Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Achievement of a Dream: The Birth of the University of Kansas

September 18th, 2015

Achievement of a Dream: The Birth of the University of Kansas, Spencer Library’s newest exhibit, opened on September 11, 2015.

The exhibit, developed in conjunction with the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the University, was curated by University Archivist Rebecca Schulte and Assistant Archivist Letha Johnson, with assistance from KU 150 Research Archivist JoJo Palko. It highlights original documents, photographs, and memorabilia that tell the story of the early years of the University from its beginnings in 1865 to the turn of the twentieth century. Exhibition items include Chancellor John Fraser’s Civil War-era Union lieutenant’s uniform and sword, early student activity photographs, and the diploma of KU’s first graduate, Flora Richardson. Whitney Baker, Head of Conservation Services at KU Libraries, and Angela Andres, Library Preservation Assistant, provided display support and conservation guidance.

Photograph of Flora Richardson

Flora Richardson, valedictorian of KU’s first graduating class (1873).
University Archives Photos. Call Number: P/ Richardson, Flora: People (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

List of degrees conferred, 1873

“Degrees Conferred. Commencement 1873, on Examination, Class of 1873.”
University Archives. Call Number: LD 2693 .U55 1873.
Click image to enlarge. See more documents from KU’s first
at Archives Online, part of KU ScholarWorks.

There had been many female students at the University of Kansas since it first opened in 1866 as a preparatory school, but only one has the double distinction of first graduate and class valedictorian: Flora Richardson. Flora graduated with the first class in 1873, earning a Bachelor of Arts. At commencement she spoke at length on the “Uses of Superstition.” She argued that superstition, though allegedly “hurtful to man’s progress,” actually furthered intellectual inquiry by inspiring reverent curiosity about the world. The speech was a success; the Daily Kansan Tribune lauded her performance, declaring that “the young lady came forward tastefully and elegantly attired in white, and delivered her oration in a firm, though pleasant voice.”

Flora’s remarkable collegiate career included joining the Oread Literary Society and being a founding member of the Kappa chapter of the “I.C. Sorosis” sorority, which in 1888 changed its name to Pi Beta Phi. She even created KU’s first entomological collection, a 140-specimen group including everything from cockroaches to walking sticks, as a pupil of Professor (and later Chancellor) Francis Huntington Snow.

 Image of Flora Richardson's KU diploma, 1873

Flora Richardson‘s diploma from the University of Kansas, 1873.
This was the first diploma ever awarded by KU.
Generously loaned to University Archives from Flora Richardson’s family.
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Flora’s diploma, the first ever awarded by KU, is now on display at Spencer Research Library as part of Achievement of a Dream: The Birth of the University of Kansas. The exhibit is free and open to the public in the Spencer Exhibit Space, located on the library’s third floor. The library is open Monday through Friday, 9:00am to 5:00pm; during the fall and spring semesters, when KU classes are in session, it is also open on Saturday, 9:00am to 1:00pm. For other closings and hours during semester breaks and holidays, see our Exception Dates.

JoJo Palko
KU 150 Research Archivist
University Archives

All Creeping Things: A History of Herpetological Illustration

May 26th, 2015

All Creeping Things: A History of Herpetological Illustration, Spencer Library’s newest exhibit, opened on May 14, 2015. Guided by Special Collections Librarian Karen Cook, students Megan Sims, Sydney Goldstein, and Ryan Ridder created and installed the exhibit for an exhibit planning and design course (MUSE 703). Whitney Baker, Head of Conservation Services at KU Libraries, Special Collections Librarian Sally Haines, and Caitlin Donnelly, Head of Public Services at Spencer, also assisted the students with their project.

The exhibit was developed in conjunction with the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles conference being held at the University of Kansas in July and features herpetological illustrations from seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century books in Spencer Library’s Special Collections. Spencer has put on a few iterations of a similar exhibit for previous conferences. Each student had a unique perspective on their experience creating the exhibit.

Ryan Ridder

“One of our goals was to be distinct from Slithy Toves [a previous exhibit, by Sally Haines] and to present images that viewers familiar with that exhibition, and associated book, might not see as often. We ended up repeating a few irresistible images – the giant salamander, Agassiz’s turtles, and the famous frontispiece to Rössel von Rosenhof’s frog volume – but everything else you see is different. We thought touching on embryological illustrations would give our exhibit another unique slant.”

Photograph of Megan and Ryan installing books

Megan Sims and Ryan Ridder installing books in the cases. Click image to enlarge.

Sydney Goldstein

“I found this class to be both an overwhelming and an incredibly eye-opening experience. Coming from a graphic design background I’ve never gone through the steps of curating an exhibition or working off the computer. It was fun to rummage through a variety of books to select illustrations, figuring out how they will fit in the cases, selecting wall graphics, and working in a group. The most rewarding part was applying our vinyl title graphic ourselves. Overall, a great experience!”

Photograph of the MUSE 703 group hanging vinyl

Megan, Sydney, and Ryan hanging the vinyl title graphic.

Megan Sims

“I have installed many exhibits according to specific designs from clients, but this was my first experience selecting objects, designing signs and labels, and fabricating book mounts and wall graphics for an exhibit. Both the physical process and communication were challenging at times, but seeing the finished product was very rewarding. I’m excited for the conference members and the Lawrence community to see this exhibit!”

Photograph of the MUSE 703 exhibit team in front of title

Ryan Ridder, Sydney Goldstein, Megan Sims, and curator Karen Cook. Click image to enlarge.

All Creeping Things is free and open to the public through August 2015.

Megan Sims
Museum Studies Graduate Student

Love Apples: Guess the Fruit

March 30th, 2015

The first fruits (berries, botanically speaking) of these vines to be eaten in Europe were probably yellow varieties: “golden apples” the Italians called them. The Italians loved them, but the rest of the world needed more convincing of their merits because they were thought to be either poisonous or aphrodisiac “love apples”, not too surprising considering their resemblance to other dangerous members of the same plant family.

At any rate, as late as the nineteenth century in America Dr. George Washington Carver, interested in improving nutrition among the poor, got up on a stage and ate these in public in order to prove that they were not poisonous.

In the annals of medical mysteries there was a case involving one of these ‘berries’ that killed off some folks; mystery solved when it was discovered that its stems had been spliced to the stems of one of the poisonous members of the family, jimsonweed, not with any mal-intent (pun intended), apparently, just the desire for bigger, better, and juicier.

They should have waited; genetic engineers are now splicing away, but at the genetic level. But … caveat emptor:  in 1992, just prior to the mounting of the Haunted Forest exhibition in which this label originally appeared, the first President Bush announced that the government would allow the sale, without government testing – by 1993 – of the Flavr Savr, courtesy of Calgene, Inc. of Davis, California. Long story short, the experiment failed: rising costs prevented the company from becoming profitable, and the Flavr Savr was gone by 1997.

Have you guessed the identity of the fruit whose vine is pictured below?

The name of this common berry is… TOMATO (highlight the blank space to the left to reveal the plant’s name).

Plate for Solanum lycopersicum  (tomato) in  Kniphof's Botanica in originali seu Herbarum vivum (1757-1767).

Our mystery berry: Solanum Lycopersicum. Johann Hieronymus Kniphof (1704-1763). Botanica in originali
seu Herbarum vivum
. Hallae Magdeburgicae, 1757-1767.  Centur. 4, 1758. Linnaeana E15 Click image to enlarge.

This unusual-looking botany book is one of the earliest, if not the first work of any extent, to use the process known as nature printing, by which a plant is laid out flat, blackened with printer’s ink, and placed between two pieces of paper to which pressure is applied. The ink imparts an impression of veins and fibers which is then colored by hand. Like a number of the works shown in this exhibition, this is one of considerable bibliographical complexity and it exists in fewer than fifteen copies, not all of which are colored and no two appear to be alike. This herbarum vivum is notable for being perhaps the first botanical plate book to cite Linnaeus’s Species plantarum, 1753, in which binomials were first used consistently for naming plants.

Title page, featuring nature printing, for Centur III-IV of Kniphof's Botanica in originali seu Herbarum vivum

Title page for Centur III-IV of Kniphof’s Botanica in originali seu Herbarum vivum.
Hallae Magdeburgicae, 1757-1767.   Linnaeana E15 Click image to enlarge.


Sally Haines
Rare Books Cataloger

Adapted from her Kenneth Spencer Research Library exhibit, The Haunted Forest: New World Plants & Animals (1992).

Exhibiting Free Speech: The Wilcox Collection at 50

March 16th, 2015

This post is written to highlight the current exhibit at Spencer Library: Free Speech in America: The Wilcox Collection at 50. A reception will be held on March 25 at Spencer Library to celebrate the Wilcox Collection.

Fifty years ago Laird Wilcox was a student at the University of Kansas. He had started collecting political literature in his teen years, fueled in this interest by his diverse family leanings and volatile discussions over family meals. He wanted to understand what motivated people to believe the things they did and act on those beliefs.

In 1964 Laird entered and won the Elizabeth Taylor Book Collecting Contest sponsored by the KU Libraries. The Libraries purchased his collection in 1965 (then four filing cabinets of materials). Today the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements is one of the largest assemblages of left and right wing U.S. political materials anywhere. There are thousands and thousands of pamphlets, books, newsletters, audio recordings, and political ephemera such as bumper stickers, posters, flyers, organizational membership mailings, and book catalogs, relating to some 10,000 organizations at the fringes of the political spectrum. There is also a growing component of manuscript collections as well, including Laird Wilcox’s personal papers.

1964 Contest Winners Laird Wilcox, Lawrence Morgan, and Jerry L. Ulrich, with Elizabeth M. Taylor.

The winners of the Taylor Book Collecting Contest, KU Libraries, 1964. Laird Wilcox, far left, and Elizabeth M. Taylor (sponsor of the contest), second from left. University Archives. Call Number: RG 32/40. Click image to enlarge.

Laird Wilcox in Wilcox Collection stacks, University of Kansas Libraries

Laird Wilcox standing in the Wilcox Collection stacks, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, KU, 1996. University Archives. Call number: RG P/LW. Click image to enlarge.

In 2015 an exhibit was mounted in Spencer Research Library to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wilcox Collection. The exhibit includes examples of books, newsletters, and ephemera, and highlights some of the many books that have resulted from research in the collection. Materials from the collection include items from a scrapbook that Laird kept as chair of the Student Union Association Minority Opinions Forum, a FBI wanted poster with photos of Bernadine Dohrn and William Ayers from the ephemera file of the Weather Underground, and examples of Laird’s many publications.

Flyer from Wilcox Collection depicting American flag

Poster for a documentary film shown at KU in 1964 focusing on the Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). From the Laird Wilcox scrapbook. Kansas Collection. Call number: RH WL MS Q5. Click image to enlarge.

Wanted poster from Wilcox Collection, University of Kansas Libraries

FBI wanted poster from the ephemera file of the Weather Underground which operated as an underground urban guerilla force. Kansas Collection. Call number: RH WL EPH 2094. Click image to enlarge.

One of the strongest features of the Wilcox Collection is ephemeral materials, including bumper stickers, buttons, and flyers. Because of their “throw-away” nature ephemera are often overlooked as an information source, but can provide the original message of the creator in a way that is often concise and colorful.  On display are materials from the National Youth Alliance, Community Churches of America, the American Education Lobby, the Lesbian/Gay Labor Alliance, the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, T.R.A.I.N. (To Restore American Independence Now), Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, Phoebe Courtney’s Tax Fax, and The Fact Finder published by Harry Everington. There are more than 200,000 pieces of ephemera in the Wilcox Collection.

Ephemeral materials from Wilcox Collection, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Representative ephemera from the Wilcox Collection. Kansas Collection. Call number: RH WL EPH. Click image to enlarge.

The Wilcox Collection is a prime example of one of the world-class collections that reside within the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Researchers from many parts of the globe have traveled to the KU campus to view this collection, an opportunity that is easily available to KU’s students and faculty.

Rebecca Schulte
University Archivist and Curator, Wilcox Collection

Sherry Williams
Curator of Collections and Curator, Kansas Collection



Appellation Spring

January 13th, 2015

Linnnaeus (whose citation at the end of a binomial is simply “L.”) invented a practical system for the classification of plants and animals; more importantly, he established a uniform method of referring to species by two Latin words–a reform that led eventually to binomial nomenclature. Although his classification system was superseded, his principles of nomenclature continue to provide the rules for application of names to thousands of species of animals and plants newly identified every year. Volume 1, Animalia, of the tenth edition of the Systema Naturae (1758), is one of the most important books in the history of science, for it marks the beginning of the modern zoological nomenclature and systematics. In it, Linnaeus first consistently applied binomial nomenclature to the whole animal kingdom.

Linneana B65 v.6:146

Image from Siren lacertina, 1766. Linneana B65 v.6:146, Special Collections

Unfortunately the great Linnaeus had little love for herps, thought them “disgusting,” and would have done well to adopt the classifcation system of John Ray. We quote, in rough translation, from the Systema: “Amphibia are loathsome because of their cool and colorless skin, cartilaginous skeleton, despicable appearance, evil eye, awful stench, harsh sound, filthy habitat, and deadly venom; and so God has not seen fit to create many of them.” Many of Linnaeus’s descriptions were based on those in books by Aldrovandus, Seba, Catesby, Jonstonus, and others. His use of the word “Amphibia” denoted not only all reptiles and amphibians, but also the cartilaginous fishes.

This work is the doctoral dissertation of one of Linnaeus’s students; it was the tradition of the day for a professor to write the thesis, but the student “respondent” had to defend it and pay for its publication.

Sally Haines
Rare Books Cataloger
Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit and catalog, Slithy Toves: Illustrated Classic Herpetological Books at the University of Kansas in Pictures and Conservations