Thursday, September 30, 2010

International Spelling Reform Day

The Spelling Society was founded in 1908 as the Simplified Spelling Society. Its aims are to "[raise] awareness of the problems caused by the irregularity of English spelling and to promote remedies to improve literacy, including spelling reform." In 1980, the Spelling Society declared September 30 to be International Spelling Reform Day. Its motto was "Thirty days hath September - Spelling Reform to remember!"

This was far from the first effort to simplify English spelling. Since at least the 16th century, there have been numerous proposals for spelling reform of the English language. These met with varied success; while some proposed changes entered into general use, others were largely ignored.

Supporters of reform have pointed out the many inconsistencies and irregularities of English spelling. Mismatches between spelling and pronunciation of words make English a difficult language to learn. Arguments against reform include the difficulties of instituting great changes to a language that is used worldwide, the variety of regional accents which make standardized pronunciation impossible, and resistance to losing the etymological roots of words from other languages.

In 1768, Benjamin Franklin wrote a pamphlet titled, "A Scheme for a New Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling," in which he proposed a phonetic system for spelling English. Noah Webster, author of the famous Webster's Dictionary, responded to Franklin's proposal in 1789 with his book, Dissertations on the English language : with notes historical and critical : to which is added, by way of appendix, an essay on a reformed mode of spelling with Dr. Franklin's arguments on that subject. In the appendex, Webster discussed the necessity of reforming spelling, while also addressing potential objections. Of Franklin's proposal, Webster wrote, "This sage philosopher has suffered nothing useful to escape his notice. He very early discovered the difficulties that attend the learning of our language; and with his usual ingenuity, invented a plan to obviate them."

The Book Division of the Clements Library contains several other works on American spelling reform, including books written in phonetic alphabets:

David Lyon, The analitical American spelling book : containing appropriate spelling and reding lessenz, including the rudiments ov the Inglish languij; and uther useful matter, progressivly arranjed (Oxford, N.Y., 1834).

Andrew Comstock, The phonetic minstrel: consisting of original songs, in Comstock's perfect alphabet, as well as in the old alphabet; set to popular air (Philadelphia, 1847).

Ezekiel Rich, Thrten lcturs, on a nw, slf-suportng systm of jnrl & librl education, fr both sxs, espsly femals. To which is add, an esa, aplyng this systm to the education of a stat r nation ... Also, som stps fr litrry rform (Rochester, 1848).

American Phonetic Society, The fonetic olmanac and rejistur of the spelling and writing reform, together with a list of the American phonetic society, for the year of our Lord 1853 (Cincinnati, 1852).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

International Talk Like a Pirate Day: The Pirate Atlas

Last year for International Talk Like a Pirate Day, the Clements Library Chronicles highlighted a variety of materials related to pirates, including books, manuscripts, and a broadside poem. This year, we offer just one exceptional item: the Pirate Atlas.


The Clements Library purchased the Hack Atlas in 1979, funded by the generosity of the Clements Library Associates. The atlas was recently featured in a display in the Main Room of the Library, celebrating the Clements Library Associates' contributions to the Library.

The original September 1979 Quarto announcement:
"As you may have already noticed from widespread newspaper and television coverage, the library has committed itself to purchasing one of the most important historical volumes ever acquired. William Hack's late seventeenth-century manuscript "South Seas Atlas," copied from a Spanish derrotero captured by the English pirate Bartholomew Sharp, documents a crucial chapter in American history recorded in no other source. . . . An effort is now underway to raise $50,000 to complete payment for the new treasure, and assistance on the part of all friends of the library will be most welcome in the coming months. The atlas, which is as beautiful as it is historically important, will be on display at the October 16 meeting of the Associates."
The Quarto for March 1980 contained a special supplement entirely devoted to the Hack Atlas, the history of its creation and an evaluation of its importance by Dr. George Kish of the Geography Department. Professor Kish served as part-time Curator of Maps under the first Clements Library Director Randolph Adams in the mid-1940s.

The entry in One Hundred and One Treasures from the Collections of the William L. Clements Library provides the historical background:
"In 1680, a motley crew of pirates crossed the Isthmus of Panama, looting Spanish settlements along the way. They captured several vessels on the Pacific side, one of which was named the Trinity and which they made the flagship of the expedition. Since the voyage of Sir Francis Drake a century before and a few brief visits by Dutch ships earlier in the seventeenth century, no non-Spaniard had sailed in American Pacific coastal waters, and the Spanish settlements were entirely unprepared to defend themselves.

For more than a year, squabbling among themselves much of the time, the pirates explored and raided settlements and shipping up and down the coast from Acapulco to Chile, finally sailing around Cape Horn and back to the Caribbean where they divided their spoils. Twenty-two of the pirates associated with the voyage then took passage to England on two different ships, arriving in March 1682, where they created a diplomatic crisis between England and Spain. At the urging of the Spanish ambassador, several were tried for piracy and murder, but all were acquitted. They brought back sufficient treasure to pay handsomely for the voyage, but the real prize of the expedition was a set of sea charts captured on July 29, 1681."
The buccaneer Bartholomew Sharp described the capture of this book:
"In this ship . . . we took also a great book full of seacharts and maps, containing a very accurate and exact description of all the ports, soundings, creeks, rivers, capes and coasts belonging to the South Sea, and all the navigations usually performed by Spaniards in that ocean. . . . The printing thereof is severely prohibited, lest other nations should get into those seas and make use thereof." (Quoted in the Quarto, March 1980)
Sharp added in another account, "they were going to throw it overboard, but by good luck I saved it--the Spaniards cryed out when I got the book, farewell South Seas now."

After returning to England, Sharp turned the maps over to William Hack, a leading English mapmaker. Hack produced a series of fourteen copies, of which the Clements Library copy is the most extensive. Sharp and Hack presented the first copy to Charles II.

The Atlas includes 184 manuscript maps and extensive notes on provisions, landmarks, and sailing hazards. There is even a mention of sunken Spanish treasure. In the waters off Panama, it is noted that "on this shoal was lost the Almirant of the King of Spain, in the year 1631, in which was vast treasure."

In evaluating the Hack Atlas, Professor Kish concluded,
"Hack's atlas is a landmark in the maritime history of England. It provided, for the first time, a detailed and reliable source of information on Spanish possessions in western South America. The age of buccaneers was already drawing to a close when Charles II was presented with this priceless guide to seas until then unknown. It served not only navigators, but also compilers and publishers of detailed sea charts of the eighteenth century."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Current Exhibit: Banned Books Week

Dangerous Ideas
Controversial Works from the William L. Clements Library
In honor of Banned Books Week, September 25-October 2, 2010

In honor of Banned Books Week, this exhibit from the William L. Clements Library presents twelve titles from the collection that have been the subject of controversy at different moments in history.

These books span over three centuries, from Reginald Scot's The Discoverie of Witchcraft in 1584  to Elinor Glyn's Three Weeks in 1907. They provide examples of actual or attempted censorship by governments, social organizations, and private citizens. The topics of controversy, from witchcraft to abolitionism to adultery, show how societies' values have changed over time as subjects that are taboo in one generation become commonplace in the next.

Now on display in the center cases of the Main Room at the Clements Library. Regular exhibit hours: Monday through Friday, 1:00 pm to 4:45 pm.

To learn more about this display, view the full online exhibit created for last year's Banned Books Week.

Other current exhibits in the Main Room: "Fine Tuning a Great Collection: The How and Why of Recent Acquisitions" and Adopt-A-Piece-of-History.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lecture by Wes Cowan: "Collecting Americana," September 30, 2010

4:00 p.m., September 30, 2010
Main Room, Clements Library
909 S. University Ave., Ann Arbor, MI

Wes Cowan is a familiar face on History Detectives and Antiques Roadshow. He holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Michigan and owns Cowan's Auctions, an auction house that specializes in historical Americana.

Wes will give a talk on collecting Americana, based on his vast knowledge of items from our national past, including furniture, folk art, political ephemera, Native American artifacts and rare old prints.

(Please note: Wes will not be offering appraisals, only his lively commentary on collecting American history.)

Open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

To learn more about Wes, see the article about him in the Fall 2009 LSA Magazine.