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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Fall Exhibit 2022: Keeping the Books: The Rubinstein Collection of the Orsetti Family Business Archive

September 15th, 2022

In 1974, the University of Kansas Libraries acquired a remarkable collection of bound business manuscripts from the Orsetti family of Lucca, in present-day Tuscany, Italy. Containing 294 bound volumes; 84 individual, hand-drawn maps; and five boxes of unbound accounting and family records, the Rubinstein Collection, as it is now called, comprises a rich archive of business accounts and legal documents of the Orsetti family’s commercial enterprises of agriculture, real estate, and textiles, as well as personal expenses. The collection of account books, business letters, legal documents, and inventories spans the late 12th century to the early 19th century, with the heaviest concentration dating from the 16th to 18th centuries.

The Orsetti family originated in San Donnino di Marlia, a rural village located near the Tuscan city of Lucca, where they relocated at the beginning of the 15th century. Lucca was a center for silk production and trade. By the mid 17th century Orsetti family members owned the second-largest textile workshop in Lucca, with ninety-five looms. Their companies thrived in Italy, as well as in Germany and Eastern Europe, especially Poland. Their silk trading company, Filippo Orsetti e Compagnia, flourished between 1695 to at least 1744. As the silk market declined in the 18th century, the Orsetti liquidated those assets and focused on their land holdings. Other noble families acted similarly, transforming the ruling class of Lucca in the 18th century from a group of merchants into wealthy landowners.

The Orsetti family crest features a golden eagle in profile wearing a crown in the top half, and a shock of wheat flanked by two gold stars in the lower half.
The Orsetti family crest features a golden eagle in profile wearing a crown on a blue background in the top half, and a shock of wheat flanked by two gold stars on a red background in the lower half. This ink-drawn version adorns the covers of a series of legal books in the Rubinstein Collection. Call number MS E133 v.4 of 6, Special Collections, Spencer Research Library, KU Libraries.

The Orsetti family of merchants used the accepted practices of their time to record their business and personal expenses and revenues. In 1494, Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan friar and mathematician, published his description of the Venetian double-entry accounting system, the treatise “About Accounts and Other Writings,” in Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita. Pacioli’s work was translated into many languages, and that the style of bookkeeping became standard practice across Europe. In many ways, his descriptions of double-entry accounting are still used today. Pacioli recommended different types of books for different accounting purposes, and that practice is reflected in the Rubinstein Collection and in this exhibit.

Large ledger open to columns of accounting notations.
Ledger H for the Altopascio estate. The red arrow points to a credit posting for a grain transaction with the Biancalana family of Carraia, Tuscany. Call number MS J15:6, Special Collections, Spencer Research Library, KU Libraries.
Front cover of an Italian manuscript book, dated 1698.
Bound book of copies of business letters for Filippo Orsetti e Compagnia, a silk business that operated from 1695 to at least 1744. Call number MS E136 v.3 of 11, Special Collections, Spencer Research Library, KU Libraries.

In addition to serving as an example of accounting practices in early modern Italy, the collection provides a rare opportunity to study bookbinding attributes from one family’s archive over centuries. From January to June 2022, I was awarded sabbatical leave to study the bindings in the Rubinstein Collection. A University of Kansas General Research Fund grant provided funds for raw materials to create bookbinding models to further understand how the books were constructed. Some of the models are also shared in this exhibit.

Model of a book in Spencer Library's collection, featuring a parchment cover with leather bands. Title and date are hand-written on the top cover.
Parchment account book model made by Whitney Baker, based on MS E145 (Contracts of Goods from the Altopascio Estate), Special Collections, Spencer Research Library, KU Libraries.

The Rubinstein Collection honors Joseph Rubinstein, the first curator of the Department of Special Collections at KU Libraries, from 1953 to 1963. After Rubinstein left KU he entered the rare book trade and was instrumental in helping the University of Kansas acquire the Orsetti family papers. Rubinstein died in 1973, while purchase negotiations were ongoing. When the Orsetti family papers finally came to Spencer Library the following year, the collection was named in honor of KU’s first special collections librarian.

Man holding book, in front of bookshelf
“Joseph Rubinstein examines books, 1956,” call number 41/0, University Archives, Spencer Research Library, KU Libraries.

Keeping the Books will be featured in Spencer Library’s main gallery from September 9, 2022 to January 13, 2023.

Visual Communications (VISC) 440/740 (Book Arts) students meeting with exhibit curator Whitney Baker in a gallery tour, September 14, 2022.

Whitney Baker
Librarian / Head, Conservation Services

New Finding Aids, January-June 2022

July 19th, 2022

Supply chain issues and lower staffing levels have continued to affect our ability to process new collections in the first half of 2022, but despite this we have continued to process and describe new materials. We’ve also been able to return to a project that has long languished, in which we are inventorying and describing the official records of the University of Kansas, including creating finding aids for record groups that were previously undescribed in an easily accessible, online way. Look for updates to our record group listings throughout the rest of this year and beyond!

You’ll see some newly described record groups in the list below, amongst our other newly processed collections.

William Coker collection, 1932-2004 (RH MS 1550)

Hodgeman colony history collection, 1879-1963 (RH MS P977)

Chester Owens collection, 1923-2010 (bulk 1950s-1980s) (RH MS 1549, RH MS R496)

Paul A. Black photograph album, approximately 1916-1938 (RH PH 564)

Philippine-American War diary by a U.S. officer, March 25-April 6, 1900 (RH MS C93)

Dotti McClenaghan “Follies” collection, 1959, 1963 (bulk 1959) (RH PH 563)

Black album page with two black-and-white photographs and "The Golden Voice of Jenni Wren" written in white.
A page from a scrapbook/photograph album compiled by the cast and crew of the “Follies” variety show produced by the Antioch Elementary School’s Parent Teacher Association in Overland Park, Kansas. Call Number: RH PH 563, Box 1, Volume 1. Click image to enlarge.

Pace and Mendenhall family photographs, 1909, 1925-1935, undated (RH PH 562)

Jerauld R. Crowell papers, 1963-2018 (RH MS 1551, RH MS R497, RH MS R498, RH MS S76, KC AV 115)

Independent Order of Good Templars of Jefferson County, Kansas, Lodge No. 17 records, 1874, 1876 (RH MS P978)

June flood of 1908 at Kansas City postcards, June 1908 (RH PH P2843)

Walter Thomas Bezzi journals, 1975-1985 (RH MS 1552)

Bullene family bible, [bible printed in 1833, includes information dating up to 1926] (RH MS 1546)

J.C. Nichols Investment Company covenant book, November 1922 (RH MS P976)

Bell Memorial Hospital photograph, 1918 (RH PH P2842(f))

Clarence Kivett papers, 1977-1995 (RH MS 1547)

Harris family papers, 1965-2019 (RH MS 1543, RH MS Q483)

Perry Alan Werner photograph collection, December 1977-September 1978 and undated (RH PH 561)

1890s family photograph album, probably from Kansas, 1890s (RH PH P2845)

James Milton Turner correspondence, July 1884 (RH MS P979)

Langston Hughes play scripts, 1937-1958 (RH MS 1554)

Robert C. Wilson collection, 1967-1999 (RH MS 1556, RH MS R501, KC AV 119)

“The Order of the Little Bears” notebook, April 7, 1942-May 1943 (MS C317, MS P761)

Hand-drawn sketch of a woman with the caption "Our Grand Master Bear Bibs."
One of the many delightful illustrations from this English World War II-era scrapbook that describes the escapades of a group of young women, The Order of the Little Bears, living in wartime. Call Number: MS C317, Volume 1. Click image to enlarge.

Personal papers of Thomas N. Taylor, 1961-2016 (PP 631)

Hinton family papers, 1921-2016 (RH MS 1558, RH MS Q489, KC AV 120)

“These Were People of Mercy” Stoner family genealogy, December 2019 (RH MS D302)

John Parks enlistment papers, October 1, 1863 (RH MS P980)

Joshua William Beede letters, April 6, 1899 and August [1899?] (RH MS P981)

Postcards addressed to Lillian Mitchner, 1910 (RH MS P982)

Records regarding Faculty and Staff at the University of Kansas, 1880s-2020 (bulk 1930s-2000s) (RG 41)

Group of people standing in a large warehouse.
Image from the May 1997 Wheat State Tour, a week-long tour organized by the University of Kansas for new faculty and staff to become acquainted with the state. Call Number: RG 41/5 Photographs. Click image to enlarge.

Records of Radio, TV, and Film at the University of Kansas, 1923-2019 (bulk 1950s-1980s) (RG 40)

Records of the Office of Public Safety at the University of Kansas, 1925-2019 (RG 48)

Personal papers of Neil J. Salkind, 1970-2017 (PP 632)

Personal papers of Anton Rosenthal, 1984-2020 (PP 633)

Personal papers of Larry Martin, approximately 1972-2010 (PP 630)

Living the Dream, Inc. invitation, 2020 (RH MS P988)

Margaret Kramar collection, March 2017 (RH MS P987)

John Swift school records, 1950-1956 (RH MS P986)

Amelia Pardee Ellis McQueen collection, 1862-1997 (RH MS P985)

Blue Rapids Supply Company brochures, February 1940, September 1941 (RH MS P984)

“Grandmother’s Letters,” by Louisa B. Simpson, 1847-1864 (RH MS P983)

U.S. Committee on Public Information Division of Women’s War Work collection, December 1917-July 1918 (MS 371, MS Qa40)

Personal papers of Donald Stull, 1967-2015 (PP 583)

Personal papers of Charles D. Bunker, 1901-1937 (PP 634)

Marcella Huggard
Manuscripts Processing Coordinator

Student Spotlight: Alex Williams

July 7th, 2022

This is the second installment in a series of posts introducing readers to student employees who make important contributions to the work of Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features student assistant Alex Williams, who started working in Spencer’s Public Services unit in Spring 2019. Alex is an undergraduate majoring in creative writing with a minor in women, gender, and sexuality studies; she is graduating from KU in Spring 2023.

Young woman standing in front of floor-to-ceiling shelves of books, gesturing to a booktruck of materials.
Public Services student assistant Alex Williams. Click image to enlarge.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I am a Public Services student employee, so my job consists of retrieving materials from our stacks to bring to patrons using the Reading Room, manning the reception desk, and returning or shifting materials in the stacks.

Why did you want to work at Spencer Research Library?

A few years ago, my first-year seminar class took a tour of Spencer Research Library. The curator leading our tour, Elspeth Healey, mentioned the library would be hiring soon and I left my name and contact information. I worked as a library aid in high school and was intrigued by the variety of materials held at Spencer. 

What has been most interesting to you about your work?

The variety of patrons that come into the library and hearing about their research projects. We get people who are local to Lawrence looking at regional history and then we’ll have someone from another country looking for Special Collections materials. There is always a chance to learn something new about Spencer when new patrons come in.

What part of your job do you like best?

I love working in the stacks. It’s fun the browse through the stacks and look at the different materials we have. Whether it’s putting back items or moving in newly processed materials, I just find it really fun to see everything. Occasionally, after I have completed all my work, I’ll make a little scavenger hunt game for myself and see how many different editions of Moby Dick or Sherlock Holmes I can find in Special Collections. The science fiction collection is another area I frequently investigate. I may even be doing my own research project with the sci-fi materials in the future.

What piece of advice would you offer other students thinking about working at Spencer Research Library?

This seems like a very basic piece of advice: ASK QUESTIONS. I don’t mean just to the supervisors. Ask the patrons about they’re research projects. Ask the curators about classes, exhibits, or collection areas. Not only does it help you engage with the collections, but it creates community. I think that’s why I enjoy Public Services so much because I get to interact not only with the Spencer’s materials but the individuals who utilize them.

Alex Williams
Public Services Student Assistant

Pride Month, 2022: Highlights from the Bruce McKinney Papers

June 27th, 2022

Hello and happy Pride Month!

The Bruce McKinney collection at Kenneth Spencer Research Library holds many pieces of LGBTQIA+ materials and memorabilia. McKinney was a Kansas activist for gender and gay rights. His collection of papers ranges from pamphlets for rallies and centers for queer individuals all over the country to stickers and pins.

For example, McKinney’s papers document the work of the Wichita, Kansas, LesBiGayTrans Center, an organization with which he worked closely.

Text that reads "Welcome to The Center, Wichita's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and HIV/AIDS Affected People's Community Center, Operated by Kansans for Human Dignity. Look for a Volunteer wearing a KFHD volunteer staff badge."
A flier for The LesBiGayTrans Community Center of Wichita, Kansas, undated. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 15, Folder 29. Click image to enlarge.
Black text on a white background describing the event.
Flier for Lesbian/Gay History Month at The LesBiGayTrans Community Center of Wichita, Kansas, October 1994. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 15, Folder 29. Click image to enlarge.
Black text on white and pink backgrounds. The main text reads "Your Next Step" and "This is Who I Am."
An undated National Coming Out Day pamphlet in Bruce McKinney’s files of The LesBiGayTrans Community Center. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 15, Folder 29. Click image to enlarge.
Blue text that says "Safe Zone" on white paper. There is also a pink triangle centered in a blue circle.
An undated Safe Zone flier in Bruce McKinney’s files of The LesBiGayTrans Community Center. This jumped out to me because I recently learned that Nazis used pink triangle badges to distinguish gay men in concentration camps. The triangle was later reclaimed as a protest symbol against homophobia. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 15, Folder 29. Click image to enlarge.

Some items in the McKinney collection highlight the history of the LGBTQIA+ community at the University of Kansas. The documents below focus on LesBiGay Awareness Week events held in 1995.

Black text on white paper. There is a black-and-white American flag in the background.
Flier for the “Pride March on Lawrence,” April 1995. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 31, Folder 39. Click image to enlarge.
Black text on white paper.
KU Queer Prom flier, April 1995. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 31, Folder 39. Click image to enlarge.

Additionally, McKinney’s papers includes information to help learn more about the queer community. I was particularly interested in the information written on bisexuality and even a paper about how to defend homosexuality in instances where individuals use the Bible against them.

Black text on yellowish/orange paper. The document lists four biphobic (negative) attitude levels and four bifriendly (positive) attitude levels.
“The Biphobia Scale,” undated. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 14, Folder 49. Click image to enlarge.
Black text on white paper. The document is a resource order form for workshop and teaching materials.
“Campaign to End Homophobia” flier, undated. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 14, Folder 48. Click image to enlarge.
Black text on white paper. The document examines Bible verses Genesis 18-19 and Judges 19, arguing that they "were not written as tools for condemnation toward homosexuals."
“Homosexuality and the Scriptures” document, undated. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 14, Folder 49. Click image to enlarge.

Some of the more fun things to look at were the many different bumper stickers that McKinney saved!

Two circular stickers with primarily white text against a red background.
Hot pink text against a black background.
Pink text with a row of people in black silhouette against a white background.
Blue text with a globe, a compass, and a pink triangle on a white background.
A selection of bumper stickers from Bruce McKinney’s collection. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 15, Folder 5. Click images to enlarge.

Have a happy and safe Pride!

Black-and-white newspaper clipping of a man leaning up against a wall. He is wearing a black cowboy hat and a white t-shirt that says "Queer Cowboy."
Advertisement for a “Queer Cowboy” t-shirt in the Over the Rainbow catalogue, undated. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS Q306, Box 124, Folder 10. Click image to enlarge.

Alex Williams
Public Services Student Assistant

Flag Day, 2022

June 14th, 2022
Bandstand decorated by the Eagle Flag Co. in Sedan, Kansas, 1913. Kansas Collection Photos. Call Number: RH MS P2178. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Not a federal holiday, but a celebration and a remembrance. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed June 14th as Flag Day, celebrating the adoption of the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777. Flags are a particular manifestation of symbols. A flag can indicate an idea, a group, a place, or an area. With the adoption of an official flag for the United States of America, there was a unified way to signal the influence of the USA. With that noted, maybe we can look at how it and a few other flags have been used through the years!

Here we have one of several KU flags, this one a 1928 design. Used in this manner, it is very similar to a national flag, showing identification and support for the University of Kansas.

University of Kansas flag designed in 1928; photo taken in 1933. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/49: General Records: Flags and Banners (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Flags sometimes come with the hint of violence. Here we have a photo of students around their flag to fight for on May Day in 1895. Having your flag captured was quite the sign of disgrace!

May Day Scrap, 1895. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 71/10: Student Activities: May Day (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

While flags can be used as positive symbols – representing enthusiasm, identification, etc. – flags can also be used as negative symbols. Here at a KU an anti-Vietnam war Student protest in May 1970, black flags are displayed along with a U.S. flag on a coffin near a U.S. flag at half-mast. The same flags used for celebration here demonstrate shame and loss.

KU anti-Vietnam student protests on May 3-9, 1970. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 71/18: Student Protests (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

And while a flag can be used to isolate and claim dominion, flags can be used to show hope, alliance, and gathering together as in the dedication ceremony for Allen Fieldhouse in 1955.

The Allen Fieldhouse dedication ceremony, 1955. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/22/1: Campus: Buildings: Allen Fieldhouse (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Flags have been and are used in many different ways in many different circumstances: in humor, in celebration, in victory, in defeat, in shame, and in pride. Flag Day may specifically celebrate the adoption of a United States flag, but isn’t a bad day to think of all the flags we fly!

Shelby Schellenger
Reference Coordinator