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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.

Poof! Harry Houdini’s scrapbooks have been digitized

Houdini scrapbook

Would a light seance entail only meeting cheerful dead people? From Houdini’s spiritualism scrapbook at the HRC.

Rebecca Onion reports that the Harry Ransom Center has digitized ten of Harry Houdini’s scrapbooks. They follow his professional interests in spiritualism and magic. As was true for most performers, his scrapbooks were also a repository for clippings on his own career (and in his case, his inspiration Robert Houdin, and various competitors too.)

Dorsey’s 400 Black History Scrapbooks

William Henry Dorsey was a dedicated scrapbook maker beyond belief — around 400 scrapbooks from the 1860s to 1910s — not just the phenomenal “Colored Centenarians” book I wrote about in some detail in Writing with Scissors, but others on Philadelphia’s African American notables, black prize fighters, pictures of Africans, black education, Emancipation anniversary celebrations, black Odd Fellows — the list is vast. And yes, my hunch was confirmed: he did know about Robert M. Budd aka Back Number Budd, the pioneering black dealer in old newspapers in NYC. He corresponded with him, and he clipped an article on him I hadn’t seen before, from the Indiana Freeman.

William Dorsey's nephew, Dorsey Seville, worked at the post office, and passed along undeliverable papers for his uncle to clip.

William Dorsey’s nephew, Dorsey Seville, worked at the post office, and passed along undeliverable papers for his uncle to clip.

Sabra Statham, Matt Isham, Mike Furlough and others at Penn State’s “People’s Contest” project for digitizing otherwise hidden resources from the years around the Civil War are hoping to digitize them. Keith Bingham of Cheyney University has sent them over to be assessed. I hadn’t seen much of the actual collection before, but mainly the microfilm. The pallet full of boxes is an impressive sight! And the contents are dazzling — so many forgotten bits and pieces of African American history, clipped from newspapers — sometimes from black newspapers that have no documented copies still existing. Not to mention more information on how Dorsey got the newspapers he clipped, and how his friends and colleagues used them.

Here’s a video of my talk, setting William Henry Dorsey’s scrapbook in the context of other black scrapbook makers.

What Was it about Philadelphia? African American Scrapbooks at Penn State U – Talk Jan. 30

Penn State University is hoping to help Cheyney University digitize some of the amazing collection of nearly 400 scrapbooks that William Henry Dorsey created from the 1860s to the turn of the century. William Dorsey knew other Philadelphia African American scrapbook makers as well. I’m honored to be heading to University Park, PA next week to speak about the scrapbooks they spent so much time on, and why they made them. And I’ll have a day in the library to revisit the scrapbooks — who knows what else I’ll find! On my wish list: more informatiDorsey scrapbooks at PSUon on Dorsey’s friend Joseph W.H. Cathcart, a Philadelphia janitor who made about 150 huge scrapbooks. And is it possible he knew Amos Webber?   What about Frank Webb?   Learn a bit more about Dorsey from a short article I wrote about his scrapbooks for The Root last year.

Sabra Statham has started a blog on the Dorsey digitization project. 

Of course Roger Lane mined Dorsey’s scrapbooks for his fine comprehensive history of 19th century black Philadelphia, William Dorsey’s Philadelphia and Ours.

Evanston history in scrapbooks

Could this photo of Frances Willard show her making scrapbooks?

Could this photo of Frances Willard show her making scrapbooks? (Frances Willard House Museum)

As I was putting together my talk for the Northwestern University exhibit on scrapbooks coming up Wednesday, November 13, 4 pm, I realized that two of the women whose scrapbooks I’d written about had lived in Evanston. Women’s rights activist, writer, and speaker Elizabeth Boynton Harbert,and Women’s Christian Temperance Union leader Frances Willard were both great makers and users of strategic scrapbooks,  so of course I’ll talk about them. I’m hoping to get in to see the Frances Willard House, but so far haven’t heard back from the volunteers there.  I’ll be speaking as well on Nov 14, at 12:30 — a somewhat different talk.

Past, Paper, Scissors exhibit in Chicago

Special Collections at Northwestern University  has put up what looks like a terrific exhibit of scrapbooks from their collection, including of course college students’ scrapbooks. I’m looking forward to seeing it in the flesh, though they have generously scanned and posted many online.

Northwestern U Scrapbook exhibit

Northwestern U Scrapbook exhibit

I’ll be speaking at the exhibit on Nov. 13 at 4pm at University Library’s Forum Room (“Reading the Remnants: American Scrapbook History”) and then Nov 14 at a lunchtime seminar for Rhetoric and Public Culture, at 12:30 in Kresge (“Strategic Scrapbooks: Nineteenth Century Activists Remake the Newspaper for African American History and Women’s Rights”). Both talks are free and open to the public. Let Chicago friends know!

Radio days – with Kate Raphael

I’ve made it to the west coast, virtually. Such a pleasure to talk with Kate Raphael of KPFA’s Women’s Magazine, broadcast on Oct. 21. A real conversation, in a tiny hotel room, when she was in NYC for a wedding. And it’s now on their blog. Lots on African American scrapbook makers, women’s rights scrapbooks, and of course Mark Twain.

Gender, Race and Representation in Magazines and New Media conference

Thrilled to be giving a keynote at the fabulous Gender, Race and Representationcropped-barbie8_v_20jul09_vogueitalia_b in Magazines and New Media conference, at Cornell next week! Noliwe Rooks has done great work organizing it. It’s bringing together scholars and magazine and blog practitioners. Alexis De Veaux speaking on Essence! Kimberly N. Foster’s keynote, “Black Women Blogging Ourselves into Being”! And on a scrapbook note, Caroline Keyser is speaking on “Pure food prodigy: Philippa Schuyler, Celebrity Embodiment, and the Politics of Race.” I had a chance to look at the scrapbooks Schuyler’s mother compiled, now at Syracuse, and am very curious about what Keyser makes of this deeply strange story. My talk is “Hidden Histories: African American Community Resistance to the 19th Century Press” — discussing how black readers undermined and resisted the white newspapers’ and magazines’ attempts to segregate the imagined community of magazine and newspaper readership.