Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Meet the KSRL Staff: Molly Herring

June 3rd, 2020

This is the latest installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Molly Herring, who joined Spencer in February as the Associate Archivist in University Archives.

Photograph of Associate Archivist Molly Herring
Associate Archivist Molly Herring. Click image to enlarge.

Where are you from?

I was born in the Kansas City area, but I moved around a lot growing up. My father was a Chaplin in the Army, and over the past twenty-five years I’ve lived in eleven states and fifteen cities, and I even spent three years living in Germany. However, I spent my senior year of high school in Kansas and went to college at KU, so Kansas really feels like my home state.

How did you come to work in archives?

I had always planned on going to library school after teaching for a few years (I got my bachelor’s degree in Secondary English education), although at that point I was thinking more along the lines of working in a public library. While researching programs, I began to learn more about the field of archives and decided it was the place for me! I decided to go to graduate school immediately after college, got my Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree with a specialization in Archives and Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh in 2017, and then spent a couple of years working at the Indiana State Archives. I jumped at the opportunity to work in the University Archives, being a KU graduate myself as well as a fifth-generation Jayhawk.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

As the Associate Archivist, I appraise, accession, process, and manage records in all formats transferred to the custody of the University Archives. I answer research questions submitted by both on- and off-site patrons, participate in outreach services (such as exhibits, blog posts, etc.), work with donors who wish to give materials to the Archives, and collaborate with Digital Initiatives and Processing on digital collections management. Over the past couple months, as I’ve worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have devoted much time to working with Digital Initiatives and other Spencer Library staff on the University’s web archives.

What is one of the most interesting items you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?

There are so many interesting items in the Archives its hard to pick one! One of my favorite things to tell people we have is a vial of uranium from the Manhattan Project. Another object I love is a wooden Jayhawk that was carved by a German POW who was sent to Kansas during World War II. On a more personal note I found some wonderful information on my great-great grandmother. She was the Women’s Student Government President in 1913 and, as an alumna, helped start KU’s chapter of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, which I was a member of while at KU.

What part of your job do you like best?

My job entails a lot of different parts, which is something I really enjoy! I learn something new every day, and one day is never like the other. Also, although it’s a small part of my job, I really enjoy working on exhibits. It’s a wonderful way to get to know the collections and learn more about KU’s history.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I enjoy working on embroidery projects, baking, being outdoors, spending time with friends and family, and of course reading (sci-fi and fantasy in particular).

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and as many as you need to! Researching in special collections and archives can feel daunting, but we’re here to help!

Molly Herring
Associate Archivist, University Archives

Manuscript of the Month: A Fifteenth-Century Compendium of Illustrious Men

May 26th, 2020

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz is conducting research on pre-1600 manuscripts at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Each month she will be writing about a manuscript she has worked with and the current KU Library catalog records will be updated in accordance with her findings. 

Kenneth Spencer Research Library MS D13 is a fifteenth-century manuscript that includes two works, both of which contain short biographies of classical historical figures. The first work is attributed to the fourth-century grammarian Aemilius Probus with the following rubric:“ Probi Emilii liber de excellentissimis ducib[us] exterarum gentium felicer incipit” (“Aemilius Probus’s book, ‘On the Most Eminent Generals of Foreign Peoples,’ happily begins”). The second one, on the other hand, is assigned to the first-century natural scientist Pliny the Elder with the following rubric: “Plinii Veronensis de viris illustrib(us) liber incipit feliciter in no(m)i(n)e d(omi)ni” (“Pliny of Verona’s book, ‘On the Illustrious Men,’ happily begins in the name of the Lord”). Both of these attributions, to Aemilius Probus and Pliny the Elder respectively, are in fact incorrect.

Even though the first work is attributed to Aemilius Probus in many of the surviving manuscripts, including MS D13, it is believed that the work known with the title De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium (“On the Eminent Generals of Foreign Peoples”) is part of a larger work by Cornelius Nepos, an author of the late first century BCE who himself was from Verona. This larger work, titled De viris illustribus (“On Illustrious Men”), is thought to have comprised at least sixteen books but not much has survived intact other than the De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium. The second work, attributed to “Pliny of Verona” in a number of medieval manuscripts, including MS D13, is usually titled the De viris illustribus urbis Romae (“On Illustrious Men of the City of Rome”). It once was thought to have been written by the fourth-century author Sextus Aurelius Victor, but is now believed to have been composed by an anonymous author of the fourth century referred to as pseudo-Sextus Aurelius Victor.

Image of the Beginning of the De excellentissimis ducibus exterarum gentium, with decorative blue and red initial (fol. 2r) Italy, fifteenth century.
Beginning of the De excellentissimis ducibus exterarum gentium. Italy, fifteenth century. Call # MS D13. Click image to enlarge. See additional images from this manuscript in the Digital Scriptorium.
Image of Beginning of the De viris illustribus, with illuminated initial (folio 66 recto). Italy, fifteenth century. Call# MS D13.
Beginning of the De viris illustribus. Italy, fifteenth century. Call # MS D13. Click image to enlarge. See additional images from this manuscript in the Digital Scriptorium.

In MS D13, the De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium opens with a preface and includes twenty-three biographies ranging from that of Miltiades (around 555–489 BCE), the Athenian general who defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon, to that of Hannibal (247–183/181 BCE), the Carthaginian general who commanded the army of Carthage against Rome during the Second Punic War. The De viris illustribus urbis Romae follows the De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium with no preface, and includes seventy-seven somewhat shorter biographies beginning with that of Procas, the great grandfather of Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, and ending with Pompey the Great, a leading Roman general of the first century BCE. Ordinarily, this work has eighty-six biographies.

Even though the decorated initials that open each work in MS D13 are in starkly different styles, the manuscript was probably written by a single scribe. It was also very well planned, consisting of nine quires of ten leaves each (the final leaf, which was probably blank is missing). There is no indication that there were other texts before or after either of the two works. Therefore, it may be argued that the scribe had carefully planned to copy both of these works one after the other and intended to create this larger book of biographies by juxtaposing these two works.

John C. Rolfe, the translator of the Loeb edition to the text states that “Nepos arranged his biographies in groups of two books each. The first book of every group included the distinguished men of foreign nations, for the most part Greeks; the second, those of Rome. From references of Nepos himself and others the categories of generals, historians, kings and poets have been determined” (“Introduction,” ix). The argument that the book on the generals of foreign peoples was supposed to be followed by a book on the Roman generals is also supported by the closing words of the De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium:

Sed nos tempus est huius libri facere finem et Romanorum explicare imperatores, quo facilius, collatis utrorumque factis, qui viri praeferendi sint possit iudicari.

But it is time for us to put an end to this book and give an account of the Roman generals, to make it easier, with the deeds of both gathered together, to judge which men ought to be given the higher rank.

Thus, the fact that in MS D13 the book on the generals of foreign peoples by Nepos, which has survived, is followed by a series of illustrious individuals from Roman history, somewhat restores the work back to its original form, to the way it was intended to be read.

Unfortunately, P. K. Marshall, who wrote the most detailed study of the manuscript tradition of the De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium, did not comment on MS D13, even though he indicated that he had examined the manuscript. In his 1977 study, Marshall lists 86 witnesses to the text including MS D13, two of which had already been lost. He does not, however, comment on what other texts are contained in the manuscripts that include the De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium. In addition, to my knowledge there is no detailed study of the manuscript transmission of the anonymous De viris illustribus urbis Romae other than the brief discussion included in the Teubner edition. Thus, we do not know how common it was to cut the text short and not include all the eighty-six biographies. Similarly, we do not know which other works the De viris illustribus urbis Romae was associated with in the manuscripts. It would be interesting to see whether the two works found in MS D13 are arranged in the same way in other surviving manuscripts or whether this was the idea of the compiler of this particular manuscript.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library purchased the manuscript from William Salloch in 1956, and it is available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open.

  • See the edition and translation of the De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium: Cornelius Nepos. On Great Generals, On Historians. Trans. John C. Rolfe. LCL 467. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984. ISBN: 978-0-674-995-514-7.
  • See the edition of the De viris illustribus: Sexti Aurelii Victoris Liber de Caesaribus; praecedunt Origo gentis romanae et Liber de viris illustribus urbis Romae, subsequitur Epitome de Caesaribus. Ed. Franz Pichlmayr. Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1911. Public domain.
  • Read about the manuscripts of the De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium: P. K. Marshall. Institute of Classical Studies Bulletin Supplement No: 37: The Manuscript Tradition of Cornelius Nepos. February 1977.

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher

Follow the account “Manuscripts &c.” on Twitter and Instagram for postings about manuscripts from the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Treatment of Mary Huntoon’s Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, an Etching: Part 2

May 19th, 2020

In the first installment of this two part blog series, the Kansas artist, Mary Huntoon, was introduced. We shared how her print, Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, was prepared for an overall washing treatment in order to reduce several dark brown stains along the top edge that interrupted the image area and created bulging in the surface.

Before any washing treatments are performed on works on paper, all media are tested with the proposed washing solutions to ensure their stability. The surface is also checked for any areas where the print may have been previously restored, or even re-touched by the artist with another material that might be water-soluble. I carefully examined the print under magnification during testing in order to make sure the ink and paper were safe for washing. Everything checked out, so I was ready to start the washing step.

Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, prior to treatment. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.

Prior to washing, the print was gently surface-cleaned and the brown paper attachments were removed. You can read more about these steps in the first blog post about this treatment.

Before a work on paper is placed into a bath, the entire object must slowly undergo a humidification step. This helps to relax the paper and the media and prevents aggressive swelling. Then the object is gently sprayed with deionized water using a fine mist attachment in order to fully saturate it. This step-wise procedure ensures a gentle transition for the object into the bath.    

The print was washed in successive baths of pH-adjusted deionized water and air-dried. I examined the print once again to assess the progress of the washing step. The stains had noticeably lessened, but they were still quite visible, and I decided to test another stain reduction technique.

Using a small brush, I gently introduced very small applications of a dilute reducing bleach to the stained areas. This reduced the stain to an almost undetectable level. Then the bleach was fully rinsed with additional baths of pH-adjusted deionized water. I used an ultraviolet lamp to check to see that all the bleach, which fluoresces under ultraviolet radiation, was rinsed away.

The etching Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, by Mary Huntoon, in normal light, after treatment.
Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, in normal light, after treatment. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.

After the stain reduction and overall washing was complete, it was time to address a few structural concerns. Weak creases in the upper corners made the print vulnerable to breakage and tearing, so I reinforced them using Japanese paper applied with wheat starch paste we make in our conservation lab. Instead of cutting the Japanese paper, it is wetted and torn. This torn edge makes use of the long kozo fibers in the paper and creates a strong mend that integrates well into the paper. After all the mends and reinforcements were complete, the print was humidified a second time and flattened between thick felts. Pressing between felts helped to remove planar distortions along the edges, while also maintaining the plate mark of the etching.

Now that the treatment is complete, the print is ready to be returned to the collection where it can be safely examined by visitors to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.  

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library is home to the collection of papers and original artwork by Kansas artist and art therapist, Mary Huntoon (1896 – 1970). As part of a collaborative initiative between KU Libraries and the Spencer Museum of Art, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, many of the prints, drawings, and watercolors by Huntoon will be treated.

Creases in the upper corners of the etching Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, by Mary Huntoon, being reinforced with Japanese paper attached with wheat starch paste.
Creases in the upper corners were reinforced with Japanese paper attached with wheat starch paste. Call Number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.
The etching Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, by Mary Huntoon, in raking light, prior to treatment (at left), and after treatment (at right).
Kansas City, Kansas Grain Elevators, in raking light, prior to treatment (at left), and after treatment (at right). Call number: RH MS 209. Click image to enlarge.

Jacinta Johnson, Associate Conservator, Mellon Initiative

“My Dear Mother, With Love Your Affectionate Son”

May 8th, 2020

Richard Blake was a civilian merchant, known as a sutler, at Fort Wallace, Kansas, during the 1860s. At that time Fort Wallace, still located in western Kansas, was a stop on the stage coach line that went through Kansas and on to Colorado. It also served as a military outpost. During his time there, Blake wrote letters to his family describing the area, the men he encountered, and life on the post. Those letters are now among the holdings of the Kansas Collection at Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Among his letters is one written to his mother. In it, he talks of feeling homesick and of his longing for letters from home. In honor of Mothers’ Day, the letter is transcribed here.

Please note that some of the language used by Blake was common during his time, but is considered offensive today.

Photograph of the Officers’ Quarters at Fort Wallace, Kansas, August 1868
The Officers’ Quarters at Fort Wallace, Kansas, August 1868. Richard Blake Letters. Call Number: RH MS-P P32.7. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of Richard Blake, August 1, 1868
Richard Blake, August 1, 1868. Richard Blake Letters. Call Number: RH MS-P P32.5. Click image to enlarge.
The first page of Richard Blake's letter to mother, July 14, 1867
The second page of Richard Blake's letter to mother, July 14, 1867
The third page of Richard Blake's letter to mother, July 14, 1867
The fourth page of Richard Blake's letter to mother, July 14, 1867
Richard Blake’s letter to mother, July 14, 1867. Richard Blake Letters. Call Number: RH MS P32.1. Click images to enlarge.

Fort Wallace, Kansas
July 14, 186

My Dear Mother,

Another week has gone by and we have had no Mail. consequently I have not heard from any of you, at home or elsewhere. I begin to want to hear, as it is about a month since I got a letter.

Last evening just at dusk we saw on a hill about a mile north of here – about a dozzen [sic] horsemen which a great many took to be Indians – but we were expecting Genl Custer with his command and supposed the horsemen to be the advance guard, which turned out to be correct – it was Genl Custer with what was left of his command. he camped about a mile west of us, and all day to-day we have had the officers up here and quite a lively time. but now all is quiet once more and I am in hopes for the evening as I want to write several letters and no knowing if I will have another chance before the coach goes down which will be on Thursday if nothing happens. The Stages for the present will run once a week, two coaches at a time, and that is a great deal better than being cut off from all communication. I wonder if you know how a person feels when we have nothing to read and nothing but the same story about Indians – with no news of what is going on in the States. I know I feel auful [sic] lonesome sometimes, and hardly know what to do with myself, and generally either go to sleep, or smoke my pipe or go up to see the officers and play whist till I am over the blues.

Brevet Major Genl Custer is Lieut Col. of the 7th Cavalry, which six months ago numbered (1200) twelve hundred men, and since then they have had three hundred recruits, and to-day the whole Regiment, twelve companies do not number over Seven hundred and they have not lost Fifty men in all by death, but they have deserted by tens twenties and fifties, till over seven hundred have gone and now we have “All that is left of them,” left of the Twelve hundred “Stationed here.” I think as every one else with any sense at all thinks, that Genl Sherman, Genl Hancock, Genl Custer and the balance of them have made a grand fizzle. I don’t believe the whole pack of them have killed a dozzen [sic] Indians all told, and only the other day Genl Sherman sent an officer and Ten men from Fort Sedgewick to the Republican River to order Genl Custer to this post. they sure reached Custer but were found a few days afterward, murdered by the confounded Red devils.

I dont remember having told you in my last letter how I spent the Fourth of July, A.D. 1867, in fact I hardly remember what I did write – as I was half asleep when I wrote it having got up at midnight when the Stage arrived, and had to write then or not at all, so will give you a brief sketch now – well to begin we got up as usual eat our breakfast about the same time and opened the Store, which we kept open till twelve o’clock, then as we felt hungry and not going to have dinner till three we eat a box of Sardines and a few crackers – smacked our lips and took a nap till three when we went to dinner and what a dinner. “Oh ye Gods.” Chicken Pie, made from canned chicken, with sobby [sic] crust, and no taste. Then also Oyster Soup – made out [of] Cove oysters with water, with bread and butter. after dinner I took another nap – till dusk when we adjourned up to the Officers quarters – and spent the evening in telling yarns and singing as a [singest?]. I do not excel so did not join in – but listened, and when they sang “Home Sweet Home” I fell well Home sick my heart jumped clean up in my mouth, after that we retired for the night – the day did not seem at all like the 4th of July, more like Sunday, and I cannot now realize that the season is so far advanced.

This evening we had a call from Theodore R. Davis, Special Correspondent and artist for Harper & Bro – he has quite a long article in Harpers Monthly for July – entitled “A Stage Ride to Colorado” with several cuts. I have not yet read it, so cannot say whether it is good or not.

Well all the Officers of the Post came in a while ago – so I had to stop and now it is eleven O’clock so I will stop for the present, but if I get a chance before the coach goes down – I will add a few lines. Give my love to all and all of you write often to your affectionate son.

Richard Blake

P.S. July 15/67 Genl Custer is going down to Fort Hays after his wife this evening – and has promised to take our mail down – so I will send this by him. Will try and write again when the Stage goes down. Love to all. With love your aff. Son

R. Blake

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

What remote work looks like for a conservator

April 30th, 2020

Working at home has become the new normal for many of us since around mid-March, when a national state of emergency was declared because of the novel coronavirus (COVID19) and many states, counties, and municipalities began to issue stay-at-home orders. Essential workers have been doing an amazing job keeping services functioning and supplies in stock, and of course health care workers are fighting the virus at great personal risk every day. 

For those of us deemed non-essential, staying home and following public health advice is the number one thing we can do to support our essential workers, and to combat the spread of COVID19. After that, the next best thing we can do is take care of ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors while maintaining good hygiene and safe distance. After THAT, we can help by continuing to do our jobs to the best of our ability in these challenging circumstances. For some people, work at home might not look a whole lot different from how it looks in their workplace. Others, including many of us conservators, are finding our days looking radically different from a typical day in the lab.

In pre-COVID19 times, a regular day for a conservator probably consisted mostly of doing treatment and other hands-on work at the bench, with a smaller amount of time spent on an assortment of other activities such as email, research and reading, writing, outreach, meetings and committee work, collection surveys, and so many more “other duties as required.” In our new work-at-home reality, the “other duties” now make up the bulk of our work days. Some conservators may have the space and equipment to do treatments at home; I have seen examples of this on social media, although in these cases the treatments are limited to general collections materials. Conservators who work on rare books, special collections, and archival materials (or on museum collections of almost any kind) do not have the option to bring those materials home. There are other hands-on activities that conservators can do that do not require access to collections, such as practicing sewing end bands or making bookbinding models. Many conservators have put their hand skills to work sewing masks for donation to health care workers and community organizations. 

Prior to the emergency declaration, when it was becoming clear that widespread closures were likely, the conservation community began to collect ideas for activities that conservators could do while working from home. Conservators from around the world contributed ideas – everything from webinars and professional development opportunities to free online learning resources and links to articles and video tutorials. I have referred to this list often as I put together my daily work-at-home tasks. 

So, what does working at home look like for me? I will say that the one thing that working at home has in common with working in the lab it that every day is different! About five weeks in, I have fallen into something of a rough routine, but because I have a three-year-old, a first grader who is doing remote learning, and a spouse who is also working from home, it’s necessary to keep my schedule flexible to adjust to the needs of my “coworkers.” 

On the first day of remote work, I took that list that my conservation colleagues had compiled and spent some time sorting it into categories – webinars, online courses, lectures, articles, wellness, and so on. I deleted things that I’d already done or were not applicable, and highlighted those that were of greater interest. I also added a few projects that were already underway and could be continued (at least partially) from home, and brainstormed some new ideas for projects that I could start. 

Working from this list, I set about making a to-do list for each day that includes basics like checking email and posting to social media, and a few items from the master list of activities. It’s a good day if I can get everything checked off that day’s list, and most days I do. I’m an early riser, and now that I don’t have a commute, I’m able to start my day earlier to get ahead of things. Once the kids are up and fed, my first grader and I sit at the table and work side by side; he’s mostly gotten the hang of the online learning technology so I just help keep him on task and guide him when he’s stumped. When he’s done for the day, I usually have about an hour more of work time until lunch, and family lunches are definitely a highlight of working from home, especially now that the weather is pleasant enough that we can eat outside on the patio. In the afternoon, I’ll continue to work on my list of activities while navigating sibling politics and keeping them supplied with snacks and activities of their own. The mute function on Zoom is certainly my good friend these days! 

Two children color with pens and crayons at a kitchen table.
My kids often keep me company while I work at the kitchen table.

That’s how I’ve been working – but what have I been working on? By my count as of Friday, April 17, I’ve watched 9 webinars and 4 archived videos of past presentations or conferences, attended 10 Zoom meetings, read 15 book chapters and 3 articles, posted to social media 39 times*, taken 3 online courses, sewn 26 masks to donate, and followed along on 2 e-forums. I have also been working on 4 projects in various stages of development, including writing up instructions for an oversized book enclosure and a custom cradle for digitization of manuscripts; a research project about training students who work in special collections; and a possible book arts video series. Later this week I will be going in to Spencer when my colleague will be there doing a regular building check; it will be good to see the lab, and I plan to collect some tools, materials, and books to help with some projects I am dreaming up, including models of some binding structures I haven’t tried before.

A pile of handmade cloth face masks.
One of my work-at-home activities was sewing cloth face masks to donate to local health workers. I followed a tip to use round shoelaces for ties due to the difficulty obtaining elastic.

Somewhere in each day, whether it’s after lunch, early in the morning, or at the end of the work day, I’ve been making time to walk, run, take a bike ride, or do yoga; these activities help me enormously when it comes to managing the stress and uncertainty of this time. I’ve been grateful for the wealth of self-care resources that colleagues have shared, and for all the personal accounts of how people are dealing with this situation; knowing that I am not alone when I’m feeling a little at sea is so helpful. While I miss my colleagues and at the lab very much, I am heartened by the collective effort we are making along with the rest of the world – to have even a small part in a truly global effort is really quite inspiring. Wherever you are reading this from, I hope you are staying safe, taking care, and keeping your sights set on what’s good in the world.

A father and two children on a walk in a residential neighborhood.
Most work-at-home days end with a family walk around the neighborhood.

*There is a robust and lively social media community of libraries, archives, museums, conservation professionals, and other cultural heritage institutions and workers. Find me on Instagram and Tumblr as @midwestconservator. Spencer’s Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher, N. Kivilcim Yavuz, is also on Instagram as @manuscriptsetc, posting about Spencer’s manuscript collections every day while we are closed. Be well, y’all!