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!

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?

 

Pittsburgh: Land of scrapbook talks and women journalists

Heading off to Pittsburgh tomorrow to give two talks at U Pitt, before joining the Nineteenth Century Women Writers Study Group for our discussion on 19th and early 20th century women journalists: Nellie Bly! Sui Sin Far! Miriam Michaelson! Elizabeth Jordan! Sarah Winnamucca! and more — the other side of the newspaper, finally: not the clippers but the writers. Jean Lutes had a very difficult time choosing readings, because there was so much good material.

Wednesday I’ll be speaking in the English Department and Humanities Center on “Cut-and-Paste Pedagogy: Hand, Scissors, Pen, Scrapbook.” Looking forward to talking about that project with people who know a lot about 19c textbooks, like Jean Ferguson Carr and Steve Carr.

Thursday, Ron and Mary Zboray have inemma goldmanvited me to speak at the Popular Print Working Group. My talk there is on Hidden Histories: African American and Women’s Rights Scrapbooks. I haven’t seen Ron and Mary since Writing with Scissors came out, and I’m sure they’ll have a lot to tell me about scrapbooks they saw in their years of digging in diaries. With Emma Goldman on the website looking over the proceedings!

 

 

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.

Ohio State University Oct. 1 Visit and McGuffey’s Scrapbook

I wasn’t planning to look at scrapbooks in Ohio State University’s Special Collections when

Poster for OSU talk

Poster for OSU talk

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

Preface: McGuffey's Fifth Eclectic Reader

Preface: McGuffey’s Fifth Eclectic Reader

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.

A scrapbook revealed a rescuer’s efforts to save children from the Holocaust

Statue of Nicholas Winton, with a version of his scrapbook. Maidenhead, UK.

Statue of Nicholas Winton, with a version of his scrapbook. Maidenhead, UK.

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

Winton's scrapbook of rescued children

Winton’s scrapbook of rescued children

expanding empire, along with cards with photos that Winton showed to prospective foster parents in the

Page 1 of Nicholas Winton's scrapbook

Page 1 of Nicholas Winton’s scrapbook

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?

Winton statue, detail.

Winton statue, detail.

Women in College — Major scrapbook project

Page from Scrapbook of Ruth Emerson Fletcher, Class of 1893, Bryn Mawr College Special Collections

Page from Scrapbook of Ruth Emerson Fletcher, Class of 1893, Bryn Mawr College Special Collections

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.

This announcement of the launch that explains more about the project.