Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Color Our Collections – Round 2!

February 6th, 2019

Color Our Collections logo, 2019

Color Our Collections is back! Started by the New York Academy of Medicine Library in 2016, Color Our Collections is a week of coloring craziness where libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world share free coloring pages featuring their collection materials.

KU Libraries participated for the first time last year, and this year we have another coloring book to share! Featuring materials at the Spencer Research Library, this year’s book even includes two pages celebrating the Spencer’s 50th anniversary. You can download and print the book via the Color Our collections website. While you are there, be sure to check out the submissions from our colleagues at other institutions!

As a preview, here are three pages from the book.

Spencer Research Library image in the KU Libraries coloring book, 2019

Spencer Chemical and P&M advertisement in the KU Libraries coloring book, 2019

Kelmscott Chaucer image in the KU Libraries coloring book, 2019

Happy coloring, everyone!

Emily Beran
Public Services

Holiday Hosting with “The ‘Home Queen’ Cook Book”

December 7th, 2018

December has arrived and with it the winter holiday season! Since the holiday season means holiday parties, I wanted to look into hosting an oft forgotten type of affair – a lovely, elegant dinner party!

Personally, I do not have much experience with dinner parties so I decided to go to the best source I could find: The “Home Queen” Cook Book. Compiled during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, The “Home Queen” Cook Book features recipes, etiquette, and entertaining suggestions from “over two hundred World’s Fair lady managers, wives of governors, and other ladies of position and influence.” Armed with the advice of these many esteemed ladies, I set out to see if I could recreate an elegant dinner party from generations past. What follows is a story of research, abandoned dreams, and a final feeble attempt to do anything I had originally hoped to accomplish.

Image of the cover of "The 'Home Queen' Cook Book," 1901

The cover of The “Home Queen” Cook Book, 1901.
Call Number: Galloway C35. Click image to enlarge.

Now, I do not know what everyone else pictures when they think of a dinner party, but I was envisioning an elegantly set table with beautiful linens and fine china to hold a magnificent multi-course meal. With that image in mind, I immediately began examining the section on “Party Suppers” in The “Home Queen” Cook Book. That sounds like the place to start, right? And what did I learn? First, a “party supper” and a dinner party are not synonymous. A party supper is much less formal than what I was expecting when I read the heading:

An evening party… would assemble quite early in the evening. This would give plenty of time for social intercourse, music and innocent amusements. Refreshments might be carried around on trays, and the guests served with cake, coffee or lemonade. Fine large napkins should first be handed around. These should be spread on the knees to receive the plates afterward furnished. Delicate sandwiches of chopped tongue, spread thinly on sandwich biscuits, or the white meat of turkey or check are very nice for such entertainments. Ice cream, confectionery, and ripe fruit of any kind may be served.

I liked the idea of this informal gathering, which was meant to “facilitate conversation, ease, and the choosing of congenial companions out of mixed gatherings at large parties.” What more could you want from a festive holiday party? However, I still had the aforementioned picture of a dinner party in my mind. This prompted me to look to the sections on “The Mid-Day Meal” and “The Evening Meal” in the book, hoping to find any information that might be of use. Lo and behold, I found exactly what I was picturing in “The Mid-Day Meal” section! In it was everything I could ever want to know about table settings, the most appropriate food choices, even how to properly invite your guests to the affair. Before spending a great deal of time on the overwhelming amount of food described, I decided to focus first on the most basic aspect of the evening: a proper table setting.

After reading the descriptions of the proper linens, plates, crystal, and silver, I realized that just setting the table would cost a small fortune. The proper “snow white” table linen made of the suggested “handsome Irish damask” would easily cost over $100 for a small tablecloth. Any attempt at recreating the quality of a proper dinner table setting was clearly out of reach.

“Ok,” I thought to myself, “If the expected quality is unmanageable, what can I do that would dress up a somewhat subpar table setting so that it at least looks elegant?” Returning to the book, I found the perfect remedy: an artfully folded napkin. Aided by the “Folding Table Napkins” section, I began my attempt to create anything that might give me the air of sophistication I had hoped to achieve when I originally formed this brilliant plan of mine.

Image of the instructions for the Escutcheon napkin fold in "The 'Home Queen' Cook Book," 1901

Escutcheon napkin fold diagram and instructions in
The “Home Queen” Cook Book, 1901.
Call Number: Galloway C35. Click image to enlarge.

The “Home Queen” Cook Book features no less than twenty-one different napkin-folding techniques to help ensure that “the dining room, the table and all that is placed upon it shall be made as attractive as possible.” With such a plethora of options – all with detailed instructions and pictures to guide me – I thought I had finally found the perfect starting point on my way to my dream dinner party. Unfortunately, my optimism and confidence were quickly destroyed after attempting only two of the possible folds: the Escutcheon (picture above) and the Chestnut Pocket (pictured below).

Image of the instructions for the Chestnut Pocket napkin fold in "The 'Home Queen' Cook Book," 1901

The Chestnut Pocket napkin fold diagram and instructions in
The “Home Queen” Cook Book, 1901.
Call Number: Galloway C35. Click image to enlarge.

The Escutcheon: Described as “the easiest of all the ornamental foldings,” the Escutcheon was the beginning of the end for me. It was here I learned that the instructions to starch and iron the napkins immediately before folding was not a suggestion but truly an absolute requirement. After close to a half an hour of intense labor and a great deal of swearing, I finally managed to produce… something.

Photograph of an Escutcheon napkin fold attempt

My attempt at the Escutcheon napkin fold. Click image to enlarge.

The Chestnut Pocket: My attempt to regaining any semblance of dignity after being so embarrassingly defeated by the Escutcheon finally yielded a positive result for me! I even took it a step beyond the Chestnut Pocket and created the Pocket Napkin. I found that the secret to success lay in finding a napkin-folding technique that did not need to stand up. With this revelation, I managed to produce the following creation:

Photograph of a Pocket napkin fold attempt

My successful attempt at the Pocket napkin fold
(a variation on the Chestnut Pocket napkin fold).
Click image to enlarge.

So after all of this – the research, the numerous disappointments, the defeat, and eventual triumph – I am sure you must be wondering: will I be hosting my envisioned elegant dinner party this holiday season? To put it succinctly, absolutely not. There is only so much embarrassment by fabric I am willing to put myself through in the name of holiday entertaining.

Emily Beran
Public Services

‘Palm’ Reading with MS Q57

October 9th, 2018

Throughout history, people have found innovative ways to record the written word. Civilizations have used clay, stone, papyrus, animal skin – almost anything they could think of to produce records and share their stories. Recently, I was introduced to another innovative writing surface: palm leaves!

Photograph of the Rāmāyaņa palm-leaf manuscript, circa 1600s

Spencer’s Rāmāyaņa palm-leaf manuscript inside its acid-free storage box.
Call Number: MS Q57. Click image to enlarge.

Created in the 17th century, this palm-leaf manuscript (also referred to as a Pothi) contains the first five books of the Rāmāyaņa, an ancient Sanskrit epic about Prince Rama’s quest to rescue his wife, Sita, from Ravana, the 10-headed Rakshasa king of Lanka. While the epic itself dates back to over two millennia ago, the text in Spencer Research Library’s manuscript is a Telugu translation from the 13th century.

Photograph of the Rāmāyaņa palm-leaf manuscript, circa 1600s

Photograph of the Rāmāyaņa palm-leaf manuscript, circa 1600s

Close-up views of Spencer’s Rāmāyaņa palm-leaf manuscript.
Call Number: MS Q57. Click image to enlarge.

Palm-leaf manuscripts were created by drying and curing palm leaves. Holes were then added to the leaves so that a string could pass through, securing the leaves into a book. To create the text, scribes used a stylus to etch the characters before adding a layer of black soot or turmeric to improve the text’s readability. While the use of palm leaves for writing declined in South India as the printing press became more widely used in the 19th century, thousands of palm-leaf manuscripts containing the history, traditions, and knowledge of the region still exist today.

Emily Beran
Public Services

Waving Wheat Watch

June 6th, 2018

“In wheat Kansas can beat the world” – Topeka Daily Capital, October 12, 1888.

Venture outside the Kansas cities and you will find one of the state’s greatest assets: its farmland. During this time of year, many of the rolling fields are starting to turn gold as farmers prepare for Kansas’ upcoming wheat harvest. Kansas is the nation’s leader in the production of winter wheat – wheat planted in the fall and harvested during the late spring and summer – with eight to twelve million acres of winter wheat planted in the state every year.

As we look forward to the upcoming harvest season, let’s take a look at some photos of wheat harvest in Kansas from the early to mid twentieth century.

Photograph of a wheat harvest in Kansas, 1910s

Harvesting wheat in Kansas, 1910s.
Photograph by L. M. Ulmer, Abbyville, Kansas. Call Number: RH PH P2605.
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

 

Photograph of a wheat harvest wheat near Jetmore, Kansas, 1919

Harvesting wheat near Jetmore, Kansas, 1919.
Call Number: RH PH P1488.2. Click image to enlarge.

 

Photograph of a wheat harvest in Thomas County, Kansas, circa 1922

Harvesting wheat in Thomas County, Kansas, circa 1922.
Photograph by George Gould, Colby, Kansas. Call Number: RH PH P1130.1.
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

 

Photograph of two combines in a wheat field, St. John, Kansas, 1945-1949

Two combines in a wheat field, St. John, Kansas, between 1945 and 1949.
Photograph by William Gray. Call Number: RH PH P1101.
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Even as the times and technology change, one thing remains constant: Kansas continues to lead the way when it comes to wheat production!

Emily Beran
Public Services

The Mystery of MS A7

May 22nd, 2018

This blog post has been a long time coming. I actually started writing about MS A7 last fall. I wanted to do a simple post that talked about this manuscript and highlighted its interesting watercolor and ink drawings. However, in the preliminary stages of my research, the information I found brought up a series of questions that I have been attempting to answer for the past few months. Here is a peek at what I have learned so far!

Prediche sul nome di Gesu is a late 15th to early 16th-century Italian manuscript. The manuscript features a series of sermons on the name of Jesus by Saint Bernardinus of Siena (San Bernardino in Italian). The content of the manuscript is pretty straightforward; it is the images that prompted serious questions for me. There are several full-page drawings that feature a monk involved in a series of activities that are confusing at best (and completely macabre at worst).

MS A7, Prediche sul nome di Gesu, image of monk revealing/cutting his heart, f.81r MS A7, Prediche sul nome di Gesu, image of monk washing his heart, f.88r

With the open chest wound and heart in hand, the image on the right was the one that initially piqued my interest
in this manuscript. How was the monk alive without his heart? Did the seeming improbability of what was happening
in the image mean this was the depiction of a vision or metaphor within the text? Folio 81r (left) and 88r (right)
from Saint Bernardinus of Siena’s Prediche sul nome di Gesu, Italy, circa late 15th-16th century.
Call Number: MS A7. Click images to enlarge.

MS A7, Prediche sul nome di Gesu, image of blindfolded monk atop the world with angel, f. 115r MS A7, Prediche sul nome di Gesu, image of monk tortured by skeleton and demon, f.137r

The image on the left has prompted so many questions. How does this image relate to the previous images of the monk?
Is it even supposed to be the same monk? Why is he blindfolded? Folio 115r (left) and 137r (right) from Saint Bernardinus
of Siena’s Prediche sul nome di Gesu, Italy, circa late 15th-16th century. Call Number: MS A7. Click images to enlarge.

Were these images meant to depict scenes from the life of San Bernardino? A series of visions the saint experienced? Preliminary research on the life of San Bernardino seemed to indicate that neither one of those conclusions was likely. I then turned to our records concerning the manuscript – accession files, catalogue entries, bookseller correspondence, etc. The lack of concrete information and answers in those records solidified my growing belief that little to no serious research had ever been done on this manuscript (not unusual with collections the size of ours). It became clear that if I wanted answers, I was going to have to find them myself. I had a hunch that the images were related to the text, possibly even very literal depictions of passages in the sermons. However, without any significant knowledge of Italian, I knew I needed quite a bit of help.

The next steps in my research process demonstrate just how lucky we are to have the amazing faculty we do at KU. First and foremost, our Special Collections curators, Karen Cook and Elspeth Healey, provided insight, access to files, suggestions of where to look next, and beginning translation help. The next step was to find someone to more fully translate the Italian and provide some more information about the images themselves. This led me to Dr. Areli Marina in the Kress Foundation Department of Art History here at KU.

Dr. Marina’s translation work and insight have helped me immensely. With her assistance, I have started to get a clearer picture of what is happening in the manuscript (my initial hunch seems to be on the right track). However, with each new bit of information, more questions continue to arise. For example, do these sermons and images have any connections to certain established monastic communities and their traditions? Hopefully, I will have more answers to share with you all soon!

Emily Beran
Public Services