Friday, June 24, 2016

Fun in the Sun Archives: Preparing for Graduate School at the Library Company of Philadelphia

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.

I recently graduated magna cum laude from Hunter College with a B.A. in History with departmental honors and a Certificate in Human Rights. I was an Eleanor Roosevelt Scholar, McNair Scholar, and a Student Guide at Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. In the fall, I will matriculate at Northwestern University as a Ph.D. student in the Department of African American Studies.
The Mellon Scholars Internship Program at the Library Company presented an indispensable opportunity to hone the archival skills necessary to achieve my academic goals. Likewise, the chance to strengthen my writing and presentation skills by producing an original research paper and sharing my research with others attracted me to this program. Although I plan to specialize in 20th-century African American history in graduate school, I understand that the events and intellectual ideas in one century are not independent of those in the previous one. Therefore, I welcomed the opportunity to learn about early African American society from historic documents and from leading scholars in the field during this program. The Mellon Scholars Internship Program exceeded all of my expectations.

My career goals include teaching at a research intensive university while making significant interventions in the study of black education in the urban North. I look forward to understanding the complexities of educational inequality not just in terms of race, but also in terms of gender and class. My hope as a future professor is to partner with women, faculty of color, and allies in addition to helping students advance their own goals.

A significant portion of my time at the Library Company was spent researching black women educators in Philadelphia in the antebellum period.
From Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Statistics of the
Colored People of Philadelphia
 (Philadelphia, 1856).
I focused on the contributions of Sarah Mapps Douglass (1806-1882) and Fanny Jackson Coppin (1837-1913) toward uplifting the black race by providing free blacks with education. Both women had ties to the Institute for Colored Youth, where black pupils received instruction equal, if not superior, to white children in their community, complete with lessons in the Classics, arithmetic, the sciences, and English. These women taught young black girls at a time when literacy was illegal in the South and slave catchers threatened the freedom of black people in the North; yet, these black women educators were convinced in the humanity and high intellectual capacity of their people. I have consulted several primary sources from the Library’s collection, such as Statistics of the Colored People of Philadelphia (1856), which was published by the Pennsylvania Abolition Society's 
Board of Education. The Objects and Regulations of the Institute for Colored Youth, with a List of the Officers and Students and the Annual Report of the Board of Managers from the 1860s have also been very helpful to my research. I feel more prepared to commence doctoral study this fall.

Ashley Dennis
2016 Mellon Scholars Intern

Friday, June 17, 2016

Mellon Scholars Program: "Obscure details" and the Pursuit of History

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.

Obscure details...There’s a title for my memoirs! For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved history and as long as I’ve loved history, I’ve found interest and passion in what some would call the most obscure subjects and questions and their most peculiar facets while connecting them to greater historical themes...What were Winston Churchill’s best quips and did they add to England’s finest hour? What was the 19th century development of Germantown like and how did it reflect greater trends of Philadelphia’s and America’s suburbanization? Was W.E.B. DuBois a snob and did that affect his commentary on both black and white society? 

I love the “nitty-gritty” and have spent much of my free time reading on these “dusty” subjects and sharing these tidbits with unprepared friends and family members (either to their amusement or anguish). I satisfied my craving for research in high school by working in my school’s archives. For years I lived with the fact that I was a keeper of specialized knowledge, a connector of dots, who was seen as appreciated but at times a novelty.  I knew that there were others like me but it was not until I got to college that I met people who were equally interested in scholarly pursuit with the level of detail that always interested and frustrated me. I realized that my interests were not novelties or a hobby but rather an ideal foundation for scholarly development. Last summer was my baptism into collegiate research, and I won a grant to study the role of the black middle-class in the upper South from the early nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth century using my own family history as a subject. The research focused on themes of respectability and ultimately what it meant to be black and middle-class in one of the nation’s most segregated corridors. 

When recommended to apply for the Mellon Scholars Internship at the Library Company of Philadelphia, I could not think of a better way to spend a summer. I figured I will be surrounded by others who share my love for digging deep into history, answering the questions, and connecting themes. I will have the opportunity to work for a leading organization in the pursuit of both American and African American history. I will hear some of the foremost scholars on black history and gain professional advice and strategies from a noted historian. To apply was a no-brainer and to be accepted was a blessing. I hope to use these skills to both refine my research and writing skills but also help in charting my professional course. I have an interest in politics and hope to enter
Constitution and Rules to be Observed and Kept
by the Friendly Society of St. Thomas's African Church,
of Philadelphia
(Philadelphia, 1797).
government. But as a lover of history, the potential to research and share my knowledge with others like me is the greatest career temptation. 

During my research this summer, I will be focusing on themes of black respectability in Philadelphia from the late eighteenth century to the 1830s, specifically highlighting the community role of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, the first black Episcopal Church in the country and a leader in both political and social life in antebellum black Philadelphia. I plan to look at the generational divides amongst Philadelphia’s black leadership, highlight the relationship between denomination and class, and ideas of early nineteenth-century racial uplift. 

I’m excited to see where my research takes me and look forward adding some useful research and career skills and more obscure details to my intellectual rolodex by the end of the internship. 

Ken Anderson
University of Richmond, Class of 2017
2016 Mellon Scholars Intern

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Common Touch: An Artist’s Multi-Sensory Exhibition Exploring the History of the Education of the Blind at the Library Company of Philadelphia

A version of this post was originally published on the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities blog on May 16, 2016.

View of exhibition gallery. Photo by Gary McKinnis.

As the co-director of the Visual Culture Program (VCP at LCP) at the Library Company of Philadelphia, the collections with which I work daily document the visual construction of history. In preparing for our current VCP exhibition, Common Touch: The Art of the Senses in the History of the Blind, the experience has purposefully challenged my conceptions of the privileged role of vision in visual culture studies. Funded by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, the multi-sensory exhibition on display through October 21, 2016, is an unconventional and benchmark one for the Library Company. Curated by Philadelphia artist Teresa Jaynes, the installations, inspired by the Michael Zinman Collection of Printing for the Blind, explore the history of the nineteenth-century education of the blind and the nature, foundation, and limits of perception.

Embossed map of Boston in Fifth Annual Report of the Trustees of the New-England Institution for the Education of the Blind, to the Corporation (Boston, 1837). Michael Zinman Collection of Printing for the Blind.
The Zinman Collection, the core of the Library’s printing for the blind holdings, contains primarily nineteenth-century raised and embossed printed texts and ephemera. Raised images of maps, scientific diagrams, and musical scores often comprise the texts that range in subject matter from natural history to religion, music, and literature. The collection also contains nineteenth-century personal narratives and textbooks, as well as reports, pamphlets, and magazines issued by educational institutes for the visually impaired, such as the Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind.

Printed throughout the Victorian era in several styles denoted as alphabetical or arbitrary, raised-print materials embody a rich and complex history. By the mid-nineteenth century, alphabetical systems mimicking Roman letters (e.g. Philadelphia line) predominated in the United States over arbitrary-denoted systems of dots and symbols (e.g., braille). While produced to serve as tools to educate through touch, the line systems still fostered an embodied culture of looking that inevitably privileged sight for their presumed sighted teachers. In 1932 authorities accepted Standard English braille as the uniform reading system for the blind in the United States. Line types faded into obscurity and are the shadows of the visual culture of the sighted and those who are visually impaired.

Case of historical materials related to mathematics and natural history in the nineteenth-century education of the blind. Complements Teresa Jaynes, Gift #5, 2016. Photo by Concetta Barbera.
The overall concept of Common Touch examines variable natures of perception in relation to the history of the education of the blind. Visitors explore an exhibition with installations informed by historical first-person narratives and abstract and geometric forms—the style of active learning tools, often influenced by the Froebel educational system—used in curricula at schools for the blind.

Jaynes’s works, named in homage to the Froebel tools known as Gifts, engages four of the five senses—sight, sound, hearing, and smell. Among the seven installations, visitors interact with Gift #4, a series of nine silkscreen printed patterns representing a visual transmutation of  the noted 1880 composition March Timpani by Victorian African American blind musician Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins; Gift #5, a topographic map with a key of porcelain geometric forms and embroidered grid that represent the travels of the prominent eighteenth-century English blind surveyor John Metcalf;  Gift #6, an olfactory mechanism that immerses visitors into a cocoon of sound and scent conveying micro-narratives of the lives of Metcalfe and Wiggins; and Gift #7, an artist book of raised prints after embossed diagrams of snowflakes in the Perkins’ School for the Blind adaptation of  the 1845 science text The Rudiments of Natural Philosophy.

Integral to the creative process for Common Touch was Jaynes’s Vision Council. These advisors have experienced varying degrees of vision loss at different stages of life, and Jaynes incorporated their professional and personal experiences into the design and concepts of the exhibition through its granular historical themes. The artist-curated exhibition also hearkens back to the nineteenth-century inquiries about the hierarchy of the senses, vision, and the means to knowledge explored by optics scholars such as Charles Wheatstone, as well as brings into physicality the arguments of contemporary scholars examining the sensory turn of visual culture.

Without the touch element provided by Jaynes’s works, essential to the artistry of the exhibition, the aura of the original prints, forms, and devices on which they are based would be impotent. This essential element to the exhibition design connects the visitor with the multiple under-recognized and hidden histories represented by the collection material on display, which inspired the exhibition itself. The accessibility of Jaynes’s art works transfers to more transparent access to such hidden histories of the raised printing process, as well as the education of the blind in the nineteenth century and the historical collections documenting the role of persons with visual impairments in society.

Through this immersion, Jaynes’s art serves as a bridge to appreciate what disability does, not just what it is, as proposed by disability studies scholar Amanda Cachia. Cachia served as curator of Haverford College’s Hurford Center’s 2012 art exhibition What Can A Body Do? In describing this curatorial work in the 2014 Disability Studies Quarterly, Cachia states she purposefully strove to avoid the possible pitfall of reductionism that assumes all people with disabilities have the same experience. Similarly, Jaynes’s multi-sensory exhibition is grounded on the non-homogeneity of experience more typical of art, as opposed to special collections exhibitions. Common Touch profoundly facilitates that no two visitors have the same experience by privileging the embodied culture of looking in an exhibition that intersects art, historical collections, and disability studies.

Teresa Jaynes, Gift #7, 2016. Book with embossed paper. Photo by Gary McKinnis.

This embodied culture of looking is evoked through the disabilities of blindness and visual impairment that underlie the artistry inherent in the embossed prints, teaching tools, and sculptural forms that are on display. This “touch art” of the present and past iterates the genesis and perpetuation of kinesthetic experiences that powerfully acknowledges disability as intrinsic to their creation. Consequently, the Library Company works on display abstractly exemplify what disability aesthetics scholar Tobin Siebers acknowledged for artists as  “the discovery of disability as a unique resource, recouped from the past and re-created in the present, for aesthetic creation and appreciation” (Siebers, Disability Aesthetics, 2010, 5). Jaynes’s art serves as an equalizer and even a redefinition of disparate but complementary sensory experiences with archives. The archival material has not only been transformed into art but is often art itself.

As discussed, Cachia, the curator of What Can A Body Do?, wrote of her experience curating her kindred in nature exhibition to Common Touch. With her co-authors and fellow disability studies scholars Kristin Lindgren and Kelly George, they concluded disability studies develop through disorientation, defamiliarization, and destabilization. The Library Company exhibition, a transdisciplinary expression of art, disability studies, and historical collections, similarly destabilizes cultural assumptions about seeing, the history of blindness, and the literal and figurative untouchability of historical collections. Internal and external dialogues about our evolving connotations of sight are cultivated while the perception that the Library Company is inaccessible, as a special collections library, is challenged.

Erika Piola
Co-Director, VCP at LCP

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

New Context for Teaching Science to African American Girls in Early Philadelphia

The Library Company recently acquired an important copy of Jane Kilby Welsh’s two-volume Lectures on Mineralogy and Geology (Boston, 1832-33) inscribed by William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator and proponent of immediate emancipation, to Grace Bustill Douglass (1782-1842), African American educator and founding member of the biracial Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. It is furthermore inscribed by Grace’s daughter and fellow abolitionist, Sarah Mapps Douglass (1806-1882). These volumes not only complement the Library Company’s existing holdings related to Sarah Mapps Douglass, but help to flesh out an important historical gap regarding the nature of science pedagogy at Sarah’s school for African American girls.

Inscription on flyleaf by to G. [Grace] Douglass from
W. L. [William Lloyd] Garrison. Lectures, v. 2.

Jane Kilby Welsh (1783-?), Scientific Writer

Independent of the volumes’ provenance, Welsh’s Lectures on Mineralogy and Geology is an uncommon title that can be useful for thinking about the history of women and science in early America.  Although a relatively obscure figure, Welsh’s scientific interests and aims can be discerned from her pedagogical writing and provide important context for reconstructing the Douglasses’ use of her work.

Jane Kilby Welsh was probably the daughter of John Welsh, a Boston merchant who died in 1789. She spent part of her adult life in Northampton, Massachusetts. Her earliest known written work is A Botanical Catechism: Containing Introductory Lessons for Students in Botany (Northampton, Mass., 1819), a rudimentary question-and-answer introduction to the Linnaean system of classification. Renowned science educator and author Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps (1793-1884) admired her predecessor in scientific writing, believing the work to be “the first attempt by an American lady to illustrate the science.” This was not Welsh’s only work on botany. A review of Lectures on Mineralogy and Geology appearing in The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal identifies Welsh as the author of The Pastime of Learning, with Sketches of Rural Scenes (1831), a dialogue book documenting the botanical pursuits of “Mr. and Mrs. G” and their children. Sophisticated botanical knowledge is disseminated through a domestic narrative that would have been compelling to young readers.

Lectures on Mineralogy and Geology continues the story of the “G” family as they learn how to collect and evaluate rocks, minerals, shells, and fossils. To write Lectures, Welsh corresponded with prominent geologists, including Edward Hitchcock (1793-1864) of Amherst.  Like many women scientific writers of her time – and indeed, men like Hitchcock -- Welsh believed the pursuit of scientific knowledge was a spiritual process that confirmed intelligent design. Paraphrasing Alexander Pope in her preface, Welsh hoped that “the youthful mind, while thus exploring the works of nature, will be elevated with gratitude, adoration, and love, to the view of Nature’s God.”

Garrison and the Douglass Family

Masthead from The Liberator (Boston, 1831).

William Lloyd Garrison (1805-79) was a recent convert to immediatism when he met the Douglasses, a relatively well-off African American family from Philadelphia, in the early 1830s. Through both activism and teaching, Grace Douglass and her daughter Sarah had worked to improve educational opportunities for free African Americans in Philadelphia. In 1819, Grace Douglass and James Forten (1766-1842) co-founded a school, where Sarah Douglass may have taught for the first time as an assistant teacher. When Sarah was twenty-one years old, she took control of a school established by the Augustine Education Society.  Thus, by 1831, when Sarah took up a collection for Garrison’s newly-founded abolitionist paper, The Liberator, she was already an experienced teacher.  

Grace and Sarah Douglass may have first met Garrison in June 1831, when he was traveling to Philadelphia to address the free African American community. Correspondence between Sarah Douglass and Garrison regarding the Female Literary Association, a Philadelphia writing group for African American women, suggests that Garrison and the Douglass family were on friendly terms by early 1832. That summer Garrison was back in Philadelphia, visiting with the Douglass family. By the end of the year, Garrison had likely learned of Sarah and Grace’s scientific interests and teaching strategies.

Inscription on flyleaf by William Lloyd Garrison. Lectures, v. 1.
In late 1832, someone at The Liberator, possibly Garrison, read and favorably reviewed Jane Kilby Welsh’s Lectures on Mineralogy for the November 3 issue. Few books were reviewed for the paper, although there was a running commentary on a Boston-based journal called The Naturalist. Although the reviewer occasionally dissented with The Naturalist’s characterization of race – the reviewer refused to believe that the condition of African Americans was biological, but rather was the product of poor treatment – he generally commended the work. Welsh’s book may have been highlighted because it was consistent with The Liberator’s practice of reviewing didactic or useful works of scienceWelsh’s theological perspective, too, may have been appealing; her geological narratives supported a single-origin, universal creation of man that would have resonated with the reviewer who found fault with The Naturalist’s support of polygenesis. Regardless of the reason, Garrison seemed sufficiently pleased with the work that he gave it to Grace Douglass as a gift. Perhaps he gave her the very copy that was reviewed for The Liberator.

Inscription on title page by
S. M. [Sarah Mapps] Douglass.
Lectures, v. 2.
The second volume of Welsh’s Lectures appeared in early 1833. Garrison also gave this to Grace Douglass. Sarah Mapps Douglass’s name appears on the title page of the Library Company’s copy, identifying her as a former owner. That same year, Sarah Douglass left Philadelphia to teach at the African Free Schools in New York. She returned in 1834 and founded a school for African American girls that opened in 1835. In 1852, Sarah would become the first African American student at the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, maintaining an interest in practicing and teaching science throughout her lifetime.

Sarah Mapps Douglass’s Mineral Cabinet and Teaching Science

Hand-colored plate. Lectures, v. 2.
Given how little we know about the specifics of her pedagogy, Sarah’s personal copy of Lectures on Mineralogy is an exciting discovery. Sarah Mapps Douglass very probably used Welsh’s books in her classroom. Newspaper accounts from the 1830s report that Sarah maintained a mineral cabinet to teach mineralogy to her students. This cabinet, or a similar one, followed her to the Institute for Colored Youth, where she later taught. Sarah would have curated this cabinet herself, collecting and labeling specimens before presenting them to her students for analysis. She may have learned to do this from Welsh’s books, in addition to using them as the basis for lectures. As a private institution serving the city's recently freed black population, Sarah’s school struggled to raise revenue to maintain operations, often seeking aid from the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society to keep the institution afloat. With funds dear, Garrison’s gift would have been a welcome resource. Furthermore, a book written by a woman may have seemed an appropriate choice for teaching girls.

While nowadays we might look askew at scientific justification of creationism, it is important to remember that Welsh’s intermingling of science and religion was not unusual for this period, and this should not detract from any sound instruction regarding the practice of mineralogy in Lectures. Welsh is our best opportunity to reconstruct the complexities of Sarah Douglass’s scientific process. Sarah Douglass did not simply pick up rocks; she would have known how to read the landscape, using contextual geological clues to locate prized specimens.
Diagram of shears. Lectures, v. 1.
She also would have known how to use a variety of mineralogical tools. Welsh’s discussion of scientific instruments reveals the labor and knowledge used to create Sarah’s mineral cabinet. Mineralogists considered many factors when identifying specimens. One such factor is a mineral’s cleavage, the tendency to break along smooth planes. Welsh’s text depicts instruments meant to facilitate mineral analysis, including illustrations of shears used to break rocks along cleavage lines and a goniometer to measure crystal angles. Teachers often used such tools in practical demonstrations to familiarize students with technical language. It is one thing to 
Diagram of a goniometer. Lectures, v. 1.
abstractly define cleavage – it is another to demonstrate what it looks like in class. While teaching her students the rudiments of mineralogy, Douglass likely reminded her students that learning science could bring them closer to God. It seems clear that she shared Welsh’s theological outlook, as a report of her school in the December 2, 1837 issue of The Colored American echoed the preface to the book:

“Miss Douglass has a well-selected cabinet of shells and minerals; well-arranged and labeled. She has, also, a mind richly furnished with a knowledge of these sciences, and she does not fail, through them, to lead up the minds of her pupils, through Nature, to Nature’s God.”

Scholars will be able to make a more nuanced assessment of the meaning of this comment through a close reading of Welsh's writing, coupled with a reconstruction of how her book may have been used in its day.

Annotations and Afterlife

In addition to the inscriptions identifying Grace and Sarah Mapps Douglass as former owners, the books contain pencil annotations commenting on the text. The annotator appears to be knowledgeable of early geological and paleontological discoveries, adding his or her thoughts on trace fossils, trilobites (extinct marine invertebrates from the Paleozoic Era), and the general nature of petrifactions (the process in which organic material is converted into a fossil). The annotator also approved of biblical scholar Granville Penn’s theories of Mosaic geology, praising his work in the book's margins. There is consistency here regarding the interrelationship between science and religion that makes one hopeful that the annotations belong to Grace, Sarah, or one of their students. Penn’s theological take on geology was most certainly out of vogue by the time the book ended up at David McKay’s Old Bookstore in the late nineteenth century, making subsequent owners a less likely fit.

Annotation on trilobites from Lectures, v 2.
Perhaps a reader can identify the handwriting sample? Could these inscriptions be in an informal hand belonging to Garrison or the Douglasses? Do they belong to one of Sarah Mapps Douglass’s students? If you have any insight, leave a message in the comments below.

Jessica C. Linker
PhD Candidate in History, University of Connecticut

Friday, April 1, 2016

Exploring the World of Marriot C. Morris

Elliston Perot Morris Jr. and Marriott Canby Morris Jr. on Pocono Lake, 1909. P.2013.13.361.

The Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection is now available online in two ways.  Almost 2500 photographic prints, negatives and lantern slides from the Morris Collection are accessible on ImPAC, the Library Company’s digital collections catalog.  From September 2014 through the summer of 2015, Alison Van Denend, the Assistant Project Manager for the Morris Collection, processed and digitized these photographs as part of an effort to preserve, organize, and research the work of amateur Philadelphia photographer Marriott C. Morris.  The Library Company’s entire collection of Morris’s work, including new materials generously donated by Morris’s grandchildren David Marriott Morris, Eleanor Rhoads Morris Cox, and William Perot Morris, is now accessible in one searchable database.  Each record contains a high quality jpg file as well as information regarding the date, location, and subject of the photograph gleaned from Morris’s meticulous journals.

In addition to the resources available on ImPAC, the Morris Collection can be explored further via the project’s website.  The website includes a family tree, copies of Morris’s photographic journals, a link to ImPAC records, and all of Alison Van Denend’s blog posts about the collection, as well as links to other repositories with Morris’s work.  Please visit to learn more.

Mt. Rainier, Washington.  August 5, 1921. P.2014.69.31.