African American Scrapbooks Now

A recent New York Times article on contemporary African American scrapbook makers reports on what happened when Tazhiana Gordon featured her pages on attending Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. She shows her pages on Instagram, where a scrapbooking community shares their work. But when she placed her activism and Blackness at the center of her work, some of her white followers dropped her.

Azzari Jarrett has designed Black Lives Matter scrapbook stickers and stamps.

The many African American scrapbook makers of the 19th and 20th century would have been right there with Tazhiana Gordon in documenting the BLM movement, and paying attention to responses to the police killing of a black man. Even those who saved memorabilia about their own lives – programs from concerts they attended, family achievements – also clipped and pasted newspaper items about lynchings, government collusion in lynchings, and the suppression of the Black vote. Their private lives were not separate from what was happening to the local and national Black community.

African Americans of the past have known how essential it was for them to archive their own activities. We would not know anything about Alice Dunbar Nelson’s work for women’s suffrage if she hadn’t kept a thorough scrapbook of her 1915 campaign work around Pennsylvania.

Pages from Alice Dunbar’s 1915 scrapbook documenting her women’s suffrage work
Inside front cover of one of L.S. Alexander Gumby’s scrapbooks, with his personal bookplate.

Nineteenth and twentieth century African American scrapbook makers might have been more puzzled to see people ornamenting the pages with purchased stickers, and by the online community that shares ideas for page layouts and designs. Their own sharing was within the Black community, to offer one another the histories they’d compiled. I wonder what William Henry Dorsey, son of an escaped slave, with his 400 scrapbooks spanning over 4 decades, or Shirley Graham DuBois and her mother, or Joseph W.H. Cathcart, a janitor, whose 150+ massive scrapbooks attracted reporters from the white press to write about him, as “the Great Scrap Book Maker,” would have thought of today’s Black scrapbook crafters? All (with the exception of L.S. Alexander Gumby, who loved frames and pockets) might have been puzzled by the attention to the visual aesthetics of scrapbook making. But they surely would have applauded their demands for recognition and paid work within a white controlled industry.

Speaking on Scrapbooks in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Circle, Oct. 24, Hartford

I first saw a Beecher family-related scrapbook when Minton Brooks asked me to look at one now in the Brooklyn Historical Society, made by his ancestor Henry F. Minton. Henry Minton was Henry Ward Beecher’s parishioner, and had been riveted enough by

Harriet’s daughter Hattie Stowe made a cat scrapbook! (Schlesinger Library)

his minister’s doings in the unfolding Beecher Tilton sex scandal to compile clippings about them in his scrapbook, along with his own interests as a homeopathic doctor. It was the kind of unfolding news story that often inspired newspaper clipping scrapbook making. A scrapbook allowed you to collect all the sidepaths and follow them all across different newspapers.

But the Beechers and

Henry Minton scrapbook

Stowes and their friends themselves had different ideas of what to collect. And old newspapers could be turned into data, abolitionists realized in creating American Slavery as It Is – the book that Harriet Beecher Stowe kept under her pillow when writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

I’m looking forward to speaking about the scrapbooks and newspaper clippings in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s life at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, CT, on Thursday, October 24, 5:30. Join me!

Treasure in scrapbooks

Thiharriet tubman from Miller scrapbook, library of congresss rare, riveting photograph of Harriet Tubman, probably taken around 1911 at her home in Auburn, NY, was in one of the scrapbooks kept by Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller. They were ardent suffragists, and the daughter and granddaughter of abolitionist Gerrit Smith.  You can see more of their scrapbooks on the Library of Congress website. I’m looking forward to speaking about all kinds of scrapbooks in Auburn, Monday March 19 at the Seymour Library, 6 pm.

Auburn is not far from Syracuse and Ithaca — come on over.

This will be my last talk for Humanities New York’s Public Scholars Program, which is coming to an end. Audiences have been enthusiastic, and I hope to keep giving talks.

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!

 

Ink and Electricity: Speaking at Monmouth University Thursday Nov. 12

Vertical filing cabinet, c. 1890, from the American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/lhrt/popularresources/lhrtnewsletters/spring2011

Vertical filing cabinet, c. 1890, from the American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/lhrt/popularresources/lhrtnewsletters/spring2011

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.

Speaking in Provo, UT Thurs. Sept 11

poster for talk at Orem Public library

poster for talk at Orem Public library

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!

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.)

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!

Speaking on Scrapbooks at Philadelphia Ephemera event Sept. 20, 2013

Album of clippings of human hair on display at the Library Company

Album of clippings of human hair on display at the Library Company

Looking forward to speaking Friday at Unmediated History — a conference jointly sponsored by the Ephemera Society of America and the Library Company of Philadelphia — Ben Franklin’s old stomping grounds. It will be great to be back there, and to meet some of the ephemera enthusiasts I talked to when I was working on The Adman in the Parlor: Magazines and the Gendering of Consumer Culture.

You can visit the Library Company on Facebook as well.

NYU: Scrapbooks and Archives — conversation with Jenna Freedman

Looking forward to speaking on scrapbooks at NYU on may-2-writing-with-scissorsThursday, including a conversation with Jenna Freedman, zine librarian extraordinaire. Come!  6:00-8:00 PM at 19 University Place, Room 222. All welcome! Refreshments! And Jane Greenway Carr didn’t even plan it around National Scrapbooking Day!