Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Current Exhibit: "The Languages of Early American History"

The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts has designated language as the theme of its Winter 2012 semester. Language plays a central role in virtually all human activity, and it was a critical element in the encounters of peoples that characterize the history of the Americas. While linguistics is not a collecting area for the Clements, the primary source material held by the Library - books, manuscripts, maps, and graphics - were produced in a wide variety of languages representative of the people of the Americas. This exhibit provides a modest but eclectic sampling of the languages represented in the Library's holdings.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Happy Holidays from the Clements Library!

The Clements Library often sends holiday cards to members of the Clements Library Associates. Below is a selection of our earliest cards, featuring illustrations from library materials.

The Clements Library Associates, founded in 1947, has purchased an estimated $5,000,000 worth of historical material for Clements Library. Members of the Associates receive invitations to library events, discounts on publications, and semi-annual mailings of The Quarto, an award-winning magazine with illustrated articles by curators and staff about Clements Library collections. See our website for more information about becoming a member of the Associates.

Clements card, 1947. Illustration from Sebastian
Brant's Stultifera Nauis (1570).
Clements card, 1948. Nuestra SeƱora de Guadalupe,
patron saint of all the Americas, from an original engraving.
Clements card, 1949.
Clements card, 1952. Exterior of Library at night.

Monday, December 12, 2011

In the News: "Exhibit Examines Death Customs of Early America"

University Record article by Kevin Brown, December 12, 2011.
This week's University Record issue includes a front-page article by Kevin Brown about the current Clements Library exhibit, "So Once Were We": Death in Early America. Focusing on the 19th century, the exhibit includes many photographs, manuscripts, books, and artifacts concerning death and mourning in early America. Exceptional rarities include handwritten eyewitness accounts of the deaths of the deaths of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ghosts in the Library? Spirit Photography at the Clements

Mrs. H.F. Stuart, ca. 1865
One of the tools of the ghost-hunting trade is spirit photography, the attempt to capture images of ghosts. Early spirit photographs were usually portraits of living people with faint, ghostly images floating behind them. These figures, supposedly the impressions of departed loved ones, were actually produced by photographic editing methods such as double exposures.

William H. Mumler made the first known spirit photograph in 1862, a self-portrait which purportedly revealed the ghost of his cousin. Realizing the potential of this method, he went into business as a spirit medium, taking people's photographs and doctoring them to add images of the deceased.
The Personal Experiences of William H. Mumler (1875).
In 1869, Mumler was charged with fraud after he accidentally put identifiable living people into his photographs as supposed spirits. The famous showman P.T. Barnum testified against him, as well as several reputable photographers who showed how the same "spirit" effects could be produced by darkroom tricks. Although Mumler's reputation suffered, he continued to produce spirit photographs and even wrote a pamphlet about his work in 1875.

Interest in spirit photography continued into the early twentieth century. Its advocates included the author Arthur Conan Doyle, best known for his Sherlock Holmes stories. Doyle became a fervent believer in spiritualism after the deaths of several family members. In 1923, he published The Case for Spirit Photography to argue that spirit photographs provided insurmountable technological evidence of the spirit world.
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case for Spirit Photography (1923).
Further reading:
"Do You Believe? The Mumler Mystery," online exhibit from The American Museum of Photography. 
Louis, Kaplan. The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.