Monday, August 17, 2015

Musings on Time and Place: The Marriott C. Morris Collection

Two boys and woman in boat, Sea Girt
 Marriott C. Morris Collection [P.2013.13.82]

What is it about these evocative images, that they impel an almost automatic response: the relaxed, unfocused gaze of remembrance and daydreams?

Perhaps that is what draws me to these images. They float into the present moment like a vapor. They speak in a whisper, both ephemeral and urgent, about something half-remembered, half-dreamed. They inspire questions and musings about our experience of place, both past and present.

Morris’s photographs are full of mystery, lost language, and people long gone from this earth.  A ghostly trace of a shadow drifts past the woman. What draws the boy’s gaze?  Yet the stark geometry of the landscape provides a familiar anchor, a connection to the here and now.  By uniting earth, sea, and sky into a sharp point, Morris creates a composition that is timeless and universal, at least on our Earth.  It's an instantly recognizable expression of place: the seaside.
Woman and dog in boat, Sea Girt  Marriott C. Morris Collection [P.2013.13.142] 

My sketch of a Morris image.
Words in place of objects, and just three lines are all that is needed to convey a very specific sense of place.
His photographs are composed with deliberation, and these mute, “permeable” images have a strong voice that carries through time. I like to think of them as encoded transmissions. Most came into the collections at the Library Company of Philadelphia in the form of glass-plate and film negatives, essentially unintelligible and inaccessible. Through the mediums of light, paper, and digital imaging, images of past-place have been decoded.
Boat "Scythian New York" adorned with several flags sailing among several vessels
 Marriott C. Morris Collection [*P.9895.13.2]

Three masted schooner "Vanname & King" from beach
 Marriott C. Morris Collection [P.9895.1025] “Looking into the sun”

 Only partly decoded though. These photographs give rise to musings about communication, context, and the transmission of ideas. A common enough sight in the late 19th-century, but to describe them in words today would require a fair bit of historical research. What is the term for that particular form of boat, or the meaning behind the symbols on the flags?  What are they saying to us, humankind, in the 21st century?
The Samuels' canoe. Mr. S. [Samuel], Patty Mellor, & Eli K. Price in it. [Sea Girt, NJ]
Marriott C. Morris Collection [P.9895.1151]
Through the process of digitizing the negatives, the effect of time is revealed in the imprint. In some cases creating an unintended conceptual overlay to Morris’s images.  The cracked, curled, and missing emulsion reads as a patterned web that obscures the view, just as time obscures memory, and so it goes. These images, and the thoughts they provoke about place and the passage of time, serve as both fingerpost and inspiration for my visual art.

Beyond the donation of images, the Morris Family has generously, and wisely, provided the funds required for the digitization and record-level cataloging of the entire collection, work undertaken by Project Assistant Alison Van Denend. The artist continues to speak through this collection which is now accessible to everyone here. I am grateful!
Andrea Krupp, Conservator
Library Company of Philadelphia
August 2015

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Mellon Scholars Program: An Intense Week of Professional Growth and Nurturing

This essay concludes our series of occasional posts about the 2015 Mellon Scholars Internship and Workshop programs. This program is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Dr. Kimberly Saunders
This summer the Program in African American History welcomed the second cohort of summer Mellon Scholars. These academic programs foster and support students from underrepresented backgrounds with interests in early African American history. The program consists of an internship spanning the month of June along with a weeklong workshop series, which lasted June 15-19. During the workshop week, three workshop participants joined the Mellon interns for a rigorous week full of professional development activities. The workshop held sessions on various topics centered on applying to graduate school and navigating academia. The students attended sessions on graduate school selection, personal statement writing, and curriculum vitae development led by Dr. Kimberly Saunders, director of the McNair Scholars Program at the University of Delaware. Participants also gained insight into the fellowship application process in a session led by the Library Company's Librarian Jim Green.  

Michael Dickinson
As the program's Graduate Research Advisor, I led two of the professional development seminars. I spent time with the Mellon Scholars explaining my journey through graduate school and discussing how to navigate the challenges of graduate life successfully. The students were extremely engaged, asking a range of questions and expressing their own concerns as they look to their future academic journey. “How did you decide which school to attend?” “What was the biggest adjustment for you in transitioning from undergraduate study?” “How do you balance your academic obligations and personal life?” These were some of the questions participants energetically posed during our first session. Together, we explored the ins and outs of academia, both to inform students about how to successfully achieve their academic aspirations and to address their potential apprehensions. The second session I ran was focused on personal statement development and revision. This meeting gave participants the opportunity to receive feedback from me and their peers on their personal statement drafts, which they had crafted earlier in the week.

The workshop week included a number of presentations on African American history by notable scholars Dr. Maurice Jackson, professor of history at Georgetown University; Dr. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Director of the Program in African American History; and Dr. Richard Newman, Director of the Library Company. The Mellon Scholars also attended the Library Company’s annual Juneteenth Freedom Seminar, which featured renowned political philosopher Dr. Danielle Allen. The students absorbed these presentations not only for their content but also for insight into effectively communicating research findings.

Jalyn Gordon and Shayne McGregor
The Mellon Scholars would draw on these lessons immediately as they were required to present their research at a colloquium held on the final day of the workshop. In addition to professional development lectures, the workshop week entailed a significant experiential learning component. The three workshop participants were each assigned a historical figure with a corresponding theme and were tasked with finding and interpreting at least three primary sources from the Library Company’s African Americana Collection that shed light on their topic. For example, one student was assigned the topic of African American activist Martin Delany and his relationship to black nationalism. Mellon interns similarly continued to unearth materials on the individual topics they developed in previous weeks. I worked with Library Company Curator of African American History Krystal Appiah to help guide the workshop participants as they searched the archives for relevant sources. At the colloquium, both groups provided presentations on their findings and research progress. The process helped familiarize students with finding and interpreting primary source material at a historical archive.

In addition to time at Library Company, I accompanied the students to educational trips to historical resources throughout the city including Temple University's Blockson Afro-American Collection, Mother Bethel AME Church, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Therefore, I witnessed the intellectual enthusiasm and potential the Mellon Scholars demonstrated both inside and outside the walls of LCP. Though the Mellon Scholars frequently expressed their appreciation for the experience, my fellow staff members and I were truly fortunate to work with an incredibly talented group of students once again as the program completed its second year. I would like to thank our students for spreading their passion for learning and growth. Moreover, I would like to thank Dr. Dunbar and Krystal Appiah for the rewarding experience.

Michael Dickinson
2015 Mellon Scholars Graduate Research Advisor
PhD Candidate in History, University of Delaware

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mass Media and the Rhetoric of Technological Progress

Not that long ago Bill Gates said that “the internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.”  Although the internet has significantly impacted human communication, it is hardly the first form of mass media.  More than 150 years earlier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. mimicked the tone of Gates’s remark when he called the stereograph “the card of introduction to make all mankind acquaintances” (744).  Working with the Raymond Holstein Stereograph Collection at the Library Company this summer has made me think about the multiple moments throughout modern history in which new technologies have made communication more accessible to the general public.  More significantly, this experience has made me ask the question: what rhetorical strategies do societies use to emphasize the beneficial aspects of media and technological revolutions? 
Developed by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1838, the stereograph was the great-grandfather of today’s 3D media.  A stereograph card contains two nearly identical photographs which produce the illusion of depth when viewed through a stereoviewer.  In the subsequent decades, other inventors improved upon Wheatstone’s design resulting in the commercialization of stereo photography.

A hand-held stereograph viewer, after the design popularized by Oliver Wendell Holmes, with a stereograph inserted. Creator: Davepape, 2006.

Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, the stereograph quickly became a form of easily accessible media in the United States.  While the daguerreotype, an early one-of-a-kind photographic process, used expensive silver plates, many early creators of stereograph views took advantage of  paper processes like the albumen print, which allowed for multiple copies of an image.  As a result, stereograph views had relatively low prices that increased both their production quantity and the size of their audience. Additionally, the mass-produced photographs facilitated a shift in subject matter.  While many daguerreotypes were portraits of the wealthy and their families, many stereo photographers captured the images of landscapes and cityscapes to sell to the general public.  The stereograph was one of the first technologies that allowed Americans to affordably glimpse the world around them from their home. 

Although changes in production helped the stereograph become a new mass media, it rested upon journalists, writers, and intellectuals to make it a symbol of positive societal advancement.  As Edward W. Earle argues, in 19th-century America the stereograph gained ideological prominence through its association with the already celebrated ideal of mass democracy.  Earle writes that “anything which allowed for the participation of more than one class came to be labeled democratic…A realistic social ramification of democratic tendencies was greater accessibility to information in the form of books, magazines, newspapers, and pictures” (9).  For writers like Holmes, the varied views of stereographs offered a new and affordable form of visual education.  With stereographs, more Americans could learn about the world through images and then make informed decisions that contributed to running the republic.

A stereograph showing an affluent middle-class woman using a stereograph viewer in her parlor.  Title: “The Stereograph as an Educator.” Creator: Underwood & Underwood, circa 1901.

In addition to signifying  mass democracy, the stereograph also became a symbol of America’s rising middle-class and consumer culture.  In the mid to late 19th-century, increased industrial output made the purchase of luxury items possible for those who were not part of the wealthy elite. Americans associated the ability to purchase consumer products with a new type of middle-class fashion and culture, or a “vernacular gentry” (Bushman xiii).  As Laura Schiavo maintains in her examination of stereographs and American social history, “the stereoscope belonged to an age in which the consumption of goods signified one’s taste,” and “consuming culture was represented as the road to social harmony” (235). Promoters of the stereograph portrayed the technology as a benign result of industrialization and mass consumption; an affordable form of cultural sophistication for many Americans.  As more families purchased the new form of mass media, many believed that their ability to do so signaled a higher standard of living for the American middle class.

One of the many stereographs produced of the  Centennial Exhibition of 1876 showing the grounds in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.  Massive temporary buildings were constructed for the exhibition, including the Main Exhibition Building, Machinery Hall, Horticultural Hall, and the Pennsylvania Railroad Depot.  The exhibition celebrated ideals of democratic equality, consumer culture, and technological progress. Title: Bird’s Eye View of Grounds from Reservoir. Creator: Centennial Photographic Co., circa 1876.
The Library Company’s Holstein Collection is filled with stereographs from the  Centennial Exhibition of 1876.  A 100th birthday party for the United States, the exhibition served as both a celebration of patriotism and showcase of new consumer products. Like the stereograph, the Centennial Exhibition was portrayed by its chroniclers as a symbol of the increased democratic equality and consumer power that came with technological progress. Today, we should continue to recognize the ways in which we idealize technological advancements and new forms of mass media.  Technological development alone did not give rise to the claim that the internet places us at the dawn of a global society or that social media gives new power to public opinion.  These claims reflect our crafting of the story of technological development in terms of ideals we associate with benefit and prosperity.

As my internship at the Library Company wraps up, I would like to thank the staff of the Library for being friendly and welcoming, especially those I worked closely with: Erika Piola, Sarah Weatherwax, and Nicole Joniec in the Print Department and Connie King in the Reading Room.  I would also like to thank the Haverford College Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities for funding my internship and its programs and administrative manager Emily Cronin for her support.

Bushman, Richard. The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1992.

Earle, Edward W. “The Stereograph in American: Pictorial Antecedents and Cultural Perspectives.” In Points of View: The Stereograph in America—A Cultural History. Rochester, N. Y.: Visual Studies Workshop, 1979.

Gates, Bill and Collins Hemmingway, Business @ the Speed of Thought. New York: Grand Central  Publishing, 1999.

Holmes, Oliver Wendell.  “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph.” In The Atlantic Monthly (June 1859).

Schiavo, Laura. "'A Collection of Endless Extent and Beauty': Stereographs, Vision, Taste and the American Middle Class, 1850-1880." Diss. George Washington University, 2003.

David Zabliski, Haverford College '17
LCP intern, Summer 2015