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 wasn’t planning to look at scrapbooks in Ohio State University’s Special Collections when
I go this week to give a talk on scrapbooks on Thursday, October 1, and lead a graduate seminar in the English Department on archives on Friday. But I couldn’t resist looking in the catalog, and found that they have a scrapbook where poetry and vignettes are pasted into an 1866 McGuffey’s Fifth Eclectic Reader! A scrapbook anthology on top of a school anthology!
I remembered that in Julia Colman’s 1873 article “Among the
Scrap Books,” a shocked visitor finds a family “using up good printed books!” to make scrapbooks. The mother presiding over the scissorizing explains, “There is nothing in them that we want, and so we propose putting in something, rather than have them stand idle. … Some of them are old school-books, not much worn, but out of date.” I always assumed she meant geography books or science books, not readers. Perhaps this McGufffey’s was simply out of date for the family that owned it, with no more schoolchildren. I may have to see it.
In case you’re not a regular reader of Humanities, the magazine that the National Endowment for the Humanities puts out, I thought you might enjoy the interview Steve Moyers did with me on scrapbooks, in the Impertinent Questions column. Read it, and you’ll be able to answer the question, Who was Mr. Scrapbook?
I missed being in the issue with Anna Deveare Smith on the cover by two issues, but there are also articles on Studs Terkel and Willa Cather. Such company! Time to subscribe!
Society’s collection, from a backlog stretching back 50 years. What riches! Who would have thought the post office kept a scrapbook? I’m particularly curious about Scrapbook #7, on scrap and salvage during World War II. Often the only copies of rare newspapers disappeared into such efforts — and even scrapbooks disappeared into the salvage maw. The Maine Historical Society has many organizational and club scrapbooks — a type I didn’t do much with in Writing with Scissors. Is anyone working with that category? The descriptions of these scrapbooks show they are a rich trove for anyone working on Maine history, surely much else. If I ever get up to Portland…
The recent death of Sir Nicholas Winton at age 106 brought the story of his rescue of 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust back to public attention. How did his heroism originally come to light? His wife found his scrapbook, where he had documented the identities and whereabouts of the children. ” It was only after Mr. Winton’s wife found a scrapbook in the attic of their home in 1988 — a dusty record of names, pictures and documents detailing a story of redemption from the Holocaust — that he spoke of his all-but-forgotten work in the deliverance of children who, like the parents who gave them up to save their lives, were destined for Nazi concentration camps and extermination,” the New York Times reported.
The scrapbook includes maps he collected in Prague, showing Germany’s plan’s for an
expanding empire, along with cards with photos that Winton showed to prospective foster parents in the
UK, and other materials seeking to interest Britons in taking in individual children. Like many scrapbooks, Winton’s could easily have been thought too scrappy to save. The Times notes, “After finding his long-hidden scrapbook — crammed with names, pictures, letters from families, travel documents and notes crediting his colleagues — his wife asked for an explanation. He gave her a general idea, but said he thought the papers had no value and suggested discarding them.” More images from the scrapbook are here, and here. Has anyone seen it? Know more about what it looks like?
Launched! Great new project digitizing documents of women’s education includes scrapbooks as well as letters, diaries, and photos reaching to the 19th century. College Women: Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education. College Women now covers women who attended the seven partner institutions Formerly Known As the 7 Sisters: Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, and Radcliffe. The plan is to bring in the experiences of women beyond these elite institutions, and then its value as a resource for both research and teaching will expand exponentially. It’s still very much a work in progress, both technically, in tagging for search terms, and in what has been scanned. Do pitch in with your comments. As someone on the advisory board, it has been fascinating to watch the push and pull between technical questions and ways of maximizing its use for researchers.
I started to read Jada F. Smith’s terrific op ed in the New York Times, “Don’t Mess With
Auntie Jean,” about her aunt standing up to oppressive segregationists in Georgia in the 1960s, and her examination of family history. What a surprise to find Jada Smith discovering her mother’s scrapbook, and in it her mother speaking back to the white press — in pink ink, no less. It’s a striking continuation of the tradition of African American scrapbook makers in the nineteenth century, handwriting their corrections on the articles clipped from the white press that they saved in their scrapbooks. John Wesley Cromwell’s scrapbook from the 1890s is a great example of this. And even in the 1960s, an annotated scrapbook corrects what Smith calls the “bland newspaperese” that was content with the white point of view. Her mother’s scrapbook spoke back to the white press within her family, keeping alive a family tradition of standing up and speaking back, in the face of gunfire. Read it!