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.
I’ll be speaking on repurposed books at the Local Americanists series at UMD College Park on Friday. I have to find out where the picture on this gorgeous poster came from! Come if you’re in the area. Thanks to Ingrid Satelmajer and Bob Levine for the invitation. This will also give me a chance to revisit the amazing Joseph W. H. Cathcart scrapbooks at Howard University. These are the over 100 scrapbooks made by a 19th century African American janitor who stamped some of his books “GSBM” for the Great Scrapbook Maker.
Heading out Texas A&M for the symposium Making Sense: Handwriting and Print. It looks like a great program — we’ll start with some hands-on work with a hand press, and then
jump from Renaissance to 21st century, graphic novels to British detective novels, film to Japanese best sellers, and OCRing black letter. So cool! My talk, “Cut-and-Paste Pedagogy: Hand, Scissor, Pen, Scrapbook” is an offshoot from my book, and I get to be on a panel with Vera Camden talking about Alison Bechdel’s “autographics” — hmm. I wonder if she means all those meticulously rendered handwritten and printed passages in Bechdel’s memoirs? Will find out.
I’m thrilled to be receiving the book prize of the Institute for Humanities Research for transdisciplinary “socially engaged humanities scholarship.” That my work crosses disciplines is not a surprise — the Library of Congress gave my first book 11 subject headings, I think. But it’s humbling to have Writing with Scissors placed with the work of environmental activists like Rob Nixon, innovative scholars of colonialism and empire, like Claudia Sadowski-Smith and Silvia Spitta, and people who dig into the culture of objects and design things, like Prasad Boradkar, and innovative thinkers about art like Ron Broglio. If you’re in the Phoenix area, do come. I’ll be speaking Oct. 9, 4 pm.
Many of the hospitable people I met in Provo and Orem when I went to speak at Brigham Young University and the Orem Public Library were scrapbook makers. That’s not surprising, since the late-20th century surge of interest in scrapbook making is usually credited to Marielen Christensen’s exhibit of her her 50 scrapbooks in Salt Lake City, and pegged to Mormon passion for genealogy. What I hadn’t realized before this trip, though, is that LDS missionaries are encouraged to document their mission work, and well before Christensen often did that in scrapbooks.
John Murphy, special collections curator, led Kristin Matthews and me on a tour of BYU’s extensive special collections, which included a newly acquired scrapbook made by George Romney (Mitt’s father) documenting his missionary work.
They also had just gotten a Mark Twain scrapbook filled with clippings on a controversy in Washington about whether a polygamist could serve as the Senator from Utah. We didn’t have enough time to figure out whether it was compiled by someone sympathetic to polygamy or not. As I discovered in research on Writing with Scissors, people may collect many of the same clippings to explore or even argue very different viewpoints. Coincidentally, I came across another scrapbook on the same controversy at the New-York Historical Society a week later. This one was made for Helen Miller Gould, about her campaign to kick Brigham H. Roberts out of Congress, “On the ground that he is a polygamist, an enemy of our homes and home life.” Nice foreshadowing of the same language used against same sex marriage.
I love the wild things that special collections accumulate. They also have the swimsuits designed by Rose Marie Reid, in big archival boxes. Her bathing suits appeared in all those 1950s beach movies, until bikinis came in, she refused to market them, and got pushed out of her business. (The story gets creepy though — Reid was an avid proselytizer of Jews, and wrote how-to materials on the subject.) The library is planning an exhibit on her.
Utah is the font or maybe the cornerstone of the 21st century interest in making scrapbooks, so I’m excited to be speaking in Provo, UT on Thursday, Sept. 11. First I’ll be speaking at Brigham Young U, at noon, focusing on how activists used scrapbooks, speaking to Women’s Studies, American Studies, and the English department. Then I’ll speak at the Orem Public Library. on the history of scrapbooks. The students have the assignment of introducing speakers and delivering a response to the talk — great idea!
Quirky collections on display and in discussion at City Reliquary’s evening of collections, at the Brooklyn Historical Society. I’m not a collector myself, unless you count dust and the bin of nonworking pens on my desk, but I’ll be speaking about scrapbooks as collections. It should be a fun evening. And if you have a collection to share, there may still be time to sign up to present it!
Collectors can sign up for Collectors Night by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information:
- Brief description of your collection (one or two sentences)
- A few photos (no more than 5)
- The amount of space you require for your display.
The Brooklyn Historical Soc is in Brooklyn Heights at 128 Pierrepont street.
I’m quoted along with Susan Tucker and Jessica Helfand. Looking forward to your responses!