Tag Archives: Napoleon

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.

 

 

 

A Special Collections Travel Diary

In January, Associate Dean Katie McCormick and I kicked off the new semester by traveling to Berkeley Springs, WV, to acquire a new collection of books related to the French Revolution and Empire. Nestled in the panhandle of West Virginia, Berkeley Springs is within shouting distance of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. It’s also known as America’s first spa town, with its warm and clear mineral waters attracting tourists for centuries, including George Washington! For us, though, it was where we’d meet Michael LaVean, FSU alumni and French history enthusiast. Over the years, Mr. LaVean has collected books related to Napoleon and the French Revolution and Empire, taking extra care to acquire material that highlights the roles women played during the time period.

The collection is massive. At the end of packing it, we had about 3000 books to bring back to Florida. So, how the heck did we do it?

Boxes – lots and lots of boxes

When we left for West Virginia, we drove a small sedan that was packed full of boxes. We fit about 100 boxes in the back of the car but still had to buy more when we got to West Virginia. When packing special collections materials, we take extra care not to pack them too tightly, and some books need to be delicately wrapped in tissue paper. By the end of packing, there were 188 boxes to be transported back to Florida.

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A 15-foot box truck

One of the most nerve-wracking parts of the journey was learning how to drive a 15-foot truck. Neither of us had any prior experience driving anything that big, and you never quite realize how precious visibility is until you don’t have it anymore. 15 foot trucks are also extremely heavy, so braking takes a lot longer than you realize.

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Delicious baked goods from Maryland

Because we were in apple country, I developed an insatiable craving for apple pie. After we finished packing, Mr. LaVean took us to a bakery in Maryland where we got – truly – the best apple pie I’ve ever had. We also stocked up on all kinds of goodies, like gingerbread men, wasabi peas, and spicy beef jerky.

 

26239398_10159890567335451_1070987110204665709_nA Bluetooth speaker, pain relief patches, and energy drinks

Moving trucks don’t have auxiliary plugs, which we only figured out after picking it up. The drive from West Virginia to Tallahassee is already long when you can drive at the speed limit, but in the truck, it took about 20 hours and would have felt like forever if we couldn’t listen to music and podcasts. We were also sore and tired from packing all day, so at one point, somewhere outside of Richmond, VA, we stopped at a Walmart to buy the essentials: a Bluetooth speaker, pain relief patches, and energy drinks. It was (mostly) smooth sailing after that.

A good attitude about bad weather

As we were leaving West Virginia, we drove through an intense storm front for several hours. There was zero visibility, semi-trucks were flying, and we were driving at a crawl. We kept our spirits up with fun music, lots of jokes, and the promise of apple pie for dinner. Our next day of driving was delayed by ice, but when we finally got on the road, the weather was beautiful. Look at this view!

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When we got back to town, we immediately started unpacking the collection into our stacks. Here are before and after pictures of the collection in Michael LaVean’s home and in our closed stacks.

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To view more material related to Napoleon and the French Revolution, as well as other collections, visit the FSU Special Collections & Archives Research Center in Strozier Library on Mondays-Fridays 10am-6pm.

Happy Birthday, Napoleon!

Happy birthday, Napoleon!

Born on the French island of Corsica in 1769 on August 15th, Napoleon Bonaparte is known for being the steadfast emperor of France who conquered much of Europe during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. After winning most of his conflicts against relentless European coalitions, Bonaparte was ultimately defeated by the British at the famous battle of Waterloo in 1815. He was imprisoned on the remote island of St. Helena where he died at the age of 51 in 1821.

Just after Napoleon’s passing on the island, one of his doctors created a customary death mask for the remembrance and final portrayal of the great leader. In addition to over 20,000 rare books and manuscripts from this significant era, the Special Collections Department at FSU houses one of the few remaining authentic death masks of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon's Death Mask, FSU Special Collections and Archives
Napoleon’s Death Mask, FSU Special Collections and Archives
Napoleon Bonaparte on his Celebrated White Charger, Ireland's Life of Napoleon Vol. 1
Napoleon Bonaparte on his Celebrated White Charger, Ireland’s Life of Napoleon Vol. 1

In the early 1960s the Department of History established the Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution which thereby led to the creation of this rich collection currently held in Strozier Library. Together, FSU’s Department of History and the Institute allow students a unique opportunity to study this historical period without traveling to Europe. Visitors to our Research Center can access French Revolutionary newspapers, primary source materials, letters, and, of course, Napoleon’s death mask.

Part of the French Revolution and Napoleon Collection is already available online and does not require a campus visit to peruse. Focusing on this period, the FSU Digital Library’s French Revolution Collection on Camille Desmoulins, Lucile Duplesis, and Arthur Dillon contains high-resolution images of original manuscript letters, notes and pamphlets from the years 1702-1876. This unique online collection and many others in the Florida State University Digital Library is open to the public.

Feel free to stop by the Special Collections Research Center at Strozier Library to wish Napoleon Bonaparte a happy birthday and learn more about the fascinating history surrounding his life.

A Mask for Napoleon

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the making of a death mask was fairly customary when a great leader died. A plaster cast of the face of the recently deceased would be taken and from that parent mold, plaster and bronze copies could be created. They were mementos of loved ones lost and could be used by artists to paint portraits or create sculptures of the dead. 

Napoleon's Death Mask, FSU Special Collections and Archives
Napoleon’s Death Mask, FSU Special Collections and Archives

When Napoleon Bonaparte died on May 7, 1821, a death mask was created by his attending physicians. It is undecided which of them took it or if both took separate ones and indeed, mystery has surrounded the original mask and its copies ever since. There are supposedly few copies of the death mask in existence today and here at FSU, we hold one in the French Revolution and Napoleon Collection. 

The death mask made its first appearance at FSU in 1966 when the owner, Dr. David F. Sellers, allowed it to be put on display for a colloquium on Napoleonic history held at FSU. Sellers’ mask was made from the mold taken by Dr. Francis Burton the day after Napoleon died. 

It was not until 1984 that a death mask found a permanent home in FSU’s collections, donated to Strozier Library by Edward Scott of New Hampshire. It has remained one of the focal points of our Napoleonic collections ever since.  

Getting some height to get the right angle
Getting some height to get the right angle
Setting the mask up for its closeup
Setting the mask up for its closeup

In celebration of Napoleon’s death anniversary this year, we took our mask into the Digital Library Center for a photo shoot. It is one of the most interesting pieces (in my opinion) to share with people, not only for the historic figure the mask is of, but as an example of the lost tradition of mourning it represents. 

Many Happy Returns to the Prince of Tallahassee

On January 21, 1801, Charles Louis Napoleon Achille Murat was born to Joachim and Caroline Bonaparte Murat, Napoleon Bonaparte’s youngest sister. Through the family’s connections with the Emperor, Joachim was eventually made King of Naples, hence the Prince Murat title. Upon the Emperor’s second defeat in 1815, Achille’s father was executed and his mother fled with her children to Vienna.

Achille would emigrate to America upon his 21st birthday in 1821 and became a naturalized citizen fairly soon after, renouncing all his titles. After roaming the country, he settled in Washington DC where he happened to become friends with Richard Keith Call, Florida’s territorial delegate to Congress who told the young man of the many opportunities in the newly acquired territory.

Murat settled first in St. Augustine but later purchased his Lipona Plantation outside Tallahassee after much prodding from the Marquis de Lafayette.  It was in Tallahassee that Murat met his future wife, Catherine Daingerfield Willis Gray, great grandniece of George Washington. Murat was also a part of Florida’s militia and would hold the rank of colonel for the rest of his life following the Seminole Wars.

Illustration of Murat and Emerson from A Prince In Their Midst
Illustration of Murat and Emerson from A Prince In Their Midst; The Adventurous Life of Achille Murat on the American Frontier

A man of many interests, Murat was a writer. He, along with his fellow countryman Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote much on American culture and lifestyle during his lifetime though Murat’s writing never became as popular as Tocqueville. He also had a close friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson whom he met in St. Augustine in 1826.

After an attempt to regain some of his family’s fortune in the July Revolution of 1830 and several unsuccessful years in New Orleans, Murat and his wife moved back in Tallahassee in the mid 1830s and Murat would remain here the rest of his life. Murat died in 1847 and is buried  in the St. John’s Episcopal Church cemetery in Tallahassee.

Recently, through the efforts of a local group, the historic marker outside the cemetery where Murat and his wife are buried was restored after mysteriously vanishing a year ago. You can read about the new marker and those who helped get it back in place on the Tallahassee Democrat’s website.