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.
Google is using Frederick Douglass’s image for one of their doodles, or special logos of
the day, for the first day of Black History Month. They probably don’t know that he participated in the 19th century’s mode of organizing information. Yes, Frederick Douglass made scrapbooks. You can read some online at the Library of Congress’s American Memory Collection. And one linked here, pasted into a Bureau of Indian Affairs report. (Like many scrapbook makers, he repurposed other books for his scrapbooks.
While it’s framed as advice to present-day scrapbookers on what not to use or paste in (cellophane tape, glitter, materials that attract insects and much more). It makes me wonder why the many 19th century scrapbooks I’ve seen that used flour paste as an adhesive weren’t thoroughly nibbled by mice. Mucilage, on the other hand (other brush?), sometimes resulted in clippings too discolored to read, and there was some 19th century scrapbook-making advice against using it. No one mentioned rocks, though.
Monmouth used the cover of the odd crowd-sourced anthology, Heart Throbs: The Old Scrapbook. The editor asked newspaper readers to send in their favorite poems, etc., with the idea that they were tucked away inside scrapbooks. The white-haired scrapbook
user is a figure of wisdom, while scrapbook makers are usually shown as young people, storing up wisdom to use later. The talk is Thursday, Nov. 12.
Monmouth’s great title for their series on print culture, Ink and Electricity, is a reminder of how our perceptions of media are shaped by the technology of the moment. For 19th century scrapbook makers, scrapbooks were a new technology — as were the 1890s file folders and vertical files, that eventually displaced a swath of newspaper clipping scrapbook making. I’ll be speaking on how 19th century activists repurposed media in their scrapbooks. 6-7:30, Wilson Hall, Room 104. Arrive early for refreshments. Thanks to Kristin Bluemel for arranging this.
I had just taught a class on Fanny Fern’s Ruth Hall where I showed the students some of the charming cartoons about “scissorizing” — Fanny Fern’s word for the 19th century practice of copying from one newspaper or magazine to another, without pay — when Lori Harrison-Kahan sent me the poster for my talk, “Activists Repurpose Media: 19th Century Scrapbooks” at Boston College Thursday, October 15, 4:30. The poster uses one of the great “scissorizing” cartoons. This gives out 21st century use of the term “the cloud” new meaning. This editor seems to be receiving his “siftings” from on high — and bringing his readers the good grain, not the chaff.
Some of the cartoons were more hostile — it makes me wonder about how the cartoonists felt about those snipping editors. After all, cartoonists had to produce original material in an era before easy photographic reproduction. Take a look at “Involution of an Editor,” from the humor magazine Life.
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!