Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Online Exhibit in honor of Banned Books Week

Dangerous Ideas: Controversial works from the William L. Clements Library

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

These books span over four centuries, from the Nuremberg Chronicle in 1493 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.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Recently Published: Article about the Clements in the Michigan Daily

The Michigan Daily has a new article about the Clements Library: "Off the Beaten Path: William L. Clements Library," by Gracelin Baskaran. The article includes quotes from Tom Dziuszko, longtime Clements Library volunteer, and Ann Rock, director of development at the library.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, we offer several examples from the pirate-related materials at the Clements Library. The library has a variety of books, pamphlets, manuscripts, and maps related to the history of pirates, buccaneers, privateers, and other folks on the high seas.

Did pirates really say, "Arrrr, matey"? Probably not, but you can find accounts about real pirates in the Clements Library. The picture below is from the 1699 English translation of The History of the Bucaniers of America, by A.O. Exquemelin. This book is a collection of writings from or about several different pirates, including the one depicted in this portrait, Captain Henry Morgan. The Clements Library has several different editions of this work in different languages.

In the Lyttelton Papers at the Clements Library, there is a handwritten letter of marque issued by the government of King George the II in 1756. Letters of marque were used by governments to authorize someone to seize property from a foreign party. Such documents were issued to privateers to legalize activities that would otherwise have been considered piracy. This 4-page letter, of which the first page is shown below, has blank spaces on the later pages to fill in the names of the captain and ship.

There are also a variety of "true confessions" of pirates, based on testimony given at their trials. Some of these are quite sensational and possibly exaggerated, such as that of Charles Gibbs in 1831. Charles Gibbs was one of the last people to be executed for piracy in the United States. His exploits were marked by exceptional violence and cruelty; before his death, he confessed to participating in the murder of over 400 people. This is described in "Mutiny and murder : confession of Charles Gibbs, a native of Rhode Island" (1831).

His story is also recounted as a cautionary tale for youth in the song "Charles Gibbs: The Pirate's advice to those who witnessed his awful end," sung to the tune of "The Rocks of Scilly."

The song begins:

"Oh, all that now stand round me,
Take warning by my fate,
Avoid the path of sin and death
Before it is too late.

I once had tender parents
Who dearly loved their son;
But I proved disobedient
And into follies path did run."

Stanzas 10 and 11:

"We hoisted up the Black Flag,
And a Pirate I became;
I then committed cruelties
Too dreadful for to name

No sex nor age we spared
But all we took was slain;
No mercy did we ever show,
For dead men tell no tales."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Recent Acquisitions: Iconic Images of Custer's Last Stand

The Clements Library has acquired two prints depicting Custer's last stand: John Mulvany's "Custer's Last Rally" (1881) and Cassily Adams' "Custer's Last Fight" (1885). These two iconic images provide the best known representations of the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Mulvany, "Custer's Last Rally"

Adams, "Custer's Last Fight"

Both of these images were widely copied and distributed. As can be seen from the text on the Adams print, it was reproduced by the Anheuser Busch brewing company, which distributed it to saloons across America and made it one of the most famous images in American art.

Part of their popularity can be attributed to American fascination with the event itself, which shocked the nation in 1876 when news of Custer's defeat spread. The story of Custer's last stand is one of the most memorable events in American history, partly because it remains controversial to this day. These famous depictions of Custer's last stand contributed to his myth as a heroic figure, although other information about him provides a much more troubling image. Modern reinterpretations of the battles between U.S. forces and Native Americans have given a more sympathetic understanding to the Native American perspective, in which Custer's actions were anything but heroic.

The Clements Library holds a variety of materials related to Native American history and the history of the American West. Search the library catalog or manuscripts finding aids for more information on our holdings.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Today in History: Kicking Off the UM Football Season at the Clements

To celebrate the opening of the University of Michigan 2009 football season, we offer this selection of football-related items from the Clements Library collection.

University Foot-Ball: The Play of Each Position Treated by a College Expert, 1893
This book, edited by James R. Church, includes portraits of players, illustrations of plays, and diagrams.

Foot Ball Rules: As Recommended to the University Athletic Club by the Rules Committee, 1896
This pamphlet, part of the Spaulding's athletic library series, contains rules, a summary of the 1895 season, a discussion of the All-America team for 1895, letters from players, and a variety of individual and team portraits throughout. The University of Michigan football team had the following scores for the 1895 season (p. 101):
U. of Michigan, 34; Mich. Mil. Acad., 0.
U. of Michigan, 42; Detroit A. C., 0.
U. of Michigan, 64; Adelbert College, 0.
U. of Michigan, 40; Rush Med. College, 0.
U. of Michigan, 42; Oberlin College, 0.
U. of Michigan, 0; Harvard, 4.
U. of Michigan, 12; Purdue Univ., 10.
U. of Michigan, 20; U. of Minnesota, 0.
U. of Michigan, 12; Chicago Univ., 0.

Romance of Prairie Gold, 1939, is a promotional item from the culinary ephemera collection. Written as an educational item for young readers, it promotes corn and its products. It contains several illustrations, including this one of athletes playing football.