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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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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.

“Law is a Bottomless-Pit, it is a Cormorant, a Harpy, that devours everything”

October 3rd, 2016

Of the ancient professions–law, medicine, and theology–law, with its private language, its proud practitioners, its high fees, and its dependence on procedure and detail, much of which has no obvious meaning to the lay public, has been the easiest target for satire. The rise in frequency and venom of the satire appears to have coincided, at least so far as the English-speaking world is concerned, with the rise in the use of English in the courts. Once the barrier of Latin and Law-French was lowered, the satirist, like the writer of do-it-yourself law manuals, felt qualified to attack this arcane world.

By the early 18th century, satire of the law was such a recognized and accepted genre that John Arbuthnot, physician to Queen Anne, was able to satirize contemporary English politics under the guise of satirizing an extravagant lawsuit. This pamphlet is the second in his series known as the History of John Bull.

Pages from Bond B290. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Cover of John Arbuthnot’s Law is a bottomless pit, exemplify’d in the case of the Lord Strutt, John Bull, Nicholas Frog, and Lewis Baboon, who spent all they had in a lawsuit. Second edition. London: for John Morphew, 1712. Call number Bond B290.

Pages from Bond B290. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Beginning of chapter one: The occasion of the law-suit.

A contemporary owner has added notes identifying the parties and concepts involved. The lawyer, “Hocus” (for “Hocus pocus”), is the great general, Marlborough, whose supposed political ambitions–or those of his dangerously capable duchess–were greatly resented.

Pages from Bond B290. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Chapter two: How Bull and Frog grew jealous that the Lord Strutt intended to give all his custom to his grandfather, Lewis Baboon.

From Civil, Canon, and Common: Aspects of Legal History. An exhibition of books and manuscripts in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, 1996.
Alexandra Mason and James Helyar, editors

Criminal Cases in Medieval Bologna

March 28th, 2016

Jacobus de Burgo Sancti Sepulcri (fl. 1380) was a notary and magistrate’s forensic official for misdeeds in Bologna. This is his official record of the charges and pleas he handled in twenty cases involving Bolognese citizens. The cases are mostly minor assaults and theft, although there is one long case of sorcery, seduction, quackery, and con-games.

In one example, German-speaking Ubertus, son of the late Henricus de Norfa, came to the house of Gimignanus Ramainus and stole a woman’s tunic, colored green and worth 10 pounds. Talianarius the notary translated the charge into German for him. He confessed everything.

MS E77 cover MS E77 first page

Liber excusationum in causis criminalibus, Bologna, 31 October 1380 to 24 January 1381. Left: Front cover. Right: First page. Call number MS E77. Click images to enlarge.

MS E77 back cover dragon

Doodle on inside of back cover. Call number MS E77. Click images to enlarge.

Adapted from Civil, Canon, and Common: Aspects of Legal History. An Exhibition of Books and Manuscripts in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, 1996.
Alexandra Mason: Catalogue and exhibition; James Helyar: Design

Happy Birthday, Amelia Earhart!

July 22nd, 2015

Friday marks the 118th birthday of the famous aviatrix and Kansas native, so this week we’re highlighting a letter in the Kansas Collection that Earhart (1897-1937) wrote to a young girl, encouraging her to pursue her interest in flying.

The recipient of the letter was sixteen-year-old Helen Edna Mason of Greenfield, Franklin County, Massachusetts. Helen was the oldest sister of Alexandra (Sandy) Mason, a longtime and distinguished librarian at Spencer Research Library. Preliminary research indicates that Helen (1911-2000) was a lifelong resident of Franklin County, located in the northwest part of the state. She married Lawrence H. Wheeler in the late 1930s and had at least three children. It’s unknown whether she studied aviation, worked in the industry, or became a pilot.

Image of Amelia Earhart letter to Helen Mason, page 1, 1927

Image of Amelia Earhart letter to Helen Mason, page 2, 1927

Image of Amelia Earhart letter to Helen Mason, page 3, 1927

Amelia Earhart’s letter to Helen Mason, September 12, 1927.
Earhart flew on the first official flight out of Dennison Airport
nine days earlier; she had also helped finance its construction.
Charles Lindbergh had completed his solo nonstop flight
across the Atlantic earlier that year, May 20–21, 1927.
Helen E. Mason Correspondence and Memorabilia.
Call Number: RH MS P23. Click on images to enlarge.

September 12, 1927.

My dear Miss Mason,

Your letter contained so little about yourself that I do not feel I can advise you adequately about aviation possibilities. I do not know whether you must earn your own living or just wish to. Nor do I know whether you are willing to leave your family.

Presuming that you are “foot-loose” I should think application at one of the large airplane factories would be the best move. Ofcourse you could not get the “job” you wish, but even if you entered as a stenographer or a factory worker, you would be on the staff and could use the knowledge gained in one department to help you in another.

Frankly, I fell into aeronautics. I took my first “job” to pay for flying instruction. I am not in on much of an earning basis yet, as I have divided my time between social work, teaching and various other occupations.

I have given your name, and the substance of your letter, to Mr. Kurt, the general manager of the Dennison Company. There are several women students and I asked him to tell you of them and give you any advice he could.

I quite agree with you that everyone should as far as possible do what he or she really wishes. If an inclination is very strong, not conforming to it means unhappiness.

I wish you luck in your inclination.

Very truly yours,
Amelia M Earhart

Interested in learning more about Amelia Earhart? Collections of her papers can be found at Purdue University and the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Radcliffe College, Harvard University. See also the Wikipedia article about Earhart, which provides links to various other paper and online primary and secondary sources.

Spencer Research Library also houses materials about other female pilots. See, for example, the records of the Northeast Kansas Chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots that elected Amelia Earhart its first president in 1931, and the reminiscences of member Dorothy Maloney.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Vivat Liber!

December 13th, 2012

Here at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, we take for granted that when you say “Sandy,” people know who you mean. Alexandra (Sandy) Mason (1931-2011) was a distinguished librarian who served the University of Kansas from 1957 until her retirement in 1998. She built special collections of extraordinary research value, guided generations of scholars and librarians, was a leader in the Rare Books and Manuscript Section of the American Library Association, and received numerous awards for her lifetime of accomplishments. More information about her is available here.

In May, 1999, many of her colleagues and friends gathered in Lawrence to mark Sandy’s retirement with a series of tributes appropriately titled Vivat Liber (“Long live the book!”). Upon Sandy’s death, the idea of publishing these tributes again came to mind as a way to honor her memory. It is with great joy and pride that I announce the publication of Vivat Liber: Reflections Marking the Occasion of Alexandra Mason’s Retirement from the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, which was made possible with the assistance of Stuart Roberts, Courtney Foat, Marianne Reed, and Brian Rosenblum.

Image of Cover of Vivat Liber Photograph of Sandy Mason, 1998
Left: Vivat Liber: Reflections Marking the Occasion of Alexandra Mason’s Retirement from the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Editor: Beth Whittaker. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Libraries, 2012. Right: Sandy Mason. 8/14/1998. University Archives. Call Number: RG 41/0: Mason, Alexandra.

Click here to read Vivat Liber through KU Scholarworks.

Beth Whittaker
Head of Spencer Research Library