Category Archives: From the Stacks

LGBTQ+ in Rare Books and Manuscripts: A Pride Month Project Becomes a Blog Series!

Hello! My name is Gino Romero.

Gino Photo
Photo of Gino Romero (They/Them, Elle/Ellx)

I am a queer non-binary artist, researcher, and the Rare Books Assistant in Special Collections and Archives. My research deals with queerness, highlighting the erasure of queer history, primarily focusing on people of color. As an undergrad, trying to do research in this topic with no formal training in research proved to be next to impossible. I leaned on my professors for resources, but these results were not so fruitful. Later that year, we went to Special Collections and Archives to look at artists’ books and before the class started, a librarian helped us look through the catalog and find topics we were interested in. I shouted out “LGBTQ+ History!”: no results. We tried just “LGBT”: no results! We tried dozens of configurations until we found results, but even then, it wasn’t guaranteed that they would actually be of use to my research. 

As a student, it was comforting to know that it wasn’t just me, that the institution was also struggling to find these histories. But as a researcher, I was frustrated beyond reason. I wondered why it’s so hard to find these histories. Now I work in Special Collections and Archives, and I wonder what my fellow coworkers and I can do to fix this? I began asking these questions to my colleagues and decided to make it into a project.

LGBT Search
Image – “0 matching items” for “LGBT” or “LGBTQ”

We often think that libraries are neutral, that they are solely a source of information for Rainbow Pull Quotepeople to come and formulate their own opinions on the matter. Librarians are human; personal biases always creep into the work, often to the detriment of marginalized populations. Libraries are sites of power, organizing, labeling, and delivering information in ways that affect cultural beliefs and understanding on institutional, national, and even global scales. It is important that we take the time to acknowledge that power and privilege, and that the discipline evolves out of (perhaps comfortable) old practices that contribute to systems of bigotry, oppression, and white supremacy

Librarians are tasked with the role of making information discoverable and available. They have the ability to place subject headings and search terms on materials, are involved in the acquisition of materials, and even contribute to what is taught in the classroom. These factors, among many others, put libraries in a unique position of power, as gatekeepers of information. 

The project – asking my colleagues to engage with queer histories in archives

For Pride month, I tasked my fellow coworkers with taking a moment to reflect on our role in the distribution and accessibility of information relating to LGBTQ+ history. I asked them to look into our catalogs in order to find materials, to experience what it’s like to be a queer researcher in our institution. The rules for the search were to prioritize the following: 

  • LGBTQ+ people of color
  • Materials outside of the Pride Student Union collection (These institutional records don’t represent intentional acquisition, and while valuable records of queer life on campus, don’t tell the story of underrepresentation on a larger scale.)
  • Stories that do not relate to LGBTQ+ struggles/hardships (Look for stories that highlight queer joy/culture!)

I asked my colleagues to submit a write up of their findings, describing why they chose that object, and what their experience was like in the shoes of a queer researcher. I will curate these submissions and blog about them on a biweekly basis, in hopes that this conversation will continue past Pride month and help create sustainable change.

I’m happy that this Pride Month work is turning into a blog series! In addition to sharing my colleagues’ findings, I hope to interview librarians and scholars who study representation in the archives. Be sure to check out the next post (hoping for a biweekly schedule), where I plan to include some of the discovered materials and describe the challenges my colleagues reported in their search process. 

In addition to this prompt, I also sent my colleagues some LGBTQ+ resources that I would like to share here as well:

Other institutions have been researching and working towards a solution for this issue as well. UNC has created a conscious editing initiative to repair and fix any harmful/outdated language in their catalog

Whether we follow the lead of other institutions or create a new program entirely just for FSU, it is important to take the time to acknowledge the power information holds and to make sure that we are doing our part to make it accurate, available, and equitable.

Collection Update: The Historical Photograph Collection

This article was written by Jeffrey Henley, a graduate student who has been working with the Florida State University Historic Photograph Collection with Heritage & University Archives since September 2018.

The FSU Historic Photograph Collection in the Heritage & University Archives at Florida State University contains in excess of 250,000 images and negatives. The collection houses a number of different types of images produced from the late nineteenth century through approximately 2010. The majority of the images were produced in the 1950s and 1960s. The challenges to processing this collection generally center on the issue of its size and diversity of photographs.  An issue with provenance exists due to the photographs having been collected without strict documentation. What is known, though, is the overwhelming majority of the photographs were produced by an entity within or associated with Florida State University. While the provenance of the collection is also a challenge, this issue is not at the forefront of dealing with the collection. Due to the way it had been collected over time as many different collections, it had not been organized as a coherent archival collection, but rather was kept in a variety of storage entities.

Baseball
Florida State University baseball player receiving congratulations from team as he scores a run. From the Historic Photograph Collection. [see item in digital library]
The collection was first processed to its current form in 2016. When I started to work on this collection in late September 2018, I spent a couple of weeks familiarizing myself with proper techniques for handling photographs and negatives, recognizing issues, and identifying proper storage. After that, I spent a fair amount of time learning the collection and becoming familiar with its organization.  I found the collection organized into five series, each representing distinctive types of photographs and subjects. Even after working with the collection for almost eighteen months, I am still learning about the content. Once I had a grasp of how to work with the collection and what I was dealing with, the time came for me to pick up the processing of the collection where Dave Rodriguez left off in April 2018.

I began working with Series 5, which was a mixture of prints and negatives. While the contents of the remaining fourteen boxes were generally in alphabetical order by subject, they still needed to be checked to make sure they were correct and I also discovered many of the subjects had additional titles for clarification. These categories then had to be organized within sub-categories. I noticed many of the prints and negatives (not all) had additional markings to indicate some sort of numerical system that was being used by the photographer to organize them. Discovering this system made the task of putting matched prints and negatives together in the boxes.  I do not know how many prints and negatives were in those fourteen boxes, however it took me about four and half to five months to reprocess them. The fourteen boxes actually expanded to fifteen boxes due to a number of prints and negatives being stuffed into storage envelopes. I rehoused each print, and occasional negative, in new storage envelopes. Series 5 was completed in late March 2019, however due to space and other pending projects, the boxes were left in place until such time I could come back to them and fully incorporate them into the collection both physically and in the finding aid. I spent the rest of the semester working on research requests and digitization projects for the Heritage & University Archives.

Bread making machine
Florida State University students Paul Grimmig and Charles Clark with bread making machinery. From the Historic Photograph Collection. [see item in digital library]
When I returned to Special Collections in the fall of 2019, Sandra Varry had me begin a project to assess the provenance of the collection. We knew the photographs that were already in the collection, along with those that had yet to be processed, came from a wide variety of sources, however there was no clear indication as to what sources had contributed to the entire collection. This project also included examining the provenance of the General Photograph Collection and the Alumni Association Miscellaneous Photograph Collection. The project was a precursor to the possible merging of these smaller collections into the larger FSU Historic Photograph Collection.

The Alumni Association Collection appeared to be a more unique collection than the General Photograph Collection. The decision was made to keep the Alumni Association Collection as its own entity, but Sandra decided the best course of action for the General Photograph Collection was to merge it into the Historic Photograph Collection. One issue that we had to take into consideration before moving forward was that roughly three-quarters of the photographs in the General Photograph Collection had been digitized and were part of the finding aid for the collection down to the item level.

Three men with abacuses
Air Force Master Sergeant Clarence Vogelgesang, Professor George A. Lensen, and Major William Reese examine 2 abacuses. From the Historic Photograph Collection. [see item in digital library]
Over the course of several weeks into October 2019, we had a number of meetings with other specialists in Special Collections to prepare to merge these collections. We received the best practices for tracking the digitized photographs as well as keeping track of updates that need to be made to the finding aid. After that, the next step was to go through the General Photograph Collection and make determinations as to where each photograph would go in the Historic Photograph Collection. This process took a bit longer than anticipated due to my misunderstanding of the numbering system used on the General Photograph Collection and the fact that I had missed over 100 photographs that were not digitized, but were still part of the collection. I then had to go back through and determine where those photographs would go. When that task was completed, it was time to begin laying out how many photographs would go into which folders and which boxes in the Historic Photograph Collection and layout a map of how the collection would look on the shelves and how much room would be needed to fit them all in, not to mention the 15 boxes that had been processed the previous spring.  Creating the map of the collection took most of the rest of the fall semester.

Upon my return for the spring semester 2020, I reviewed the floor plan for the collection and received approval from Sandra to proceed with the actual merging of the collections. Over the course of the next six or seven weeks, I meticulously merged the General Photograph Collection into the Historic Photograph Collection, over 800 photographs, and accounted for each one on at least three different spreadsheets. One spreadsheet was reserved for tracking the digitized photographs, one was used to update the finding aid, and the other was a back up, in essence, to the finding aid tracker. Doing it this way slowed the process down significantly, however I thought the time was worth avoiding a serious mistake that could undo months of work.

Westcott Building
Westcott Building decorated for Christmas. From the Historic Photograph Collection. [see item in digital library]
By the second week in March 2020, the physical collection merger was complete. All that remained to be done was final review of the new finding aid and upload, turning over the new locations for the digitized photographs to the DLC team for review, and to print the new labels for the collection. It was all ready to go. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis intervened. The final few steps of the process to complete the merger and reopen the collection will have to wait until the crisis abates and campus is open once again.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and FSU’s Ostraka Collection

History of Texts and Popular Media

As someone who studies the history of texts, I try to avoid commenting on the portrayal of textual history or librarianship in popular media (don’t get me started on Jocasta Nu in Attack of the Clones) in casual settings. What good does it do to point out that a manuscript’s hand doesn’t match the era, or that a particular text wouldn’t be in the vernacular, or that rare books should NEVER be perused while consuming an apple or burning incense? Probably not much, though you better believe textual historians have these conversations all the time!

On Athena's shoulder
Kassandra on Athena’s Shoulder

This is why I am delighted when they get it right. I’ve spent some time over the past few weeks playing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (ACO), an epic adventure game set in the year 431 BCE. In the game, you play as a mercenary (in my case, Kassandra) navigating the political and military landscape of Greece during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. The map is seemingly endless, the vistas beautiful, and my time sailing and attacking pirate ships has almost made me forget about the COVID-19 quarantine and my cancelled travel. 

 

Sailing
Sailing is the most I get out these days.

From the beginning of the game you are encouraged to find something referred to as Ainigmata Ostraka – these are stone tablets hidden in various locations that contain riddles that guide you to “engravings” that level up your weapons. (Here is a brief clip of me finding one.) Huzzah, a real text technology from the time, and — I am happy to report — ostraka make another appearance crucial to the main mission of the game that is true to their historical importance (more on this later). 

What are Ostraka?

The word ostraka (plural) or ostrakon (singular) refers to a piece of pottery, usually broken off from a larger vessel (a potsherd), that has been reused as a writing surface. Ostraka were plentiful in the ancient world and were typically inscribed in Greek, Latin, Arabic, or Hieratic script (Ancient Egyptian). While papyrus was also available, it was expensive and usually reserved for documents that needed to last; ostraka recorded more ephemeral notes, letters, and (as you’ll soon see) ballots. 

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FSU Ostraka 18: Letter

FSU Special Collections and Archives have a collection of 32 ostraka from circa 150 CE, much later than the time period of the game, but they match physical descriptions of ostraka across these centuries. Here’s how Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey’s portrayal of ostraka aligns with the historical record: 

 

 

 

Almost, but Not Quite…

Ostraka Size
Ostrakon in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

Most ostraka were small. 

When my character discovers ostraka, they are usually all about the same size. They are very regular in shape, rectangular, and about the length of Kassandra’s forearm. Ostraka of that size have existed in history, but they were exceptional and, it seems, rare. Based on real ostraka that survive, it appears that a majority were very small pieces, about the size of one’s hand or even smaller, and their shapes are extremely irregular. 

 

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FSU Ostraka 6: Letter of Maximus

Ostraka were not usually flat.

The ostraka stored under “Documents” in your ACO inventory appear to be flat. Usually, real ostraka give an indication of the shape of the pot or clay item that the shard was originally a part of. They will frequently have a curve to them; I’ve often thought that the shape might rather conveniently conform to the writer’s leg during the inscription process. 

 

 

 

record sunshine
Ostrakon that appears to show engraving

Ostraka were usually written in ink or scratched into paint, rather than carved.

We don’t get to see very close, detailed depictions of the ostraka in ACO, but they do appear to be engraved, almost like a cuneiform tablet, rather than written. Writers sometimes used the same tools they used for writing on papyrus — a small brush or reed pen — to compose in ink on their ostrakon. If the pottery was painted, or had a dark glaze on it, the writing could be etched into the painted surface – the effect looked less like a stone tablet and more like words scratched into paint, like bathroom stall graffiti. 

1238_-_Keramikos_Museum,_Athens_-_Ostrakon_against_Aristides,_son_of_Lysimachos_-_Photo_by_Giovanni_Dall
Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, from Wikimedia Commons

 

Absolutely Correct

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FSU Ostraka 25: List of watchtower guards

Ostraka were plentiful.

Consider them the post-it note of the ancient world! Ostraka were used for many different purposes. Pottery was the primary means of storing, preserving, and transporting goods, so shards of pottery were nearly unlimited in supply. 

 

 

 

 

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FSU Ostraka 23: List of guards

Ostraka are found in strange places.

Archaeologists  find groupings of ostraka in places you might not expect: in trash heaps, at the bottom of wells or fountains, under the foundations of houses. This relates to the purposes they usually served. Either they were ephemeral notes that were discarded, or they were inscribed as a means of imbuing some sort of metaphysical power into the description, and tossed into a well or buried under a house to complete the ritual. FSU Special Collections and Archives’ ostraka were discovered in an archaeological dig of a trash heap next to a Roman military outpost in Edfu, Egypt. 

Ostraka can vary in color.

I was happy to see that the ACO designers created ostraka that come in a variety of colors. As ostraka come from broken pottery that would have been crafted in various places, the components of the clay would differ according to geography. Additionally, some pottery was painted or treated, and would have color differentiation accordingly. 

 

Ostraka can tell a full story.

While most ostraka contain very brief inscriptions, some give us a glimpse into the lives of the people who wrote them. We even have a pretty explicit love poem. Here’s a different example that illustrates this in FSU’s ostraka collection: 

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FSU Ostraka 1: Letter of Sentis to Proclus

“Sentis to Proclus her brother, greeting. You did well, brother, in giving the two kolophoia to Anchoubis; also write to me about the passage-money and I will send it to you at once. I did not send you meat, brother, so that I might not bid farewell to you. Therefore I ask you, sir, show respect (?) to me and come this the Ethiopoan, Let us be happy. Farewell. (At the side) Do not do otherwise, then, but if you love me come. Let us be happy.”

 

Ostraka were used to vote people out of Athenian society, and the etymological source for the word “ostracism.”

You might not know that the word “ostracism” derives from a practice in fifth-century Athens that relied upon ostraka: ostrakismos. The process is succinctly described here: 

The procedure was as follows: Every winter, the full assembly of Athenian citizens (i.e. free adult males) was asked  whether it wanted to hold an ostrakismos. If a majority – not counting less than 6,000 – agreed, the event was held two months later. For this purpose, a large area within the Agora was corralled off. Every citizen could enter. On doing so, he handed a potsherd (ostrakon) to an official, inscribed with the name of the individual he wished to see ostracised, further identified by his father’s name and the deme (district) he came from. To prevent multiple votes, the citizens had to wait within until the vote was complete. The sherds were then counted and the person most frequently chosen, again subject to a minimum of 6,000 votes, was ostracised.

The ostracised citizen was given ten days to settle his affairs and leave Athens. His citizenship was not affected, nor was his property touched, and he retained access to its proceeds. He was not to return to the city for ten years – on penalty of death – unless a public vote recalled him at an earlier date. Ostracism was not considered per se dishonourable; status and rights were fully reinstated on return. (https://www.petersommer.com/blog/archaeology-history/ostraka)

In Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Kassandra is introduced to this practice when she is asked to sneak into the location where the ostraka are being counted and rig the votes by switching out the ostraka with fake ones. In this case, the ostraka appear to be small, dark round pieces, which perfectly matches the piece of pottery that was typically used in the process – the disc-shaped bottom of a stemmed drinking vessel. 

1024px-Atenas,_Estoa_de_Átalo_10
Ostraka; Stoa of Attalus. Athens, Attica, Greece by Wikimedia User LBM1948

Many thanks to Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, for the excellent portrayal of ostraka as a historical text technology. One caveat: I’m currently only at level 24 in the game, so it’s possible that ostraka make more appearances that would change my perspective. If that’s the case, please let me know! 

And as always, FSU Special Collections and Archives materials are open to the public. While our reading rooms are currently closed due to the pandemic, our ostraka collections (and other awesome pre-print materials) are available in our digital library, DigiNole. I encourage you to browse them at your leisure! 

The History of the Ku Klux Klan in Miami

When you think of Miami, you think of the beaches, the art, the South Beach area, a tourist paradise, and the rich Cuban culture. Miami is one of Florida’s most influential cities that produces many stars, politicians, and field leaders. Great things come out of Miami, however, there is one thing within the history of the city that is not so great — the Ku Klux Klan. Many people would not believe that a city like Miami had a klavern of the Ku Klux Klan, but that does not erase the history.

This image shows klansmen of the Miami klavern on a parade float named “America’s Little Red School House.”

The Ku Klux Klan in Miami operated just as any other klavern of the Ku Klux Klan would. It thrived off of hatred, white supremacy, and oppression of others. In Miami, the klavern steadily enacted violence and fear—including lynchings, bombings and parades— starting in the early 1900s. Activities documented in the Miami-Dade Public Library digital collection on the Ku Klux Klan included baby baptism ceremonies, marches in white robes, church at The White Temple Methodist Church, going on parades, and funeral services. The collection does not include the terrorism that this klavern perpetuated in Miami.

One infamous act of terrorism that the Ku Klux Klan of Miami carried out was a raid on a gay club in Miami. On Nov. 15, 1937, nearly 200 klansmen and klanswomen stormed the club La Paloma in Miami-Dade county. While wearing their Ku Klux Klan robes, they struck fear into the community by showing up in mass, assaulting staff and performers, and demanding the club shutdown. The klan claimed that by attacking this nightclub, they were saving white, traditional families from intruding ethnic, gender, and sexuality challenges.

Often times the klavern was blamed for fragmenting the community of Miami. Marjory Stoneman Douglas reflected on the impact of the Ku Klux Klan in Miami by saying, “How could you be a community with people like that?” In her interview with the Douglas House, she recounted her encounters with seeing people lynched, tarred and feathered, and face to face altercations with the Ku Klux Klan. Though, she never wavered in her belief that the Ku Klux Klan did belong in the community. She said she liked the Coconut Grove area better than Miami because “it was a community of people who had backgrounds other than [Ku Klux Klan], and I’m quite sure there was no Ku Klux Klan in Coconut Grove.”

As Krystal Thomas at FSU Libraries notes, “libraries, archives and museums always think long and hard about how, or even if, to present this type of history in an online environment where it is hard to maintain its context and to ensure that people interacting with it understand its place in history and won’t potentially misappropriate it. However, there is no guarantee any of that would not also happen with researchers in our reading rooms or exhibit spaces. Ultimately, if they choose to, cultural heritage organizations share this information so that an accurate representation of our history is also online, however problematic that history may be to modern users. We try to use description to make sure digital objects are accurately represented and, where appropriate, include disclaimers to warn users about graphic or potentially triggering content.”

Overall, the state of Florida has a rich history, but sadly some of the history includes terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Luckily, the activity of the Ku Klux Klan in Miami dwindled with the rise of the civil rights movement in the United States of America.  Learn more about civil rights related content in the Civil and Human Rights search on SSDN.DP.LA.

 

Love Your Pet Day – Means Family Home Movies

Today on National Love Your Pet Day, Special Collections & Archives celebrates not only our own pets, but those of our collection creators as well!

Dog and people at beach, 1954
Means Family and dog at beach, 1954. From MSS 2018-004, Box 9, Reel 6.

Continue reading Love Your Pet Day – Means Family Home Movies

Black History Month: Celebrating Black Authors

Black History Month is upon us and it is time to reflect, recognize, and revere the numerous contributions that black authors have made to our society. Therefore, it is our pleasure to highlight some influential black authors (whose works we have in the stacks at Florida State University Special Collections and Archives).

Maya Angelou

  • Occupation: poet, singer, activist
  • Born: April 4, 1928
  • Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
  • Quote: “Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.”
  • Famous Works: “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (1969), “And Still I Rise” (1978), “Phenomenal Women: Four Poems Celebrating Women” (1995)
  • In Special Collections: “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” (1993) (Gontarski- PS3551.N464 L54 1993)
Source: Jack Delano

Langston Hughes

  • Occupation: poet, novelist, playwright, activist
  • Born: February 1, 1902
  • Hometown: Joplin, Missouri
  • Quote: “An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.” 
  • Famous Works: “I, Too” (1926), “Montage of a Dream Deferred” (1951), “The Weary Blues”(1926), “Let America be America Again” (1936)
  • In Special Collections: “Shakespeare in Harlem” (1942) (Vault- PS3515.U274 S5), “Black Misery” (1969) (Gontarski- PS3515.U274 B5 1969), “The Dream Keeper and Other Poems” (1994) (Shaw- PS3515.U274 D74 1994), “One-Way Ticket” (1948) (Rare – PS3515.U274 O5), and more.
Source: Tullio Saba on Flickr

James Baldwin

  • Occupation: novelist, playwright, poet, activist
  • Born: August 2, 1924
  • Hometown: Harlem, New York, New York
  • Quote: “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
  • Famous Works: “The Fire Next Time” (1962), “If Beale Street Could Talk” (1974), “Go Tell It on the Mountain” (1953), “Notes of a Native Son” (1955)
  • In Special Collections: “Letter from a Region in my Mind” (1962) (Rare- E185.61.B196), “School Readings by Grades” (1897) (Shaw – PE1117 .B281-B286 1897)
Source: U.S. Coast Guard

Alex Haley

  • Occupation: writer
  • Born: August 11, 1921
  • Hometown: Ithaca, New York
  • Quote: “In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.”
  • Famous Works: “Queen: The Story of an American Family” (1993), “Mama Flora’s Family” (1997)
  • In Special Collections: “Roots” (1976) (Rare- E185.97.H24 A33), “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” (1965) (Grove- E185.97.L5 A3 1966b)
Source: United States Library of Congress

Zora Neale Hurston

  • Occupation: author, anthropologist, filmmaker
  • Born: January 7, 1891
  • Hometown: Notasulga, Alabama
  • Quote: “Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”
  • Famous Works: “How It Feels To Be Colored Me” (1928), “Sweat” (1926), “Mules and Men” (1935)
  • In Special Collections: “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (1937) (Florida- PS3515. U789 T5 1969), “Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography” (1942) (Florida- PS3515.U789 Z5 1971), “Tell My Horse”(1938) (Florida- F1886 .H87 1938), and more.
Source: Christopher Drexel on Flickr

Toni Morrison

  • Occupation: novelist, essayist, book editor, professor
  • Born: February 18, 1931
  • Hometown: Lorain, Ohio
  • Quote: “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”
  • Famous Works: “Beloved” (1987), “Song of Solomon”(1977), “Sula” (1973)
  • In Special Collections: “Five Poems” (2002) (Rare- oversize PS3563.O8749 A6 2002), “The Big Box” (1999) (Gontarski- PZ8.3.M836 Bi 1999), and more.

Pictured above are just a few of the pieces we have in Special Collections by these authors. (Slide 1: “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” by Maya Angelou, Slide 2-3: “Shakespeare in Harlem” by Langston Hughes and signed, Slide 4-6: “Letter from a Region in my Mind” by James Baldwin, Slides 7-9: “Five Poems” by Toni Morrison)

By no means is this an exhaustive list of the amazing black authors whose works we hold on our shelves. Here at SCA, we have a plethora of black literature including novels, poems, children’s books, and historical materials. Black History Month is the perfect time to delve into these works, so head to Special Collections in Strozier and let us know what you want to read. We look forward to seeing you here!

Uncovering Local Sharecropping through a General Store: The Van Brunt Business Records

VanBrunt03

Around thirteen miles North from downtown Tallahassee is Lake Iamonia. Families such as the Van Brunts historically developed the land around Iamonia as large cotton plantations. R.F. Van Brunt was born in 1862 and from 1902 to 1911 operated a general store and the Van Brunt plantation in the area. The collection primarily comprises store account ledgers like the 1911 Day Book on the left.

At first glance these financial ledgers may not contain anything other than store balances and goods sold. However, this collection sheds light on local sharecropping. Sharecropping was an agricultural labor system that replaced slavery following the end of the Civil War. Plantation owners used this system to keep many former enslaved people bound to their plantations to maintain their crop-driven businesses. 

Sharecropping contracts, like the one below found in one of the Van Brunt store ledgers contracting Randall Hayes, leased land to the sharecropper to cultivate a cash crop. At a specified date, the sharecropper had to produce the contracted quantity of which they kept a portion. VanBrunt04

The Van Brunt store ledgers help us understand the economics of sharecropping. The country store in Iamonia is one example of how credit networks drove sharecropping. At the beginning of the agricultural year, sharecroppers bought their seeds and supplies on credit. The store often supplied individuals for months at a time without receiving payment. Near the date on their contracts, sharecroppers paid their store account in several ways.

The entry for September 16th affirms that five individuals received a balance on their store account for labor “by hauling seed.”

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While they could pay cash if they had it, sharecroppers paid their store balance down with agricultural goods as well. The entry from October 6th reveals that customers paid their store accounts down “by cotton.” Because they paid rent on farmland, and sometimes store balances, in cotton, local sharecroppers often settled their debt with the plantation owner and store during the harvest season.

Infrequent opportunities to settle accounts with plantation owners, natural disruptions, and crop failures meant that sharecropping easily became a cycle of debt that trapped African Americans on the same plantations that enslaved them or their parents.

We invite members of the FSU community and the general public to access our collections in our reading room on the first floor of Strozier Library Monday-Thursday from 10:00-6:00 and Friday from 10:00-5:30.

The 1911 Day Book and Sharecropping Contracts are also available for viewing in our digital library, DigiNole.

Click here to learn more about the Van Brunt Business Records.

Further Reading:

Paisley, Clifton. “Van Brunt’s Store, Iamonia, Florida, 1902-1911.” Florida Historical Quarterly 48 (1970): 353-367.

New Digital Exhibit on Integration at FSU

Integration Statue
Integration Statue

A new digital exhibit is now available, featuring information and documents that expand on the items currently on display in at the Heritage Museum in Dodd Hall. The exhibit is titled A University in Transition: The Long Path to Integration and focuses on the role of institutional racism in delaying state university integration. It also highlights acts of resistance by students, such as John Boardman, who was expelled for his active involvement with the black Inter-Civic council during and after the Tallahassee Bus Boycott.

Picture of Bob Leach, Vice President for Student Affairs (1978-1988)
Bobby E. Leach, Vice President for Student Affairs (1978-1988)

African American students, faculty, staff, and alumni also tell their story during the 40th anniversary of integration, for which a statue was commissioned featuring the first black graduate, athlete, and homecoming queen. The exhibit concludes with a spotlight on FSU’s first black administrator, Dr. Bob E. Leach, whose speeches inspired students for over a decade (1978-1988) and who served as a model of leadership for the university.

The exhibit also aligns with the goals of FSU’s recently established Civil Rights Institute. The interdisciplinary institute will sponsor events, speakers, publications, education, and research on civil rights and social justice. Its collections will be housed in Strozier Library and include historical African American newspapers, the Tallahassee Civil Rights Oral History collection, microfilm editions of NAACP and ACLU organizational records and the Emmett Till archives.

For more information, check out the library’s Civil Rights LibGuide.

The digital exhibit is available here: https://universityintransition.omeka.net/exhibits/show/a-university-in-transition/introduction

Black and white illustration taken from The Gashlycrumb Tinies of a two little girls at a table, one skeletal and dead, presumably related to the large bottle atop the table. It is captioned “Z is for Zillah who drank too much gin."

Scary Books for Children?: Edward Gorey in the Marsha Gontarski Children’s Literature Collection

This is a guest-post by students Josalin Hughes and Julia Kleser, Editing, Writing, and Media majors, whose project for their Advanced Writing and Editing course this semester is to help create content highlighting portions of Special Collections holdings. 

Black and white illustration of a group of children in the shadow of a tall, skeletal man titled The Gashlycrumb Tinies.
Child-rearing, Gorey style .

As we progress from the otherworldly and spooky atmosphere of October and deeper into the holiday spirit of November, it can be hard to let go of Halloween. After all, the exciting and haunting energy has been building since the first of the month. We hope everyone had a happy Halloween and want to introduce the work of an author near and dear to our hearts. Edward Gorey was a curious character who created spectacular—or spooktacular, rather, to stay in-season—books for children. Although not gory, as his name may suggest, some readers describe his art as “unnerving” or “creepy.” Marsha Gontarski, the researcher who compiled and donated the entire Marsha GontarskiChildren’s Literature Collection, refers to his style as “subtle and unsettling.”

Girl on Fire

Black and white illustration taken from “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” of a little girl surrounded by a large flame in an otherwise dark room. It is captioned “R is for Rhoda consumed by a fire."
Rhoda on fire!

One of the most well-known works, and perhaps most suitable for this recently passed holiday, is The Gashlycrumb Tinies which you can find in the Marsha Gontarski Collection. As pictured below, the poem takes on the form of a traditional alphabet-style book. Where Gorey’s version differs though, is the somewhat disturbing subject matter of each letter; from Amy to Zillah, each letter names a child who dies in a tragic, absurdor nonsensical way.

The darker tone of the poem bleeds in through the images that accompany the single-line deaths. Each illustration is inked in heavy, purposeful strokes in all black. Without the variation of color, his style relies on different textures and contrast to tell each morbid tale.

Creepy Baby and Bug Book

Illustration taken from An Edward Gorey Bestiary (1984) of a colorful naked baby on a white polar bear skin rug against a black hatched background. It is captioned “The baby, lying meek and quiet upon the customary rug, has dreams about rampage and riot, and will grow up to be a thug."
Baby from Bestiary

Even outside of The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Gorey’s other work carries this same eerie quality, one which inspired well-liked artists such as Tim Burton. Taken from his 1984 engagement calendar, An Edward Gorey Bestiary, are a few illustrations that mirror the unsettling style seen in The Gashlycrumb Tinies, with some splashes of color. Although his style may vary to include a more clean and colorful appearance, the stories he tells remain a little ghastly.

 

Bug Book

 

In The Bug Book, Gorey follows the lives of a family of delightfully cute and colorful bugs, and their murderous plot against the black bug who didn’t quite fit in with their lifestyle.

 

 

What makes a children’s book?

Black and white illustration taken from The Gashlycrumb Tinies of a two little girls at a table, one skeletal and dead, presumably related to the large bottle atop the table. It is captioned “Z is for Zillah who drank too much gin."
More dead children.

Despite the more mature themes of his illustrated poems and short stories, such as death/murder, violence, and alcoholism, his works are often regarded as being made for children. This poses a question of what makes “a children’s book,” an element explored throughout the works included in the Marsha Gontarski Collection. Do illustration-heavy works fall into the category of being “for kids,” simply due to our societal understanding that picture books are childlike in nature? Do children pay attention to the same themes and motifs that catch the eyes of adults? These questions are prevalent in the discussion around Gorey’s work, and can be asked again and again as we make our way through literature assigned to the genre of children’s books.

Two books Dr. Gontarski recommended for those examining this subject include The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettleheim and Don’t tell the Grown-ups: Subversive Children’s Literature by Alison Laurie..

Balefully Although the season of ghosts, vampires, and bogeymen has ended, the spirit of the dark and disturbed doesn’t have to. Edward Gorey has a lot of works that we were unable to include in this post—be sure to come visit them in the Special Collections Reading Room, open Monday to Thursday, 10am – 6pm, or Friday 10am – 5:30pm. The reading room is on the first floor of Strozier Library. Gorey’s books, as well as so many other works using visual elements designed for children, are available in the Marsha Gontarski Collection.

Working with the Napoleon Collection

A guest post by Brianna McLean, who currently works in Special Collections and the Heritage Museum.  She is a history graduate student working on her M.A. in Early Modern European History.

This semester, I have been working with our Rare Books Librarian, Rachel Duke, and learning about the Napoleon Collection here in Special Collections.  As a history graduate student studying Early Modern France, this collection has been extra rewarding to examine.  There are so many exciting pieces, such as Napoleon’s death mask, Eighteenth-century manuscripts, documents about France’s colonies and women during the time, newspapers, pamphlets, secondary scholarship on France, and more.  The best part is that all of these items are just waiting inside Strozier Library to be examined and studied.

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Napoleon’s Death Mask

The Napoleon Collection is particularly strong when it comes to Napoleon’s military campaigns and works by and about prominent French Revolutionary and military figures.  The collection includes works by Napoleon, Marie Antoinette, Robespierre, Marat, and more.  For me, the best part of this collection are the memoirs.  Memoirs are one of my favorite parts of history because you can learn so much about a person by what they wanted to portray to the public about themselves.  Some of the memoirs are even digitized in E-book form, available on databases like Hathi Trust if researchers want online access as well. But FSU has our own digital repository, Diginole, and some Napoleonic manuscripts are accessible there, such as this 1772 regiment list of revenues and expenses.

In 2018, Special Collections received an incredible donation to the Napoleon Collection: the Michael La Vean Collection.  This over-4000-book collection is the perfect addition to the Napoleon Collection because it adds new dimensions, such as an increase in women’s narratives.  Researchers may be interested in this collection because of its emphasis on gender studies, history of sex, European naval history, military uniforms, and the history of European royalty.  Currently, Special Collections is preparing to catalog the La Vean Collection to make it accessible to researchers.

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Walking through the La Vean Collection. 

When collections are donated, they are usually kept in the same order as the donor, or creator, gave them, until they can be ordered by call number.  As a library and museum assistant, I feel fortunate to be able to view the collection in its original order.  La Vean organized his collection topically into different subjects such as “Medieval,” “Vendee & French Civil War,” “Women General,” “Napoleon Family,” and “Naval,” among others.  This semester, I am learning about this collection and figuring out the most important items and what should be cataloged first.  Researchers are encouraged to visit Special Collections with any inquiries about the collection while it is being processed.

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More La Vean spines. 

This is just a small glimpse into our French Revolution Collections. If you are interested in seeing what the Napoleon Collection has to offer, please stop by Special Collections and visit the library catalog, setting “Strozier, Napoleon Collection” as your location.