In special collections, visitors often ask us, “What’s your most expensive item?” Or sometimes: “What’s the oldest thing you have?”
In late November, we acquired our newest, oldest thing: a baked clay tablet that originated in ancient Mesopotamia (current-day Iraq), from roughly 2,000 BCE. This small tablet (measuring just about 1 inch x 1 inch and pictured here) is incised with cuneiform script, considered to be one of the earliest forms of writing.
With the help of Middlebury alum Seth Richardson, Class of 1990, a historian of the ancient Near East at the University of Chicago, we’re learning more about our new acquisition. Likely in British and American hands since the early 20th century, our tablet is essentially a beer coupon. That’s right. Based only on preliminary examination, Dr. Richardson translated the first line: “3 liters of first-rate beer.”
And as it turns out, the Western tradition of beer brewing began in Mesopotamia between 3500 – 3100 BCE. How do we know? Largely from cuneiform tablets like ours, which contain detailed records around beer production, the delivery of raw materials (barley, yeast, bread, flour), and the trading of beer products. Like apple cider production in colonial New England, ancient Mesopotamians lacked clean water, but had an abundance of grains and the know-how needed to ferment them. And they had the earliest known written alphabet to boot.
Funds for the purchase of this item were gifted by Jeri Bapasola, French School, 1978.
From the restricted-access bowels of the library basement come wonders like you’ve never seen (and still can’t because it’s radio).
Join us on WRMC 91.1 FM Mondays, from 9am-10am for Stacks and Tracks, a special collections and archives-themed radio show. We’ll play songs loosely based on a theme, share hidden gems from the library stacks, and coax special guests to join us.
Tune-in at 91.9FM, on iTunes radio, listen online here, or on your phone using tunein radio (download the app and search for WRMC).
Visit us. We’re open M-F, 1p-5p in the basement of Davis Library. Meet the voices behind Stacks and Tracks and see some hidden gems with your own eyes.
In honor of the return of the 2015 faculty plenary meeting and lunch to the Bread Loaf campus, we have some recipes to share. Late this summer, Patti McCaffrey from Dining Services delivered a mildly corroded metal recipe box to the Archives. Uncovered during the Bread Loaf renovations, the box was likely the property of Alfleda De Gray, a longtime cook at the College and Bread Loaf. (Alfleda’s start day was July 1, 1945 and her last day was February 9, 1987. We’ll do the math: that’s forty-two years of feeding mouths at Middlebury and at Bread Loaf.) At the time, female cooks were responsible for cold salads, punches, and appetizers rather than main dishes, which were the territory of male cooks. We’re not sure what’s on the menu for this year’s lunch, but we offer a few options from Alfleda De Gray’s Bread Loaf recipe box: A “Thirst Inviting” dip; Wagon Wheel Cheese; and a Fruited Cheese Salad with lemon and strawberry gelatin. Enjoy!
On September 1st, Mikaela Taylor ’15, will join the Library in Special Collections & Archives as our inaugural Postgraduate Fellow for Special Collections and Archives.
Mikaela studied Comparative Literature at Middlebury, worked as a Digital Liberal Arts intern this summer, and studied Italian language and culture in Rome and Siena, Italy. She hails from Houston, Texas.
Mikaela will have an office in Special Collections and a nomadic presence in the Library and across the campus as she helps us increase the impact of special collections through outreach to academic departments and students, event planning, and exhibitions. Welcome Mikaela!
Image credit: Title page from the Divina Commedia by Dante Alighieri with a portrait of Dante, Venice, 1564. Special Collections & Archives, Middlebury College.
For the 1944-45 school year, the Student Union published these handy HELPS AND HINTS as part of a clothing guide (for women). For example, “No Rubber Boots are to be worn to the dining-rooms, or to lectures and concerts unless the weather is very severe and there is no opportunity to change.” And don’t get us started on shorts. “Shorts are never to be worn in the dining rooms…they are never to be worn downtown unless one is going through town on a bicycle. Then don’t stop to shop or have a coke. Plan those shopping or coking expeditions for sometime when you don’t have shorts on.” Unless, of course, you remembered your leg make-up.