About ellen gruber garvey

I wrote Writing with Scissors to tell the story of the amazing scrapbooks ordinary people made from the newspapers they read. I am an English professor at New Jersey City University.

Scrapbooks on TV Sunday, May 14

Here’s how to take a break from grading: Run out to the cab where Jennifer Mayerle from CBS Sunday Morning is riding over to borrow one of my 19th century scrapbooks. She’ll use it as a prop in the studio on Sunday, May 14, when they (almost certainly) will air the segment on scrapbooks that I taped with them.

From L.S. Alexander Gumby’s scrapbooks.

We met back in August at Butler Library at Columbia University and talked about the hundred or so scrapbooks of L.S. Alexander Gumby, the great gay scrapbooker of the Harlem Renaissance, which are there, though I didn’t get to explicate them on camera. We also talked about others, not at Columbia —  William Dorsey’s over 400; the scrapbook Mark Twain invented, suffrage scrapbooks like Elizabeth Boynton Harbert’s, and one pasted into a book of sermons. Jennifer asked great questions, and I’m very eager to see what made it into the show!

And why did it take so long to air? Oddly enough, they’ve been covering more about politics this year.

Speaking in Wilmington, DE – University of Delaware April 27

Thrilled to be heading to the University of Delaware to speak on African American scrapbooks.

April 27 talk

I’m heading there for a meeting of the 19th century women writers study group, and squeezing on a talk about African American scrapbooks along the way. (Listen for a mention of a slaveholding Gorsuch — an ancestor of the new Supreme Court judge? I wouldn’t be surprised.)

This time we’re discussing Alice Dunbar Nelson’s work (okay, the LONG 19th century). I wrote about a fascinating scrapbook Dunbar-Nelson made about her suffrage work in 1915, and will be talking about that for the study group on Saturday, too. (I wrote about it in Writing with Scissors, and again in more detail in Legacy’s special issue on Alice Dunbar Nelson. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/645636) She was a woman of remarkable energy, commitment, and political organizing interests.

Support NEH funding – Fight National Amnesia

My research on Writing with Scissors took more than 10 years of sitting in libraries to read scrapbooks, traveling around the country to find different kinds of scrapbooks, and finally sifting it all to make sense of it as I wrote about it. Because I teach at a university with a 4- course-per-semester teaching load, I relied on fellowships to give me time to research and write. If it had not been for the National Endowment for the Humanities, which supported this work through a We the People fellowship for college teachers, and by funding a fellowship at the Massachusetts Historical Society, I could never have researched and written this book. That’s just my personal story. The NEH has funded so many important, essential projects. It enriches our country’s thinking about our culture — our history and our future.  Trump wants to eliminate it. Fight national amnesia.Use this link to write to your Senators and Representatives to tell them to sustain funding for the NEH and NEA via the National Humanities Alliance.

If you are in NY State, advocate for NY Humanities as well, writing both to US and state legislators.  

 

Back Number Budd talk Feb. 18, 1 pm, Astoria, Queens – note corrected time

Back Number Budd

Back Number Budd

If you didn’t have a scrapbook and didn’t have room for piles of newspapers in your house, how else could you find old news items in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? You could visit a form of offsite storage, flourishing first in a basement in midtown Manhattan, and then in an old horsecar barn in Astoria, Queens.

In the 1870s, an African American man known as Back Number Budd began sorting and organizing back issues of newspapers for sale to researchers, lawyers, and browsers. In a time before library newspaper collections or indexes, his business allowed his clients to find long lost information. Especially because he was black, buyers were suspicious of the high prices he charged for his work of sorting and saving old newspapers elsewhere considered trash. The story of his work offers a view into forgotten moments in African

Astoria Map

1891 Astoria Map

American history.

Fire destroyed Robert Budd’s business, but competition from the New York Public Library, which started saving more newspapers, and clipping services, which came into use in the 1890s, also displaced it.

I’m excited to be speaking about Back Number Budd on Feb. 18, 1 pm at the Greater Astoria Historical Society, not far from where Budd had has warehouse, in Ravenswood, Astoria, Long Island City.

I already had the extraordinary pleasure of meeting some of his descendents in Massachusetts, and hope that someone in Astoria will have a lead on a photo of his business – or have other stories to share.

Thanks to the Public Scholars in the Humanities, Humanities New York, for sponsoring this!

Back Number Budd talk Feb. 18, 1 pm, Astoria, Queens – note corrected time

Back Number Budd

Back Number Budd

If you didn’t have a scrapbook and didn’t have room for piles of newspapers in your house, how else could you find old news items? You could visit a form of offsite storage, flourishing first in a basement in midtown Manhattan, and then in an old horsecar barn in Astoria, Queens.

In the 1870s, an African American man known as Back Number Budd began sorting and organizing back issues of newspapers for sale to researchers, lawyers, and browsers. In a time before library newspaper collections or indexes, his business allowed his clients to find long lost information. Especially because he was black, buyers were suspicious of the high prices he charged for his work of sorting and saving old newspapers elsewhere considered trash. The story of his work offers a view into forgotten moments in African

Astoria Map

1891 Astoria Map

American history.

Fire destroyed Robert Budd’s business, but competition from the New York Public Library, which started saving more newspapers, and clipping services, which came into use in the 1890s, also displaced it.

            I’m excited to be speaking about Back Number Budd on Feb. 18, 1 pm at the Greater Astoria Historical Society, not far from where Budd had has warehouse, in Ravenswood, Astoria, Long Island City.

I already had the extraordinary pleasure of meeting some of his descendents in Massachusetts, and hope that someone in Astoria will have a lead on a photo of his business – or have other stories to share.

Thanks to the Public Scholars in the Humanities, Humanities New York, for sponsoring this!

recreating a life from found notebooks: Annabelle Baker

Traveling in France, I met Ivanne Barberis, who in 2008 found a set of notebooks in the trash on the Lower East Side of New York, made by a nurse, Annabelle Baker. From her writings and the magazines she had collected, it appeared that she was African American. Her notebooks were from nursing school, where she’d graduated in 1973. Baker had gone back since her schooling and written commentaries or other notes in her notebooks. Ivanne was unable to find out more about her, but found the life hinted at in the notebooks, and the notebooks themselves tantalizing — in the way that scrapbooks by unknown people often are: They hint at a set of interests and concerns, at a mode of schooling and work. Ivanne is a nurse, and so also felt a professional connection to Baker.

Ivanne had been reading Patrick Modiano’s extraordinary Dora Bruder, which tells of the author’s being intrigued by an odd news clipping from a newspaper published during the Occupation in Paris, and trying to find out more about Dora Bruder, the subject of it — who was her family, who was she? What happened to her during the war? Modiano’s search and its dead ends are part of the story he tells, along with his own family’s experience during the war, in some of the same spaces Dora moved through, and his own movement through the spaces of present-day Paris.

Instead of digging up more on Annabelle Baker’s life (as I probably would have tried to do), however, Ivanne invited other artists — writers, visual artists, performers — to create pieces in some way about Annabelle Baker, as she emerged for them in her notebooks, magazine reading, and Ivanne’s experience finding the materials.

The work was performed and displayed in 2011, at La General, an artistic, political, and social cooperative. http://www.lagenerale.fr/?p=1091

I wish I’d been able to see it. I think the idea was to explore what makes found objects, fragments of person’s life, intriguing, and how it opens space for the imagination. But it disturbs me that that space might be full of reductive stock images, of received generalizations about black people in the US, even while one amazing quality of scrapbooks and notebooks is the range of quirky interests they embody. And does this work rescue a life’s work carelessly discarded, or does it expose something a person meant to throw away?

Does anyone know of similar projects, with some grounding in historical documents, but which develops them freely, in an imaginative rather than historical dimension?

 

Lockport ahead: Speaking at the History Center of Niagara, Thurs May 19

So excited to be giving my first talk on scrapbooks for the Public Scholars in the Humanities program of the New York State Council for the Humanities, which has 31 scholars giving talks around the state. I have been completely wowed by those I met at our workshops last summer — Richard Heyl de Ortiz, who speaks about the foster care system, Sally Roesch Wagner, who speaks on the 19c women’s rights movement, and the cartoonist Robert Sikoryak who graciously shlepped to my university in Jersey City to give a brilliant presentation on the history of cartoons/graphic novels, and two dozen more. Just looking at the list of speakers again is inspiring. If you’re in NY State, your organization can invite one! Or more!

scrapbook page with calling and trade cardsTomorrow I head upstate to speak about scrapbooks at the History Center of Niagara, hard by the Erie Canal, with stops in Glen Falls along the way. I hope people respond to the invitation to bring their scrapbooks (50 years old or more — the scrapbooks, not the people). I’ll bring some of mine, too. And yes, I’ll talk about how people without much power — African Americans, women’s rights advocates — used scrapbooks to speak back to the media.

Thursday, May 19, 7 pm. Niagara County Historical Society215 Niagara Street, Lockport, NY 14094. Looking forward to seeing you!