To The Letter S2 E6: The Invalid Corps

In this episode we delve into the aftermath of Civil War medicine. What happened to soldiers wounded in action?

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them. John Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at University Libraries.

Letters featured in this episode are available in full below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, July 5, 1863

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, May 19, 1863


Additional research for this episode:

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E5: Prisoner of War

In today’s episode we discuss the capture of the 19th Michigan Infantry by Confederate troops near Brentwood, Tennessee and how prisoners of war were treated during the Civil War.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them. John Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at University Libraries.

Letters featured in Episode 5 are available in full below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, April 26, 1863


Additional research for this episode:

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E4: Sisters of Charity

In Episode 4, we continue to talk about medical treatment during the Civil War – particularly the role that women in religious organizations played. The Sisters of Charity, Daughters of Charity, Sisters of the Holy Cross, and Sisters of St. Joseph all provided volunteer nurses.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them.

The letter featured in Episode 4 is available below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, January 17, 1863


Additional research for this episode came from:

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E3: Sawbones

Episode 3 is all about Civil War medicine – which is a huge topic! John was one of many Civil War surgeons, but one of few that had prior medical training.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them. John Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at University Libraries.

Letters featured in Episode 3 are available below in full:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, November 9th, 1862

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, November 30, 1862

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, Dec. 28, 1862

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, February 7, 1863

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, March 18, 1863


Additional research for this episode:

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E2: Always Be Prepared

In Episode 2 we’re getting into what military camps looked like during the Civil War and how John got involved in the war. He enlists as an assistant surgeon in 1862 with the 19th Michigan Infantry.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them. John Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at University Libraries.

Letters featured in Episode 2 are available below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, August 21, 1862

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, October 23, 1862


Additional research for this episode:

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E1: An Introduction

We’re so pleased to bring you Season Two of To The Letter!

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them.

This season, we’re discussing the letters of John Bennitt, a Civil War surgeon from Michigan. Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at GVSU.

Letters featured in Episode 1 are available below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife, Charlotte “Lottie”, Dec. 1861

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, Aug. 21, 1862


For more information about John Bennitt, or if you are interested in reading all of these letters in their entirety, our Curator of Rare Books & Distinguished Collections, Robert Beasecker, edited a book called “I Hope to Do My Country Service” that contains all of the letters, with additional footnotes. It is available through Wayne State University Press.

Questions? Comments? Tell us what you think! Contact Leigh at rupinskl@gvsu.edu or leave a review on iTunes or Spotify!

History of Medicine at Seidman House

by Rebecca Doran

As a Library Summer Scholar, I had the opportunity to explore the field of library sciences. Inspired by my unique fields of study – a history major and biology minor – I was interested in studying the medical texts included within Seidman House’s Rare Book Collection. The following treatises cover a large period of time, and multiple aspects of medicine, to demonstrate the diversity of the field.

Andreas Vesalius

Prior to Vesalius, Aristotle’s theories on the four humors, and Galen’s knowledge of anatomy based on vivisections of animals, was treated as law. As Vesalius studied Galenic medicine and began performing his own dissections on human specimens in Paris and Padua, he noticed a number of inaccuracies.

Seeking to correct these errors, Vesalius performed more dissections and produced multiple detailed illustrations of various human anatomical structures and systems. Jan Stephan van Calcar transferred these drawings into woodblock prints. Together, the images and Vesalius’ detailed descriptions became De Humani Corporis Fabrica. Indeed, Vesalius’ work was so accurate, it is still referenced today.

Seidman House has both a facsimile of the 1555 edition, as well as a modern English translation. For more information about Vesalius and his work, please visit Vesalius at 500 or Transforming Vesalius.

Jacobus Rueff

Among the various fields of medicine, gynecology and obstetrics are some of the most sensitive. Indeed, women’s health concerns were often left to midwives, as a man’s entrance into the woman’s world was considered taboo. Jacobus Rueff sought to change this dynamic, however.

As a surgeon and physician trained in midwifery, Rueff encouraged other physicians to learn obstetrical skills so they could help women in need. Rueff’s De Conceptu et Generatione Hominis explores aspects of midwifery, such as pregnancy complications and cures, and theories on conception.

De Conceptu was published in Europe in the late sixteenth century. Since there was little to no access to female cadavers at this time, the information and woodcut illustrations presented in De Conceptu are largely inaccurate. Nevertheless, Rueff set precedence for advances in women’s health.

For more information about Rueff, please visit the article, “Jacob Rueff (1500-1558) of Zurich and The expert midwife.” The article, “The start of life: a history of obstetrics” can provide more information about obstetrics.

John Parkinson

Long before there were pharmacies around every corner, there were apothecaries that promoted herbal remedies for medical ailments. As an apothecary and botanist to historic figures such as King James I and Charles I, John Parkinson was a respected figure in his field.

In the late 17th century, in particular, Parkinson’s Theatrum Botanicum was one of the leading treatises on herbal remedies. This tome is known as the last of the herbals – a book concerning the medicinal properties of plants – as florals grew in popularity shortly afterwards.

The title, which translates to The Theater of Plants, is a play-on-words: plants are the actors in a garden’s theater.

John E. Erichsen

As the American Civil War ravaged the United States, advances in medicine and surgery were being made exponentially. When it came to training the surgical and medical staff of the Civil War, John Erichsen’s The Science and Art of Surgery was the most popular text at the time.

The treatise went through over 10 editions, routinely being updated with new information, such as Pasteur and Koch’s germ theory. Other information included: various surgical procedures, gunshot wounds, amputations, and other treatments.

Seidman House has a large collection of medical texts about and/or from the Civil War.

Emil Grunmach

When we think of x-rays, it is easy to get lost in the chemistry and physics involved, thus the history of this medical tool is often forgotten. Emil Grunmach’s Die Diagnostik Mittels der Röntgenstrahlen in der Inneren Medizin, however, can provide such information.

Published in 1914 in Berlin, Germany, Grunmach’s text describes the use of x-rays (röntegenstrahlen) as a method of diagnosis in internal medicine, and includes a number of plates (above) as evidence.

X-rays, or Röntgen radiation, were discovered by German scientist Wilhelm Röntgen on November 8, 1895. Röntgen received the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901 for this discovery.

More information about Röntgen can be found here.

__________________________________________________

For more information about these treatises, or any of the rare medical texts, please visit Special Collections & University Archives on Allendale Campus at Grand Valley State University.

A Century of Whimsy

by Kyle Holcomb

When we think of “rare books” our first thought might be ancient religious texts or old anatomy tomes, and while those kinds of books are on the shelves here, we also have a sizable collection of classic children’s literature. The majority of these classics were published in the century between 1850-1950.

Before big publishing firms became established, books were considered too expensive to create for children. Inexpensive books were not readily available to most consumers until the mid-19th century. The rising middle class, higher literacy rates, and cheap production costs allowed for the industry to experiment with a new demographic.

Alice illustrated by John Tenniel.

In the century that followed, many of the most iconic children’s literature were published. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is credited as one of the first big blockbuster successes of the genre. The novel, originally published in 1865, established motifs that inspired other up-and-coming authors. A child’s journey through a colorful nonsense world full of whimsical characters became a key component to the genre; many of the characters that inhabit these worlds are talking animals or inanimate objects.

Dorothy, The Scarecrow, The Tin-man, The Lion and Toto illustrated by William Wallace Denslow.

Following in Carroll’s footsteps, other authors took their readers on a journey through a fictional world much like Wonderland. L. Frank Baum published his smash hit, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in 1900, this was the first in a series of stories set in the charming Land of Oz. Baum followed the tropes laid out by Carroll which helped to fill his fictional world with color. The first few years of the 1900’s saw a lot of other famous stories published such as The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, and The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

Peter and Wendy cover page illustrated by F. D. Bedford.

In 1906, J.M. Barrie published Peter Pan in Kensington Garden. This children’s story was originally published as chapters within an earlier adult novel by Barrie called The Little White Bird. The chapters featuring Peter Pan as a flying infant were popular enough to be printed as its own standalone children’s book. In the interim between these two publications Barrie went on to write a play called “Peter and Wendy” in 1904, which was published as a book in 1911. The island of Neverland was not originally a part of Peter Pan’s story, but was the setting for the play. Neverland also had many similar characteristics to Wonderland and Oz.

The story of a child who explores a new, whimsical world often mirrors the process of growing up and what trying to make sense of the seemingly nonsensical adult world can feel like.

WWII Paper Dolls

Although often considered a child’s toy nowadays, paper dolls were originally used to advertise current fashions, illustrate moralistic stories, and, of course, reflect society’s view of women.

First manufactured in America in 1812, they were printed in women’s magazines as well as newspapers. Godey’s Lady’s Book, a popular women’s magazine famous for its hand-tinted fashion plate, printed their first paper dolls in November 1859. By the early 1900s, magazines such as Good Housekeeping and Ladies’ Home Journal regularly printed paper dolls.

Paper dolls reached their height of popularity during the 1930s-1950s. Since paper was an affordable medium even during the Great Depression, and was not affected by rationing during World War II, paper dolls became a popular plaything.

Paper dolls produced during World War II reflected the changing roles of women. While the clothing choices included the requisite military uniforms, they often appeared alongside “date night” appropriate and traditional clothing choices. Despite their expanding roles in the work force and military, still needed to be seen as feminine and desirable.


To view the Paper Dolls Collection please visit Special Collections & University Archives in Seidman House.

Archives Behind the Scenes: Student-Created Exhibitions

by Tracy Cook

As a Research Services Assistant at Seidman House, I worked on a number of projects that supported my goal to work as a museum curator post-graduation.  Prior to working here, I did not have experience with providing research support, managing a professional social media account, or all of the steps that go into curating an exhibit.

Screenshot_20190426-131751_1

My favorite tasks were related to building exhibitions. I was able to create six digital exhibits and ten physical exhibits during my time as a student employee. The majority of the exhibitions were in Seidman House, but I also worked on one larger scale exhibition that was displayed at the Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons.

I worked on those exhibits from the beginning to the end. This meant I had the opportunity to suggest ideas for what would make a good exhibition and then follow that idea from start to finish. I worked with my supervisor to choose the best materials to feature, design the captions, write captions, and arrange the materials in a display case. One of the main challenges I faced when creating an exhibition was writing the captions because, as an undergraduate student who writes a lot of papers, I am used to writing a lot in order to meet a page or word count instead of trying to condense so that only the most important information is featured. I have learned that text will vary by exhibition depending on whether it is a digital or physical. In a physical exhibit, text needs to fit within the parameters of the case and must be balanced against the item itself; therefore, it’s important to remain concise. In a digital exhibit, however, this is less of an issue. My confidence and skills have significantly increased since I started, but I will continue to work on this in the future.

I also enjoyed the process of setting up a display case.  Initially, I thought this would be easy, but once I got hands-on with the materials, I learned it was much harder than I anticipated. A lot of thought has to go into where materials should be placed in an exhibit such as their color, size, and how they coordinate with the other materials. This thought process varies from exhibition to exhibition; a display with just novels IMG_20190426_123903is completely different from an exhibit for a special collection with materials ranging from pamphlets to images. Being able to create exhibitions with a variety of materials is a skill that I am lucky and extremely thankful to have been able to improve upon.

IMG_20190426_123923

It is also important to think about the number of materials that will be in the exhibit because nobody wants a case that looks too full and possibly disorganized or with not enough materials so it feels incomplete.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working here and I am so glad that I was able to work on a variety of projects, but the exhibitions will always be my favorite. I feel more confident going into my Museum Studies program this fall because of the great experience I gained while working here.

Archives Behind the Scenes: Processing

In this installment of Archives Behind the Scenes, we’ll talk about archival processing. Processing is a shorthand term for all of the steps archivists take to get a collection of archival materials ready for research use.

Archival processing activities typically fall under three broad categories: preservation, arrangement, and description. Different archives may take slightly different approaches to these activities, but most archivists follow best practices, guidelines and standards. These are established by professional organizations such as the Society of American Archivists or American Library Association’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Section, or by national and international standards-setting bodies such as the Library of Congress or the International Council on Archives.

Preservation

All materials decay and break down over time, and different materials break down at different rates and for different reasons. The goal of archival preservation is to extend the “lifespan” of materials in the archives so they can be used by researchers well into the future.

One of the best ways that archivists can extend this “lifespan” is by controlling the environment in which the materials are stored. Heat, humidity, climate fluctuations, and the presence of pollutants all have a damaging effect on archival materials. Archives often use specialized HVAC systems to keep the temperature and relative humidity (RH) within acceptable parameters for storing their collections. Because the majority of our holdings are paper-based, we aim to keep our climate around 70°F and between 30%-50% RH.

A large gray Leibert HVAC unit situated in the archival storage area
This Liebert heating and cooling system gives us precise control over the temperature and relative humidity of our archival storage areas.

In addition to systems that provide control over the climate, we also use a redundant climate data logger to record and analyze temperature and humidity in our storage area. This way, we can make adjustments as needed as the weather changes throughout the year. Sometimes even the simplest things, like keeping doors closed and lights off, can improve the conditions in the storage area.

A climate data logger and backup USB drive
This data logger lets us record and analyze the effects of climate in our storage areas on the collections.

On a smaller scale, we also use containers to hold archival materials that are less likely to cause damage over time. Containing archival materials in acid-free and lignin-free folders and boxes can help to extend their “lifespan.” Lignin is a naturally occurring chemical compound present in many plants. Paper that contains a high percentage of wood pulp also tends to contain a high amount of lignin – which decomposes at a much faster rate than the rest of the plant materials around it.

One great example of the damage caused by the presence of acid and lignin is in old newspapers. Newsprint typically has a very high lignin content, and is highly acidic. Over time, these aspects cause the paper to become extremely brittle. Once the paper has become brittle, there is nothing an archivist can do to reverse it.

A box contains a stack of yellowed and crumbling newspapers and scrapbook pages.
The years have not been kind to these 1940s newspapers and scrapbook pages. Due to their high acid and lignin content, newspapers decay much faster than some other kinds of paper.

In special situations, a conservator may be able to repair some kinds of damage or stabilize very valuable items. More often, when an archivist encounters brittle items that have especially high content value, he or she will use a photocopier to create a copy of the item on acid-free and lignin-free paper.

Other kinds of archival formats need even more attention. As media technology changes, formats become obsolete. Some items, like video and audio tapes, can’t be used in the archives unless there is a player available. As these kinds of media get older, archives run the risk of not being able to preserve and provide access to them due to their obsolescence.

Two U-Matic video cassettes and one small reel-to-reel audio tape
Media formats like these two U-Matic video cassette tapes and reel-to-reel audio tape are now obsolete.

In 2018, the Special Collections & University Archives undertook a major project to have its most at-risk obsolete audio and video media digitally reformatted. Over 150 videotapes, audiotapes, and films were digitized during this project, and now the digital files are securely stored. In addition to a networked storage space regularly backed up and maintained by the the university’s IT department, our digital files undergo a series of digital preservation activities and are redundantly backed up in a cloud-based data archive.

While all of these different preservation needs can be complex and sometimes conflicting, archivists do what they can with limited resources to extend the usefulness of their collections.

Arrangement

The next step archivists take when processing collections is arrangement. Arrangement refers to how the physical or digital materials are organized, and it is governed by two main principles: original order and respect des fonds.

The principle of respect des fonds, sometimes referred to as provenance, proposes that archives should group collections according to the organization, individual, or entity by which they were created of from which they were received.

One way this shapes up in Special Collections & University Archives is with the collections we have relating to the author Jim Harrison. In addition to the Jim Harrison Papers, we also have related collections of his biographer Robert DeMott, his sister Mary Harrison Dumsch, and his former sister-in-law Rebecca Newth Harrison. While materials in all four collections relate to Jim Harrison’s life and literary career, they are all grouped according to their fonds, or creator. Researchers interested in Harrison may need to look through all of the collections – and possibly collections at other archives – to get the full picture of Harrison’s life.

The principle of original order is the idea that if the creator of a set of records created and/or maintained them in a particular way, then that organization should be preserved regardless of how easy or difficult it might be to use. Historians and other researchers may be able to infer or make connections within or about the records or their creator due to the original order of the materials. Archivists should strive to preserve or even re-create original order if one is evident.

A binder full of 35mm photo negatives and contact sheets sits in front of a box full of binders
The photographer who created this collection was meticulous in how he organized his own negatives and contact sheets. As we process this collection, we will maintain this original order even though we may exchange the binders for archival containers.

However, not all collections have evidence of original order when they are evaluated by an archivist. In these cases, an archivist might decide to organize them in some logical manner to facilitate research use. Common arrangements include chronological order and alphabetical arrangements by names or topics.

Arrangements in archival collections can be simple or complex, depending on the size and nature of the collection. Archivists often group similar items together to create files, and group similar files together to create series. Once an archivist has completed the arrangement of a collection, he or she will then create a record that describes the collection.

Description

Archival descriptions can take several forms. Some archives use the same kinds of catalog records as with books to describe their archival collections. Some archives use more complex records, called Finding Aids, to describe the collection and its creator(s), and often to provide an inventory of the series and files that comprise it.

At Special Collections & University Archives, we use Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS), to guide our collection descriptions. We record our finding aids in a database called ArchivesSpace, which allows us to share the finding aid online in an easy to search format.

A screenshot of the GVSU Special Collections & University Archives finding aid database, ArchivesSpace
From the front page of our ArchivesSpace database, researchers can search through descriptions of hundreds of archival collections.

One of the most important aspects of archival description is providing context. Archival collections are often the product of the day-to-day life or business of a person or organization. It is important for researchers to know who created and maintained the materials, when and where this took place and under what circumstances, and how they came to be placed in the archives. In the same way that preserving original order within a collection can lead a researcher to inferences about a collection, so too can the context of a collection’s creation.

A screenshot of an archival finding aid in ArchivesSpace
In this snapshot of a finding aid in ArchivesSpace, we provide information about the collection as well as contextualizing information about its creator.

Archivists must do their own research in order to provide this context – often by referring to the collection materials themselves – but also by looking into other primary and secondary sources on the subject. However, archivists try to present only the facts of the matter within an archival finding aid, leaving interpretation and drawing of conclusions to historians and other researchers. While many archivists are experts in their own right on a variety of subjects, we also try to remain impartial when presenting a collection of materials to researchers.

Once the finding aid is published, the collection is open for research use. Boxes and folders are neatly labeled and shelved carefully in our storage area. Researchers can request materials in our reading room, or request remote reference assistance by phone or email.


In the next installment of Archives Behind the Scenes, we’ll discuss the development of our Digital Collections through digitization and collaborative partnerships. We’ll also touch back on some of the ins and outs of our digital preservation strategies.

Archives Behind the Scenes: Acquisitions

In a departure from our usual exhibit posts highlighting our exciting collections, this post will kick off a short series of “Behind the Scenes” discussions about what goes on in the Special Collections & University Archives at Grand Valley. In this post, we will discuss how we acquire collection materials, what they’re like when they get here, and what we do once we have them.

View of front entrance to Seidman House

Within Seidman House, we have one curator, two archivists, one archives assistant and a couple of student assistants who work to collect, organize, document, and preserve archival materials and rare books. We also have several distinct collecting areas. One, the Special Collections, contains materials collected for their historical value, their connection to regional history, or their connection to the research and teaching interests of the Grand Valley community. The other, University Archives, contains the records, photographs, publications, and media created by Grand Valley State that document the university’s history.

Acquisition

Materials that come into our collections are acquired through transfers, donations, and purchases.  Materials accepted into the collections are guided by a collection development policy.  This policy describes what kinds of materials are (and are not) collected by the Special Collections and University Archives. It details the types and formats of materials collected, as well as what kinds of contents, topics, geographical areas, and time periods we aim to collect.

Transfers

Transfers happen when a campus office, faculty member, administrator, or staff person officially deposits their inactive records to the University Archives. Transfers can happen at any time of year, but often occur during the spring and summer.

An archivist standing with a cart of record boxes in front of a trophy case
Archivist picking up a records transfer from the Intercollegiate Athletics Department

Not all records created at the university are archival. Some records have long-term value and are considered “permanent” records, but they are not archival because they remain in active use. Other kinds of records, such as student transcripts, may be permanent and have long-term value, but are protected by laws or policies that restrict access to them. Records such as these are usually maintained by the office that creates and manages them.

Other kinds of records, such as routine correspondence, invoices and receipts, and scrap notes with no context, have no long-term value. Even when these kinds of records are no longer in active use, they should not be transferred into the University Archives. Instead they can be shredded and disposed of.

The University Archivist often consults with offices before transfers to ensure that the records are archival, and that they have long-term value and are no longer in active use.

Examples of archival university records include reports, committee agendas and minutes, correspondence of high-ranking officials, official memorandums, course catalogs, official publications, budgets, and high-level planning documentation.

Donations and Purchases

When collecting archival materials and rare books for our Special Collections, we have a modest budget for purchasing materials, and we also accept donations. Collecting decisions made by the curator and archivists are guided by the collection development policy that defines the collecting strategies for the department.

When donations occur, a curator or archivist works closely with the donor to determine if the materials fit our collecting policy and to negotiate the terms of the gift. Donors who own copyrights to the materials can choose to transfer those rights to the university as well. Donors sign a Deed of Gift form that records the donation and details the terms. Once this has taken place, the materials become the property of the university.

Photo of a room full of bookcases packed with books, newspapers, magazines, index files, and other materials
Archivists sometimes visit the homes of donors to identify and sort out materials to acquire

When purchasing materials for the Special Collections, the curator reviews catalogs and websites of rare book and manuscript dealers, searches online auction sites like eBay.com, or works directly with the item’s owner to acquire materials that fit our collection development policy. The curator also often consults with archivists and faculty in various disciplines to find out if items available on the market might fill a particular gap or be of interest for classroom or research use.

Two advertising circulars from circa 1900. One advertises artificial eyes, the other advertises surgical and veterinary instruments
Purchased items, such as these advertising circulars for medical devices from the early 20th century, often come with detailed descriptions provided by their sellers

Next Steps

Once we have received the materials at Seidman House, they may be in any state of condition or arrangement. We are careful to look for certain kinds of problems, like evidence of mold or pests. If left unsolved, these problems can spread and damage other materials in the library. Once we determine that the materials are safe to take in, we accession them, or create an official record of what we acquired, where it came from, how much is there, and any special instructions or restrictions relating to the materials. We then label these new accessions and set them aside for cataloging and processing.

A small blue box is filled with bundles of letters tied with ribbons and stacks of black and white photographs
When new archival acquisitions are made, they’re evaluated by an archivist for their condition and contents. This collection will need to be processed before it is useful to researchers.

In the next “Behind the Scenes” installment, we’ll discuss archival processing, highlighting the steps an archivist takes to bring a new collection to life.

Late 19th-Early 20th Century Sheet Music

Special Collections and University Archives acquired a collection of late 19th century early 20th century sheet music. Ragtime arrived, World War I inspired patriotic fervor, and show tunes exploded on Broadway. Many of the compositions included in the collection are written by famous composers. All of the following songwriters were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in its 1970 debut.

George M. Cohan

Nicknamed “the man who owned Broadway”, Cohan is considered the father of American musical comedies. He wrote, composed, produced, and/or acted in more than thirty-six Broadway musicals. His first big hit was Little Johnny Jones in 1904, which introduced now-famous songs “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “The Yankee Doodle Boy”.

In fact, Cohan wrote more than 300 original songs. “Over There” became America’s most popular World War I song. Other hits included “You’re a Grand Old Flag”, “Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway”, “Life’s a Funny Proposition After All”, and “Always Leave Them Laughing When You Say Goodbye”.

Cohan was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for his popular patriotic songs. Shortly before his death, Cohan was able to see the movie “Yankee Doodle Dandy” based on his life, starring James Cagney. Cohan died on November 5, 1942.

On September 11, 1959 Oscar Hammerstein II unveiled an eight-foot tall statue of Cohan in the heart of Times Square on Broadway commemorating Cohan’s contributions to musical theatre in America. Cohan’s status is the only public statue of a theatre performer in all of Manhattan.

Fred Fisher

After visiting the United States in 1892, Fred Fisher immigrated in 1900. He was famous for writing dozens of Irish songs, including “Peg O’My Heart”.

“Come Josephine in My Flying Machine” was written in the early days of aviation. The song follows a young man courting his girl. Allegedly, the girl was based on Josephine Sarah Magner, who was an early American female parachutist in 1905, and who married aviation pioneer Leslie Burt Haddock.

Fragments of the song are sung in the movie Titanic (1997) by both Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) during the Irish party and the “I’m flying” scenes. It’s also featured in an early episode of Peaky Blinders.

Irving Berlin

Advertisement for “Along Came Ruth”

Irving Berlin was born Israel Beilin on May 11, 1888. He was an incredibly prolific songwriter, with over 1000 songs to his name. Hi first major international hit was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, which sparked an international dance craze.

Berlin produced ballads, dance numbers, novelty tunes, and love songs that defined American popular song for much of the century. Some of his most famous hits include: “Blue Skies,” White Christmas,” “Always,” “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” “Heat Wave,” “Easter Parade”, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”, and of course “God Bless America.”

Berlin won an Academy Award for Best Song of the Year for “White Christmas” in 1942.

Egbert Van Alstyne

Van Alstyne composed a number of popular and ragtime songs, often teamed with lyricist Harry H. Williams, such as “Who Are You With To-Night?” Our collection also includes “That Old Girl of Mine”, a collaboration between Van Alstyne and Earle C. Jones.

Con Conrad

“Oh Frenchy”, words by Sam Ehrlich and music by Con Conrad

In 1912, Con Conrad published “Down in Dear Old New Orleans”. In 1913 he produced a show on Broadway called The Honeymoon Express, starring Al Jolson. His first big hit wouldn’t come until 1920 with “Margie”. Other famous songs include “Ma, He’s Making Eyes At Me”, “You’ve Got to See Your Mama Every Night”, “Memory Lane”, “Lonesome and Sorry” and “Come on Spark Plug”. He went on to win the first Academy Award for Best Song, along with collaborator Herb Magidson, for “The Continental” in 1934.

Harry & Albert von Tilzer

Harry Von Tilzer was born Harry Gumm in Detroit, Michigan. He ran away and joined a traveling circus at age 14, where he adopted his mother’s maiden name (Tilzer) as his own, and added on a “Von” to seem even more elegant. Eventually all his brothers would also change their last name to match his.

In 1898 Harry Von Tilzer sold his song “My Old New Hampshire Home” to a publisher for $15. It went on to become a national hit, and Harry decided to become a professional songwriter. His 1900 song “A Bird in a Gilded Cage” became one of the biggest hits of that time.

In 1914, Harry Von Tilzer was a charter member of the performing rights society, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). 

His younger brother, Albert, also became a songwriter. One of his most notable hits is the classic “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”.

Joseph E. Howard

Howard and his second wife, Ida Emerson, published a syncopated novelty telephone number called “Hello, Ma Baby” in 1899. It sold over a million copies of sheet music within months. A sequel, “Goodbye, My Lady Love,” appeared in 1904. Other notable titles written by Howard include: “On the Boulevard”, “What’s the Use of Dreaming?”, “I Don’t Like Your Family”, “When You First Kiss the Last Girl You Love”, and “A Boy’s Best Friend Is His Mother.” Perhaps the most famous of Howard’s songs is “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now?”, a “cry-in-your-beer waltz” first performed in the 1909 Broadway musical The Prince of To-Night


For more information on any of the sheet music sampled here, or to view the entire collection, please visit Special Collections & University Archives on Allendale Campus at Grand Valley State University.

Slave Narratives

Slave narratives are a specific literary genre featuring an account of the life, or a portion of the life, of a fugitive or former slave. While some former slaves could write their own accounts of their lives, those who were not literate often worked with abolitionists to relate their stories. Narratives were meant to educate the American public about the realities of slavery.

Many former slaves who escaped to freedom, including Harriet Tubman, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass, later published accounts of their enslavement and escape. The typical format follows the narrator’s journey from slavery in the South to freedom in the North.

Special Collections has a number of slave narratives in our Civil War & Slavery Collection including the following:

Title page of "Aunt Sally; or, the Cross the Way of Freedom." (1859)
Williams, Isaac.  Aunt Sally; or, The Cross the Way of Freedom.  A Narrative of the Slave-Life and Purchase of the Mother of Rev. Isaac Williams, of Detroit, Michigan. Cincinnati: American Reform Tract and Book Society, 1859.

Probably written by the son of Sally Williams (b. 1796), this anti-slavery tract details the dehumanizing practices of slavery in North Carolina that includes the separating of families. Sally Williams was sold to an Alabama plantation owner while her mother and son were left behind, and later her husband and children were sold to other owners. Her son escaped slavery and was eventually able to purchase his mother’s freedom. Written for young people, the author hopes “that this little story may be the means of leading those who read it to think and feel deeply upon the truths which it involves…so that the young may grow up imbued with spirit of liberty….”

Title page of "Father Henson's Story" (1858).

Eliot Samuel L. and John Lobb.  Truth Stranger Than Fiction: Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life.  Boston: John P. Jewett and Co., 1858.

The narrative of the life of Josiah Henson first appeared in 1849 under the title The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada. Narrated by Himself and was ghost-written by Samuel Eliot.  It tells of Henson’s life from his birth as a slave in Maryland, his life there and later in Kentucky, his being sold in New Orleans, and finally his escape north via the Underground Railroad to find refuge in Canada. 

By the time the second (and revised) edition appeared, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin had appeared and Stowe, to answer Southern critics, intimated that her story was based on that of Henson and his adventures.  This was not true in the strictest sense, but this edition of Henson’s autobiography conveniently was altered by John Lobb to conform to the statements of Stowe.  In his old age Josiah Henson came to believe that he indeed was the model for Uncle Tom. Our edition has this additional note from the book’s previous owner alongside Henson’s signature:

Josiah Henson's signature.

Sylvia DuBois’ biography is written entirely in phonetic orthography. The author, C.W. Larison, wished to write her story “just as she spoke it”. Larison explains that “giving her own words in the order and style in which she spoke them, portrays more of the character, intelligence, and force of the heroine than can possibly be given in any other way” (3).

Title page of "Henry Box Brown who escaped from slavery enclosed in a box 3 feet long and 2 wide" (1849).
Stearns, Charles.
Narrative of Henry Box Brown, Who Escaped from Slavery Enclosed in a Box 3 Feet Long and 2 Wide.  Written from a Statement of Facts Made by Himself…. 1849.

In 1848, Henry “Box” Brown had the original idea of mailing himself out of slavery with the help of a friend.  He made a box, climbed in, had the box nailed shut, and then was sent via a shipping company from Richmond, Virginia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 


February is Black History Month. To view more items related to slavery and African-American history, visit Seidman House on the Allendale Campus or view our Civil War & Slavery digital collection.

Cooking in GVSU Archives

by Tracy Cook

With Thanksgiving taking place this month, the hunt for scrumptious new recipes is on our minds — who doesn’t want the best food possible for their feast? We decided to search our Special Collections to find some of our most interesting recipe books.

Good Thyme Cooking with Karin Orr (1996) is a recipe collection compiled by Karin Orr of WGVU-TV 35 & WGVK-TV 52, Grand Valley State University’s TV stations. The book includes recipes from chefs who appeared on the show, as well as contributions from the staff members and Karin herself. This collection is broken down into thirteen chapters so that the recipes are easy to find. Each recipe has the ingredients broken down and a detailed description on how to complete the dish. On the ones that Karin provided, she adds a comment about where the recipe came from or how she has modified it.

Karin Orr_Apple TurnoverKarin Orr_Lemon Risotto

Adventurous Eating in Michigan by Marjorie and Duke Winters (1987) is both a restaurant guide and a cookbook which explores some of the best places to eat in Michigan with chefs who are “young and enthusiastic” as well as talented. Their “fair” way of determining a great restaurant was whether the restaurant was “successfully meeting its own objectives”, which ended up including 147 restaurants. With each restaurant listed comes a description of the restaurant, typically at least one recipe from the chef, and a number which corresponds with the numbering on the map so the readers can know where each restaurant is located.

Adventurous Eating_map

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book (1954) is one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time, even though the book is as much an autobiography of her life with Gertrude Stein as it is a cookbook. As the introduction to the Folio Society’s edition of this book states, Alice “mixes recipes, anecdotes, and reminiscences, and her guileless art is to move from instructive recipe to its original mise-en-scène”. The recipes were influenced by Alice’s upbringing in America and her many years of living in France, where most of her cooking was done, as well as some recipes given to her by her friends. This cookbook is especially famous for one recipe in particular, a cold dessert called “Haschich Fudge”.

Toklas_Title PageToklas_pg103Toklas_pg44

Favorite Dishes (1893) is a celebrity cookbook that includes over 300 autographed “prized” recipes and 23 portraits of the Board of Lady Managers from the Woman’s building in Chicago. The idea for this cookbook was for it to be charitable; this book would be offered to women of “limited means” who could sell the books in order to afford a visit to Chicago’s world’s fair. As the University of Illinois Press describes, this cookbook provides “an unusual and interesting look into the way early women’s movements used conventional means to manipulate their way into a man’s worlds, and provides insight into how food, women, and American attitudes were changing at the end of the century” (2018).

Favorite Dishes_CoverFavorite Dishes_pg180

Favorite Dishes_pg86

Our Michigan Ethnic Tales and Recipes (1979) was put together by Carole Eberly who was inspired by her Czech grandma to love food and to think about the cultural connections that appear in food. Cooking is one way that people have always come together, which is one of Carole’s goals with this recipe book. This book provides glimpses into 20 different ethnic groups with both a story — gathered from either interviews, first person accounts, or historical pieces —  and some recipes that relate to that culture.

Our MI_pg62Our MI_pg17

Sherlock Holmes Cookbook (1976) is introduced as a way for “Sherlockians…to recapture the charm of Sherlock Holmes’ London” by exploring the food that Sherlock and Watson would have been eating. This cookbook is also advertised as being “mostly” for pleasure and as a way to “escape…to that place where it is always 1895”. Within each section of the book, the recipes are laid out with ingredients —although not always the exact measurement of each ingredient— and instructions on how to make each dish.  Some prior knowledge in cooking seems to be expected. With recipes for every type of meal, including tea time, the reader can truly get a glimpse into the eating aspect of Sherlock’s and Watson’s lives.

Holmes_pg128Holmes_pg45


To view more items related to all things cooking in our Special Collections and University Archives, visit Seidman House located on the Allendale Campus near the Lake Halls.