Monday, July 18, 2016

Mellon Scholars Program: Preparing for Success

In a series of occasional blog posts, participants in our Mellon Scholars Internship and Workshop programs will introduce themselves, discuss their experiences at the Library Company, and share their goals for pursuing careers in the field of early African American history. This program is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

How do I create a competitive graduate school application? What are some ways for me to excel as a graduate student? How do I conduct research at a historical archive? These are some of the questions we set out to answer during the Mellon Scholars Program Workshop. This marks the program’s third year in operation. As in previous years, we had a talented group of students from an array of different academic and personal backgrounds. The common thread among all eight participants was a passion for African American history.
Lasting June 13-June 17, the workshop equips students with the tools required for careers in academia. Specifically, the program includes an intensive series of lectures, trips, and professional development exercises: all activities geared toward preparing students to pursue advanced degrees. I work alongside Program Director Dr. Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Library Company Curator Krystal Appiah to produce this unique experience for the Mellon participants.
Dr. Vanessa Holden
At colloquia scheduled throughout the week, students were introduced to the process of historical investigation. Speakers such as Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson and Dr. Kellie Carter Jackson shared their scholarly work and demonstrated how to effectively convey research findings. Dr. Vanessa Holden, who was also the keynote speaker at LCP’s Juneteenth event, held a special session for the workshop participants. At the meeting, Dr. Holden challenged students to interpret and analyze primary source materials relevant to her own work. In this manner, the Mellon Scholars were challenged to enter the mind of a historian at the nascent stage of a project. The culmination of these seeds of evidence was later revealed at the subsequent Juneteenth lecture, where Dr. Holden explained her research conclusions. This gave students an expansive look at a research project from start to finish.
Katherine Ponds
Students were also assigned independent research topics for the week. Katherine Ponds, for instance, chose to examine the ways in which studying and teaching the Classics reflected Octavius Catto’s black political agenda. Participants then used the collections of the Library Company to shed light on their individual topics. Throughout the week, the staff worked with students to help them navigate the archives and think critically about source materials. Participants were asked to contextualize, interrogate, and analyze primary and secondary sources to reveal the significance of their subjects. Their work culminated in presentations delivered on the final day of the workshop. The colloquium was run in formal academic fashion to familiarize students with communicating their conclusions, receiving feedback, and answering audience questions.
Serkaddis Alemayehu, Public History
Coordinator and Digital Archives Specialist
at the Blockson Collection
A sizable amount of the students’ time was spent outside the walls of LCP as well. We took the group on a number of trips throughout Philadelphia to acquaint participants with some of the other institutional resources the city has to offer. For instance, we visited Temple University’s Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The Mellon Scholars also spent time at the historic Mother Bethel AME Church where they learned about the institution’s background and its role as a pillar of Philadelphia’s black community. Together the trips helped to enrich students’ understandings of African American history.
Lastly, much of the week was dedicated to demystifying the graduate school application process. Dr. Kimberly Saunders from the University of Delaware taught students how to craft strong applications, while LCP Librarian James Green explained how to effectively apply for fellowships. I also led a session on personal statement development and editing. Furthermore, we spent time speaking with students about the expectations of graduate study. For example, I led a meeting focused on navigating graduate school. During the session, I shared lessons I learned through my experiences as a graduate student, and I attempted to address the participants’ questions and concerns. Similarly, Dr. Dunbar led a graduate seminar class so participants could experience how a graduate course operates. Collectively the preparation sessions, research projects, enrichment trips, and speakers worked to empower students to achieve their aspirations. Historical investigation, archival exposure, and application formation: more than mere topics, these themes comprise skills integral to young students entering the world of academia. The Mellon Scholars Program was fortunate to furnish this already talented group of students with these pivotal skills. It was extremely rewarding to work with another cohort of gifted participants, and it was a pleasure to be part of the Mellon Scholars Program another year.
Michael Dickinson
2016 Mellon Scholars Graduate Research Advisor
Doctoral candidate in history, University of Delaware

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Curator's Favorite: A Tunnel Book by Any Other Name ...

A View of the Tunnel under the Thames, as it will Appear When Completed  (London: S. E. Gouyn, 1828)

Perspective view, peepshow, and tunnel book are all words that have been used to describe our recent acquisition A View of the Tunnel under the Thames, as it will Appear When Completed.      (London: S. E. Gouyn, 1828). The enchanting optical device purchased with funds from our Visual Culture Program represents the long and complicated history of the interrelationship of the study of optics with popular culture. 

Front view of extended tunnel book A View of the Tunnel under the Thames, as it will Appear When Completed (London: S. E. Gouyn, 1828).

Collector and scholar Richard Balzer dates peepshows’/tunnel books’ beginnings to around the 15th century in Europe when box-like devices with peepholes were created to learn about the mechanics of vision. The instruments, often used by Renaissance artists to recreate perspective, became primarily associated with the itinerant showman by the 18th century. Later in the century peepshows entered the parlors of the affluent as the perspective box in which a set of prints was arranged to create a three-dimensional view designed to entertain the eye and mind. By the 1820s peepshows more closely resembling the subject of this essay became items of more general consumption when professionally printed and assembled for introduction into the market as souvenirs.  A channel being constructed under the Thames River made the ideal subject for an optical device that created a “tunnel” perspective.  

The start of the construction in 1825 of the Thames Tunnel, the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” made international news.  On August 23, 1825, the Philadelphia newspaper the National Gazette wrote about the underground tunnel that would connect the opposite banks of the Thames River for commercial purposes as “the commencement of [a] novel undertaking, which will be read with interest.” Constructed after the revolutionary designs of Marc Brunel (1769-1849), the novel undertaking led not only to persons reading about it with interest but to the production of novelties. From the onset of construction and despite floods and collapses in the 1820s and 1830s, visitors flocked to see the tunnel. Merchandise vendors selling all manner of souvenirs, including peepshows, quickly followed. The engineering feat spurred publishers to issue over fifty different designs of Thames Tunnel peepshows between 1825 and the early 1860s. No other subject comprised as many of them. By probable consequence, the contemporary term “tunnel book” soon thereafter superseded “peepshow” in our lexicon for these devices.

Interior view of tunnel book A View of the Tunnel under the Thames, as it will Appear When Completed  (London: S. E. Gouyn, 1828).

The first Thames Tunnel peepshow issued in 1825 by London publisher T. Brown served as the model for the graphic design of the devices, including S. E. Gouyn’s, through the 1830s. Comprised of the imagined Eastern and Western archways, a look through the book’s peephole reveals pedestrian and vehicular traffic, including men on horseback, carriages, and horse-drawn wagons. A prime article for the transatlantic book trade, our newly-acquired peepshow may likely be the “perspective view of the tunnel under the Thames” advertised in the New York newspaper American in April 1828 by New York publishers and print sellers Behr & Kahl.  However, once the tunnel officially opened to only pedestrian traffic in 1843, the design evolved.  Vehicular traffic no longer appeared.

Handmade tunnel book showing an enclosed thoroughfare (United States?, ca. 1850).
 This change in design provides further clues to better understand a circa 1850 “homemade” tunnel book added to our collections in 2011. The similarities in the graphics depicting the interiors of the tunnels of Gouyn’s and our 2011 acquisition, particularly the style of a covered wagon, lends credence to our conjecture that the earlier acquired piece is modeled after a Thames Tunnel book, probably issued before 1843.

After 1843 and through the 1850s, “perspective view manufacturer” Bondy Azulay (b. 1813) became the primary manufacturer of these Thames Tunnel novelties.  His manufacturing of the devices proved a more crude construction than earlier ones. His books also often included two to three peepholes on the front board. The design provided views of the tunnel traffic, as well as the river. Although the Library does not hold a Thames Tunnel book published by Azulay, we do hold his complementary 1851 eighteen-foot long Grand Panorama of London and the River Thames.

Oblique view of extended tunnel book A View of the Tunnel under the Thames, as it will Appear When Completed  (London: S. E. Gouyn, 1828).
By the early 1860s Azulay ceased to manufacture Thames Tunnel books. In 1865 the East London Railway Company purchased the tunnel. Pedestrian traffic halted and the tunnel became a part of the railway. Nonetheless, the “novel undertaking” of the Thames Tunnel still endures as novel. The numerous tunnel books created in its image continue to serve as novelties rich for the study of Trans-Atlantic visual culture during the Victorian era.

Erika Piola
Associate Curator, Prints and Photographs
Co-Director, VCP at LCP

American, April 3, 1828  

Richard Balzer, Peepshows: A Visual History (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998)

Ralph Hyde, Paper Peepshows: The Jaqueline and Jonathan Gestetner Collection (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2015)