Thursday, August 30, 2012

In the News: West's The Death of General Wolfe at UMMA

In anticipation of this fall's exhibit, the University of Michigan Museum of Art's magazine presents Benjamin West's painting, The Death of General Wolfe, as both a featured item and cover image. The painting, which generally hangs in the Clements main room, will be on display at the UMMA from September 22nd until January 13th. Clements Curator of Graphic Materials Clayton Lewis also contributes an essay to the exhibit's catalog.

West's painting is known for not only depicting history but for making it--the painter defied the conventions set by the Royal Academy in depicting his subjects in contemporary, rather than classical, dress. The exhibit at UMMA brings The Death of General Wolfe into conversation with dozens of other works from Michigan, Canada, and Britain, examining the influence of artists--from painters to engravers to cartographers--on Britain's rise as the dominant colonial power of the age.

Visit UMMA this fall to see West's painting, and stop by the Clements Library for further research on the art that raised an empire.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Classicists in the Map Division

Mary Pedley’s former Latin students have found new opportunities with cartography. Two of her former students, both classics majors, were seeking summer internships at U of M that would use their talents with ancient languages. Hannah Sorscher studies at the University of Chicago and Henry Upton at Kenyon College. With the encouragement of Brian Dunnigan, Map Curator at the Clements, and Karl Longstreth, map curator in the Clark Library, Mary Pedley proposed to them the collation (identification and indexing) of all the Ortelius atlases in the collections of the Clements Library and the Graduate Library of the University. They worked through most of the summer under the supervision of Pedley, Dunnigan and Longstreth, Using a number of bibliographical tools, printed and on-line, they were able to identify all the maps, their states, and editions of the Ortelius atlases in the University collections. They converted their findings in a useful spreadsheet, allowing the curators to know at a glance what is in the collection.

Atlases are often the last thing to be fully catalogued in any collection; their size and the complexity of the maps they contain often defeat the curator pressed for time in keeping up with other demands of the collections. To have student interns, who are also adept at the language, in this case Latin, was a great help. Hannah and Henry were able to give their Latin a Renaissance workout and their classical interests were further piqued by the maps of the ancient world in Ortelius’ Parergon, one of the first thematic collections of printed maps of ancient literature and history.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lecture by J. Kevin Graffagnino: "Murder Most Foul: Homicide in Early America," September 13, 2012

J. Kevin Graffagnino, Clements Library Director
"Murder Most Foul: Homicide in Early America"

Thursday, September 13, 2012
4:00 p.m.

To complement the Library’s summer exhibit, Clements Director J. Kevin Graffagnino will present materials from the Clements that illustrate the ways our forebears dealt with murder as a vehicle for moral instruction, a basis for social attitudes, and construction of legal policy.

Free and open to the public. For more information, contact the Library at (734) 764-2347 or visit our website:

William L. Clements Library
909 S. University Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Today in History: William Hull Surrenders Detroit

Post by Brian Dunnigan, Associate Director and Curator of Maps

The events of August 16, 1812, brought an ignominious end to an American invasion of Canada and sent shock waves through the United States. On that day Brigadier General William Hull surrendered the fort and town of Detroit to British Major General Isaac Brock. Some 2,400 U.S. regulars and Ohio and Michigan militia were taken prisoner, and the Michigan Territory, of which Detroit was the capital, became occupied territory. Detroit would remain under British control for the next fourteen months.

Philadelphia publisher John Melish’s Map of Detroit River and Adjacent Country appeared in 1813. It identifies locations and events of Hull’s 1812 campaign. This was the official map used at Hull’s court martial for cowardice in the winter of 1814. The court ordered the general to be shot, but President Madison commuted his sentence. Map Division, Maps 6-N-18.

Hull’s disaster belied former President Thomas Jefferson’s flippant comment that the conquest of British Canada would be a “mere matter of marching.” Hull’s invasion from Detroit was the westernmost of three planned incursions in the summer of 1812. The others, at Niagara and northern Lake Champlain, were so far behind schedule that any benefit of coordinated attacks was lost. Hull assembled his army in Ohio in timely fashion and marched to Detroit, where he arrived early in July 1812.

This manuscript map, detailing the fall of Detroit, was sent soon after the capitulation to Earl Amherst by John Hale, an official in Lower Canada (Qu├ębec). Map Division, Maps 6-N-5.

The Americans crossed the river into Canada on July 12 but made only an indecisive effort to capture the British fort at Amherstburg. In the meantime, the British and their Native Amereican allies, possessing naval control of Lake Erie, began to block Hull’s supply line to Ohio. Efforts to reopen the route were unsuccessful. Then, early in August, Hull learned that Fort Mackinac had fallen on July 17. This, he feared, would “open the northern hive of Indians” to operate against him. Hull withdrew his army to Detroit.

Brock’s victory at Detroit was cause for much rejoicing in Canada. John Hale enclosed a clipping from the Quebec Gazette with his August 31, 1812, letter to Earl Amherst. In previous correspondence he referred happily to “the unexpected success of General Brock.” Manuscripts Division, War of 1812 Collection.

The chain of events leading to surrender began with the arrival at Amherstburg on August 14 of General Brock with British and Canadian reinforcements. The British established batteries of cannon to bombard Detroit and Brock led his men across the river on the 16th to join Shawnee chief Tecumseh and his warriors. Together they bluffed and intimidated Hull into surrendering in part out of fear of the fate of Detroit’s civilians if fighting commenced.

The debacle at Detroit would not be reversed until the autumn of the following year. And, like so many War of 1812 events, documentation relating to the fall of Detroit is well represented in the primary source material held by the Clements Library.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Brownbag Lecture by Ruma Chopra, "Deporting 'Dangerous Enemies,' 1750-1800," August 23, 2012

The William L. Clements Library
Brown Bag Lecture Series

Professor Ruma Chopra
Howard H. Peckham Research Fellow

 Deporting "Dangerous Enemies," 1750-1800

Noon - 1:00 p.m.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Great Hall, Clements Library

Professor Chopra will discuss her exploration of the British practice of shuttling suspicious subjects throughout North America and the growing bureaucratic powers that supported these deportation schemes during the revolutionary era.

Dr. Ruma Chopra is Associate Professor at San Jose State University.  Her work explores the contingencies that determined political allegiance during the American Revolution.  Her book is titled, Unnatural Rebellion: Loyalists in New York City During the Revolution (University of Virginia Press, 2011).

Please bring lunch. Beverages will be served.  
Please register by contacting

Thursday, August 9, 2012

From the Stacks: A Piece of the Wright Brothers' Airplane

Guest post by Esti Brennan, Social Media Intern

On August 19th, 1871, Orville Wright was born. The contributions that he and his brother Wilbur made to American history and technology require little explanation--the image of their fragile-winged plane is imprinted in the memory of every American school child, not to mention on two different State Quarters--their first flight at Kittyhawk, North Carolina is featured on that state's coin while a later model of their airplane appears alongside an astronaut's suit on the coin representing Ohio, birthplace of the Wrights as well as several pioneering space travelers.

Though the famous plane itself is housed in the Smithsonian Institute, the Clements Library also has a piece of this history--a piece of the cloth that covered the wings. The cloth had been damaged by a leak in the barn that housed the plane, and was left behind when the machine was taken to the Smithsonian. It was then, according to Clements docent Tom D., distributed to friends of the Wrights, including their lawyer, Charles Funkhouser. Funkhouser practiced in Dayton, Ohio, but had graduated from the University of Michigan Law School--and so ended up donating his piece to the Clements Library.

Further Reading:

Famous First Flights that Changed History, by Lowell Thomas and Lowell Thomas Jr. in the Clements Collection.

The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age at the Smithsonian Institute.

Information on the Wright Brothers at The Henry Ford.