Two Saturdays ago, I had a chance to visit the second annual Zine Machine Fest at the Durham Armory in Durham, NC. I spent the afternoon perusing several aisles of booths arranged with a variety of printed matter including zines, comics, original illustrations, screen prints, buttons, stickers, and more. The Triangle was well-represented by many local artists and artist collectives. Several out-of-state guests attended as well.
Zines are typically small, printed pamphlets centered around a particular topic. (The word “zine” is short for “magazine”—just as zines are shorter versions of magazines.) Zines can trace their beginnings to science fiction “fanzines” of the 1930s. Fanzines were a type of printed media that could be cheaply and quickly produced by amateurs, particularly in subcultural scenes. Zines gained popularity in the mid-twentieth century, coinciding with the Beat Generation and, later, DIY and punk culture. In the 1990s, the Riot Grrrl movement popularized zines as a method of spreading political messages, ideas, and stories, while circumventing mainstream media outlets.
Today we can find zines on almost any topic imaginable, and in many different formats. At Zine Machine Fest, I encountered poetry, art, and photography zines, as well as those that told personal stories. Many comic artists attended the fair, bringing with them mini comics, which overlap with zines in the DIY publishing realm.
Below are several examples of zines and mini comics from the RBC’s collection of Latino comic books. These items show how it can be difficult to draw a line between different types of printed media, be it a personal zine, comic book, or even coloring book, but the media chosen by these artists allow for playful and open discussions of sensitive topics.
For many avid readers and pop culture enthusiasts, Sunday evening marked an important date this spring: the premier of the long-awaited, much-anticipated Game of Thrones, season 6. Based on George R. R. Martin’s popular novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, the series follows the complex lives and trials of characters who struggle to survive in the dangerous “game of thrones,” where the only options are victory or death. This fantasy world is plagued by war, civil unrest, religious uprising, corrupt politics, dark magic, and more war. These conflicts create a desperate need for weapons, fortresses, and machines of war.
Most, if not all, of these weapons and war machines are inspired by ancient prototypes from our own world history. Vitruvius’s De architectura is an important record and source of modern day knowledge of Roman architecture, design, and military machines. Vitruvius (c. 90–c. 20 BCE) was a Roman military engineer and architect who designed and built structures for the Roman Empire. He served as the military’s head engineer and architect under Julius Caesar from 58 to 51 BCE.
Written sometime between 30 and 20 BCE, De architectura is the culmination of Vitruvius’s time as a Roman military engineer and his travels throughout Greece, Asia, North Africa, and Gaul. It is a treatise combining the history of ancient architecture and engineering along with his personal experience and advice. The work is comprised of ten books that range from the ideal education of an architect (book one) to the optimal layout of a private home (book six) to machines and gadgets (book ten). Book ten includes detailed instructions for building and using catapults, ballistae, siege engines, and other military machinery.
The oldest surviving copy of De architectura dates to the 8th century, and the first printed copies were produced in Rome in 1486. This particular edition (1567) is the first of its kind, a Latin edition annotated by Daniele Barbaro (1514-1570). It includes illustrations by architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), which were originally produced for Barbaro’s 1566 Italian translation.
One hundred years ago on Easter Monday (April 24, 1916), members of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army occupied the General Post Office in Dublin. Upwards of 2,000 Irish men and women participated in the Rising.
On the first day of the insurrection, Pádraic Pearse read aloud the Proclamation of the Republic, which stated, “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible.”
After six days of fighting against the British Army, the leaders of the Rising surrendered. The seven signatories of the Proclamation, along with nine others who participated in leading the rebellion, were executed.
W. B. Yeats began writing “Easter, 1916” during the last of the executions. According to George Mayhew, the final drafts were completed while Yeats stayed in France with his long-time muse, Maud Gonne, and her daughter Iseult. Gonne’s estranged husband, John MacBride, was one of the executed leaders of the Rising. His death prompted Yeats to propose marriage for the second time to Gonne and then to her daughter; both women rejected him.
Easter, 1916 was privately printed by Clement Shorter in a run of 25 copies for distribution among Yeats’s friends, likely in October or November of 1916. The copy above, held at the University of North Carolina, is numbered 19.
In the poem Yeats struggles with the personal and political complexities of the Rising, and the difficulties of grappling with these within a memorial poem. Gonne wrote to Yeats: “No, I don’t like your poem, it isn’t worthy of you & above all isn’t worthy of the subject.” Today it is the most remembered and read poem of the Easter Rising, particularly for Yeats’s refrain, “A terrible beauty is born.”
“Easter 1916” wasn’t distributed widely until it was printed in The New Statesman October 23, 1920, and then in Yeats’s 1921 volume of poetry, Michael Robartes and the Dancer. The 1916 version reveals its differences upon comparison to the 1921 version.
This past weekend, the UNC-King’s College London collaboration on medieval and early modern studies had its fifth annual meeting with the theme “Old and New Humanism(s).” Dr. David Baker and Dr. Marsha Collins of UNC’s Department of English and Comparative Literature provided faculty guidance for the two-day graduate-student conference, which included keynote speeches by Dr. Whitney Trettien (UNC-Chapel Hill) and Dr. Lucy Munro (King’s College London).
Following the first panels, participants gathered at Wilson Library on Friday afternoon to view an exhibition of materials from the Rare Book Collection and the Health Sciences Library. Mary Learner and Michael Clark, UNC graduate students and co-organizers of the conference, curated a display that complemented the weekend’s theme, which considered medieval and early modern humanism as a movement to recover the classical past and as an exploration of what it means to be human, with reference to humanist inquiry and the role of the humanities today. The selection of texts was designed to showcase the library’s strong holdings of early printing, including the RBC’s Estienne Imprint Collection, as well as to provide exempla of humanism in manuscript and print.
Thirteen items were on view, organized around three essential components of humanism: classical literature, language learning, and scientific inquiry, particularly anatomy. The first focus, classical and literary texts, included books that use scholarly commentary to facilitate readers’ encounters with literature. For instance, a manuscript of Donatus’ commentary on the Aeneid (1465) was near a printed text of the epic from 1492, which included verses surrounded by the commentary of four writers (including Donatus). Guests could compare how a classical literary text and its scholarly apparatus were presented in manuscript and in print, and this promoted discussion about reading literature in the period.
The second focus of the exhibition was the significance of translation and the use of both Latin and the vernacular in humanistic discourse. The display included printed grammars, alphabets, and dictionaries, in a variety of languages such as Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and French. A Wycliffite Bible (1425), one of about 235 that survive today, was on display as an example of the manuscript translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into Middle English.
The majority of sixteenth-century language texts in the exhibition were printed by the Estienne family, scholar-printers who edited multilingual texts and dictionaries for specific professions, such as law or medicine.
Finally, the third section included medical texts that emphasized the role of illustration and innovation in the early modern investigation of the human body. Among the anatomy books was a first edition of De humani corporis fabrica libri septem by Andreas Vesalius (1543) that has a number of illustrations colored by hand. These can be viewed online in a new electronic resource: [http://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/vesalius/id/147]
The side-by-side comparison of woodcut illustrations in Vesalius’s and Charles Estienne’s anatomies with engravings in Bartolomeo Eustachi’s editions allowed viewers to see variations in details as rendered by different print technologies. Eustachi’s Opuscula anatomica also contrasted in its use of grids around illustrations, to provide coordinates for locating specific anatomical features.
Of course, the lines between the three categories are by no means absolute in humanist study, which emerged from conversations about the materials. Classical poetry and grammars were integral to language learning, and print increasingly made medical and literary knowledge available in the vernacular. And both dictionaries and anatomies relied upon classical authorities. The overlap between these categories served as a reminder of the variety within humanist interests and of the multiple interpretations of humanism, and the selection facilitated an energetic discussion about these topics. The rare books on display are just a few of the many medieval and early modern texts that scholars may consult at UNC to understand better the explorations of being human in the period.
Mary Learner is a Ph.D. student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at UNC. Her research focuses on early modern literature, book history, and digital humanities. She also serves as a Project Assistant for the William Blake Archive.