Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love Letters in the Samuel Latham Mitchill Papers

Samuel Latham Mitchill was a man of many interests. He held a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh, studied law, taught chemistry and botany at Columbia University, and served in both state and national legislatures. Even with so much on his mind, his wife, Catherine, was still never far from his thoughts.

The Clements Library's Samuel Latham Mitchill Papers include detailed letters he wrote to Catherine while he was serving in Congress. Discussions of politics and Washington society are tempered by expressions of marital love and affection. He opens his letters with sweet and varied salutations that warm the heart.  "My dear little Duck," "My Queen of Hearts," "My beloved wife," he writes, or, "My sweet love," "My pretty little Picture," "My dear friend and sweetheart," "My true Love."

On Valentine's Day, 1803, he wrote a long letter to Catherine. In what may be perceived as a bit of a romantic misstep, he spent some five pages writing about the holiday's ancient history, leading up to the American practice of sending valentines and the current belief that "Birds also choose their Mates" on Valentine's Day. In a last minute save, he closes the letter by proclaiming, "on this very fourteenth day of February in the year one thousand eight hundred and three, your absent Dove has re-elected you to be his Mate for the next twelvemonth."

Two days later he refers to a Valentine's Day poem he also sent Catherine, which one of his friends declared "enough to make you crazy with love." Sadly, the poem is lost to us. The passion and affection that inspired it, however, is documented throughout the collection well beyond Valentine's Day. Missing his wife in early December 1803, he sent her a letter despite having just written the day before. "I have little else to send her to day," he admits, "that a parcel of Kisses, well assorted, which I have imprinted with my lips on this Paper; Take them, my love, and make the most of them in behalf of the giver."

Samuel Latham Mitchill ALS to Catherine Mitchill, Washington, [D.C.], 1803 December 2. Samuel Latham Mitchill Papers, William L. Clements Library.

No matter how you spend this Valentine's Day, you can always find enough romance in the archives to make you swoon.

Jayne Ptolemy
Reading Room Supervisor and Manuscripts Curatorial Assistant

Monday, February 6, 2017

Digital Images from the Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York

The old halfway house at the junction of Broadway, 8th Ave. & 59th St.

"If any one among us may calculate surely on a sublunary immortality, Mr. VALENTINE is the man. He has linked his name indissolubly with one of the greatest cities in the world in a manner which time shall strengthen not efface."  These were the accolades heaped on David Thomas Valentine (1801-1869) by The New York Times in 1863. Valentine, who served as Deputy Clerk to the Common Council for 37 years (apparently without promotion) had access to the most ancient archives of New York City. He also had the inspiration to seek out the earliest charts, maps, views of the city and publish them in facsimile form from 1841 to 1866 in his Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York.

Murray Hill : the oldest house, foot of Murray Hill, cor. 3d Av. & 34th St.

If you are seeking visual evidence supporting the study of urban America or the transformation from the colonial to the industrial age, Valentine's Manual is for you. Valentine had an eye for what was historic even in the 19th century and recorded the rapidly vanishing colonial architecture and old neighborhoods of New York. Valentine's presentation of impoverished streets as picturesque is problematic today. However, the print of the ramshackle house on Peck Slip where he grew up testifies to his close familiarity with his subject.

Contemporary 19th century innovations and events also appear, like the Loew Bridge over Broadway, made necessary by the frequent pedestrian fatalities, and views of colorful parades of soldiers heading south during the Civil War.

The "Loew Bridge," Broadway & Fulton St.

The illustrations from Valentine's Manual have been known to historians for some time and they have been available in scanned book versions in HathiTrust, Google Book, and other digital repositories. However, the prints in these online versions are difficult to locate without tedious browsing.

The Clements holds two sets of Valentine's Manual, one in the Book Division, the other as dis-bound prints in the Graphics Division. This latter set has been catalogued individually by former Head of Reader Services Diana Sykes and scanned by Digital Projects Librarian and Curator of Books Emi Hastings. 240 of these scanned images have recently been added to our Clements digital image bank with corresponding subject terms and descriptions, making this the most easily accessible online version of the illustrations from the Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York. The remainder of the scanned images will be added shortly.

Click here to browse prints from the Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York in the Clements Library Image Bank.

Clayton Lewis
Curator of Graphic Materials

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Learning Through Maps

Americans in general—and younger people in particular—are often criticized for being woefully deficient in a geographical understanding of their country, continent, hemisphere, and world.  In many ways such criticism is justified, and the noticeable reduction in geography instruction in schools has done nothing to improve the situation.  This is unfortunate because regular use of maps can fill the gaps in understanding of the form of our world, and atlases, whether printed or digital, are also fine sources of such information.

Western Hemisphere / Elizabeth H. Conklin, June 8. 
Pen and ink student's hemisphere map. 
For the past few years the Clements Library has been actively collecting a most interesting type of manuscript map.  Often described by dealers and collectors as “schoolgirl” maps, these exercises in cartography demonstrate that training in geography was one element of a good nineteenth-century education.  This type of map is frequently encountered in dealers’ catalogs these days, so there has been a good selection of potential acquisitions.  We now hold fifteen examples dating from 1818 to 1884.  Our catalog entries describe them as “student” maps because the majority of our examples were drawn by young men.  They include a variety of subjects—the world, the Western Hemisphere, North and South America, the United States and its component states, as well as Biblical cartography.  There is even a map titled “The Ocean of Love.”  The students obviously worked using a printed map as the source.

Most of our student cartographers are identified, and sometimes the name of their school is known.  Hannah French, for example, studied at the New Hampton Female Seminary of New Hampton, New Hampshire, about 1820 when she drafted a map of her country.  Some of the student maps are associated with manuscript collections held by the Clements, such as Elizabeth H. Conklin’s interpretation of the Western Hemisphere from the Conklin Papers and that of North America found in the James Thomas Papers and probably drawn by one of his school-age sons.

Some of our student maps are surprisingly sophisticated.  Melvin Wright was at school in Londonderry, Vermont, in 1841 when he drafted a heavily colored map of his state and embellished it with six marginal drawings including a view of the capital, Montpelier.  H.L. Hobart demonstrated that he or she was a better cartographer than a speller on the circa 1853 “Map of Michigan & Wiscosin.”  And Albert King even ventured into the allegorical.  In addition to his maps of “Hindoostan” and the Middle East, he prepared the “Ocean of Love,” with its “Land of Matrimony,” “Quicksands of Inconstancy,” and “Dead Lake of Indifference.”

The Clements will continue to collect “student” maps, but we have already reached a critical mass, where the available materials can support research into nineteenth-century education.  Used with our school atlases, school textbooks, and manuscripts with education content, a researcher can discover much about teaching and learning in the 1800s.

Brian Dunnigan
Associate Director and Curator of Maps

Friday, December 23, 2016

Civil War Snowball Fights

A snowball fight from A Book of Winter Sports: An Attempt to Catch the Spirit of the Keen Joys of the Winter Season (New York, 1912).
The arrival of the winter solstice often coincides with the first significant snowfall of the season. As adults we mostly view snowfall with dread, knowing that our morning commute to work the next day will be slower and more dangerous than usual. In those moments we tend to forget that snow in the form of snowmen or snowballs can be a tremendous source of entertainment, not only for young children but also, as this blog post shows, for soldiers.

The Clements Library has a multitude of works relating to the Civil War, including many publications written decades after the war by aging veterans recording their regiment's service during the conflict. Two of these books in the Clements collection mention good natured snowball fights that occurred between different Confederate regiments: Personal Record of the Thirteenth Regiment, Tennessee Infantry and History of Kershaw's Brigade

While these published accounts of snowball fights are relatively well known (a quick google search of "civil war snowball fights" pulls up numerous mentions of such events), the Clements also has a manuscript copy of a letter from Private Edwin Finch of the 15th New York Cavalry Regiment back home to his sister Thirza that describes a snowball fight between various Union forces in great detail. A full transcription of the account of the snowball fight is provided below:
We have had great times snowballing
since this snowfall the 22nd NY and the 1st Ver-
mont regmt got at it and the 1st Vermont drove
the 22nd completely out of the field into their
quarters, then the nex night the 22nd came up
after our regmt and the 9th NY to go
[end of page]
down and help them drive the 1st Vermont
so we went down officers and all, The Vermont
regmt lay on the hill in edge of the woods
they were all formed in line and deployed
skirmishers, we skirmished with them about
half an hour, then we charged them, we
drove them for a while then they rallied on us
and drove us back down the hill we formed
again charged them and drove them out
of their position down into their camp and
in their quarters, then they surrendered and
gave up, they did not like it much to
think that three regments should all pile
on to one, to be sure there were three reg-
ments of us but we did not number any
more men than they did after all for they were
a strong regment and all turned out and the
22nd only numbered 400 men, the 8th only 500
and our regiment only 600 and out of all three
only about half turned out, so you can see we were
no stronger than they were.  
From Thirza Finch diary and letter transcriptions, Vol. 1, p. 75-76, 1865 February 22. 
Edwin Finch was less than 20 years old when he wrote this letter to his sister. His youthful exuberance and excitement about "snowballing" is palpable in his writing. We sometimes forget how young many of these Civil War soldiers were, free from the sort of cynicism bred by adulthood that looks at snow as an annoyance rather than as an opportunity for entertainment.

Louis Miller
Reading Room Supervisor and Curatorial Assistant

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Clements Library SAA Archives Blitz

Image credit: Claire Milldrum
Post by Noa Kasman, Joyce Bonk Library Assistant

On the mornings of November 14th and November 18th, the University of Michigan’s Society of American Archivists (SAA) Student Chapter and the William L. Clements Library organized a two-part Archives Blitz. These events are held by the Student Chapter once or twice a semester. Since the fall of 2014, Student Chapter Archives Blitzes have ranged from several hours to week-long engagements with organizations. Organizations identify projects that they would like assistance with and that they think will be interesting, fun, and professionally engaging for students. Students are oriented and provided with staff feedback throughout the project. 

When SAA presented this event structure to the Clements Library, Clayton Lewis, curator of Graphics Material, jumped on the opportunity to have students dive into a collection of photographic postcards -- approximately 55,000+ items. These photographs are a subset of the David V. Tinder Collection of Michigan Photography, which consists of over 100,000 images of varying photographic types spanning the 1840s to the 1970s.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Norton Strange Townshend Fellowship Now Offered for 2017

In keeping with the Clements Library’s commitment to the University of Michigan’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiative, we are pleased to announce a new post-doctoral fellowship. The Norton Strange Townshend Fellowship is named for the nineteenth-century physician and educator (1815-1895) and funded by the Library’s Townshend Fund.

The Norton Strange Townshend Fellowship offers $10,000 in support of scholarly research on diversity, equity and inclusion in American history during the nineteenth century. Successful applicants are expected to spend a minimum of two months at the Clements. This is a post-doctoral fellowship that requires a completed Ph.D. or equivalent qualifications at the time of application. Applications for the first year of this fellowship (2017) must be received by February 15 for residence in that calendar year.

See the Clements Library Research Fellowships page for application details. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Join us online and on campus - Our exciting events on Giving Blueday

We are excited to announce our mission and the festivities that we will be holding for Giving Blueday, November 29, 2016. Please join us in supporting the Clements Library's long lasting mission to collect and preserve primary source materials, to make them available for research, and to support and encourage scholarly investigation of our nation’s past.

What is Giving Blueday? 
Giving Blueday (GBD) is the University of Michigan's Day of Giving, and it is a day for everyone who loves Michigan to join together to combine their support and maximize impact.

The Clements Library's GBD Mission 
We are asking you - yes, you, reading this right now - to make a gift towards supporting acquisitions, conservation, lectures, and digitization at the Clements Library. Your support goes a long way to sustaining the Clements Library and keeping the mission to make historical materials accessible to the public, alive. You can make a gift to support the Clements Library here: bit.ly/GBDClements

Our goal this year is to increase student membership at the Clements Library to encourage students to support acquisitions. Students, by becoming members, have access to the following benefits for an annual fee of just $5:
  • Invitations to programs, lectures, exhibits, and seminars 
  • Library publications free of charge or with substantial discounts 
  • The Quarto, a magazine published each Spring and Fall, keeps members informed about the acquisitions which have been made through their generous giving, and offers informative articles drawn from the Library's rich collections
  • Annual field trips to historic sites 
  • New member reception  
What You Can Do: 
  • Become a member, or support the Clements by making a gift towards acquisitions, conservation, lectures, and digitization here: bit.ly/GBDClements
It only takes a few minutes to make a long lasting contribution to the Clements Library's mission to preserve history. We thank you for all of your support.
  • Join us for a special student event ​ 

A rare, unique, one of a kind experience. Literally. 
William L. Clements Library 
November 29, Tuesday
5:00 - 6:00PM

You’re invited to a special student event to get a behind the scenes look at the rare, historical collection items that the Clements Library holds. You can also learn about how you can use primary resources for research, the benefits of becoming a student member, and professional development opportunities in the fields of history and archives. Plus, you'll be getting a free Clements Library T-Shirt and other goodies. What's not to love? We hope to see you there. For any questions, please contact Anne Bennington-Helber at abhelber@umich.edu.
  • Follow our Social Media for GBD challenges! 
You will be able to participate in exciting social media challenges throughout the day. We'll be challenging everyone to different things, such as creating a caption for the Clements Library, telling us what you love about the Clements Library, and showing off your artistic side using #GivingBlueday. Please make sure to like our Facebook Page and follow us on Twitter to see the challenges. We hope you'll join us!

Facebook: facebook.com/clements.library
Twitter: @ClementsLibrary

We hope to see you interact with us online, or at our special student event. Have a great Giving Blueday!