with meticulously handwritten captions. (But that’s a mystery to be solved at another time.)

Continuing on my armchair Yukon adventure, I arrived next at our collection of mainly commercial photographs, compiled by Dawson City grocer John H. F. Ahlert. While the O’Meara photo album presented a private perspective, this collection of 55 larger format images shows many of the same locations at the same time-period from the viewpoint of professional photographers, including Eric Hegg, P. E. Larss, and Joseph Duclos. The publication of such extraordinary images by these and other photographers helped burnish the legend of the Klondike “stampede” that had already gripped the national imagination. Among the images of the colorful characters inhabiting Dawson City is an informal portrait of the dashing millionaire Alexander “Big Alex” MacDonald, known as the “Gold King of the Klondike.”

Alexander “Big Alex” MacDonald in Dawson City, ca. 1900. Known as the “Gold King of the Klondike”, MacDonald made millions during the Gold Rush yet died in 1909 in a small cabin in Dawson City, alone and in debt. Unidentified photographer. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Naturally, this being the Huntington Library, these two collections hardly encompass the entirety of our Klondike gold rush material. Among many other items, there are rare books, such as Alaska and the Klondike gold fields…Practical instructions for fortune seekers (ca. 1897); the diary of one J. Franklin Zimmerman, detailing his 1898 fortune-seeking journey to Dawson; and a folding map from 1897, showing the most direct routes from San Francisco to Alaska and the Klondike.

As recounted in Morrison’s film and elsewhere, most of the prospectors came back empty handed. The Huntington holds the papers of one of the most celebrated of these unsuccessful gold seekers, Jack London (1876–1916). He set out for the Klondike with hopes of striking it rich. He returned home with treasure of another sort—the inspiration for many of his most celebrated books and short stories, including White Fang and To Build a Fire. And The Huntington is that much richer for it.

Joseph E.N. Duclos (1863–1917) and Per Edward Larss (1863–1941) in front of their Dawson City photography studio, with dog team and Larss & Duclos sled, around 1898. Unidentified photographer. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Anita Weaver is a curatorial assistant in the Library’s curatorial department.

Contested Visions of the Southern California Desert

The Protection Alternative in the Bureau of Land Management’s 1980 draft environmental impact statement for the California Desert Conservation Area favors “controlled use” areas—in green—that maximize protection of landscape and wildlife and minimize human impacts. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Just a couple of hours east of Los Angeles is a vast expanse that few Californians know by name: the California Desert Conservation Area, which contains roughly 25 million acres—or one-quarter of the state’s land mass. The region stretches from the Arizona and Nevada state lines to the San Gabriel Mountains and from the Owens Valley to Mexico. It includes such familiar sites as Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks and the Mojave National Preserve, alongside lesser-known places like the Pinto Mountains and Surprise Canyon wildernesses.

Roughly half of this area comprises federal lands, and in 1976, Congress designated that those lands be managed under a single plan overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. Ever since, the California Desert Conservation Area has been riven with controversy as the Bureau has tried to satisfy the varied interests of energy companies, Native Americans, conservationists, off-road vehicle users, and many thousands more who have visited or lived in the Southern California desert.

Under the Balanced Alternative, greens recede, making room for yellow and orange “limited use” and “moderate use” areas. In this version, such human activities as motorized recreation and livestock grazing spread through much of the desert. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The story of that ongoing controversy, and of administrative attempts to sort through it, has been recorded in maps, many of which can be found among The Huntington’s Frank Wheat Papers. Wheat (1921–2000) was a California attorney and political activist who, as a Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund volunteer, championed the California Desert Protection Act of 1994 and fought for better protection of the California Desert Conservation Area.

Using maps to render the California Desert Conservation Area in two dimensions was a political act, one that emphasized particular uses or threats with bright colors and stark lines. Maps projected particular sets of values onto a geographical space and suggested what those perspectives might mean for posterity.

The Use Alternative features only limited green areas and a greater concentration of brown “intensive use” areas, making room for energy facilities and extractive industry. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

During my year at The Huntington, I have been exploring the role that an administrative tool called an environmental impact statement has played in how Americans think about and manage their relationship to nature. Required by law for any “major action” involving a federal agency, these statements document the potential environmental impacts of federal plans and policies and suggest alternative paths. In other words, they try to predict several possible futures.

At times they do this visually, by providing maps that lay out what different futures might look like from above. The Bureau of Land Management’s 1980 draft environmental impact statement for managing the California Desert Conservation Area presents three maps of the region, with green and yellow blocks indicating relatively restricted human use of the land and orange and brown blocks indicating relatively intense use. Three management alternatives—Protection, Balanced, and Use—show a landscape of greens and yellows that give way to oranges and then to browns, as parks and wilderness areas recede and industrial infrastructure spreads in the mapmakers’ imagination.

These three maps in the Bureau of Land Management’s 1980 draft environmental impact statement for the California Desert Conservation Area show the consequences of each plan for energy production and transmission. Under the Protection Alternative (left), power plants and utility corridors are few and far between. Under the Balanced Alternative (center), power plants multiply, as does the possibility of such alternative energy sources as wind and geothermal. The Use Alternative (right) conceives of the desert as an important site of energy production and transmission, a source of power for Southern California. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Click here to enlarge image.

Another set of maps in the draft environmental impact statement zero in on energy production and transmission, with scattered power plants and a light network of yellow transmission corridors under Protection and a much heavier presence for both under Use.

Administrative documents offer a relatively tidy presentation of what possible futures might lay in store for a management area. The Frank Wheat Papers also reveal a messier story. Environmental impact statements are public documents and often trigger heated debate. The many interest groups fighting for influence over the California Desert Conservation Area presented their own visions of what could happen to the Southern Californian desert.

The California Desert Coalition opposed greater restrictions on desert use in the late 1980s. The Coalition’s map highlights the number and the extent of potential federal landholdings. By including military installations and already-existing parks and wilderness, the map depicts a desert overwhelmingly under federal control. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The California Desert Coalition—a loose federation of ranchers, public land inholders, and off-road vehicle enthusiasts—published a map in the late 1980s that marked the borders of all federal lands with urgent red lines. By including military properties and already-existing parks and wilderness areas, the Desert Coalition created a view of the future that seemed crowded by federal control, in which dune buggies and property owners would struggle to navigate narrow corridors between heavily restricted zones.

A San Bernardino County supervisor testifying against increased protections for the California Desert Conservation Area in 1989 provided maps with superimpositions designed to show just how vast the areas were that would be ceded to federal agencies.

Testifying in the late 1980s against expanded protection for the California Desert Conservation Area, a San Bernardino County supervisor offered stark illustrations of the relative size of the county and the acreage under consideration within it. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The conservationists of the California Desert Protection League, meanwhile, illustrated their aspirations for protected areas by using muted tones that suggested fluidity. Mountains and highways run in and out of public lands as wildlife and natural resources would. Their map suggests that borders are permeable rather than restrictive, and that different interests can enjoy the desert alongside one another.

Like the arguments attending so many projects and places that involve environmental impact statements, the debate over the Southern California desert comes down to a balanced relationship between human use and conservation. That issue will not be resolved any time soon. The California Desert Conservation Area has inspired—and continues to inspire—contested visions of its future and, by extension, the future of Southern California.

By drawing back to include all of Southern California the California Desert Protection League’s map presented a less all-encompassing federal presence, and a sense of balance between major cities and places less dominated by human presence. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Keith Woodhouse is an assistant professor of history at Northwestern University and the 2016–17 Dana and David Dornsife Fellow at The Huntington.

For They Are Excellent Fellows

A total of 155 long-term and short-term fellows will pursue research projects at The Huntington this academic year. Photo by Martha Benedict.

This is one of the most exhilarating times at The Huntington—when the new cadre of research fellows arrive on our beautiful campus to explore our collections and take part in the intellectual life of this institution. For the current academic year, we will have 25 long-term fellows (a record-high number) in residence at The Huntington for nine to 12 months. In addition, 130 short-term fellows will have anywhere from one to five months to pursue their projects at The Huntington. This year, we were delighted to award a total of more than $1.8 million dollars to our grantees. (The full list of long-term and short-term fellows can be found here.)

The long-term research fellows include two recipients of National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships who will take up their awards at The Huntington: Catherine Roach and Andrew Lipman.

Roach, who is an associate professor of art history at Virginia Commonwealth University, investigates how people lived with, exhibited, and interpreted art in the 18th and 19th centuries, with an emphasis on British painting and urban exhibition culture. In 2010, she curated Seeing Double: Portraits, Copies and Exhibitions in 1820s London at the Yale Center for British Art. Her first book, Pictures-within-Pictures in Nineteenth-Century Britain, was published by Routledge in 2016, and she is currently at work on her second book, a history of the groundbreaking 19th-century exhibition society, the British Institution.

Catherine Roach, associate professor of art history at Virginia Commonwealth University, is writing a history of the British Institution, a groundbreaking 19th-century exhibition society. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

“I am familiar with The Huntington’s holdings thanks to the Robert R. Wark Fellowship that I held in January of 2009, while completing my doctoral dissertation,” says Roach. “This time, I’ll study works in The Huntington’s art collections that were exhibited at the British Institution, such as Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse, and I’ll explore the Library’s holdings, which include a unique annotated copy of the Catalogue Raisonée, a satire on the British Institution that caused a scandal in London’s artistic circles when it was published in 1815. Also relevant to my project are The Huntington’s collections of correspondence between the painter David Wilkie and the engraver Abraham Raimbach, both of whom had extensive dealings with the Institution, and between William Sothebey and Institution founder Sir George Beaumont, as well as the sales and collection catalogues relating to patrons of the Institution, including Baron Northwick, Caleb Whitefoord, the Duke of Bedford, and John Julius Angerstein.”

The research interests of Andrew Lipman—assistant professor of history at Barnard College, Columbia University—include the Atlantic World, early America, Native Americans, violence, technology, and the environment. His first book, The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast, received several honors, including the Bancroft Prize in American History.

Lipman is currently working on a book titled Squanto’s Odyssey, which is about the Wampanoag man known as Tisquantum or “Squanto.” Born and raised in the coastal community of Patuxet (now Plymouth, Massachusetts), his early years are obscure. Tisquantum and two dozen other Indian men were abducted in 1614, six years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth. His captor was an English captain named Thomas Hunt who hoped to sell him and his fellow Wampanoags as slaves in Spain.

Andrew Lipman—assistant professor of history at Barnard College, Columbia University—is writing a book about the Wampanoag man known as Tisquantum or “Squanto” who, as a diplomat and translator, negotiated an alliance between Mayflower settlers and Wampanoags in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Tisquantum’s kidnapping marked the beginning of a true odyssey, with as many twists and turns as the original voyage of Odysseus from Troy to Ithaca. Over the next eight years of his life, the Wampanoag wanderer would be freed from his captors in Málaga, Spain, and end up as a potential convert in a Catholic monastery. Later he would become a servant in a wealthy London merchant household and find his way back onto a ship to North America, where he accompanied traders on the rugged coast of Newfoundland. Then, most famously, he returned to his homelands to became a diplomat and translator who helped negotiate an alliance between the English and Wampanoags. Even after his death in 1622, his journey continued. American historians in the 19th century made him a handy helpmate in a story of national origins, and later, revisionist scholars and indigenous activists recast him as an early hero of Native resistance.

“At The Huntington,” says Lipman, “I’ll use collections of maps and sources on early modern seafaring to craft a vivid picture of shipboard experiences of enslaved Indians. The Huntington has over two dozen charts of the Atlantic Ocean dating to the 16th and 17th centuries that help trace where and when explorers mapped the coastline. And it has rare accounts of early sea voyages, like Luis de la Cruz’s Yinstrucion y avisos excelentes delas derotas y carrer Delas Yndias and Robert Widdrington’s Log-book of the voyage of the Red Dragon, from England to Africa & South America. The Library also holds correspondence of the single most important figure in early English empire, Walter Raleigh, dating from 1580 to 1618, along with some selected papers of the Virginia Company of London. These holdings and others at The Huntington will greatly inform Squanto’s Odyssey.”

Roach and Lipman are among 540 applicants for fellowships this year who underwent a competitive process to obtain grants: only nine percent of the long-term applications were successful. The success rate for short-term applicants was 37 percent, and approximately 36 percent of the short-term awards were made to doctoral candidates—underlining The Huntington’s commitment to young scholars early in their careers.

Steve Hindle is interim president and W. M. Keck Foundation Director of Research at The Huntington.

A Stunning and Sacred Cape

The exhibition “Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin” runs from Sept. 16, 2017, to Jan. 8, 2018, in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery. In this edited excerpt from the introduction to the exhibition catalog, Visual Voyages (Yale University Press, 2017), Daniela Bleichmar, associate professor of art history and history at the University of Southern California and co-curator of the exhibition, focuses on a 17th-century feathered cape created by the Tupinambá people of Brazil. The item is on loan from the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire of Brussels. Bleichmar discusses how European explorers attached meaning to this object that may have differed from its creator’s intent.

Europeans prized feathered capes like this 17th century example for their stunning beauty. For the Tupinambá people of Brazil who produced it, the meaning was more profound. Birds were sacred creatures with divine forces. By wearing the cape, a shaman could mediate between the living and the dead. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Sometimes, when walking through the hushed rooms of a museum, you come upon an object that stops you in your tracks. Take, for instance, this stunner: a red cape, six feet tall, made entirely of bird feathers. It is beautiful to behold: big, bright, intricately textured. You come closer, and your eyes widen as you realize that it was made by tying thousands of individual feathers together, one by one, using a fine rope to create a dense yet supple net.

A label tersely identifies the object as a “Tupinambá feather cape, Brazil, 17th century” and informs you that it is made of “feathers and vegetable fibers.” Now you grasp that this object is roughly 300 years old and was created by indigenous people in South America. Glad as you are for this information, you notice that the label is much vaguer than those you have seen for Western works, which identify the individual artist by name and also provide the title of the work and the year and city where it was created.

Layers of brightly colored feathers were also used to make hoods, and arm and leg bands.

Only eleven Tupinambá feather capes from the 16th and 17th centuries exist today, and most, unlike this one, have suffered significant physical damage over time. Every single one of these objects is held in a European collection. The capes bring up a host of interesting questions: Why did the Tupinambá make them? How did these people understand these impressive objects? How, when, and why did the capes travel to Europe? And, in what type of institution are they—or should they be—today? In an art museum? An ethnographic museum? A natural history museum? In Europe, or back in Brazil?

As it turns out, these capes have long fascinated observers. We do not have testimonies from the Tupinambá who made or wore them in the 16th and 17th centuries, but we do have accounts written by European observers at the time. André Thévet (1516–1590), a French writer who lived briefly in Brazil in the 1550s, wrote: “There are many birds of diverse kinds, with strange feathers, some as red as fine scarlet, others white, ashy, and other colors. And with these feathers the wild men or Indians, make hats, and garments, either for to cover them[selves] or for beauty. [They use them w]hen they go a warfare [sic] or when they have any skirmish with their enemies.”

Tupinambá feather cape, Brazil, 17th century, feathers and vegetable fibers, Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels, AAM 5783.

Thévet understood the feather objects within European categories: as luxury garments used for special occasions, such as combat. Feather garments became inextricably linked, in the European imagination, with Native American peoples, though more often seen as signs of primitive culture or “idolatry”—the word that Europeans used for native religion—than of magnificence.

According to modern ethnohistorians and anthropologists, the Tupinambá did not understand feather capes and caps primarily as luxury items used to denote rank or privilege, as Europeans did. Nor did they consider them according to the European category of “works of art.” Rather, the Tupinambá approached feather garments within the context of religion or shamanism. They thought of birds as sacred beings that could incarnate divine forces and also mediate between the living and the dead, the material and the immaterial. When shamans wore feather garments for ritual occasions, they were not simply putting on a beautiful costume: they were transforming themselves into birdlike creatures that, through dance and song, invoked powerful forces.

Most of our knowledge about 16th and 17th century Tupinambá feathered capes comes from accounts written by European observers, not the Tupinambá people themselves.

The value of the feather cape resided not primarily in its manufacture and aesthetic qualities, impressive as both were, but rather in its material (feathers) and ritual use. The Tupinambá feather cape is thus much more than a strikingly beautiful object. It allows us to consider questions related to craftsmanship and technique, the intertwined histories of Native Americans and Europeans, the relationships between humans and animals, and much more.

The cape is a time traveler. And it is also an invitation for us to explore, to go on an aesthetic, intellectual, and cultural voyage to try to understand how people at that time and place interacted with the natural world and made meaning of it and of each other.

“Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin” is a sweeping international loan exhibition that explores how the depiction of Latin American nature contributed to art and science between the late 1400s and the mid-1800s. It features more than 150 paintings, rare books, illustrated manuscripts, prints, and drawings from The Huntington’s holdings as well as from dozens of other collections. Many of these works are on view in the United States for the first time. The catalog, Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin (Yale University Press, 2017), is available at the Huntington Store.

Daniela Bleichmar is associate professor of art history and history at the University of Southern California.

Early Modern Collections in Use

Title page of Museum Britannicum, London, 1778, which contains illustrations of some of the natural and artificial wonders collected by Hans Sloane (1660–1753), a physician and president of the Royal Society. Sloane’s famous collection became the foundation of the British Museum. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In the first half of the 18th century, Hans Sloane (1660–1753)—the collector, physician, and president of the Royal Society—was the acknowledged center of a web of international relationships that brought objects, letters, and visitors into his house in the London suburb of Chelsea. He was recognized by scholars across Europe and the Americas as one of the great collectors of his era, and after his death, his collection of natural history objects, artifacts, books, manuscripts, and prints and drawings was purchased by the British government to found the British Museum.

Sloane, who lived to the age of 93, is often seen as a transitional point from an older idea of encyclopedic collecting and the more systematizing collections of the Enlightenment, evident from the fascination shown well after his death with a curiosity like the glove in the British Museum made from the “beard” of a shell, Pinna marina, in a work publicizing the museum. Over the last five years, a research group in London has been concerned with bringing together the scattered manuscripts and collections of Sloane to understand better how his collection served as an intellectual, social, and cultural node not only in London, but also around the world. Scholars and doctoral students have worked together with curators at the British Museum, British Library, and Natural History Museum to develop questions about Sloane, his world, and his collections. This group’s work is the origin of the conference “Early Modern Collections in Use,” which will take place at The Huntington in Rothenberg Hall on September 15 and 16, 2017.

Illustration of a Pinna marina shell, with its “beard,” above a pair of men’s gloves made in Andalusia out of a Pinna marina beard. Jan and Andreas van Rymsdyk, Museum Britannicum, London, 1778, plate XII. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Historians of collecting have generally been interested in the people who formed collections and the objects they collected. What has been less studied is what happened in early modern collections and how they were used. What were collectors thinking about when they collected and arranged objects, or when they opened their collections to some visitors but not others? What made them publicize their collections or, conversely, hide some of their objects? What did visitors make of what they saw? What kind of behavior was appropriate in private or semi-public collections? What cultural significance did these encounters have? These are questions participants in the conference will examine, based on collectors from Samuel Quiccheberg in the 16th century to the 18th-century Sloane. Participants will also examine understandings of art collections as well as collections of horses and birds.

Albertus Seba, Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio (Accurate description of the wealthiest treasure of natural things), Amsterdam, 1734–65, Vol. I, part 1, second title page. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Sloane, for example, was well known for his generosity in showing his collections to interested visitors and for his centrality in the community of scholars known as the Republic of Letters. His name even appeared in guidebooks to London in the 18th century. His approval was sought by an enormous network of correspondents, among whom was the apothecary Albertus Seba in Amsterdam, whose large collection of natural history objects was published in four large volumes, copies of which are in the Library’s collection.

Large and small turtles from America, Ceylon, and Amboina in Albertus Seba’s Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio (Accurate description of the wealthiest treasure of natural things), Amsterdam, 1734–65, plate 80, etching with watercolor. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Seba’s museum, which included wild animals he kept in his house and garden, was an obvious place of resort for other collectors and admirers of natural history. One of these was Sloane’s step-grandson Rose Fuller, who reported back that the collection was not nearly so large, varied, or interesting as Sloane’s. The first volume of the plates and text was presented to Sloane in part to curry favor with him as president of the Royal Society, one of several scientific societies into which Seba was attempting to gain entrance. The volume was part of a cultural performance on the part of Seba, one which was enacted particularly in person with visitors like the unimpressed Rose Fuller. We can see from examples like these that collections were important centers of social and intellectual interaction, systematization and rethinking of intellectual relationships, and cultural performance.

At the conference, those working on the Sloane project will join other prominent scholars of early modern collecting to explore freely what happened behind the walls of early modern collections. The conference will include a round table during which, among other things, participants will be able to engage with curators to discuss ways that the history of collecting can be made exciting for modern audiences.

An illustration of an early modern collection in A catalogue of the Portland Museum, lately the property of the Duchess Dowager of Portland, deceased: which will be sold by auction, by Mr. Skinner and Co. on Monday the 24th of April, 1786, Skinner and Co. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

You can listen to the conference presentations on SoundCloud.

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

Funding for this conference has been provided by The Huntington’s William French Smith Endowment and the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute.

Anne Goldgar is professor of Early Modern History at King’s College London and the author of Tulipmania: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age.

Artists in the Library

In June 2017, The Huntington announced “COLLECTION/S: WCCW/five at The Huntington,” an exhibition that will be on view in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art from Nov. 18, 2017, through Feb. 12, 2018. Part of the second year of /five—The Huntington’s five-year contemporary arts initiative focused on creative collaborations—the exhibition will be a manifestation of The Huntington’s yearlong partnership with the Los Angeles–based Women’s Center for Creative Work (WCCW). The exhibition will feature new work by seven artists, selected by WCCW, who are currently conducting research in The Huntington’s library, art, and botanical collections. Catherine G. Wagley, a freelance journalist who writes about art and visual culture in Los Angeles, focuses in this post on the two artists delving into the Library collections: Kiki Loveday (née kerrie welsh) and Jheanelle Garriques.

Actress Olga Nethersole (1867–1951), playing the role of Sappho, descends from a pedestal on which she has been posing as a statue, stepping down on a ‘staircase’ formed by the backs of men. Detail of Olga Nethersole and cast in the Clyde Fitch production of “Sapho,” Act I, 1900. J. Byron, photographer. L.E. Behymer Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A photograph of the actress, director, and producer Olga Nethersole (1867–1951) shows her descending from a pedestal on which she had been posing as a statue. Men crouch and kneel beneath her. “I’ve always wondered, how does she get from pedestal to ground?” says filmmaker and scholar Kiki Loveday, currently a doctoral candidate studying feminist and queer film historiography at UC Santa Cruz. “She descends a ‘staircase’ that is literally the backs of men. She’s always over the top,” says Loveday, who found the photograph, a rare depiction of the actress’s controversial 1900 turn as Sappho, in The Huntington’s archives.

Loveday has been researching representations of the ancient Greek love poet Sappho, who came from the island of Lesbos and from whom the word Lesbian originated (Lesbian means “from Lesbos”). Nethersole’s performances are among Loveday’s favorite Sappho interpretations. “She blows my mind all the time,” she says of the actress, recalling the outrage Nethersole weathered after her turn-of-the-century depiction of Sappho. Critics called the performance scandalous, and an indecency trial ensued, but few directly named what bothered them: the open female queerness of Nethersole’s performance.

Kiki Loveday researches representations of the ancient Greek love poet Sappho in the Library. Photo by Kate Lain.

“In this moment in Victorian culture, there is an ideology of unspeakability,” observes Loveday. “My own reading is that people knew very well what Nethersole was proclaiming through her appropriation of Sappho. One critic, Alan Dale, wrote absolutely vitriolic condemnations of Nethersole, and what I found was that many of the insults he slung at her had double meanings with queer associations.”

Loveday’s /five project counteracts such historical veilings and unspeakability regarding queerness in both cultural and private arenas. She has been frustrated by the false secrecy that surrounded Nethersole’s performance of sexuality and by so-called “Sappho defenders” who, over the years, have argued that the sensual poet wasn’t “gay,” as if acknowledging her same-sex desire would undermine her importance.

Loveday makes stationery out of her own copies of a popular and widely available novel, Alphonse Daudet’s Sappho: Parisian Manners, that she has turned—along with newspapers and other materials—into pulp. She will write letters on this handmade stationery and send them to individuals and organizations whom she believes have stories of queer love that should be recorded. Photo by Kate Lain.

Loveday has been collecting her own copies of Alphonse Daudet’s Sappho: Parisian Manners, an immensely popular 1884 novel about a courtesan nicknamed after the Greek poet because her sexuality includes “every string on the lyre.” Its popularity and wide availability makes it one of the few historical books she’s willing to tear apart and turn to pulp—to literally make stationery out of one version of Sappho’s story. She is then writing letters on this handmade stationery and sending them out to individuals and organizations whom she believes have stories of queer love that should be recorded. She is also collecting personal diaries or other ephemera.

Loveday is interested in the personal narratives that get buried beneath the professional or cultural ones. “My work is really about this relationship between personal histories and cultural histories,” she says. She hopes that her newly begun archive, which will be at least partially exhibited in The Huntington’s Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art starting on Nov. 18, will have a long life. “What I imagine is I’m going to get this all set up and then the archive, called ‘What You Love,’ will continue to grow,” she says. She is particularly interested in stories that are at risk of being lost and invites anyone who has a queer love story, diaries, or ephemera to visit her website for more information and get in touch.

Jheanelle Garriques reads 18th-century letters from the Library’s Elizabeth Montagu archive as part of her research. Photo by Kate Lain.

Jheanelle Garriques has also been working with letters, poring over those by Elizabeth Montagu (1718–1800), host of 18th-century salons, supporter of women, and avid correspondent. Montagu wrote profusely in an elegant script, as did the women to whom she wrote. “They could be vulnerable, and their letters are so informal and beautiful,” says Garriques of Montagu and her colleagues, the women who attended the salons Montagu hosted. They belonged to the Blue Stocking Society for women’s education that she helped found. Blue stockings, less formal than black or white, are the kinds of things an 18th-century English person may have worn at home. Montagu, who ran profitable coal mines with her husband and then continued to run them after his death in 1776, likely knew that her efforts to empower women blurred boundaries between domestic and cultural-political realms. “She developed the careers of so many female writers,” says Garriques, a writer, scholar, and feminist who has read many letters in The Huntington’s extensive Montagu Collection as part of her /five residency. “These writers express ideas with each other over so many iterations.”

Garriques began hosting her own writing salons back in 2014, calling her project Naked Narratives. She brings femme-identified individuals together to share and write their stories. Sometimes, they write about a common experience—a current series of workshops in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago is designed specifically for sex workers. Sometimes themes are more open-ended. At The Huntington this summer, Garriques hosted five salons with seven femme participants. At the first meeting, they wrote about lips, and at subsequent meetings, they wrote about hands, hair, eyes, and skin. “Salons themselves are not just about writing,” she says. “They are also about self-care.” Writing on these themes involved exploring the sensual in relation to the intellectual, the personal in relation to the cultural. Salon members also spent time reading and discussing Elizabeth Montagu, her colleagues, and their letters. “A lot of this project is about figuring out, how do we bring life to and contextualize this material now?”

Garriques hosted five salons at The Huntington this summer. The participants at one of the salons (clockwise from bottom left) were Camille LaGrange, Turay Turay, Sydney Lopez, Rachel O’Leary, Renae Keene, Jheanelle Garriques, and Afton Montgomery. Photo by Kate Lain.

She’s thought at length about Montagu’s relative privilege. “Because she was wealthy, there were things she couldn’t understand, but in her own way she was doing something very different,” says Garriques, noting that while Montagu did support artists of a lower class than herself, she didn’t stray too far from her comfort zone. Garriques’ salon participants, in contrast, come from a large variety of backgrounds. She asks, “As a person who comes from marginalized places, how do you exist in a space that is not for you?”

Part of her approach involves expanding the salon format, making it more inclusive not only of diverse people, but also of different forms. A chapbook published this fall will bring together writings from Naked Narratives participants with letters from the Montagu collections, and on Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. in The Huntington’s Rothenberg Hall, Garriques’ salon members will perform alongside dancers from the local Sokamba performing arts company and two musicians in an event titled “Bodies of Lineage.” (The event is free, and no reservations are required.) The performance’s narrative will come from the writings that the salons’ members completed this summer and fall. Text from the Montagu collection may be projected on walls, or read aloud. “I like working in different mediums,” says Garriques. “Stories are told in a multitude of ways.”

Garriques’ salon members will perform alongside dancers from the Sokamba performing arts company in an event titled “Bodies of Lineage” at 7 p.m. on Sept. 14 in The Huntington’s Rothenberg Hall. The performance’s narrative will come from the writings that the salons’ members completed this summer and fall. At a recent rehearsal, salon member Sydney Lopez (far left) joins Sokamba dancers on stage. The dancers (back to front) are Lara Marcin, Rachelle Clark, and Caribay Franke. Photo by Kate Lain.

Related content on Verso:
Art Inspiring Art (Aug. 9, 2017)
Engaging with the Collections (June 29, 2017)
Women Making Art (March 30, 2017)

You can read more about “Bodies of Lineage” on The Huntington’s website. The event is free, and no reservations are required.

The /five initiative is made possible by a generous gift from The Cheng Family Foundation. Additional funding for the second year of /five has been provided by a grant from the Pasadena Art Alliance.

Catherine G. Wagley is a freelance journalist who writes about art and visual culture in Los Angeles.

Making History Personal

During a four-week program at The Huntington this summer, girls from the Pasadena YWCA had an opportunity to engage with the history of that organization through some unique historic materials in the collections, including archival photographs of their counterparts from the past century. The albums are part of the Library’s Pasadena YWCA Collection. Proper handling of archival materials was part of the lesson. Photo by Lisa Blackburn. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

It’s one thing to read about history in a school textbook. It’s quite another thing to engage with it first-hand: to make personal connections with history and, by doing so, to gain perspectives on the past.

That’s exactly what a group of middle school girls had the opportunity to do this summer as part of an ongoing community partnership between The Huntington and the YWCA Pasadena-Foothill Valley. Nearly 100 participants in the YWCA’s Girls’ Empowerment Camp—young women between the ages of 10 and 14—got a chance to go behind the scenes in the Library for an “up-close and personal” experience with materials from the collections. They also got to meet the curators and conservators who work with those rare items.

A 1944 group photo of the YWCA’s Whittier Girl Reserves at Camp Arbolado, from the Pasadena YWCA Collection. Photo by Lisa Blackburn. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The relevance of many of the materials the young audience engaged with made the experience unique. The program placed a special focus on the history of the YWCA and on growing up in Pasadena.

The theme of the four-week program was “Empowerment and Inspiration, Past and Present.” In the first session, the campers learned about one of the most inspirational daughters of the local community, the late African American author Octavia Butler. Raised by a single working mother in a modest Pasadena home, Butler was shy and bookish as a girl; but she had a natural gift for writing that she honed into an award-winning craft through determination and perseverance.

“Why do I write?” she once asked. “Because I can’t expect anyone else to tell my stories.” Curator Natalie Russell led the girls through an exhibition featuring 100 items that revealed the writer’s early years and influences, aptly titled “Octavia E. Butler: Telling My Stories.” Russell also talked about her own job as a curator—working with rare materials, assisting researchers, and organizing exhibitions. Using Butler’s motivational writings as examples, the campers were then prompted to write down their own reflections on self-empowerment and personal storytelling.

Like many of the girls who participated in the summer program, Octavia E. Butler (shown here in a school photo, ca. 1962) grew up in Pasadena and attended local schools. Through the passion and determination that made her an award-winning author, Butler embodies the program’s theme of empowerment. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. © Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

“It was great to see these girls getting excited about Octavia Butler, who grew up in their neighborhood, and by the behind-the-scenes look at what we do here at The Huntington,” says Kate Zankowicz, community engagement coordinator in the Education office. “I loved being able to facilitate conversations with them about their personal experiences and their perspectives about women’s lives in the past.”

Another session focused on the role of graphic arts, both as a tool for empowerment and as a historical record of the changing roles of women over time. Krystle Satrum, assistant curator of the Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History, shared a group of World War I–era posters, including several that promoted the YWCA. A poster produced for the United War Work Campaign, dated circa 1918, depicted a woman dressed in the factory coveralls and cap of a munitions worker. The caption read, “For Every Fighter, a Woman Worker. Care for Her through the YWCA.”

A World War I-era poster, ca. 1918, promoted the YWCA’s role in supporting women involved in war efforts. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“Access to an object can provide a profound experience. Looking at YWCA posters was a powerful springboard to reflections on what constituted women’s work over time, women’s agency, and women’s access to education,” says Zankowicz. “After a group discussion, the girls designed their own empowerment posters. One participant decided to make her poster about the importance of staying in school. Her drawing of a sea of girls’ faces in graduation caps will always stay with me.”

A visit to the conservation lab gave the campers a chance to hear about a career field that they may not have encountered before: book and paper conservation. They met with conservators Jessamy Gloor, Andrea Knowlton, and Emily Lynch in the state-of-the-art lab, and got to see several rare items that were undergoing evaluation or treatment. Among them was a manuscript signed by one of the most “empowered” women in history: Queen Elizabeth I. The royal proclamation, dated 1573, was being readied for display in the upcoming exhibition “The Reformation: From the Word to the World” (opening Oct. 28, 2017).

In the conservation lab, paper conservator Jessamy Gloor discussed some of the tools and techniques she uses while showing the YWCA campers some of the rare documents currently receiving treatment. Photo by Lisa Blackburn. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The final hands-on session offered a look at a slice of local history that the girls themselves are part of: that of the Pasadena YWCA. Clay Stalls, curator of California and Hispanic collections, displayed a selection of images from the organization’s photographic archive, which was donated to The Huntington. As the campers carefully turned the pages of old photograph albums filled with images of their counterparts from days gone by, they discussed the differences, and the similarities, of girls’ lives then and now. They saw prim young ladies doing needlework in a YWCA sewing class in 1912, 1920s flappers of the YWCA Business Girls’ Club performing as a ukulele trio, and fitness buffs in 1930s gym togs hanging upside down to promote the health benefits of exercise.

Girls turned head-over-heels for fitness in this photograph promoting the YWCA’s Business Girls’ Club gym class, ca. 1930s. Pasadena YWCA Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“It was a good opportunity for the YWCA campers to examine primary sources and see how these materials have value for understanding the history of an organization of which they are part,” says Stalls. He hoped the photos would spark reflections “not only about the present, but also about the past and its relationship to their present.”

Using the new knowledge they had gleaned about the work curators do, the campers had one last assignment: to try their hands at being curators themselves by writing interpretive text for some of the historical YWCA photographs. Heads bent over their task, carefully noting dates and details, the girls embraced the challenge with enthusiasm. Was there a future curator in the group? Or an author, graphic artist, or conservation expert? Quite possibly! By gaining a perspective on the past, the possibilities of the future can come into sharper focus.

Inspired by their four-week experience with Huntington curators and collections, the YWCA campers got a chance to act as curators themselves, writing sample label text for a selection of historical photos of earlier YWCA programs. Photo by Lisa Blackburn. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Sue Hodson’s Legacy

Sara S. “Sue” Hodson, curator of literary collections, in 2005. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

If you were to ask Sue Hodson, who is retiring today, about her favorite Huntington memories, she might tell you about the repartee that was exchanged by the panel of political cartoonists convened in conjunction with her Paul Conrad exhibition. Or she might tell you about the media frenzy that occurred when The Huntington boldly opened access to its microfilm copies of the Dead Sea Scrolls, or the kerfuffle created by the discovery of a signature purported to be that of Shakespeare (it wasn’t). Or she might tell you about lunches with her colleagues and searching for the best local chocolate sundae. But no matter how she replied, she would certainly mention two things: the collections and the people.

Sue Hodson began her career at The Huntington as a page in 1973, “when I was two,” she usually prevaricates, “just tall enough to reach the bottom shelves.” After brief departures to earn two graduate degrees, she returned to The Huntington full time as the assistant curator of literary manuscripts in 1979.

Over the next 38 years, she would oversee all British and American literature from the Renaissance to the present. This vast sphere has seen her engaged in everything from teaching workshops on Late Medieval and Renaissance paleography with long-time colleague Mary Robertson, to writing the introduction to a new publication of Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from Saint Nicholas.

Sue Hodson chats with writer Al Martinez at the opening reception for the exhibition “Al Martinez: Bard of L.A.,” March 16, 2012. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Behind the quiet façade of the library, she can often be seen motoring through the halls in her signature button-down blouse and slacks, and, occasionally, whimsical socks. This modest exterior belies a petite powerhouse of industry and a touch of the rebel.

Early in her career, she was invited to an elegant social event for Huntington supporters with the implicit mandate to don an appropriate frock. The feminist in Sue delighted in raising the eyebrows of society ladies by wearing an exquisite dress inspired by Vietnamese fashion, complete with silk pants. You might say she has been pushing boundaries ever since.

The raw poet Charles Bukowski might seem more comfortable down the road at the Santa Anita race track than within the tranquil confines of The Huntington, but Sue knew that Bukowski’s papers and his take on life in Los Angeles would be right at home alongside Chaucer’s bawdy “The Miller’s Tale” and Whitman’s controversially sensual Leaves of Grass.

Linda Lee Bukowski (left), wife of the late poet Charles Bukowski; Sue Hodson (center); and exhibitions’ preparator Lauren Tawa (right) pose in front of the title wall of the exhibition “Charles Bukowski: Poet on the Edge,” Oct. 10, 2010. Photo by Martha Benedict.

She has become a scholar of author and adventurer Jack London, recognizing that London was more than a writer of dog stories and Klondike tales. Captivated by the humanity of London’s portraiture, she published Jack London, Photographer, with Jeanne Campbell Reesman and Philip Adam, in 2010.

Sue has the keen ability to recognize literary talent. For example, she acquired the papers of Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, before the esteemed novelist was awarded the Order of the British Empire and two Man Booker prizes.

She is devoted not only to the physical preservation of the collections she manages, but also, in the words of Robertson, to “the preservation, in an intellectual sense, of the contributions of the people whose papers we have.” In nine outstanding West Hall exhibitions and countless articles and presentations, Sue has brought the stories buried in the archives to life.

The Huntington has a long history of materials related to theater and music, which opened the door for Sue to better represent Southern California arts and culture in the Library’s collections more broadly. This is apparent in such acquisitions as the papers of African American art song composer Harold Bruce Forsythe and ballet instructor Joseph Rickard, founder of the First Negro Classical Ballet. These collections bring new voices into the archives and new opportunities for scholarship and outreach as well.

Hodson talks to high school students before a performance of Langston Hughes’s “Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz,” which was read by Ron McCurdy, a professor of music at the USC Thornton School of Music, and accompanied by a musical score composed by McCurdy and performed by his jazz quintet, April 14, 2016. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Along with the papers of poet Langston Hughes, they became the cornerstone of the popular Dreams Fulfilled events series. Sue still serves as a judge for an annual Langston Hughes poetry contest.

And she has broadened the scope of literary collecting to better represent humanity across the board. Sue is responsible for increasing our diversity with collections by playwrights Velina Hasu Houston, Wakako Yamauchi, and Lucy Wang, as well as science fiction author Octavia E. Butler and gay writers Joseph Hansen and Christopher Isherwood.

Sue delights in the camaraderie of The Huntington. Her genuine warmth and passion for her profession appeals to donors and scholars alike, and she has formed close friendships that will last well beyond her professional life. She has collaborated with staff in almost every division of The Huntington and gamely participated in paper boat races, bowling competitions, and celebrations big and small. She has been a mentor, a leader, and a friend. And romance blossomed at The Huntington as well, when Sue met her husband Peter Blodgett, curator of Western American history. Together they have been a curatorial Huntington power couple.

Peter Blodgett and Sue Hodson, a match made at The Huntington. Photo provided courtesy of Whittier College.

You might think that someone so involved in her job wouldn’t have time for anything else, but Sue has been equally active outside The Huntington. She’s been passionately committed to the archival profession at local, state, and national levels, chairing committees, serving as president of the Society of California Archivists, reviewing books, evaluating grant proposals, and regularly presenting at conferences. A recognized expert on ethical issues related to archives— especially privacy and confidentiality—she teaches and publishes regularly on these topics. You might even catch her in the concert hall, playing the timpani with the Claremont Symphony Orchestra.

In her first decade at The Huntington, Sue worried that she might never bring in a literary collection. She needn’t have been concerned. In the past 25 years, she has brought in more than 30 major collections and dozens of other items to stretch and enhance the Library. Her impact on scholars and scholarship is incalculable.

Next up? Sue will be making her mark on scholarship in a new way, by returning to The Huntington to do her own research. Meanwhile, her legacy will live on, in the souls of those whose lives she has touched, and through the collections she has left to a new generation of scholars.

You can read Sue Hodson’s seven contributions to Verso here.

Natalie Russell is assistant curator of literary collections at The Huntington.

Enchanting Miniature Books

Miniature books are among the hidden treasures at The Huntington. Henry E. Huntington did not set out to collect miniature books, but he received them as part of other large collections he purchased en bloc. By the 1990s, at least 1,000 miniature titles were part of the Library collection. In 1991, The Huntington received a gift of more than 7,000 miniature books from Monsignor Francis J. Weber, and the collection continues to grow. Laura Forsberg, assistant professor of English at Rockhurst University and a 2016–2017 NEH fellow at The Huntington, discusses the variety of The Huntington’s miniatures and speculates on why they fascinate us.

Galileo a Madama Cristina di Lorena, 1615, was printed in 1896 using 2-1/2-point fly’s-eye type. In a book half the size of a postage stamp, Galileo describes the nature of the heavens. Photo by Laura Forsberg. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Imagine cradling in the palm of your hand a tiny book, measuring 3/4 by 5/8 of an inch. The entire volume is about the size of a penny and fits into a matching slipcase. As you gingerly open the tiny book, your eyes strain to read the italicized type, and you struggle to keep your fingers from blocking the print. Your hands feel massive in relation to the book, like clumsy instruments that are barely capable of the simple task of turning pages.

These were my feelings as I examined The English Bijou Almanac of 1837. The volume pairs a calendar of the year with a set of poems and engraved portraits depicting the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), the scientist Mary Somerville (1780-1872), and the opera singer Maria Malibran (1808-1836), among others. The volume concludes with four pages of exquisitely printed sheet music. An opening poem captures the sense of dreamy reverie pervading the whole:

We dream no more that fairies dwell
In the white lily’s fragrant cell
And yet our little book seems planned
By elfin touch in elfin land
And sent by Oberon, I ween,
An offering to our English Queen.

The author of the poem is right. It’s hard to imagine that anyone but a fairy artisan could craft such a beautiful volume on this scale.

The English Bijou Almanac of 1837. Published by Albert Schloss. Photographing a volume of this size poses unique challenges. In order to take professional images of this and other miniature volumes, Huntington staff constructed a small cardboard stand and used a system of clear strips and conservation thread to hold the volume partly open. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The English Bijou Almanac is one of more than 8,000 miniature books in The Huntington’s rare book collection, virtually all of which measure three inches or less in height. The collection is capacious in its scope; it includes a 1634 book of Psalms with an elaborate embroidered binding and a 1900 Paris Exhibition souvenir book in metal with tiny photographs of the city reduced to less than 3/4 of an inch. There is a 19th-century set of Shakespeare’s complete works in which each volume is decorated with a fore-edge painting of a great city in Europe, which appears only when you fan the pages. There is The Infant’s Library (ca.1800), a six-inch wooden box that is painted to resemble a full bookshelf and that contains a set of 16 children’s books. And there is a tiny Qu’ran, printed by the Glasgow publisher David Bryce in the early 20th century; similar miniature Qu’rans were given to many South Asian soldiers fighting with the British in World War I.

I became fascinated by miniature books a few years ago while thinking about scale and Victorian literature. Printers produced more than 3,000 unique miniature books during the 19th-century. Each volume required handset type; printers of the period competed internationally to produce the smallest possible type that would still print clearly and legibly.

Kern der Nederlandische Historie, 1753, with the foldout illustration of a national synod council. Miniature books often employ foldout illustrations, using the form of the publication to underline the expansiveness of the contents. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Why were these volumes produced? Who used them and how?

Publishers of miniature books explain their motives in simple terms, insisting upon the utility and portability of their books. As the editor of one miniature gazetteer explains, “[this book] may without the least inconvenience be made a constant companion to the pocket, even to the supplanting of a less instructing or useful occupant—the Snuff Box.”

But I find this answer unsatisfying. Miniature books are fragile and hard to use. The pages are too small to turn comfortably, and the type often hurts my eyes after I read for a few minutes. Children’s miniature books, which were particularly popular in the 19th century, don’t make any more sense. Children lack the mechanical dexterity to manipulate miniature books; for this reason, we typically print oversized children’s books today. So, despite the insistence of the gazetteer’s publisher, I can’t imagine a 19th-century gentleman abandoning his snuffbox in favor of a world atlas.

Title page of The Whole Booke of Psalmes Collected into English Meeter by T. Sternhold, J. Hopkins, and others, 1634. The title illustration shows an allegory of the triumph of religion over death. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

I found my answer in an unexpected place: in an 1896 book, measuring 11/16 x 1/2 of an inch, which contains a letter by Galileo to Madama Cristina di Lorena. The volume is printed using an extremely rare 2-1/2-point “fly’s eye” type. This type is famously almost impossible to use; the typesetters who first employed it permanently damaged their eyesight in the process. It’s also, as you can imagine, very difficult to read. And yet the object possesses an aura of captivating wonder. In a book half the size of a postage stamp, Galileo describes the nature of the heavens.

This, I’m convinced, is the true power and purpose of miniature books: to compress knowledge, seemingly by magic, into an enchanting miniature form. The owner of a miniature book dwarfs the volume and imaginatively possesses the knowledge it contains. A miniature book, in fact, suggests an infinity of minute space, a world of information that was intended to be carried in a pocket or kept in a locket around the neck.

Both in the 19th century and today, the reason for owning miniature books is rarely to read them. Instead, people cherish the experience of pure enchantment that comes when you gaze down at a fairy volume nestled in the palm of your hand.

A page of sheet music from the final Rondo of Balfe’s 1836 opera of the Maid of Artois. The lead role was written for Maria Malibran, whose portrait is featured in The English Bijou Almanack and who died just months before the volume was printed. The notes and lyrics, dancing across the page, imaginatively bring back the voice of the recently deceased artist. Photo by Laura Forsberg. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Related content on Verso:
Fairy Hunting at The Huntington (Jan. 11, 2017)

In the Library Exhibition Hall through October 2017, visitors to the exhibition “Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times” can see an example from our miniature book collection, a book of Psalms with a binding embroidered in silver thread. Look for it in the section titled “A Masterful Poem.”

Laura Forsberg is assistant professor of English at Rockhurst University and a 2016–2017 NEH fellow at The Huntington.

Solar Eclipse Observations

On August 21, 2017, millions of people across North America will experience a total solar eclipse as the moon passes between the sun and Earth, completely covering the face of the sun for as long as several minutes. In anticipation of this rare event, we invited the distinguished astronomer Jay M. Pasachoff—Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy at Williams College and a Reader at The Huntington—to explore the scientific phenomenon of the solar eclipse by looking at items from The Huntington’s collections.

Étienne Trouvelot’s chromolithograph of the 1878 total solar eclipse that he observed in Creston, Wyoming Territory. The August 21, 2017, total solar eclipse will pass through Wyoming again. Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The umbra of the total solar eclipse on August 21 will sweep across the continental United States from Oregon to South Carolina, passing through parts of 14 states in a band roughly 65 miles wide. I will be in Oregon to view the event, the 34th total solar eclipse and 66th solar eclipse of my career. Experiencing the eerie darkness of a solar eclipse can be thrilling. They happen frequently—every 18 months somewhere in the world, though not usually so conveniently located—and they are often awe inspiring.

Scientists study the sun’s corona—the halo of hot gas around the sun held in place by its magnetic field—during a solar eclipse. Observers didn’t always comment on the corona. Hundreds of years ago, scientists focused primarily on the timing of an eclipse, noting its beginning, end, and duration. Perhaps the first scientist to comment on a corona during an eclipse was the German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571–1630). In his 1604 book Optics, which can be found in The Huntington’s collection, he expressed the (erroneous) belief that the corona was probably the atmosphere of the moon.

The title page of Ad Vitellionem paralipomena quibus astronomiae pars optica traditvr, 1604, by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571–1630). In this book, better known as Kepler’s Optics, Kepler commented on the sun’s corona during a solar eclipse. He erroneously believed it to be the atmosphere of the moon. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In 1715, Edmund Halley (1656–1742), of comet fame, published a broadside showing the shadow of the moon crossing England, and in the text below asked people to send in observations—something that today we might call “citizen science.” He received enough data to refine his results by about 40 miles, and then he published another broadside with a corrected 1715 path and a prediction for the 1724 eclipse, whose path of totality proceeded from England to the European continent.

Later in the 18th century, Thomas Cowper, working in the same scientific tradition as Halley, produced illustrations and detailed observations of a solar eclipse in a unique manuscript now housed at The Huntington. Cowper’s drawings show a solar eclipse as observed in England, Nova Scotia, Pennsylvania, and Newfoundland on June 24, 1778. Cowper provided details of the appearance and timings of the eclipse based on information gathered from a network of solar observers located around the world.

Thomas Cowper’s calculations and drawings of a solar eclipse, as observed in England, Nova Scotia, Pennsylvania, and Newfoundland on June 24, 1778. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In 1878, there was an American eclipse expedition to view a solar eclipse in the western United States, as described in several new books, including American Eclipse by David Baron. French artist, astronomer, and amateur entomologist Étienne Trouvelot (1827–1895), fresh from accidentally releasing gypsy moths (which have been destroying millions of hardwood trees in the U.S. ever since), had decided to return to art. His set of chromolithographs of astronomical scenes included the 1878 total solar eclipse. We can tell that the eclipse took place near solar minimum, the period of least solar activity in the 11-year solar cycle, because in his detailed images, the large coronal streamers appear only near the equator, making it possible to see radial plumes near the poles. We expect a similar coronal configuration at this year’s solar eclipse, since we are again approaching solar minimum.

Solar eclipses in the U.S. have attracted many American astronomers to view them, even if solar observations were not their forte. This was the case for Edwin Hubble (1889–1953), who became famous for discovering that the spiral nebulae were galaxies outside the confines of our own and that distant galaxies were receding at a rate correlated with their distances—later interpreted as a sign that the universe is expanding. In 1923, the year before he discovered a Cepheid variable star in the Andromeda spiral nebula and used it to show that the nebula was actually a distant galaxy similar to our own, Hubble went on an expedition to Point Loma, California, to observe a solar eclipse. The Huntington has a photo of him seated near a telescope and puffing away on his trademark pipe.

U.S. astronomer Edwin Hubble on an expedition to Point Loma, California, to view the 1923 solar eclipse. Image courtesy of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science Collection at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In 1925, scientists from the Mt. Wilson Observatory traveled to Connecticut to view a total solar eclipse in winter, as captured in another photo from The Huntington’s collection. A hundred years ago, the equipment used to capture large solar images on film often included a telescope with long focal lengths. Today’s electronic detectors are a hundred times more sensitive and make more finely resolved images much more quickly.

This year’s total solar eclipse will no doubt extend our knowledge and appreciation of our closest star, and may also spur interest in objects such as those at The Huntington that document a fascination that has lasted for centuries.

Scientists with their large telescopic cameras at the Mt. Wilson Observatory’s expedition site in Connecticut for the 1925 solar eclipse. Photo by the U.S. astronomer Edison Pettit (1889–1962), after whom a crater on the moon and a crater on Mars have been named. Image courtesy of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science Collection at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

From Aug. 18 through Aug. 29, The Huntington will display, in the East Foyer of the Library’s Main Exhibition Hall, items related to eclipses from The Huntington’s holdings in the history of astronomy. 

Jay M. Pasachoff is Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy at Williams College and a Reader at The Huntington. He is also the chair of the Working Group on Solar Eclipses of the International Astronomical Union and former chair of the Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society, as well as the author of the Peterson Field Guide to the Stars and Planets.