Beast, Animal, Brute

Inspired by the 18th century French philosopher Denis Diderot’s massive, thirty-five volume Encyclopédie, the current exhibition in Special Collections & Archives reveals our enduring curiosity of animals through a selection of rare and unusual books dating from the 17th through the 20th centuries.

The Lamia, a mythical demon from ancient Greece who devoured children, from Edward Topsell’s The historie of foure-footed beastes, 1607


Other works on display include Edward Topsell’s The historie of foure-footed beastes, published in 1607 in London (and possibly one of  William Shakespeare’s literary sourcebooks) and a polar bear as described by Captain James Cook, the British explorer, in the 18th century, upon arrival in the Russian Arctic Circle.

Zoology of New York, or the New-York fauna : comprising detailed descriptions of all the animals hitherto observed within the state of New York, with brief notices of those occasionally found near its borders, and accompanied by appropriate illustrations, by James De Kay, 1842-44

Also on exhibit in the Davis Family Library: Banned and Banished: Ovid and 2,000 Years of Exile curated by Mikaela Taylor.

What’s up with “My Books Smell Good”

Last summer, Special Collections & Archives rolled out new swag: black tote bags (er, book bags) and stickers emblazoned with the slogan My books smell good. First, we want to thank Carey Bass, Middlebury’s talented graphic designer, for the bold serif font and brash ending punctuation. But, “What does it mean?” (People have asked, with a skeptical gaze.) As well as: “Isn’t it a little vulgar?” A little behind-the-scenes seemed overdue.

In a 2010 interview in The Paris Review, the science fiction writer Ray Bradbury  was asked about e-books and Kindles:

Those aren’t books. You can’t hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell. You have to hold it in your hands and pray to it. You put it in your pocket and you walk with it. And it stays with you forever. But the computer doesn’t do that for you. I’m sorry.

That sums it up, though a little curmudgeonly.  And from the Journal of Chromatography, chemists used solid-phase microextraction and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to analyze volatile organic compounds emitted from a naturally aged groundwood pulp paper originating from an old book. (Read it for yourself here.) Volatile organic compounds. This is what we’re talkin’ about:

And another recent article lays out a framework to identify, protect and conserve the smells that influence the way we engage with the past. Smithsonian Magazine wrote about this research, and here’s a photograph of a scientist taking a deep sniff at the National Archives of The Netherlands.

From Smithsonian Magazine, April 7, 2017


Whatever it is that brings you to our doorpoetry, history, chemistry, or a hankering to smell a centuries old book for yourselfjust come. We have lots of bags left and they make memorable graduation gifts. (Totes are $5, while they last).

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Minute 1:16 is the best part, or, DIY Bookmaking

While we love the entirety of this video by our local Middlebury filmmakers (we’re talking to you, Demetrius Borge ’16, and Chris Spencer), our hands-down favorite clip in their recent piece J-term Scenes: Tell Us What You’re Most Excited About (featured below) has to be minute 1:16, featuring our very own postgraduate Fellow in Special Collections & Archives, Mikaela Taylor.


Military tanks move in. At Bread Loaf, 1941

Middlebury’s Bread Loaf campus is usually seen as a peaceful academic retreat nestled in the lush landscape of the Green Mountains, but 75 years ago, it was briefly home to a serious display of military might. College President Paul Moody (who had served in World War I and was a member of the National Guard) hosted the 754th Tank Battalion at the campus in the fall of 1941.

This compilation of footage from 16mm reels in the College archives are believed to show the visit, including a shot of a helmeted President Moody in one of the battalion’s vehicles (an unused title card on another reel in the archives reads: “Prexy Gets Tanked”). Other footage includes author and professor William Hazlett Upson with an unknown child dressed as a soldier, officers visiting the Middlebury Inn, and a procession of military vehicles through campus.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert J. Wallace thanked President Moody in a letter saying, “The quarters afforded us were excellent, and the party held for the Battalion at Bread Loaf by the girls of Middlebury College, will long be very pleasantly remembered by all the men of the Battalion.”

For more information or for permission to use this clip contact Compilation from original 16mm films in the Middlebury College Archives.

Thinking of French devils, on Halloween

According to this little Parisian book, stored in Special Collections and published in 1842, there are many kinds of devils: the cuckold (diable cornard); the “love devil” (diable amoureux); the wicked devil (méchant diable) and so on. The book, titled Physiologie du diable with drawings by the “best artists” seemed perfect to us for celebrating Halloween. For one, it debunks the idea that only witches ride broomsticks. At least in Paris, in the 19th century, devils took over that role and grabbed hold of the broom. Happy Halloween, from all of our devils to yours.

Physiologie de Diable, 1842. Middlebury College Special Collections & Archives


“…vous êtes trop jolies pour monter à califourchon sur vieux manche à balai.” (…you’re too pretty to ride astride a broomstick.) From p. 7, Physiologie de Diable, 1842.

Physiologie du Diable, 1842

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WRMC Radio Studio, 1970. From the College Archives Photographic File.

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