Welcome to the Scrapbook History website and blog. Here you’ll find materials on how ordinary (and extraordinary) people took media into their lives over a hundred years ago, through their scrapbooks. The site supplements my book, Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance. I hope you’ll comment and contribute.
The amazing American Antiquarian Society in Worcester MA has some great scrapbooks, including Lewis Tappan’s abolitionist scrapbook, containing an early version of Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl that an unidentified newspaper had picked up from the NY Tribune from 1853, among their other extraordinary holdings. I’m grateful to have had a month there to delve into their holdings. Looking forward to being there, speaking, and seeing the congenial and helpful people who work there. (Good thing I got my grades in.)
The new exhibit at the Library Company of Philadelphia is
Movement, my piece on the scrapbooks Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, and other women’s rights activists made. It has loads of pictures I didn’t get to include in Writing with Scissors. Share Strategic Scrapbooks: Hidden Histories of the Early Women’s Movement with your friends.
Why would a black janitor in Philadelphia in the 1870s make 150 scrapbooks? Why would
his friend, a black collector and amateur historian, make nearly 400? You may think of scrapbooks as a place to treasure up family pictures, but a century ago, African Americans created histories with them, shared community knowledge, and taught one another to read the white press critically.
For National Scrapbooking Day (May 4), it’s time to learn about how African American men and women saved and shared history in their scrapbooks not long after emancipation. My article in The Root explores the work of one prodigious scrapbook maker in Philadelphia, whose collection aided WEB Du Bois. (And of course there’s lots more about William Henry Dorsey in Writing with Scissors.)
Looking forward to speaking on scrapbooks at NYU on Thursday, including a conversation with Jenna Freedman, zine librarian extraordinaire. Come! 6:00-8:00 PM at 19 University Place, Room 222. All welcome! Refreshments! And Jane Greenway Carr didn’t even plan it around National Scrapbooking Day!
I’ll be speaking on Writing with Scissors: Scrapbooks in American Culture at noon, at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, Taylor Hall, on Friday. For some reason the notice only recently made it to the calendar, so please tell friends in the area.
I’ve worried about what historians would think about Writing with Scissors, since it’s about materials that historians so often use. James Adams’s review on H-Net picks up on just that issue.
Garvey presents an elegant argument that actually shifts the reader’s paradigm…. Hers is an argument that, with only a few minor philosophical quibbles, forces us to reexamine our opinions toward the aggregation of information during the age of the newspaper, the concept of the author, and the hegemonic nature of cultural history.
A theme that runs through Writing with Scissors is that of agency. This, perhaps, is the work’s greatest strength. By detailing the methods scrapbookers used to retain information, the way that marginalized peoples used scrapbooks to author an alternate historical narrative, and the evolution of data management, Garvey reminds us that the past is not merely a collection of sterile, once-removed factoids stored away in wait of a scholar to unearth and examine them. Rather, the past consists of people acting. Individuals created scrapbooks, culling a wide assortment of periodicals in order to remind themselves (or, perhaps, to show those in the future) what issues in particular were of great import to them. If viewed in this manner the scrapbook transcends its humble beginnings and its “scrappy” nature, becoming an intensely personal letter from an individual long past who wishes to speak to us in the present. Facts are merely facts, but the scrapbook reminds us that those facts were generated by living human beings existing in a particular time and place, and subsequently judged by an individual as worthy of retention. If viewed in this manner, the scrapbook becomes more than ephemera gathering dust in an archive and instead becomes a valued historical source.
I’m so grateful that Writing with Scissors has been welcomed by attentive readers!