THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARIANS RAISE THEIR VOICES
This has been a rather busy couple of weeks here at the Wolfsonian, and as the burdens of serving the many scholars, faculty, and students coming to the library for orientations, presentations, and research appointments fall on all of our shoulders, I decided to open up today’s blog post to all of the librarians working behind the scenes to ensure our patrons have a rewarding and productive experience.
We begin with Associate Librarian Dr. Nicolae Harsanyi’s report:
Two Monday’s ago, Florida International University Professor Raul Reis’s class on graphic design/propaganda came in for a quick orientation in using the resources of the library for their class related research. After a demonstration of how in a variety of ways the online catalog can be of assistance in meeting the requirements of their course work, I led them through a small display of library holdings related to propaganda: children’s books, posters, broadsides, postcards, miniature books, games, envelopes. The materials on display exemplified visual propaganda during World War I and World War II. The students could see instances of how the designer of the propagandistic message directly targeted specific audiences so that an appropriate response could be obtained almost instantly.
Another strategy to carry the propagandistic message over to the audience was the use of satire whereby the audience is encouraged to side with the designer and share the latter’s attitude. Humor mediates this process of engagement.
MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR LONG-TERM LOANS
Last Friday, the President and Director of the Museum of Russian Art from Minneapolis, Christopher DiCarlo visited the Wolfsonian and dropped by the library. His particular interest was in the holdings of the Soviet children’s books from the interwar period. After reviewing several of these items, he promised to send one of his museum’s curators to put together a selection of these books to be considered for inclusion in a future exhibition.
Ana Ochoa, a local independent scholar, returned on Friday afternoon to continue her research on Miami Beach during the Second World War. She continued perusing the materials donated by Judith Berson-Levinson, one of the organizers of the annual Sand In Their Boots event commemorating and celebrating the presence of the US Air Force ground personnel in South Beach. Looking back to those times with a contemporary eye, one would expect that Miami Beach was the place where the enlisted young men would find “compensation” for the stress of their arduous military drills. However, the reason of their being stationed in Miami Beach was to train them in a subtropical climate before transporting them to the war theater in the Pacific.
On Monday, Jill Bugajski, a doctoral student at Northwestern University, began her three-week long stay as a residential Wolfsonian fellow. She will use the collection to research how the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union evolved before the onset of the Cold War specifically in the visual rhetoric of Russian and American artists. At the same time, her interest also resides in the various uses of the silkscreen process to multiply and thereby disseminate propaganda materials.
Next we turn to a report by Sharf Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn, who works exclusively on the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf collection—rare books, manuscripts, photograph albums, and other materials documenting the wars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as European and Japanese colonial adventures in the East. Here is her report:
The Sharf Collection is rich in Boer War materials, including photograph albums, handwritten letters from nurses and soldiers stationed in South Africa, and even the odd artifact (a period war knife; a tea-stained Boer flag). This past Thursday, FIU History Professor Elizabeth Heath met with Wolfsonian personnel to discuss a future exhibit focusing on the Boer War, its historical importance in the period of British Colonialism, and how these unique items tell a visual story with original photographs and individual voices from the front lines.
The flag appears to be a British Army red ensign of South Africa. It may be stained with the ubiquitous tea and coffee, which would have sustained its owner during the siege of Ladysmith, when the Boers cut off supply runs to the enemy.
Professor Dennis Wiedman’s Ethnohistorical Methods class also came up to library this Friday afternoon for a library orientation followed by an enticing peek into the Far East’s past.
The Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection contains a treasure trove of rare books and photo albums dealing with aspects of British Colonialism. After the Crimean War and the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire in the mid-nineteenth century, Great Britain turned its imperial eyes upon Russia, India, and China. Military action resulted in historic brutality, such as that of the Boxer Rebellion or the Russo-Japanese War. In cautious peacetime, cultural curiosity took over, and a fascination with all things Oriental drew British travelers to the exotic East.
Depiction of ethnic stereotypes could be found in lushly illustrated children’s books. In John Chinaman, a circa 1890 poetry book, full color scenes of life in China are accompanied by verse that was unapologetically racist.
Natives of faraway lands were examined ethnographically, typed, and photographed. This photo album compiled by Augustus John Lavie, who served in the Royal (Madras) Artillery, contains remarkably preserved albumen prints, including hand-colored photos and cartes-de-visite of often reluctant-seeming subjects.
The collection contains rare books with graphically interesting publisher’s decorative bindings. The cover of this 1888 imprint of China Travels and Investigations features a gilt-stamped dragon against a striking black and red background.
Dragons are also used in the border of this 1913 book, A Wayfarer in China, written from a woman’s perspective by Elizabeth Kimball Kendall.
Kendall went as far as Tibet and Mongolia, where she avidly photographed the people and her surroundings.
In Indiscreet letters from Peking: being the notes of an eye-witness, which set forth in some detail, from day-to-day, the real story of the siege and sack of a distressed capital in 1900, the year of great tribulation, the allusion to the “Yellow Peril” is reinforced by this yellow cloth publisher’s binding:
The editor includes an annotated map of the sieged area, where Chinese Boxers attacked foreign Christian missionaries. (See also an earlier blog for more on the Sharf Collection and the Boxer Rebellion).
Finally, an album composed on a tour of the world at the end of the 19th century by a well-off British family features stunning views of India, Japan, and China. The large format photographs were made by professional studios. The smaller pictures were shot by the travelers. The album is bound in magnificent lacquered covers with gilt illustrations.
Michel Potop, a graduate of FIU with a Master’s degree in History, began working with us last year under a Mellon grant and is now working with us full-time as an Assistant Librarian. As Mr. Potop hails from the region of Brittany, France, we have set him at work processing, accessioning, cataloguing, and creating metadata links for the large number of French items recently shipped to library from France as a promised gift of museum founder Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Here is his report:
Anyone dealing with nineteenth and twentieth century French propaganda must sadly acknowledge anti-Semitism in general and the notorious Dreyfus affair in particular. Among our new acquisitions I have processed and catalogued is the comical and obscene Histoire d’un traitre. Published in 1899, this broadside attacks Alfred Dreyfus, an artillery officer in the French army of Jewish Alsatian heritage, who was accused of spying for the Germans.
MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. PROMISED GIFT
The cartoonist Jean Just was intent on slandering Dreyfus’ supporters (such as Emile Zola’s famous “J’accuse”—made in an open letter to the French President).The attacks against Dreyfus were meant to respond to and delegitimize a document published one year earlier, Histoire d’un innocent. This earlier poster depicts the ordeal Dreyfus endured during his trial and imprisonment on Devil’s Island, until his wife Lucie was able to secure him an appeal. The importance of Histoire d’un traitre resides in the fact that this document depicts the bipolarity of the French society when dealing with French Jews; in this context, the last vignette is quite emblematic in that it depicts and advocates literally booting the Jews out of France.
Another propaganda item I have worked on is Les victories de Allies et la realite. This is a rare example of a Collaborationist French counterpropaganda book from the period of the Second World War, meant to undermine Allied victory claims.
Once again, humor and derision are designed to discredit any possible resistance to the Axis powers.
Our Digital Library Specialist David Almeida is always busy behind the closed doors leading into his photography studio. Once the librarians have created metadata links in the catalog records, they are sent to him to be digitally photographed and processed. Here is his report:
As a photographer whose primary task involves digitizing the special collection library materials at the Wolfsonian-FIU, I am one of the few people who actually handle most of those materials on a regular basis. Everyday something new needs to be digitized; naturally, some items are more interesting than others. I recently digitized the portfolio, Nouvelles Variations by Edouard Benedictus, published in 1924. From a set of nineteen beautiful plates, one in particular called my attention.
Striking to me is the resemblance it has to images seen only in the digital era, in particular artwork done by some contemporary artists. This pochoir plate (and the portfolio from which it comes) is definitely worth a closer look.
Dr. Laurence Miller, retired Director of Libraries at Florida International University and donor of an enormous collection of ocean liner promotional materials in our library, has been regularly volunteering his cataloguing services and helping us to document and digitize much of that material. Here is his report:
This week, I have been checking the links to images in my collection and putting the finishing touches on some of them using Photoshop and today, I have been working on the Italian Line section. This review of images has the additional benefit of identifying those that are of interest on LinersList, a ListServ participated in by about three thousand people around the world. My most recent post concerned the Italian liner Andrea Doria, sunk in 1956 after accidentally being rammed by the Swedish liner, Stockholm.
The liner collections of the Wolfsonian have gained increasing recognition. Most recently, the Board of Directors of the Steamship Historical Society of America held its national board meeting at the Wolfsonian.
Here are a few images that I posted on the Andrea Doria, the pride of the postwar Italian merchant marine:
We also had a number of FIU History graduate students scheduling research appointments this past week. These included some Miami-Dade School teachers and FIU masters candidates who had taken the Great Depression, New Deal, and “Good War” class I taught last semester.
Cristina Pereda is presently working on a Masters’ project dealing with Robert Delson, community art centers, and the Federal Arts Project in Florida.
Acisclo Fernandez also came in to look at some materials related to the South Florida land boom of the 1920s, and the role played by real estate promoters such as Carl Fisher (“Mr. Miami Beach”) and George Merrick of Coral Gables fame.
Sharon Gooden is interested in the WPA, or Works Progress Administration (subsequently renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939) and has been contrasting the idealism and progressive nature of early programs with its involvement in its final years of existence with Japanese internment during the Second World War.
Iris Sanchez-Ruiz has also been scheduling research appointments to look at some materials in the collection related to strikes and the Cigar-making industry.
GIFTS OF VICKI GOLD LEVI
This past Wednesday evening I stayed a little late to accommodate a visit by FIU Professor Yvette Piggush and the thirteen students enrolled in her graduate course dealing with spatial orientation. After a brief orientation and introduction to some of the mechanical works, stereoscopic viewers, and other panoramic items in our collection, the professor and students had the opportunity to examine in detail the items Professor Piggush preselected.
Finally, I would be remiss this Valentine’s Day if I forgot to mention that this evening the library will be open to visitors with a small display of Austrian Secession-era postcards on the theme of love.