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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.

January 1, 1804: Haiti Declares Independence

January 1st, 2019

January 1st is celebrated in both the United States and Haiti as the start of the New Year, but it is an important holiday in Haiti for another reason. January 1st is the day in 1804 that Haiti declared its independence from colonial rule. Freeing itself from French control, Haiti became the first nation to be founded by formerly-enslaved people having successfully revolted through a series of uprisings starting in 1791.

Haiti is the focus of the 2018-2019 KU Common Book, a shared reading experience that is part of the university’s First-Year programming. In the selected book, Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, the author Edwidge Danticat points out that the United States did not immediately recognize Haiti as a free state. Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States from 1801 to 1809, expressed concerns about the impact the slave revolt in Haiti might have on the U.S. A brief overview of the American political perspectives on the Haitian Revolution is available online from the Office of the Historian of the United States Department of State.

Historic maps often interestingly reflect a particular political perspective. The map shown below is from Spencer Research Library’s Special Collections. It is a map of the United States published in 1816 (and “improved to the 1st of January 1818”) in Philadelphia. The map includes “the contiguous British and Spanish possessions” and has an inset of the West Indies.

Image of the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816

Image of the title of the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816 Closeup of the title of the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816

The map (top) with closeups of its title (bottom), which reads as follows: “Map of the United States with the
contiguous British & Spanish possessions / Compiled from the latest & best Authorities by John Melish / Entered
according to Act of Congress the 6th day of June 1816. / Published by John Melish Philadelphia. / Improved
to the 1st of January 1818.” Call Number: N8 Orbis #127. Click images to enlarge.

An inset showing the West Indies on the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816

St. Domingo shown on the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816

An inset showing the West Indies (top) and a closeup of “St. Domingo” (bottom).
Modern-day Haiti occupies the western side of the island of Hispaniola.
The eastern side is the Dominican Republic. Hispaniola is part of the Greater Antilles
in the West Indies. Call Number: N8 Orbis #127. Click images to enlarge.

Although Haiti had established itself as a republic in 1804 and had discarded its former name as the French colony of Saint-Domingue, this American map from 1816 shows the entire island of Hispaniola labeled as “St. Domingo.” A “Statistical Table of the Several Countries Exhibited on the Map” (shown below) includes the states and territories of the United States and other countries with the subcategories of British possessions, Spanish possessions, and an unlabeled grouping that lists St. Domingo as controlled by “Natives,” Guadaloupe controlled by the French, St. Bartholomew controlled by the Swedes, and St. Thomas and Santa Cruz controlled by the Danes.

A statistical table shown on the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816 Closeup of a statistical table shown on the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816

The map’s statistical table. Call Number: N8 Orbis #127. Click images to enlarge.

It was not until 1862, during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, that the United States government officially recognized Haitian independence.

Stacey Wiens
Reference Specialist
Public Services

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The George F. Jenks Map Collection

June 13th, 2018

Note: A selection of materials from the Jenks collection, including the items shown here, were exhibited in the library’s North Gallery in June-July 2018. An online version of the exhibit is now available.

This past semester I helped process the George F. Jenks Map Collection under the guidance of Spencer Special Collections Librarian Karen Cook. Jenks (1916-1996) taught in KU’s Geography Department from 1949 to 1986, and during his tenure he established a renowned cartography program and became internationally recognized as a preeminent cartographer and scholar. The collection is composed of hundreds of maps, graphics, and associated artwork that he produced for publication and in support of his research. In this post I highlight a few items from the collection to illustrate the scope of Jenks’ career.

Jenks spent much of the 1950s producing statistical maps of Kansas. Representative examples of this work can be found in A Kansas Atlas (1952) and the maps he designed for the Kansas Industrial Development Commission. At a time when most state mapping agencies were either nascent or nonexistent, having a cartographer of Jenks’ caliber proved to be a boon for both the state and private industry. A Kansas Atlas was a rarity upon publication: a multi-color in-depth statistical atlas devoted to a single state. Jenks mapped an exhaustive variety of topics, ranging from population dynamics to agricultural productivity, using a variety of cutting-edge symbolization techniques. It should be noted that Jenks pioneered or fine-tuned many of the map symbolization methods used in this atlas and still in use to this day.

Image of the "center of the nation" map in A Kansas Atlas, 1952

Image of a map of the population of Kansas in A Kansas Atlas, 1952

Image of a map of Kansas mineral resources in A Kansas Atlas, 1952

Selected maps from A Kansas Atlas (1952).
George F. Jenks Map Collection. Click images to enlarge.

The Kansas Industrial Resources atlas (1956) is a masterclass in two-color map design and artful cartographic generalization. Jenks took mundane topics such as railroad freight service and electricity grids and simplified them to create visually arresting, statistically accurate maps. This is no small feat: to this day mapmakers struggle with the challenge of generalizing data so that important information stands out while preserving the accuracy of that information.

Image of the fuel resources map spread in Kansas Industrial Resources, 1956

Image of the fuel resources map spread in Kansas Industrial Resources, 1956

Fuel resources map spread, Kansas Industrial Resources (1956).
George F. Jenks Map Collection. Click images to enlarge.

Generalization was a key theme of Jenks’ research in the 1960s and 1970s. Two of his publications, “Generalization in Statistical Mapping” (1963) and “Class Intervals for Statistical Maps” (1963), remain staples in the cartographic literature. Through this research, Jenks helped to systematize the process for classifying spatial data and devised rules to guide the selection of effective classification methods. The collection contains the maps and graphics Jenks created to illustrate these concepts, many of which are still used in cartography textbooks. Examples from his 1963 articles are below. Also included in the collection are hundreds of the maps he used in in his various generalization experiments.

Image of graphics from “Class Intervals for Statistical Maps,” 1963

Graphics from “Class Intervals for Statistical Maps” (1963) illustrating the
process of data generalization. Different class intervals affect the appearance of the
data on the map. George F. Jenks Map Collection. Click image to enlarge.

Another staple of Jenks’ work are three-dimensional map. Starting in the mid-1960s until the end of his academic career, Jenks refined three-dimensional mapping techniques, first by hand and later using computers. He recognized the potential of representing spatial phenomena in three dimensions, running many experiments and publishing many papers exploring the issue. One publication, “Three Dimensional Map Construction” (1966), remains highly recognizable within cartographic circles, and it also featured one of Jenks’ most famous maps: a three-dimensional representation of population density in central Kansas.

Image of a three-dimensional “smoothed statistical surface” map in the article Three-Dimensional Map Construction, 1966

A three-dimensional “smoothed statistical surface” map representing
population density in central Kansas. This graphic graced the cover of the
November 18, 1966 issue of Science. Jenks originally created this graphic for his
class intervals research. George F. Jenks Map Collection. Click image to enlarge.

This post only skims the surface of Jenks’ celebrated career and barely hints at the contents of the Jenks Map Collection. Readers should keep in mind that while many of the maps featured in this post may not appear noteworthy by today’s standards or software capabilities, they were considered at the cutting edge in their time. Perusing both his personal papers (also maintained at Spencer Research Library) and this map collection reveals the breadth and depth of his cartographic expertise. Jenks was an innovator in many areas; in addition to his aforementioned research interests, he was also recognized as an expert in the areas of curriculum design, cartographic reproduction techniques, and the links between cartography, psychology, and human factors. The Jenks Map Collection preserves a wide assortment of the preliminary and production artwork underpinning his academic and professional careers. The collection finding aid is undergoing finalization and should be published to the Spencer Research Library website in the coming months.

Travis M. White
Special Collections Cartography Intern and 2018 KU graduate (Ph.D., Geography)


Jenks, George. (1952). A Kansas Atlas. Topeka: Kansas Industrial Development Commission.

Jenks, George. (October 1956). Kansas Industrial Resources. Topeka: Kansas Industrial Development Commission.

Jenks, G. F. (1963). Generalization in statistical mapping. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 53(1), 15-26.

Jenks, G. F., Coulson, M. R. C. (1963). Class intervals for statistical maps. International Yearbook of Cartography. 119-134.

Jenks, G. F., Brown, D. A. (November 1966). Three-dimensional map construction. Science. 154(3751), 857-864.

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Box

December 21st, 2015

Enclosures play a very important role in the preservation of library collections by protecting fragile items from dust and fluctuations in environmental conditions, and by enabling safe and easy handling of heavy, oversized, or awkward objects. Whenever possible, standard-sized prefabricated archival enclosures are used; shelving like containers with like makes efficient use of shelf space and contributes to ease of access and retrieval. However, in all libraries and archives, especially a large academic library with very diverse collections, there are always exceptional items that do not fit into standard enclosures, and that is where we in Conservation Services are called upon to create custom-made housings.

Recently, two very large items in need of improved housings came to our attention. The first is an undated (likely 19th century) Japanese map mounted on a scroll. The primary support – the paper on which the map is drawn – is cracked in many places and is too fragile to withstand being rolled and unrolled, so the scroll must be stored flat. It had been stored in a folder inside a map case drawer, but this situation was problematic: the rods at either end of the scroll created an uneven surface and placed pressure on other objects stored in the drawer, the folder holding the scroll was not strong enough to support its unevenly distributed weight, and the folder could not be easily handled by just one person.

To create a more stable and user-friendly housing for the scroll, I started with a basic, easily customizable template for an archival corrugated clamshell box, or what we often refer to as a “pizza box.” A pizza box is cut and folded from a single piece of board; in this case, I had to use 4 foot by 6 foot sheet of board! After I measured, cut out, and folded up the box, I allowed it to sit overnight surrounded by weights to help set the box walls at a nice right angle.

Housing for mounted scroll

Top: The box after cutting out – nearly 5 feet wide and looking very much like an actual pizza box.
Bottom: Setting the assembled box overnight. Click images to enlarge

The next step was to modify the interior of the box with something that would support the fragile scroll and accommodate the bulky rods at its ends. Using archival foam sheets, I fitted out the tray of the box with channels at either end that the rods can sink into, allowing the fragile surface of the scroll to lie flat. This box achieves a goal I always have in mind when creating housings for fragile objects: it allows the object to be viewed unobstructed without having to be handled, reducing stress on the object without significantly diminishing the user’s experience of it.

Housing for mounted scroll             Housing for mounted scroll

Left: Foam inserts, affixed to the box with hot melt glue. Right: The scroll in its completed housing. Call number Orbis Maps 2:204. Click images to enlarge

The second oversize item is an 18th century map printed by Giovanni Battista Piranesi; the map is beautifully printed on several sheets of heavy paper attached to one another to form a very large single sheet – nearly 3 feet wide and over 4 feet long. At 53 inches, the map is too large to fit into the largest map cases (48 inches wide) in the special collections stacks, so a place will be found for it among the oversized flat shelving, where it will need a custom enclosure to protect it.

This housing is another modification of two basic enclosures – a portfolio and a four-flap wrapper – and again uses that extra-large 4 x 6 foot archival corrugated board. To begin, I pieced together sheets of 20 point board to form a simple (though giant-sized) four-flap wrapper for the print. I then built a corrugated portfolio into which the four-flap is adhered. The portfolio has a cloth spine for durability and four woven tie closures.

Open portfolio for oversized item   Open portfolio for oversized item

The portfolio with inner four-flap closed (left) and opened (right). Call number N23. Click images to enlarge.

Completed portfolio for oversized item

The completed portfolio. Click image to enlarge.

When making any custom enclosure, especially oversize ones, it’s important to consider how the housing will perform in all the stages of an item’s use, not only in storage but during retrieval as well. To ensure that this portfolio can be easily transported by a single person, I added a fabric handle to the front cover; despite its bulk, the portfolio is quite light and can be held comfortably at one’s side, leaving the other hand free to open doors and such.

Constructing custom enclosures is one of my favorite conservation problem-solving challenges. I enjoy pulling together and re-imagining elements of basic enclosure designs to devise just the right housing for every object that crosses my bench.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Item Feature: La Sfera, A 15th Century Schoolbook

October 19th, 2015

La Sfera, a 15th-century schoolbook, opens with basic concepts of cosmography and geography and ends with an itinerary of seaports of the southern Mediterranean and Black Seas. This manuscript poem in Italian is illustrated with astronomical and geographical diagrams, a drawing of the Tower of Babel, and miniature extracts from sea charts showing the coasts described.

Special Collections, Spencer Research Library, Call number Pryce MS P4.

Fig. 1. Diagrams showing celestial bodies and the division of the Earth into zones according to classical tradition appear near the beginning of La Sfera (ff.2v-3r). Special Collections, call number Pryce MS P4. Click image to enlarge.

Portolan charts, a type of sea chart that originated in the Mediterranean and was used in navigation from circa 1300 until the late 1600s, formed the model for the map illustrations in La Sfera.

Special Collections, Spencer Research Library, Call number Pryce MS P4.

Fig. 2. The portolan-style map illustrations exaggerate the shape of the seacoast and emphasize coastal place names and major cities (here Tripoli and Tunis), as well as giving approximate distances (f. 21v). Special Collections, call number Pryce MS P4. Click image to enlarge.

Some have attributed its authorship to Leonardo Dati (1362-1425), but, as a leader of the Dominican order, he was unlikely to have written a textbook in Italian. Boys destined for the law and Holy Orders were taught in Latin, while education for commercial careers took place in vernacular lay schools.

Special Collections, Spencer Research Library, Call number Pryce MS P4.  Special Collections, Spencer Research Library, Call number Pryce MS P4.

Figs. 3a-b. The text and place names are in Italian. The pen-and-ink drawings of mountains, water features, and the cities of Damascus and Jerusalem have been colored with watercolor washes (f. 22v). Left: overall view, right: detail of Jerusalem. Special Collections, call number Pryce MS P4. Click images to enlarge.

The confusion about authorship arose, because La Sfera’s author was Leonardo’s elder brother, Gregorio (Goro) Dati (1362-1435), a Florentine silk merchant whose 20 children (by a succession of four wives) doubtless provided the inspiration for writing La Sfera. The survival of more than 150 manuscript copies and several printed editions from the 15th and 16th centuries attests to La Sfera’s popularity. Goro Dati knew the Mediterranean Sea firsthand from trading voyages on merchant vessels, but he left La Sfera’s circuit of the Mediterranean coasts unfinished, perhaps because he died while writing it. In 1514 Giovanni Maria Tolosani completed and published the itinerary as a printed book.

La Sfera is written in ottava rima, a form of poetry employing stanzas of eight lines. It belongs to an Italian tradition of vernacular geographical poetry, known as geografie metriche. A later example was Francesco Berlingieri’s publication in 1482 of Geographia of the ancient Greek geographer, Claudius Ptolemy, re-written in Italian verse. Also dating from the 1480s were Bartolomeo dalli Sonetti (Zamberti)’s sonnets in Venetian dialect about the Greek islands. The ease of memorizing poetry may account for its use in textbooks published elsewhere in 16th-century Europe, such as the 2nd edition Johannes Honter’s Rudimenta Cosmographia published in Latin verse in Kronstadt (now Brasnow, Romania). Based on its script and paper watermarks, Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s manuscript copy dates from circa 1450. As well as annotations, the dirty outer leaves, stains left by spilled liquid, and the remains of a snakeskin used as a bookmark attest to its use.

Special Collections, Spencer Research Library, Call number Pryce MS P4.  Pryce MS P4 ff. 11r detail finger

Figs. 4a-b. The leaves in this opening have added marginal notes and a passage marked by a pointing finger (ff. 10v-11r). Left: overall view, right: detail of pointing finger. Special Collections, call number Pryce MS P4. Click images to enlarge.

This manuscript was probably used first as a textbook, without a cover, and later bound in a codex with other texts, from which it had been separated before its acquisition in 1966.

Karen Severud Cook
Special Collections Librarian