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Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

One point I often make when talking with students about the books in the Archives & Special Collections is that printing is a capitalist enterprise. What I mean by that is that one must possess sufficient capital to purchase (or hire) a printing press with all of its equipment (e.g. type); then one must pay for the paper and the ink, the labor of setting type, the labor of operating the press, the warehouse space required to store your printed sheets, and so on before any profit can be made. If you want illustrations in your book, that would involve a completely separate process that requires its own specialized equipment and highly skilled labor, all of which requires funds.

It’s especially important to bear in mind the financial underpinnings of print when we look back at the history of scientific publishing. Which gives me an excuse to talk about one of my very favorite books: The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite by James Nasmyth (London, 1874).

moon-tp

Here’s a quick summary of Nasmyth’s project from an article by Frances Robertson in the journal Victorian Studies:

Having made his fortune as an industrialist and inventor with his Bridgewater Foundry in Manchester, the mechanical engineer James Nasmyth was able to retire in his late forties, in 1856, in order to devote himself to his longstanding passion for astronomy (Nasmyth, Autobiography 329). His main astronomical project, from 1842, had been a sustained series of lunar observations, culminating in his publication The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite (Nasmyth and Carpenter). Among the reasons Nasmyth’s book is noteworthy is that it was one of the first books to be illustrated by photo-mechanical prints.

Nasmyth used his fortune to publish his own peculiar theories about the moon, making full use of the very latest technology to include photographs like these:

moon-hand-and-apple

The caption summarizes part of Nasmyth’s theory: when things get old, they shrink and become wrinkled; the moon is old, therefore its mountains may have been formed by shrinkage. He also had theories about volcanic activity being another factor in the formation of the lunar surface, which he supports with another piece of photographic evidence:

moon-vesuvius

Bearing in mind that this work was published in 1874, these couldn’t possibly be actual photographs of the lunar surface and the region around Vesuvius in Italy. Nasmyth had the means to pay for the construction of plaster of Paris models of lunar and terrestrial landscapes, then to pay for photographs of those landscapes, which were then published in his book to support his theories. Of course the lunar surface looks remarkably similar to Vesuvius — he built both of the models!

While these photographs are beautiful to look at, it would be impossible to defend them as reliable scientific evidence of anything.

moon-crater

But if you have sufficient funds to produce a lavishly illustrated book, you can make whatever claims you want. I like to imagine the less wealthy amateur astronomers who read Nasmyth’s book and disagreed, but did not have the same means of promoting their counter-arguments. Nasmyth’s use of a range of illustration techniques makes this work a wonderful specimen for the teaching of book history, but I wouldn’t rely on it for any information about the moon.

moon-mountains

All of these points are equally true of another nineteenth-century work in the Archives & Special Collections: Crania Americana; or, A Comparative View of the Skulls of Various Aboriginal Nations of North and South America: to which is Prefixed an Essay on the Varieties of the Human Species by Samuel George Morton (Philadelphia and London, 1839).

crania-americana-tp

Although it was published decades before Nasmyth’s work, these two works are very similar in their use of printing technology to advance a particular scientific theory — a theory that modern science has absolutely disproved. Morton lays out his methods and apparatus for measuring the hundreds of human skulls he had collected.

crania-aparatus Many scholars have written about this book, a recent piece that specifically addresses Morton’s use of illustrations appeared in 2014 in the journal American Studies: “”Even the most careless observer”: Race and Visual Discernment in Physical Anthropology from Samuel Morton to Kennewick Man” by Fernando Armstrong-Fumero. Morton’s book boasts of the seventy-eight plates and color map right on the title page, a common practice, but one that ought to remind us that those plates were expensive to produce. The addition of color to the map was also a labor-intensive prospect, since each map was colored by hand:

crania-map

A map like this one appears to be authoritative, but the data on which it is based are deeply flawed. Morton includes several pages of “Phrenological Measurements” — phrenology being the pseudo-science of determining personality traits and other characteristics by measuring human heads. According to phrenologists, human behaviors such as “Secretiveness,” “Hope,” and other categories can be quantified by measuring the appropriate part of the head:

crania-table

I am intentionally NOT showing any of the plates of human skulls, mummies, and pickled heads that Morton includes in his work, but here is the “Phrenological Chart” in which the physical areas for each trait are outlined:

crania-phrenological

Morton was a major contributor to what is now known as “scientific racism” — the claim that different groups of homo sapiens can be categorized and ranked based on “objective” scientific measurements. I will be posting more on this topic in the months ahead as we prepare an exhibition on the topic of the dissemination of scientific racism over the last 300 years and more. The thread that connects the two books in this post runs throughout scientific publishing — the factors of technology and funding have shaped the history of scientific communication almost as much as the data and field work on which these works are based.

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“I left Harpoot the 17th of May, going alone three days’ journey to Diarbekir, somewhat to the scandal of the missionaries along the way. However, I knew the road well and was not in the least afraid, and after all nothing happened.” (Letter of Dec 3, 1915)

“I left Harpoot the 17th of May, going alone three days’ journey to Diarbekir, somewhat to the scandal of the missionaries along the way. However, I knew the road well and was not in the least afraid, and after all nothing happened.” (Dora Mattoon, letter of Dec 3, 1915)

What inspires a woman to throw over her life from one day to the next, to go from apparent comfort and a great job in a big city to a remote post in a country she’s never been to, where they speak a language she hasn’t studied at all?  And what would possess her to leave the first country after five years of hard work for an entirely different one, retraining herself all over again?  (more…)

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Today we’re taking a quick peek at the Amherst of 120 years ago. William J. Newlin was a student at Amherst College from 1895 to 1899, he later returned as a Mathematics and Philosophy professor and taught here for nearly fifty years. We have a handful of glass plate negatives that Newlin took as a student and that now reside in our photograph collection. Followed by the photographs of Allan W. Forbes a mere ten years later, these images tell an interesting story about life at Amherst College a little more than 100 years ago.

click on an image to see it larger

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Daguerreotype of Charles Thompson by Chandler Seaver, Jr., of Boston, ca 1855

Daguerreotype of Charles Thompson by Chandler Seaver, Jr., of Boston, ca 1855

Charles Thompson, custodian at Amherst College for more than 40 years in the second half of the 19th century – do you know him?  Have you seen photographs of him before, perhaps in an old Olio yearbook?  For over 40 years Amherst students graduated and left town with a photograph of Charles Thompson in their copies of the yearbook.  Thompson was deeply connected with the College, and with the students’ experience of it, and there is no doubt that those who knew him remembered him fondly.

Most of what we know about Thompson’s life comes from a volume written to raise money for Thompson’s old age by President William Augustus Stearns’ daughter Abigail Eloise LeeI’ve looked at the book many times over the years, both for the purpose of learning about Thompson’s life and to find details about the College and town during those days.  Recently I looked at it again and this time I happened to focus on a passage in which Lee mentions Thompson’s experiences as a sailor.  I’d never noticed this information enough to wonder about it, but this time I did.

(more…)

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college_seal_1825aWhen Amherst College was founded in the early 19th century, part of its raison d’être (aside from being a protest against Harvard’s Unitarianism) was to educate young men to go out into the world and preach the gospel.  The College seal illustrates this philosophy: “Terras Irradient” – “let them enlighten the lands.” However, by the end of the century graduates’ interests had evolved to something in addition to religious instruction, or something entirely different.  Graduates of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were still going into the world as missionaries, but by then the work often meant starting schools or becoming medical missionaries.  Other alumni were writers, doctors, teachers, publishers, ambassadors, “industrial barons,” and in many other professions far removed from those of the first Amherst graduates.

From left, Laurens, Dorothea, Kate, and Mary Averett Seelye, ca. December, 1919.

From left, Laurens, Dorothea, Kate, and Mary Averett Seelye, ca. December, 1919.

For Laurens Hickok Seelye, Class of 1911, “Terras Irradient” meant that he would teach philosophy at the American University of Beirut (AUB, known at the time as the Syrian Protestant College), where he moved in 1919 with his indefatigable wife Kate Chambers Seelye, daughter of missionaries William and Cornelia Chambers.  For Kate the move was a return home after her college years in the U.S. (Kate was born and raised in Turkey but left to attend Bryn Mawr and Columbia).  For Laurens the Middle East was something entirely new, and he threw himself into its culture unreservedly.  Professor Seelye probably stood out everywhere he went for his height, his humor, and his intense intellect.  And he loved AUB.  He loved it for its diversity, tolerance, and collegiality.  In a memorable letter to an old friend, he described both himself and the college:

WCSB-LHS-to-Dorry[Robbins]-1928-Aug-excerptIn addition to testing boundaries and teaching philosophy, Laurens acted as the director of West Hall, which was and still is the student campus center.  In that position, he came to know more students than he would otherwise have known.  After he had settled in at AUB, Laurens noticed a need for something else – financial assistance for ambitious young Armenian refugees to continue their education beyond what the Near East Relief provided.  This organization had established orphanages to help with Armenian refugees who had flooded into the area during and after World War I.  They provided a basic education to about age 16, at which time the boys left the orphanages to fend for themselves.  Because of Kate’s personal connection with the Armenian community and Laurens’ work at the college, several of these boys came to the Seelyes to ask for help.  Laurens decided to do what he could as a personal project, outside of his work at AUB.

In a letter to Clarence Young, an uncle, Laurens described the situation and his plan to help.  He said that there was no provision to train the Armenian refugees beyond a trade-school education, no resources to train teachers, doctors, dentists, pastors, and other professionals.  “I am right up against young life determined to win out and get an education if given half a chance,” Laurens wrote to Clarence.  The world “can do nothing in the future without an educated and large-minded minority scattered through the races and nations who are willing to stake their lives and reputations on the practice of Good Will.”  Would his uncle share his plea with churches and schools and clubs at home and ask if they might raise funds to support some of these boys?

WCSB-LHS-to-Clarence-Young-1923-Aug-6-p1WCSB-LHS-to-Clarence-Young-1923-Aug-6-p2

 

 

 

 

The plan worked.  Laurens and his donors were able to provide funds for a long list of boys to continue their educations.  The boys were mostly Armenians, but there were also boys of other backgrounds.

In 1923 a few of these boys met with Laurens and came away with the idea  of forming an Armenian Students Cooperative Association.  The club started with the goal of finding an affordable living space that a handful of students could share, splitting the cost of food, rent, and a cook (the latter after one of the boys inadvertently fried up his tie with some eggplants).  The club was sufficiently popular that it had to expand to two clubs and two houses.  A few of its members weren’t even Armenians, which pleased Laurens because it realized his goal of having the students regard themselves as “humans first, Armenians second,” by which he meant that he wanted his students to recognize their common humanity, and to work to improve conditions for all.

Club members lived, worked, and played together. Click below to enlarge the photographs and view them as a gallery.

 

The club also issued annual reports, three of which (1923-24; 1924-25; and 1926-27) are in the collection.  The reports demonstrate the democratic philosophy they practiced:

First page of 1924-25 report. Click on pdf below for full report.

First page of 1924-25 report. Click on pdf below for full report.

Armenian-Stu-Coop-Club-report-1924-25

The Seelyes were friends with several of these students for decades; in fact, there are letters in the collection from the club’s founder, Dicran Berberian, that date from the 1960s.  The existence of the club is a testament to the industry of the students, but also to Laurens’ teaching.  In his own way, he had realized Amherst’s motto, “Terras Irradiant.”

 

The material illustrated here is from the Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Blaisdell Family Papers in the Archives and Special Collections.  Contact the department for more details.

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Need an idea for Halloween? See the photograph below from a costume party in Turkey, ca. 1920-21, except for the French soldiers, who are real and probably on duty (which doesn’t rule out their garb for your party purposes). The other men are in “Pierrot” costume, perhaps inspired on this occasion by the popularity of “Yama Yama Man,” a strange song and dance routine not to be missed for your daily dose of weirdness from another place and time.

The photograph is from an album formerly belonging to Dorothea Nesbitt Chambers (Blaisdell), daughter of missionaries William N. and Cornelia P.W. Chambers.  Dorothea, a Bryn Mawr graduate, was a hardworking but fun-loving woman who grew up in Turkey and worked there for the YWCA before her marriage in 1926.  She is probably the photographer here.

Friends of Dot Chambers in Turkey (probably Adana).  Photograph from the Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Blaisdell Papers.

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This picture was take looking south at Walker Hall (left) and Williston Hall and college row (right). Forbes was standing on what would now be the street in front of the Armes Music Center.

This picture was taken on May 10th, 1906, looking south at Walker Hall (left) and Williston Hall and college row (right). Forbes was standing on what would now be the street in front of the Arms Music Center.

One of the projects that I’m working on right now is a complete survey of all the photographic and audio/visual materials in our collections. The ultimate goal of the survey is to make sure that all of these vulnerable materials are being housed in appropriate conditions and to flag items that need conservation work or conversion off of unplayable media.

An impromptu gravestone for one, A. Pair Pants, from October 25, 1906. The text at the bottom reads, "died of skunk juice."

An impromptu grave for one A. Pair Pants, from October 25, 1906. The text at the bottom reads, “died of skunk juice.”

In the course of this project, it has been my deep pleasure to explore the many small collections of photography by students, professors and others associated with the college. One of my personal favorites is the collection of Allan W. Forbes, class of 1908. Forbes, who went on to become an engineer after Amherst, was clearly a passionate amateur photographer. His collection contains more than 100 glass plate negatives, nearly 40 nitrate negatives and prints of around half of the images. (more…)

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