Scrapbook History talk in Eugene, OR Nov. 13, 2018

I’m delighted to be speaking November 13, 2018 at the University of Oregon in Eugene. I hope the students I speak with will go on to dig in the archives at the university, where the university special collections and archives has scrapbooks of Oregon suffragist and journalist Abigail Scott Duniway (1834-1915).

“Writing with Scissors: The American Scrapbook in the Nineteenth Century,” will start at 4:00 pm in the Humanities Center conference room (PLC 159).

abigail scott duniway voter registration card

Oregon women won the vote in 1912; Abigail Scott Duniway first registered to vote a few months later. This is her first voter registration card from 1913.

Abigail Scott Duniway.

Abigail Scott Duniway




Bill Cunningham’s scrapbooks on show

I’m not at all surprised to find that the NY Times photographer Bill Cunningham kept scrapboocunningham scrapbookks.

If you saw the film about him, Bill Cunningham New York, you’ll recognize his sensibility in formation here — not to mention his earlier work as a wild hat designer. I loved that his Times layouts of fashion on the street were often like something out of a Jacques Tati movie.

As Matthew Schneir notes in the article, “the scrapbooks are the world arranged by his own hand.” That is, as with the 19th century newspaper scrapbooks, they preserve a look over the maker’s shoulder. We can see Cunningham thinking about what he is clipping and arranging.

Who else wants to go over to the New-York Historical Society to see them?

speaking June 29, Garrison NY – Hidden Life of Suffrage Scrapbooks

Last minute announcement – Humanities NY and the Desmond-Fish Library in Garrison, NY have asked me to fill in tonight, June 29, 6:30 in the library’s suffrage series. Come hear my talk Scrapbooks and the Hidden Life of Suffrage:

Anti-suffragists’ scrapbooks reveal some of their tricks.

How did suffragists manage all the different arguments and strands of information to create a powerful and effective movement that spanned decades? They used scrapbooks: a form of distributed, decentralized information storage and history writing. In their scrapbooks, suffragists collected the history of their movement, strategized about public speaking, and explained their work to their families. Scrapbooks played a key role in transmitting tactics and stories. Susan B. Anthony fought to place her 13 volume scrapbook in the Library of Congress. Alice Dunbar Nelson clipping collection reveal her shaping her specifically African American vision of what women’s suffrage would do for the black community. Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s scrapbook became a multi-generation collaboration. Lillie Devereux Blake used her clippings in her speeches against domestic violence, and taught her readers how to use scrapbooks.
In the 1910s, as the suffrage movement sped toward ratification, it became increasingly professionalized and ran its own clipping services. Scrapbooks supported its growing public relations campaigns. Anti-suffragists used the same materials, though the scrapbook of a dedicated anti-suffragist PR woman shows her busy inventing facts to get her stories noticed.
These scrapbooks open a window into the lives of the thousands of ordinary women who became suffragists. They let us see how these earlier generations of campaigners and supporters used the press, while they reveal an intimate side of well known suffragists.

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!

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.

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?