Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Meet the KSRL Staff: Karen Cook

November 14th, 2016

This is the tenth installment in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Karen Cook is the Special Collections Librarian responsible for curating rare books and manuscripts from Continental Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australasia.

Karen Cook, Special Collections Librarian, Spencer Research Library.
Karen Cook, Special Collections Librarian,
Spencer Research Library.

Where are you from?

Although I was born in New York City, my hometown is Cooperstown, a small village located in at the foot of Otsego Lake in the lovely Appalachian foothills of upstate New York. It was founded by James Fenimore Cooper’s father in 1786 but is best known as the home of the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame (founded 1939).

What does your job at Spencer entail?

As a Special Collections Librarian in Kenneth Spencer Research Library (KSRL), I curate rare books and manuscripts from Continental Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australasia. My subject specialties are the graphic arts, maps, and the history of science. My main responsibilities are collection development, reference, instruction, and exhibitions.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

My academic background is in art history (BA) and geography (specializing in maps and their history) (MS & PhD). My first career was as a cartographer, but a move to London, England led to work as a librarian in the British Library Map Library. After a decade there, I returned to the USA in 1996 and came to KU, intending to learn computer mapping and return to my earlier career. At the same time, though, I began working part-time in KSRL, where the staff were so welcoming and the work so interesting that I decided to enroll in the library science graduate program program at Emporia State University (ESU). During three years of part-time graduate study at ESU I worked as the Operations Manager of the T.R. Smith Map Collection in Anschutz Library. Just as I finished the ESU program in 2001, a librarian position opened up in KSRL’s Special Collections, and I’ve been here ever since.

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

The Consolidator, a satirical fantasy written by Daniel Defoe and published in 1705, criticizes the evils of life on Earth by contrasting it with an imaginary utopian civilization of Moon dwellers. The English narrator travels to China and thence by rocket ship to the Moon, where a Lunar philosopher shows him warfare and famine happening on Earth through magic glasses. The Lunarians debate how to depict this information and decide to produce a separate thematic map of each of these phenomena. This narrative, written a century before thematic maps would become common, has led me to research Defoe’s sources of information about mapmaking.

What part of your job do you like best?

The best part of my job is the variety of interesting tasks that I do, all centered around the history of books (and maps).

What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?

Research and writing about the history of cartography is a major interest. Less academic pastimes are gardening and botanical illustration.

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

Register and go into the reading room. Tell the librarian/archivist on duty what you are interested in and ask for suggestions or a referral to someone who handles that subject specialty.

Karen Cook
Special Collections Librarian
Special Collections

World War One Pen Pals

November 9th, 2012

This Sunday, November 11, is Veterans Day, and in honor of this we thought we would highlight a recent acquisition:  a group of letters that record one soldier’s World War I experiences in Europe.  The letters were written during 1915-1919  by Hector C. Henderson, who served as a private (later promoted to corporal) in the 1st Wellington Company, New Zealand Expeditionary Force.  Henderson, who was then in his early 30s, was writing to an American pen pal, Mae Josephine Gillette (born in about 1890),  who lived in Winsted, Connecticut. Henderson, who may have come from Australia (in June 1889 The Traralgon Record, Victoria, mentions a Hector C. Henderson, jun.), had worked as a railroad telegraph operator and clerk in New Zealand before the war. Writing first from New Zealand and later from England, France and Germany, Henderson filled 41 letters (237 pages) and 2 postcards with his observations about the horrors of  World War I.

Photograph of Hector C. Henderson (right) and unidentified man.

Photograph of Mae Josephine Gillette of Winsted, CT

Pen pals during World War I:  (top) Hector C. Henderson of New Zealand (figure on right by “x”) and
(bottom) Mae Josephine Gillette of Winsted, CT.  Henderson-Gillette World War I Collection.
(Recent Acquisition–call number to be assigned). Click to enlarge.

The first letter, sent from New Zealand in 1915, is written in shorthand (Gregg method). Henderson and Gillette had probably become acquainted through the Gregg shorthand pen-pal club that Henderson had joined in 1913 (The Gregg Writer, vol. 15:1912-1913). A 1916 letter cautions that shorthand letters won’t pass military censorship. The rest of the correspondence, written in pen or pencil on a variety of papers, is in ordinary cursive script. By 1918 Henderson reported that he was sick of war: “Saw a couple of Hun planes brought down…One of them was in flames when falling…this continual bombardment gets on my nerves…I’m writing this in my dug out & shells are screeching overhead. God how I wish it were all over.” In November 1918, the month when the war ended, he mentions his engagement to an English girl, and the correspondence ends in 1919. Hector’s letters must have been kept by Mae. A group of family photographs show Mae as an infant (1891), girl (age 12), and young woman (once with her parents and once alone). She may later have married Benjamin J. Wood of Millinocket, Maine, whose photograph is in the collection, along with a photograph of 2-year-old Mae Gillette Wood (their daughter?) holding a teddy bear.

Image of the first page of a letter from Henderson to Gillette in shorthand   Image of first page of letter from Henderson to Gillette, May 16, 1915

Left:  The first letter in the collection, a letter from Hector Henderson to Mae Gillette in shorthand (Gregg Method).
Right: A letter from Henderson to Gillette explaining that he can no longer write in shorthand since it won’t pass the
military censor.  Henderson-Gillette World War I Collection.(Recent Acquisition–call number to be assigned).
Click images to enlarge to legible size.


Karen S. Cook
Special Collections Librarian

An Easter Pizza in Umbria, Italy in 1842

May 24th, 2012

Easter Sunday …  after dinner they brought us an enormous sort of cake to look at – it is made of flour, lard, cheese, & quantities of eggs – the name is Pizza – or Torta – one of these we saw must have been 4 feet in circumference – it is made at Easter – only in this part of the country not in Rome – it is rather good – very light – but too strong of the cheese – they eat this cake – sausages – eggs which have been blessed (so has the cake) and wash it down with the best wine which is stored up for the occasion – such is their Easter feast. …

Entered by Pauline Trevelyan in her diary,  Spoleto, Italy, 27 March 1842 , call number: MS C133

Traditional pizza recipes vary greatly in different regions of Italy. In her journal entry for Easter Sunday 1842 Pauline Trevelyan describes her first taste of Umbrian Easter pizza, a tall round loaf of cheese-flavored bread traditionally served with sliced Italian sausage and hard-boiled eggs. The photograph featured below shows the tasty recreation of that meal submitted to the recent University of Kansas Libraries edible book competition.

Umbrian Easter pizza entry at the Edible Book Festival, 2012
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