The Black Tradition in RBC

We couldn’t let Black History Month pass without blogging about the Rare Book Collection’s outstanding resources for the study of the Black tradition. Here we highlight a recent acquisition and an extraordinary survival. This ephemeral broadside for the Sabbath School of the State Street M.E. Church is an African-American imprint, dateline Mobile, Alabama, March 17, 1865. There is only one other printing issued in the Confederate States of America known to be of African-American authorship.

This single sheet gives the rules, regulations, and by-laws for a school that appears to have became the first one for African-Americans in the state of Alabama. Sabbath schools were different from the Sunday schools of our era, offering non-religious instruction on the Sabbath, that day being the only one of the week that the laboring classes might have free. The creation of a school for African Americans was a bold move, and this document was produced on the very day that Union forces began their campaign to take the port city.

The State Street Methodist Church was founded in 1829 as a mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church, later the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. It came to have a congregation of 500 full members by 1855, when an imposing Italianate structure had been erected as its home. The landmark building still exists in Mobile.

In Urban Emancipation: Popular Politics in Reconstruction Mobile, 1860-1890 (Baton Rouge, 2002), Michael W. Fitzgerald notes that “less than one month after the city fell, the ‘State Street M.E. Colored Church’ opened a school with the assistance of a northern aid society. Ten days later over five hundred students were in attendance, gathered from churches throughout the city.” The broadside now in the RBC would seem to relate to that school’s origins and history. It also elicits all kinds of queries: from the circumstances of access to a printing press to the identities and lives of the “Committee and Framers,” a few of whom can be found in the 1870 census for Mobile, with their “Color” listed variously as Mulatto or Black.

Other schools for African Americans rapidly opened in Mobile in the wake of State Street’s. Tragically, at least two were destroyed by arson. A true rarity, the RBC’s broadside provides material evidence of the Black quest for education in the United States and opens up new avenues for thought and research on Reconstruction and Black history in the American South.

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Rooms of Wonder Debuts in Chapel Hill

ROW_flyerA record-breaking number of people arrived at Wilson Library last night to view Rooms of Wonder: From Wunderkammer to Museum, 1565-1865 , an exhibition from the collection of alumna Florence Fearrington (A.B. 1958). The extraordinary assemblage of books, prints, and objects captivated an audience of over 200 students, faculty, and friends, who came from near and far. Exhibition goers had the opportunity to examine a range of important items that document the cabinets of curiosities phenomenon, from the first book to illustrate a specimen cabinet (1565) to a P. T. Barnum show bill advertising living wonders (1863).

Also on display were objects from the North Carolina Collection Gallery’s natural history holdings and the Rare Book Collection’s own Curiosities Cabinet (mostly non-codex examples from the history of the book), all of which recall the contents of Wunderkammers past and greatly enhanced the exhibition experience.

Looking at Mercati, Valentini, and a chicken skeleton

Looking at Mercati, Valentini, and a chicken skeleton

Hervey Martin enjoying the "Science & Specialization" section

Hervey Martin enjoys the “Science & Specialization” section

Blowfish

Blowfish

After the viewing and reception, people headed down to the Pleasants Family Assembly Room to hear a lecture entitled “The Cabinet of Curiosities in Word and Image: 500 Years of Representation (and Misrepresentation),” delivered by the leading scholar on Wunderkammers and the origins of museums, Arthur MacGregor, former curator of antiquities at Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum.

Florence Fearrington, second from the right, in purple, with FOFs (Friends of Florence) outside Pleasants Family Assembly Room

Florence Fearrington, in purple, second from right, with FOFs (Friends of Florence) outside Pleasants Family Assembly Room

 

Arthur MacGregor addresses the audience

Arthur MacGregor addresses the audience

 The overflowing crowd was also accommodated in a room on the other side of Wilson’s lobby, where a live audio-video stream enabled those seated there to follow the speaker’s every word and projected image. 

MacGregor gave a sweeping survey of cabinets of curiosities, analyzing the degree to which many of the arresting renderings of Wunderkammers matchedor failed to matchtheir textual descriptions. It was an expert exploration of the topic, and appreciated by all in attendance. UNC is grateful to Mr. MacGregor, and, of course, to Ms. Fearrington for such a special evening.

The show will be up for the next two months, and we suspect that we’ll see many of you in the Saltarelli Exhibit Room again and again, as this is an exhibition that repays revisiting. Also, mark your calendars for a future Rooms of Wonder lecture on Saturday, April 5, by Prof. Pamela Smith of Columbia University.

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Snow Days

Wilson Library reopens tomorrow at 9 a.m. after two days closed due to the storm. We hope you had the chance to enjoy the snow and we look forward to welcoming you back.

Somewhere on the outskirts of Chapel Hill

Somewhere on the outskirts of Chapel Hill

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Getting Ready for Rooms of Wonder

 

Andrea Knowlton, UNC's Assistant Conservator of Special Collections, at work

Andrea Knowlton, UNC’s Assistant Conservator of Special Collections, at work

It takes a lot of hard work to make an exhibition happen. There are labels and graphics, and, of course, the mounting of the actual items. The Rare Book Collection is lucky to have great colleagues in the Wilson Library Conservation Lab. They’ve been busy fabricating cradles to display safely the marvelous books lent by alumna Florence Fearrington for Rooms of Wonder: From Wunderkammer to Museum, 1565-1865. The  show opens next week on Thursday February 20 at 5 p.m., with a viewing in the Melba Remig Saltarelli Exhibit Room, followed by a lecture from the leading authority on cabinets of curiosities, former Ashmolean Museum curator Arthur MacGregor. It should be a great evening, and we look forward to seeing you!

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The Year of the Horse

Er ya yin tu / PL2475 .J4 1801

Guo Pu, Er ya yin tu (Beijing? 1801) / PL2475 .J4 1801

The Rare Book Collection celebrates the Chinese Lunar New Year and the beginning of the Year of the Horse with images from an edition of the Er ya yin tu. The famous Chinese dictionary/encyclopedia was first compiled during the Han Dynasty (260 BCE – 220 CE). The woodblock-printed edition above (1801) is based on the text annotated by the scholar Guo Pu (276-324), which became the preferred version during the Song Dynasties (960-1279). The RBC’s Er ya yin tu—which translates as “Approaching the Correct”—was featured in the spring 2013 Wilson Library exhibition The Encyclopedic Impulse.

The Chinese zodiac has a time cycle of twelve years, each year being named for a different animal. Those humans born in a particular year are believed to share some of the traits of its animal. And so, 2014′s babies to come are forecast to be intelligent, popular, and clever, as horses are judged to be.

Tonight is the night for firecrackers and red envelopes, as well as horses, according to Chinese tradition. Happy New Year!

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BSA Annual Meeting at Bibliography Week

UNC Curator of Rare Books and outgoing BSA President Claudia Funke presided at the annual meeting of the Bibliographical Society of America last Friday at New York City’s Grolier Club.

coversmall

 

There, she had the great pleasure of introducing the BSA’s annual speaker, Matthew Kirschenbaum, associate professor at the University of Maryland and one of the leading researchers and thinkers in the digital humanities.

Prof. Kirschenbaum gave the talk everyone in the bibliographical community needed to hear: “Operating Systems of the Mind: The Bibliographical Description and Analysis of Born-Digital Texts.” Exploring John Updike’s use of his first computer, as well as his typewriter ribbons, Kirschenbaum highlighted key aspects of technology that have serious implications for analyzing computer-generated texts. The address was both profound and witty, and beautifully plotted and illustrated.

Those who were unable to attend in person, look for the lecture’s printing in the December 2014 issue of the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America. 

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Bibliography Week in NYC

Today in NYC, Bibliography Week begins: five days of events and meetings hosted by the nation’s leading organizations for the study of books and their history.

photo 1

Bergdorf Goodman store window with “Cary Collection” of “vintage books,” available through the 7th floor Decorative Home department.

photo 2

Maria Fredericks, Morgan Library book conservator, ponders light levels of the Fifth Avenue display as UNC curator Claudia Funke snaps away.

Just a stone’s throw from some of the principal proceedings, Bergdorf Goodman, one of NYC’s upscale department stores, is oddly in sync. Its Fifth Avenue windows feature a collection of “vintage books” for sale through its Decorative Home department.

Bibliography Week, however, looks at books as more than mere wallpaper or window dressing. Topics to be examined in lectures include the unauthorized publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses and the bibliographical analysis and description of born-digital texts. The annual meetings of the Grolier Club, the Bibliographical Society of America, and the American Printing History Association will also highlight ongoing programs, publications, and business.

And of course, there will be plenty of time for informal but serious book talk over a glass or two. . . .

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Warm Hearts In Cold Regions

It’s headed for 10 degrees. And we’re ready! Floating icebergs, walruses sporting, seals on the ice, narwhals, and the haunt of the sea-birds. We’ve got our books–and our sweaters–to keep us warm.

Charles Ede, Warm Hearts in Cold Regions: A Tale of Arctic Life (London, 1886) / PR4639.E267 W3

Charles Ede, Warm Hearts in Cold Regions: A Tale of Arctic Life (London, 1886) / PR4639.E267 W3

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Siberia in Chapel Hill: A Blad for the Blog

It’s forecast to feel like Siberia here in the Southern part of heaven. So we’re dressing for it in our Northern sweaters. And turning to our Travel Book Collection for tales of frosty lands.

J.W. Buel, Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia (Hartford, Conn., 1883) / Travel DK26 B93 1883

J.W. Buel, Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia (Hartford, Conn., 1883) / Travel DK26 B93 1883

This volume has to have one of the most evocative of 19th-century decorated bindings—with its images of an angel, chaos, a shackled prisoner, and icicled letters. However, looking for the story inside, one is disappointed. The book is a salesman’s sample, a dummy book, or “blad,” and has only a hundred of the title’s 545 pages. Blads were used by traveling salesmen as samples of books that could be purchased by subscription. On the inside front cover, specimen spines of alternative binding styles were customarily mounted, as shown below.

SpineThe back of this book features a notice on “Conditions of Subscription,” which lists the price in a cloth binding at $2.50 and a leather one at $3.00. It stipulates that the book is for sale by subscription only “and will never be for sale in book stores or on railroad trains, and persons desiring to purchase must do so from the canvassing agent.”

subscrThe terms further state that “Persons signing their names in this Prospectus as subscribers, will be expected to receive and pay for the book when delivered by the Agent, only on condition that the complete book is as here represented.” Of the twenty-two individuals subsequently signing, seventeen requested that the book be bound in leather, a decision that mystifies us, enamored as we are of the pictorial binding.

To view this book’s cloth covering—and the decoratively patterned coverings of the RBC’s stewards—come out of the Chapel Hill cold and get warm inside Wilson Library’s North Carolina Collection / Rare Book Collection Reading Room.

 

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Cheers! To the New Year!

The Toast Master's Companion (Derby, n.d.) PR3991 A1 T57 1830

The Toast Master’s Companion (Derby, n.d.) / PR3991 A1 T57 1830

Tonight’s the night for making toasts, and so we turn to a rare chapbook in the RBC for some ideas. Alas, many phrases from The Toast Master’s Companion don’t work, written as they were for Great Britain in the early 19th century. The overwhelming number are gathered under headings like “Loyal and Patriotic,” “Military,” “Naval,” and “Masonic,” and are often inflected with the concerns of their time and place. However, other categories, such as “Love” and “Friendship,” offer ageless sentiments for raising a glass: “May the unions of persons always be founded on that of our hearts,” or “May the hinges of friendship never grow rusty.” (We like that one.)

Another heading, “Bottle,” collects toasts that directly address the power of wine and spirits to promote conviviality, as well as the need for moderation. Which is apt and also interesting in that our copy of this chapbook is labeled in pencil over the frontispiece as a George Cruikshank “disassociation copy.” The ink inscription at bottom has been taken to be his disavowal of a role as illustrator. (We admit we haven’t done any recent authentication of the handwriting.) In later life, the famous British caricaturist became an ardent member of the Temperance movement, reacting against the excesses of alcohol consumption in British society.

So as the beer distributors say, “Celebrate responsibly.” Or to steal a toast from this little book: “May the moments of mirth be regulated by the dial of reason.” Happy New Year!

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