Author Archives: Rebekah Irwin

About Rebekah Irwin

Director of Collections & Archives at the Middlebury College Libraries.

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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Honoring Mario Cooper, ’77, on World AIDS Day

To mark World AIDS Day we’re sharing this film clip from the 1976 promotional film Middlebury College, a Chance to Grow which profiled Political Science major and student activist Mario Cooper. After graduating in 1977, Cooper went on to earn a law degree and became a key figure in HIV/AIDS advocacy after becoming HIV positive and witnessing the disproportionate effects of the disease in the African American community.

Though it may have once seemed like an unassuming profile of a passionate student, the clip can now be appreciated as an early view into the work of a determined activist who would later become a prominent figure in civil rights and AIDS advocacy movements. The footage and narration also poignantly show Cooper enjoying college life and friendships in a time before the AIDS epidemic changed his life and that of those around him.

Mario Cooper died in 2015 while in hospice care in Washington, D.C. His New York Times obituary can be read here, and a tribute to his work as an activist can be read on POZ, the social network for people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

 

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 SpecialCollections@middlebury.edu. Compilation from original 16mm films in the Middlebury College Archives.

Stacks & Tracks, on the radio. Tune in.

Stacks & Tracks.
The Special Collections & Archives radio show.

We’re back.


From the bowels of the library basement come wonders like you’ve never seen. (And still can’t, because it’s radio.)

Wednesdays, 12p-1p

91.9FM | iTunes radio | listen online | on your phone

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

Visit us. Monday-Friday, 1-5p. You never need an appointment, or an excuse, to stop by.

One Giant Leap For Mankind, and for Special Collections (ArchivesSpace has landed.)

When astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first human steps on the moon on July 20, 1969, Armstrong famously uttered, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

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Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon, courtesy of NASA.

47 years later, Special Collections & Archives launched ArchivesSpace (go/aspace), a search tool that organizes the diverse and unique archival and manuscript collections stored in the Davis Family Library on the Lower Level. (If you want to be fancy about it, these are called Finding Aids, or inventories made by archivists to help navigate a collection.)

Learn more about ArchivesSpace here.

Search ArchivesSpace now, contact special collections to learn more, or visit us for a personal tour of ArchivesSpace and of our collections.

Observatory Fever

The Middlebury College Observatory, GIF-ified here by Special Collections Film Preservation Assistant Sam Cartwright, opened in 1937 and was torn down to make way for the construction of McCardell Bicentennial Hall. Read Sam’s blog post, Romance of the Skies to learn more. Then, get your celestial body to the new Middlebury College Observatory during one of their Open House Nights. The first is scheduled for Friday, May 29th from 9:00PM-10:30PM.

 

Middlebury College Observatory, c. 1940
Middlebury College Observatory, c. 1940