Special Collections visitors often ask how the rare books in our collection make their way onto our shelves, and indeed, the question of provenance is one of great importance in the world of antiquarian items. For the materials in Special Collections & Archives, the trajectories of their journeys range from rare books and maps donated by Middlebury alumni acquired during their travels, to books purchased for specific classes at Middlebury to enhance students’ learning experiences.
One recently acquired item, an Italian Renaissance copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, had a particularly turbulent voyage from Italy to Vermont – but not in the way you might think. Our journey does not begin in 1521, the year of the book’s printing, but on Tuesday, September 13th, 2016, when Senior Acquisitions Associate Michele McHugh placed the order through AbeBooks.com to purchase the volume from an Italian bookseller based in Riva del Garda. A relatively standard request, we expected the book to arrive a few weeks later, but Mario, the owner of the bookshop, suspected we might have a bit longer to wait. In true Italian fashion, he anticipated bureaucratic delays and gave an estimate of 40-60 days before the book would reach us. He submitted the necessary government forms in late September, but in late October Mario reached out to let us know that even more documentation was required. By early November Mario reported that his paperwork had been accepted and the book would arrive soon.
This was only the beginning of the battle to obtain the book. On November 17th, Michele received a phone call from Karen at FedEx. She relayed that they were holding the package until its contents, origin, and sender could be identified and until we could provide an Importer ID number along with a form from the Office of Homeland Security. Michele responded that Middlebury College has been purchasing high priced books for many years without an Importer ID number but would forward the form to Accounts Payable in the hopes that they might know how to proceed.
Tuesday November 22nd, Karen at FedEx requested more information – this time, Mario’s Italian tax number. Without this, she said, the package would be returned to him, and he would be forced to find another shipping service. She revised her previous request, saying Middlebury would not need an Importer ID number, only Mario’s information. As asked, Michele forwarded Mario’s paperwork, but Karen’s only response was that another FedEx employee, Alexander, was now handling the case.
And so, Michele forwarded everything to Alexander, who replied on Monday November 28th saying she had been misinformed – FedEx would not require Mario’s tax information. Instead, Middlebury College would have to be added to their official list of American Importers in order to receive the parcel. (He also asked Michele what exactly was in the box, a small detail that had been lost in the administrative shuffle.) Middlebury’s Accounts Payable office quickly filled out the Homeland Security form, which Michele forwarded to Alexander at FedEx, and Thursday December 1st – 79 days after the order was placed – the book finally arrived.
Curious to see the book that caused such a stir? Come to Special Collections to see for yourself. Ask for RRBMS Oversize PA6519 .M2 1521.
Episode two, A Green Mountain Mixtapeexplores Vermont music and the questions musical traditions raise about Vermont identity. Director and Curator of Special Collections Rebekah Irwin discusses a pioneer in folk life preservation, Helen Hartness Flanders, who recorded Vermonters singing traditional folk ballads passed down from one generation to the next. Click here to visit the Before Your Time website.
In her quest to preserve the past, Flanders utilized emerging sound recording technologies, starting with wax cylinders, then aluminum discs, vinyl LP’s, and reel-to-reel tapes, formats that today represent the history of recording technology.
Join us Thursday, December 14th at 4:00pm in the Davis Family Library Atrium for a reception to honor and enjoy the current Special Collections exhibition, Holiday Greetings from Robert Frost and the Spiral Press, curated by College Archivist Danielle Rougeau.
Light refreshments will be served.
On display for the first time since 1961, when Corinne Tennyson Davids donated the Wales Hawkins Memorial Collection of Frostiana to Middlebury, Robert Frost’s complete set of 28 holiday cards tell the story of an artistic collaboration spanning more than three decades. Robert Frost and the Spiral Press created holiday greeting cards of the highest craftsmanship and design from 1929 until 1962. Works of art in themselves, the cards also stand as true first editions of the chosen poems. Frost became a true champion of fine letterpress, and commented that “the Spiral’s typography and printing found things to say to my poetry that hadn’t been said before.”
Vinyl records are so 2010. Special Collections bookmaking gurus are back to celebrate the millennium renaissance of audio cassette tapes, those small, plastic, blasts from the past. We’ll provide vintage cassette tapes and you will go home with a super-cool, handsewn, blank notebook with covers fashioned out of “upcycled” audio tapes. Low fidelity, high reward. All materials provided.
When: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 from 4:15-7:15p
Where: Special Collections Reading Room
How: visit go/wtw for information and go/ideal to register on November 19 at 8am
Imagine being the subject of a nationally broadcast television special that profiled your life as a star college athlete. Now imagine that the first time you saw that program was over 60 years after it first aired. That’s what happened to Carey Smith, ’54 when he recently viewed this clip from a newly digitized 16mm film reel in the College archives. Part of an hour-long program originally produced by NBC as an overview of the 1953 season of NCAA football (and in particular, the introduction of the newly instituted one-platoon system), the clip captures Smith’s reflections on the Middlebury experience in a dramatic fashion that only mid-century network television can deliver.
The clip opens with an easygoing overview of the program given by famed NBC personality Dave Garroway who then introduces us to Smith, the captain of the 1953 Middlebury football team, as he arrives early on campus for his senior year. After chatting with coach Duke Nelson, Smith walks across the empty football field and up windswept bleachers where he daydreams about the year ahead: football season, keeping up with classes, and skiing at the Snow Bowl. Finally, in a move that may be familiar to many seniors (this author included), Smith takes a pensive walk up the hill to Mead Chapel, all the while ruminating on his time at Middlebury and what might come next after that time runs out.
In the end, Garroway asks, “Thirty years from now, what will have happened to Carey Smith?” Unlike viewers in 1953, we know the answer to that question. Smith joined the military after graduation and served in Japan and Korea, eventually finding a career as a school superintendent. College archivist Danielle Rougeau recently spoke with Smith who revealed that because the segment was filmed before the semester started, townspeople filled in to play the other college students (including his supposed love interest, Jean Walters). Although it was screened in his hometown theater, Smith hadn’t seen the film until it was posted on Vimeo and neither had his five children, all of whom were unaware that he had ever played collegiate football.
The Bread Loaf School of English students in Gwyneth Lewis’s Poetry Detective Workshop visited Special Collections on July 26th to study manuscript and printed poetry of several important American poets. Expecting to, as the course description delineates, “use the tools of the sleuth to gain entry into the poetic mind behind individual poems,” the students instead gave the course title a literal meaning when they discovered an exciting and curious paradox…
Manuscripts (along with a couple of manuscript facsimiles) and printed editions of American poetry by Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Langston, Hughes, Julia Dorr, Anne Sexton, and Emily Dickinson were arranged on tables to show the journey from the poet’s mind to the printed page.
For Emily Dickinson in particular, this transformation warrants investigation. Often described as a recluse, Dickinson was very private with her poetry and altogether averse to having her poems published. Despite spending much time at home in Amherst, Massachusetts, Dickinson was not intellectually or emotionally cloistered. She disseminated her poetry among her friends, sharing her poems in letters, constantly updating and rewriting her poems before collating and binding them in her fascicle booklets – her alternative to publishing them.
After her death, her friends and family set out to publish her works so that her genius might be known to the world. However, determining which variation of her many works best reflected her authorial intent proved a challenge. Dickinson’s first publishers, sister-in-law Susan Dickinson and mentor Thomas Wentworth Higginson, unbound her fascicle booklets and mixed them with the other drafts of her poems in the editing and publishing process. For decades, editions of Dickinson’s poetry hit the shelves with varying structure, both in the poems’ organization in the edition and in poetic structure: editors took liberties naming her poems (Dickinson herself only titled nine), updating her punctuation, and ordering them based on perceived theme or assumed chronology (she did not date her poems).
Because Dickinson did not publish her own poems, her manuscripts are paramount in understanding her works. And because she produced so many drafts without a clear final version, comparing the written copies of her poems is the best way to determine her intended meaning. The first to do so was Thomas H. Johnson, who published the first single edition containing all of Dickinson’s poems in 1955. Working from the original manuscripts rather than the dozen published editions of Dickinson’s poems, Johnson described the manuscripts he consulted to provide a more complete view of the poet’s process.
This very edition, the 1955 Johnson variorum, was open next to a manuscript poem for the Bread Loaf “Poetry Detective” students to study.
In their investigation, the students turned to the entry which corresponds with the manuscript in question (pictured above) to read Johnson’s description and made a startling discovery. The handwritten poem before them matched a copy that Johnson wrote, “has not been located,” written “on stationery watermarked ‘A. Pirie & Sons 1862.’” They lifted the poem to the light, revealing the very watermark described on the unlocated copy. Was the world unaware that Middlebury held this literary treasure? Could these poetry detectives have solved the case of the missing manuscript?
Upon further research, we found that the location of the poem had been discovered at some point after Johnson’s 1955 publication (a second edition in 1979 has the same information) and before another popular edition of Dickinson’s poems by Ralph Franklin in 1998. At some point between these two publications, the manuscript’s location was identified as Middlebury College’s Abernethy Collection. Franklin describes the custodial history of the manuscript, unknown to Johnson in 1955: This “fair copy in ink, unsigned and unaddressed, is at Middlebury College” (Franklin). He goes on to identify the poem as likely belonging to Dickinson’s mentor, T.W. Higginson, as the copy in his possession also contained the phrasing “known to the knoll.” In the first published edition, editors chose the variation “known by the knoll.” Franklin writes, “Higginson gave his manuscript to Mildred Howells, daughter of William Dean Howells, [and] it was subsequently sold. Purchased in 1938 from the American Autograph Shop, the Middlebury manuscript, which reads “to” in line 6, appears to be the one sent to Higginson” (Ibid).
We corroborated this history by checking the library records kept by Middlebury curator Viola White, and indeed, she lists the purchase of Emily Dickinson manuscripts for $135 from the American Autograph Shop on February 25, 1938 (line 49).
Although the Poetry Detectives students’ discovery was not entirely new, it served as an exciting and important learning experience, which we hope it will lead to more interest in this manuscript and its inclusion in Harvard’s digital archive of Dickinson’s manuscripts. For more information about our Emily Dickinson manuscript and other little-known manuscripts in our collection, visit go/aspace.
“About Emily Dickinson Archive.” Accessed September 22, 2017. http://www.edickinson.org/faq.
Dickinson, Emily, and R. W. Franklin. The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Variorum ed. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998.
Dickinson, Emily, and Thomas Herbert Johnson. Poems: Including Variant Readings Critically Compared with All Known Manuscripts. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1955.
Eberwein, J. D. “Corrective Vision: Franklin’s Dickinson Variorum.” Resources for American Literary Study, vol. 26 no. 2, 2000, pp. 260-267. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/rals.2000.0021
“I’m Nobody! Who Are You? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson.” The Morgan Library & Museum, April 15, 2016. http://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/emily-dickinson.
“The Manuscripts | Emily Dickinson Museum.” Accessed September 22, 2017. https://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/emily_manuscripts.
“Manuscript View for Amherst – Amherst Manuscript # 329 – Pink – Small – and Punctual – asc:11465 – P. 1.” Accessed September 22, 2017. http://www.edickinson.org/editions/3/image_sets/95203.
“The Posthumous Discovery of Dickinson’s Poems | Emily Dickinson Museum.” Accessed September 22, 2017. https://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/posthumous_publication.
A new batch of stickers has arrived for the fall semester! Come by the Special Collections reading room to snag one of your own. (Available while supplies last.)
Students can get their hands on these stickers (and other giveaways) at the Student Activities & Services Fair this Friday the 22nd at 4:30pm on McCullough Lawn, as they learn more about Special Collections resources. Additionally, Katrina Spencer and Ryan Clement will represent the Library at large: they will answer questions and offer candy and treats, along with a mobile circ desk featuring CDs and graphic novels for check-out. Come see us at the Library and Special Collections table!
Reunion is the time for alums to reminisce about Middlebury College when they were students. These two promotional films, recently re-discovered in the Archives, were produced in 1961 and 1976. We hope they trigger fond Middlebury memories of sunny days in the grass, ringing chapel bells, and the clacking of typewriters. Welcome back alums!
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.
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.
This spring in the Library Atrium, Special Collections and Archives commemorates the 2,000th anniversary of the Roman poet Ovid’s death by showcasing the works of seven exiled authors through the centuries. The exhibition, entitled Banned and Banished: Ovid and 2,000 Years of Exile, explores the lives and works of Ovid, Dante Alighieri, Voltaire, Oscar Wilde, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, and Salman Rushdie who, fleeing from war and tyranny, facing persecution for political beliefs or sexual orientation, or punished for speaking out against oppression or ignorance, were forced to abandon their homelands and seek refuge elsewhere.
In selecting authors to feature in the exhibition, we found that some of the most important works of literature were written in exile or were so contentious that they led to the banishment of their authors. From Ovid’s “carmen et error,” the poem and mistake which he says caused Augustus to banish him from Rome, to Dante’s Divine Comedy, the greatest work of Italian literature composed after the great poet’s political exile from Florence, to Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses that provoked a religious edict for his death and forced him into hiding, the works on display represent expatriated authors who used their writing as a means of escape, of bringing light to their plights, challenging authority, and reconnecting with their nations of origin.
With the recent government Muslim ban and proposed border wall, we felt that while these authors are remote in terms of time, their struggle is sadly present and pressing. We feature these works not only for their literary merit and historical significance but also to present the library as a space where exiles, refugees, and those seeking solace and knowledge are supported.
Exhibit curated by Postgraduate Fellow for Special Collections & Archives, Mikaela Taylor. Also on display in the Davis Family Library:Beast, Animal, Brute, an exhibit exploring our enduring fascination with animals, curated by Rebekah Irwin, with research assistance by Sam Cartwright, ‘18 and exhibition design assistance by Danielle Rougeau.